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Tree Tops Farm

 

"Living in Harmony with Nature"

 

 

 

 

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TREE TOPS FARM

 A NATURE CONSERVATION INITIATIVE !

Introduction

Tree Tops Farm is located in a part of the Southeast jungles of Sri Lanka, 265 kilometers East of Colombo in the vicinity of the Northern boundary of Yala National Park.

Access to the Farm is through the town of Buttala, in the Monaragala District. The distance from Buttala to the Farm is approximately 9 kilometers. That is 4.2 kilometers of tarred road towards Okkampitiya and 5 kilometers down a dirt road leading to the Weliara wewa in the jungle.

On entering the gravel road to the Farm, one would be enclosed in a patch of a variety of medicinal trees and bushes. About 1½ kilometers down the dirt road are a few settlements on both sides totaling to about 45 houses, and then on through the jungle to the Farm.

The Farm is located at the base of a very large ring of hills that is covered with lush virgin jungle. This ring of hills is called ‘Arahath Kanda’ (Hills of Enlightenment), and as history relates, these hills used to be occupied by King Saddha Tissa and his brother King Dutugemunu as far back as 500 B.C. This is where many priests received ‘Enlightenment’ several centuries B.C, hence the name.   

The area around the Farm is lush with thick virgin jungle, which also has a wide range of herbs and plants that are of great medicinal value. The jungle is full of a diverse variety of wild animals of all kinds, with the majestic elephant, being the most prominent.

The Jungle is home to a variety of species of wildlife that is native to the Southern dry zone jungles. Many species of bird life is found in abundance around the area too - native and migrant varieties.

The famous Yala National Park is about 3 kilometers South of Tree Tops Farm. The terrain between the Farm and Yala National Park is thick jungle, with an odd settlement in between.

About halfway towards Yala, is an 80-acre water tank called the Weliarawewa. A prominent drinking hole frequented by wild animals (this is one of the tanks built by King Saddha Tissa around 500 B.C in the jungle).

The Farm is located between the towns of Okkampitiya and Buttala, in the jungle. Okkampitiya is famous for its precious gems as well as an archeological and historical site, with Temples dating back to several centuries Before Christ.

We are an eco-friendly outfit, and believe in living close to and in harmony with nature. We discourage the village folk from hunting and felling timber for sale, and we try to teach them the importance of nature and the eco-system..

Tree Tops Farm is situated in the middle of one of the main elephant tracks coming from the jungle into civilization. We also act as an obstacle for those involved in the illicit timber trade. The tractors don’t like going past the Farm, as I have been very firm with stating my displeasure in their illicit venture. They too, are just a handful, whereas most of the villagers are with me in my programs.

The Farm plays a dual role here. Tractors refrain from going into the jungles beyond us to transport their illicit timber as they have to go past the Farm to do so, therefore making the timber trade more cumbersome, which, hopefully would reduce the amount of valuable trees being cut.

Hunters too are finding it more difficult to find prey as most of the game hangs-out in the jungles around the Farm, probably scenting their safety as hunting is strictly prohibited around the Farm.

As a nature lover, and with my many years of walking the jungles, I have been a witness to different forms of environmental destruction. Unfortunately, man has been responsible for most of this destruction!

Tree Tops Farm came into existence in June 1997, with the intention of having a farm in the jungle amongst the wildlife. To first establish a base in the jungle for the intended Conservation Program, which is the Main Aim of the Farm.

This is the first stepping-stone towards the ultimate goal of the Farm,

I have done some research in my capacity towards the destruction of the environment and wildlife, and with regard to the movement of wildlife in the area, and am confident that given the proper support, the Farm could help bring down the rate of the destruction of our environment and its wildlife.  

 

Problems of the Area.

The ‘bottom line’ towards all this destruction is ‘Poverty’.

