CMC’s Iconic Lawn Turned into a Veggie Farm

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Recently an agreement has been signed between the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and a private company to start a vegetable farming project using modern technology in the lawn belonging to the CMC.

This is being implemented as a CSR project of a leading company dealing with Agro-farming and it is said that its primary objective is to educate people about modern cultivation technology and cultivation methods.

Ceylon Today looked deep into the issue, as it has created a huge controversy within the Council and its members.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, the Mayor of Colombo, Rosy Senanayake said this project was initiated with the idea of finding solutions to the upcoming food shortage in Sri Lanka.

“According to the research data presented by the United Nations, it has been found that there is a possibility of an acute food shortage in Sri Lanka by September 2022. Accordingly, the CMC, voluntary organisations, the United Nations and its affiliated institutions, public and private sectors are rallying around. It is planned to grow food crops that are essential and can be harvested quickly on an area of 600 acres in the city of Colombo,” she said.

Senanayake also said the CMC’s goal is to initiate a rapid cultivation project to encourage city dwellers to grow essential food crops in their gardens, offices and every available space and make Colombo a self-sufficient city.

“Our hope is to get the city residents to contribute to gardening as much as possible, to inform them about the support services they need and organise practical training workshops. And to prepare them in advance in case of a food shortage.

The prime objective of involving the private sector in this programme is for cultivating unused land owned by the CMC in the Colombo city through their contribution. Thereby it would facilitate the distribution of essential food coupons to families suffering from poverty and those in need of relief services and subsidies through economic centres and weekly fairs around Colombo city,” she added.

She further said the vegetable and fruit drying programmes have been introduced as income generating sources for unemployed families within the Colombo Municipality. She said that those projects are being monitored and supported by the Colombo Municipal Council, ‘The ONE’, a voluntary organisation of professionals.

In addition to the sentiments of the Mayor of Colombo, a senior officer related to the Engineering Dept., of the CMC, who is a part and parcel of this project, said there are special reasons for choosing the Municipal Council site for the said project.

“According to a concept of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, this is being implemented as one of the initial steps in the project called ‘urban harvest’ which was started as a solution to the urban food crisis in Colombo. We especially wanted to do this in a place that is visible to the people. Also, by doing so in a public institution like the CMC, we aim to set an example for other public institutions to follow,” he said.

He further said only a very limited part of the Municipal Council ground has been selected for this project.

“Anyone can see that we have used a very limited space for this project. Also, we are working to get the maximum benefit through this project. The company to which this project is entrusted to, is a renowned organisation in this field with years of experience behind them,” he said.

He also said they expect the support of all representatives regardless of their party affiliations to make this programme a success.

Meanwhile, when Ceylon Today spoke to Hemantha Weerakoon of JVP, Municipal Councillor, regarding this project, his standpoint was they are not against this concept at all, but they have their reservations about the selection of the municipal land for this project.

He also pointed out that it would be more appropriate and viable to choose another land belonging to the Municipal Council.

“Even when this project proposal was presented to the Council, we clearly mentioned that we would extend our maximum support and cooperation, because we found that the CMC was sincere in its approach to present this concept for the benefit of the public. However, we observed that there would be a waste of substantial money already spent, because the Municipal Council ground in question is in its present pristine state due to the huge cost that was incurred to maintain and retain the same. The ground preparation, conditioning and beautifying the lawn, took the form of a World Bank project. We have our serious concerns as to whether this lawn would return to its original state when the said project comes to an end. Municipal Council would have to allocate a substantial budget to reconstruct it to its original state and it appears that public money would be wasted in this manner,” he said.

He said due to this situation, the project officials would be focussing more on work related to the project instead of what they have been originally assigned by the CMC.

“For this purpose, it is necessary to choose another land instead of the Municipal Council lawn. There are plenty of open spaces in areas like Kirulapone and Mattakkuliya. When we suggested this, the proposing party said this project would be carried out in the Municipal Council land, as a pilot project. If necessary, we could make use a part of the land next to the Public Library and Vihara Mahadevi Park without any hindrance to the public. If they intend to continue with this project, there is no problem. But, if a situation arises to change the land for the proposed project, that too, would be very costly.

Furthermore, the engineers and other responsible officials of the municipality have special duties. But now what has happened is that they leave all their usual work priorities and do things like gardening which is not relevant to them. Neglecting their duty is a great injustice to the urban community,” he added.

“The Government has not yet been able to solve the fertiliser crisis. The need of the hour is for the Government to take remedial action and provide speedy solutions to the farmers islandwide before undertaking such fancy projects. If this project is carried out in a well-planned and systematic manner on a continuous basis for the benefit of the public , they will provide the necessary support,” he added.

BY Sahan Tennekoon