Farmer-returnees empowered to develop livelihoods, support their families, and participate positively in their communities.

Recently, I visited one of the agriculture programs supported by USAID in the northern region of Sri Lanka where the most intense fighting took place between the Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). More than two years later, the destruction from the last military offensive was still palpable. As we made the long drive north from the capital city of Colombo to meet our beneficiaries, we knew we had arrived in Mullaitivu when the landscape changed. The unpaved, bumpy road into the town was lined with bullet-ridden and bombed out buildings.

For over twenty years, Sri Lanka was entangled in a brutal civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE. The conflict saw widespread destruction of property, the planting of millions of landmines, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Northern Sri Lanka. An estimated 70,000 people were killed in the violence. In May 2009, the Sri Lanka military declared victory after crushing the last resistance of the LTTE.

In Northern Sri Lanka, the final military offensive resulted in nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who were confined to closed camps. Not only were the entire communities of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu displaced during the final stages of the conflict, they lost all of their productive assets, most homes were destroyed, many family members perished, and anything of value was looted.

In 2010, a year after the military defeat of the LTTE, the government began the resettlement of the IDPs in Kilinochchi and parts of Mullaitivu known as the Vanni. With little advance notice, hundreds of families were returned to their villages. But their homes were destroyed and their lands decimated during the fighting. Over 80 percent of the returnees were farmers, and their only means of livelihood was agriculture. With an urgent need to provide assistance to help resettle the IDPs and restart their livelihoods, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided resources through its Complex Crises Fund (CCF) to support a one-year program implemented by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Established in 2010, the CCF was created as a flexible resource to enable the U.S. Government to respond quickly during critical windows of opportunity and/or unforeseen political, social, or economic challenges that threaten a country’s stability or help create the conditions necessary for longer-term development. Generally speaking, the CCF is contingent upon an unanticipated urgent need or a significant triggering event that requires an immediate, robust response. In Sri Lanka, the goal was to restart and restore livelihoods for these highly vulnerable returnee populations. The timing of the request was critical because the Maha (planting season) was within weeks.

The activity focused on resuming basic farming and agricultural production in order to maintain community stability during the resettlement process. As a result of USAID’s program, nearly 120,000 acres of rice paddy seed were planted in the Vanni region. The beneficiaries included approximately 68,000 people, of which approximately 25 percent were single female heads of household. The agriculture assistance was coupled with training sessions on how to care for livestock as well as harvesting and planting techniques. The district agrarian training centers were also refurbished to ensure a safe and suitable community meeting place.

The CCF resources accomplished far more than just agriculture production and crop yields. It provided the foundation for a disenfranchised and highly vulnerable population to restart their life.