From around the month of March onwards there is no cultivation in the area, since this is the time the drought starts to set in. During the months of June/July, the jungle is so dry that a tiny flame would set fire to a whole region. This goes on till August/September, when light showers start to come in.

Between June and September, most wells in the area run dry and villagers have to trek distances for the most valuable resource in life - water.

This is the time where the jungle, which is full of beautiful and invaluable trees as well as a wide variety of medicinal herbs and plants are destroyed by fires. The timber merchants make maximum use of the dry weather, because the terrain is bone-dry, enabling their illicit cargoes to be transported without getting stuck in the mud.

The jungle is mostly set ablaze by hunters as this makes it easier for them to spot game. The hunters could be divided into two categories, the hard-core hunter and the poor villager who hunts out of necessity – for survival. The poor village farmer has a necessity to hunt for their survival, as during the dry season they have no choice but to live off nature whichever way possible.

The hard-core hunters are the dangerous crowd. These are people with money and influence, the unscrupulous crowd who hunt with automatic weapons. They slaughter any kind of game that would cross their path, for skins, tusks and meat. I have come across many instances where I have seen animals riddled with bullet holes, just rotting in the jungle.  

Whatever, these ruthless timber merchants and hunters need the assistance of the local villagers to carry out their destructive activities in the area.

The next big problem is the wildlife in the area, paying special attention to the elephant. There are 5 single/loner elephants in the area. I have done some research on their movements and activities since August 1997. Of these 5 loners, 4 of them are in the area around the year and are always on the rampage in civilization.

During the months of June/September, many herds start to come into the area. All these herds come in from Yala National Park into the Weliarawewa area. From this point, they take different routs into the areas inhabited by humans.

I got a confirmed count of a total of 69 elephants during the months of September to December 1999. The village folk shot at many elephants in a bid to chase them away. The hunters too, shot at them mainly to keep them away from the area, so they could hunt without the fear of an elephant attack. Many elephants were wounded in this exercise. .

[For more information on the movement of wildlife in the area, please refer the “Elephant Movement & Observations in the Weliarawewa Area” document.]

 

Solution.

I have formulated a plan of action that will merge all of the above, and we, that’s the village folk and I, with unity and with the proper support, could help conserve the wildlife and the environment in the Weliarawewa area.

To achieve our bottom line “Aim”, we have to go to the root of the problem for the destruction of the environment and it’s precious wildlife, which very sadly, is fast depleting. The root of the problem is of course, poverty! Therefore, we try to create as much employment as possible. We help the village farmers by means of agriculture, where we farm our individual lands as a family. 

We could call this program - “Unity Cultivation”.

It should be noted that the proposed agricultural program is done with the intention of helping to conserve nature; it’s wildlife and plant life.

Since the inception of the Farm, I have been responsible for protecting the trees in the immediate vicinity around the Farm. I have been doing this by being quite blunt and firm with anyone who tries to destruct the Eco system. 

During my research on the destruction of the environment and the wildlife, it became obvious that the villagers around the area were responsible for a larger percentage of the destruction.  They would shoot at almost anything that moved, for the meat, which in turn would be sold in the market for other essentials. The tree cutters too, would fell some of the most beautiful trees for the timber trade, which is controlled by the influential.

The other destructors are the real serious poachers and timber merchants. The dangerous crowd! However, they need the assistance of the local village boys, the poverty driven residents of the area to help in their nefarious activities, to take them to where the animals hang out, showing them the various tracks, and to show the timber merchants the best timber trees.

With all of the dangers in mind, especially of those hard-core poachers and timber merchants, I formulated a plan that could work, as this plan involves the village folk of the area. These village folk are very cooperative with my ideas of the proposed ‘Unity Cultivation Program’, as they are all farmers.

Note; for more information on this program, please refer the ‘Large Scale Agriculture’ manual.

The other proposed programs are called ‘The Elephant Watch’ and ‘Eco – friendly Tourism’ programs.

