Divi Neguma – A Closer Look
This month marks the one year anniversary since the launch of the government’s latest grassroots economic development initiative, Divi Neguma. The Divi Neguma programme was introduced by the Ministry of Economic Development following announcements in Mahinda Chinthana – Vision for the Future and Budget 2011 and aims to support household units to be self-sufficient, financially secure, and rely less on the market for their daily food requirements. The programme will be implemented in three phases, i.e., (1) agriculture, (2) small scale industries, and (3) fisheries and livestock. It initially commenced with Phase I. Households will be given the option of deciding a particular phase that they wish to be engaged in. Several programmes have been identified under each phase.
- Agriculture phase – Mainly focus on home gardening
- Small scale industry phase – Mainly focus on cottage industries, handicraft sector
- Livestock phase –Mainly focus on fishery, poultry and dairy sector
The prime objective of the Divi Neguma programme is to strengthen people’s economic status and minimize their dependence on the market for food requirements.The programme further aims to:
- improve nutritional levels
- reduce cost of living in households
- increase vegetable and food production by 25%
- increase per capita vegetable consumption from 134g to 175g per day
- create new income generation sources for families by selling excess production
- encourage entrepreneurship at the village level
As the programme completed one year of its activities, this article aims to explain its implemention process and suggest some ideas to strengthen it further. As mentioned above, the programme started with implementing home gardens.
Agriculture is the first phase of the programme which mainly focuses on creating 1 million home gardens. 100 household units are chosen per Grama Niladhari division based on household’s interest in participating in the programme. The selection procedure will be carried-out by three key government officials – Grama Niladharis, Samurdhi Development Officers, and Agriculture Research and Production Assistants. The Government provides seeds, fertilizer and advisory services to begin home gardens. To date, 987,416 packages of fertilizer, and 1,112,236 seed baskets have been distributed amongst the people (Ministry of Economic Development).
“Development of urban agriculture has not got due recognition yet. It is the Divi Neguma programme that has taken notice of it” – Agriculture Economist
Divi Neguma home gardening is the only programme which supports the urban agriculture system. The importantance in the home garden concept is, that it increases the amount of food available to people whilst providing fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat products to consumers. During the past decade, the eating habits of people, especially of urban dwellers have changed. People have neglected the nutritional value of their food intake due to the busy schedules of their lives and unintentionally their choice for available food varieties have got limited. Further, the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits have reduced drastically, which results in low mineral, and nutritional intake. Home gardening is a good concept which encourages people to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Simultanously, it will also provide diversification in food intake and palatability of food which can give them higher amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional values.
According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2009/10 data, the ratio of expenditure on food and drink to total expenditure is approximately 42%. Cereals (rice, wheat flour, etc.) and prepared food (bread, buns, etc.) are the two major groups which are consumed in large quantities. Further, it is important to note that lowest consumption of cereals is reported from the urban sector and it is very evident that the households in the urban sector have spent more on prepared food. Thus, the government’s thinking is that promoting home gardens would encourage people to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits to get more mineral and vitamins and thereby increase their nutritional levels. Moreover, it is felt that home gardening provides physical and psychological relaxation and also gives more green to the city and recreational opportunities for citizens.
“Agroecology is recognized worldwide as one of the most scientific forms of agriculture and the most effective way of feeding the hungry people and Divi neguma is a programme which promotes ecological agriculture” – Agriculturalist
A unique aspect of the Divi Neguma programme lies in its approach to ecological agriculture by using organic fertilizer. The benefits of ecological farming sets a precendent for maintaining such practices and further shows potential for addressing Sri Lanka’s food security issues, provided there is research and extension on ecological agriculture. Organic agriculture is a production system which sustains soils, ecosystems and people.
Divi Neguma recipients are able to select the type of seeds that are suited to them for cultivation, depending on the geography, as seeds vary for low country, wet zone and up-country. The government also provides technical assistance for using scientific methods of cultivation such as using organic fertilizers. Beneficiaries are then expected to maintain their home garden with their first seeds and they have to continune it by breeding their own varieties in the next stages .
Three facilitators provide information on seasonal crops, fertilizers, and techniques to the recipients at village level. The agricultural advisor plays a role in providing innovative methods to increase productivity whilst service advisors who are trained at ministries, agricultural departments, and in training institutes, also assist. However, in some areas, selection and the quality of seeds were not effective in getting a better production and in facilitating the breeding process, and this was emphasised in the short discussions with reciepients and other stakeholders.