In the Elephant Watch Program, our main intention is to keep the elephant and hopefully, all other kinds of wildlife away from populated areas and to be a further hindrance to the illicit timber and poaching trades.

The village youngsters will be involved in these programs as well, and using their expertise and knowledge of the area we could patrol the elephant corridors into civilization.

(For more info on this program, please refer the appropriate manual)

A Note; The present situation with regard to the elephant problem is that the Department of Wildlife Conservation intends to erect an electric fence that would help keep the elephants at bay more effectively. But that will solve only the elephant problem, making the field more open for the hunters and timber merchants, as they can move around more freely.

This idea is still at the planning stage and will take several years to complete.

Should the Farm be given the opportunity to carry out our “Future Plan”, the benefits to these village folk will be tremendous and will be a stepping-stone towards helping to conserve the environment and wildlife.

Eco – friendly tourism would be very beneficial to the village folk of the area in many ways. It will also be a source of income to the Farm to help sustain this Project. There are simple, but strict guidelines for visitors to adhere to. Most important is that once the village folk start to realize that visitors come to enjoy Nature and Wildlife, and their income depends on the beauty of nature and not in its’ destruction, the village folk will definitely start to help protect the environment with more determination..

 

Future Plan

Tree Tops Farm has planned the following for the betterment of the farm as well as the livelihood of the villagers in the area.

Ø     Eco – friendly Tourism (Living in Harmony with Nature)

Ø     Large–scale agriculture

                                                    i.     Organic farming of fruits and vegetables

                                                  ii.     Production of traditional varieties of paddy.

                                                 iii.     A collection, propagation and distribution center for paddy fruits and vegetables

                                                 iv.     Teaching traditional preservation and dehydration methods of fruits and vegetables, like making jams and pickles, etc

Ø     Re - planting a variety of forest, medicinal and fruit trees back into the jungle. These varieties will be native to dry zone jungles.                     

Ø     Base and Research Center to the Students of Nature

Ø     Jungle and wildlife conservation.

Please note; this program is aimed at doing cultivation especially during the dry seasons, as at this time the village folk are destitute and the whole terrain is dry. This is the time when they cannot resort to agriculture - mainly due to the lack of water. This is the time of large-scale environmental destruction - in the name of Survival!

 

Our ‘Goal’ for this program: “Unity Cultivation” is to show that being united and given the proper assistance and guidance, the farmer families of the area can resort to agriculture all year round, and live better lifestyles. Better lifestyles than the incomes got from resorting to illicit activities.

This program is aimed at involving more and more families in the future, as this could be considered as a trial, a ‘Pilot’ Program’, to enable us to gain more experience before expanding our horizons by enrolling more families and expanding to other areas as well.

Funding Criteria

Tree Tops Farm has been operating on 100% private funds since June 1997, and has been doing extensive research on the problems of the area at the villagers’ level, by physically living their lifestyle and facing the same problems and hardships they face.

At this point, the Farm has now come into a problem stage, ‘Funding’.

With the experience this venture has given me, I feel confident that if we were given the proper support and guidance, all funding could be paid back within a reasonable period.

Funding for this program would be the first stepping stone towards our goal - to create employment to as many village folk possible, and this program will also help the village folk of the area to be self sufficient on their individual lands, thereby not having the need to destroy nature for their survival, which is the ‘Bottom Line Aim’ of Tree Tops Farm.

This would be the ideal situation to teach the village folk various traditional methods of preservation and dehydration, which would increase the end values of their products. This is also an ‘Aim’ of the Farm.

Please note: this program is aimed at developing the lifestyles of the village folk, and the bottom line aim of Tree Tops Farm – to help Conserve Nature and the Environment.

We, at TreeTops Farm would appreciate all the assistance and guidance we could get to help expedite our programs. This will be the first step where all problems could be encountered and considered. The experience will enable us to enroll more farmer families in the future into this program.

 

The Farm is 100% dedicated to this venture.

 

 

 

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