“ Even though we got seeds, some packets are not usable” - Divi Neguma reciepient
The Smale Scale Industry Sector
The second phase of the Divi Neguma programme focuses on cottage industries, handicrafts sector, etc. A popular programme under this phase is the distribution of micro lorries more commonly known as Dimo Battas. Intiated by the Ministry of Economic Development this programme allows self-employed people to obtain loans from the People’s Bank to purchase delivery vans whilst the Diesel and Motor Engineering Company (DIMO) supplies Dimo Batta mini-lorries at a discounted price. The programme is coordinated by the Self-Employed Person’s Association.
“Ape Divi Negumata Dimo Batta (Dimo truck generates income for us)” – Dimo truck owner near Independence Square
Services provided by these mini-lorries are commendable. They provide multi-service businesses, such as small boutiques, shoe reparing, key cutting, bakery services to saloons, beauty culture services, etc. More importantly, they provide easy access to customers irrespective of whether they are rural or urban. Furthermore, they reach customers where normal businessess hesitate to reach and where it is difficult to establish businessess. Thus, these mobile vehicles provide a good service to customers in terms of easy accessibility and time saving.
The third phase of the programme which focuses on the Livestock Sector particularly the dairy, poultry and fisheries sectors are yet to be implemented.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation of the programme is ongoing and it is conducted by facilitators of the Ministry of Economic Development, who go into the grassroots level operations. An online progress review is maintained by these facilitators who are able to update information on to the system remotely. This was launched by the Ministry alongside a programme that supervises and provides guidance to better implement the Divi Neguma programme.
Meeting the Challenge
The 2011 budget proposal gave the programme prominence, allocating Rs. 3 billion to the programme in 2012. Having spent Rs. 9,300 million since its launch, the programme’s monitoring and evaluation requires further stregthening. The ad hoc nature of the programme in its implementation, and disregard for the human element it encompasses, threatens the effectiveness, productivity, and sustainability of the programme. For example, only the agricultural phase has been implemented islandwide whilst the second remains isolated to 7 districts, and the third is yet to be implemented. Whilst the programme aims to empower the poor by providing seeds and fertilizer, this option is sometimes utilized by people who participate in the programme to obtain free goods as opposed to establishing self-sustaining home gardens. It is imperative to stregthen the selection process for beneficiaries of this programme, considering the Government’s plans to expand the programme from the 1 million households to 2.5 million households in 2012.
Based on Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi concept, Budget 2012 further proposed to set up Divi Neguma Enterprise Villages. These villages will consist of a rice mill, livestock farm, and processing centres thereby ensuring self-sufficiency.It is contended that essential infrastructure should be provided to villages prior to implementing such a programme as broader questions related to Sri Lanka’s position on a global scale arise. For example : Will it be able to mesh together self-sufficiency in the villages, whilst the big cities globalize?
Other proposals included establishing the Divi Neguma Enterprise Credit Scheme with the support of the state and private banks which is intended to promote small industrial villages and encourage them to export their products, as well as to promote the tourist industry.
“Time to time we had several programmes to boost agriculture and its productivity. Some of those programmes had very good objectives but the continutity of the programme is the most important as the goverment spent milliions to inititate those programmes” – Agriculturalist
“Concept is really good. What we need is effective ways of meeting those aims” – Agricultural Economist
Divi Neguma is not the first of successive initiatives by the Government to address poverty in Sri Lanka. Previously, Api Wawamu Rata Naguma, Gamidiriya, Maga Naguma, Gama Neguma and Samurdhi were based on the principles of self-sufficiency and implemented similar programmes. Divi Neguma is perhaps the only programme where the government does not play a key role and merely facilitates, thus embodying the theories of self-sufficiency and places the onus on the people to move the programme forward. It is however contended that similar programmes that have been implemented previously and have for many reasons faded out, are integrated into the current Divi Neguma programme. Furthermore, coordination at a village level is essential for the success of this programme. It is crucial that the function, monitoring and evaluation of the programme is maintained by all partners collectively whilst at the same time, maintaining autonomy, transparency and accountability particularly by the three facilitators that conduct the selection process. Refinements and improvements should be based on evidence collected when assessing the impact of the programme on a regular basis.