Field Work Findings of the DFID-funded research ‘Participatory Mechanisms for Sustainable Development of Coastal Ecosystems’ (Project R6977)



Jens Foell

Elizabeth Harrison

Roderick L. Stirrat




School of African and Asian Studies

University of Sussex

Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9SJ, U.K.

Tel.: +44 (0)1273 606755

Fax: +44 (0)1273 623572




List of Tables and Case Study Boxes







1.1 Stakeholders and community participation in development projects

1.2 Coastal zone management (CZM)

1.3 Participation in coastal zone management


2.1 Historical overview

2.2 Shift towards participation


3.1 Introduction to Puttalam District

3.2 Perceived CZM challenges for Chilaw-Puttalam



4.1 The field research

4.2 Descriptive background of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

4.3 Village boundaries

4.4 Environmental change in Ambakandawila, Mampuri and Modarawella: challenges for CZM


5.1 Formal and informal institutions

5.2 Party politics in Sri Lanka

5.3 The market

5.4 The formal institutional framework

5.5 Informal institutions


6.1 Background: shrimp aquaculture in the Puttalam District

6.2 Shrimp aquaculture in Ambakandawila

6.3 Shrimp farming in Modarawella

6.4 Summary: challenges for CZM


7.1 Background

7.2 Fishing gear

7.3 Fishing in Mampuri, Ambakandawila, and Modarawella

7.4 Profile of fishermen and fish wives

7.5 Incomes and marketing

7.6 Migration

7.7 Lagoon fishing

7.8 Fishing Societies

7.9 Fishing disputes

7.10 Perspectives and challenges for CZM


    1. Background: Vegetable cultivation on the Kalpitiya peninsula
    2. Vegetable cultivation in Mampuri
    3. Challenges for CZM


    1. Background: Tourism in Sri Lanka
    2. Tourism in Modarawella
    3. Challenges for CZM


10.1 Background: mangrove in Sri Lanka

10.2 Mangrove in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

10.3 Institutional conservation efforts in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

10.4 Successes

10.5 Challenges for CZM


    1. Coastal Erosion
    2. The Voice of America (VOA) radio relay station


12.1 Poverty in Sri Lanka

12.2 Problems with identifying ‘the poor’

12.3 Poverty in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

12.4 Challenges for CZM





14.1 The village as arena social interaction

14.2Stakeholders’ in the community: the formation of interests and interest groups

14.3 Power in the community


15.1 Patronage in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

15.2 Patronage, patrons, and power

15.3 Patronage and the market




16.1 Introduction: limitations of stakeholder analysis and participation

16.2 An overall strategy

16.3 Practical implications for CZM

16.4 Patronage: how to work in the context of patronage



17.1 The potential for participation

17.2 Management of the shrimp industry

17.3 Management of the Fisheries

17.4 Managing the impacts of vegetable cultivation on the Kalpitiya peninsula

17.5 Management of Chilaw lagoon and mangrove conservation

17.6 Managing tourism

17.7 Poverty



Appendix 1. Formal institutions for CZM in Sri Lanka

Appendix 2. Project approving procedure for shrimp farms in NWP

Appendix 3. Research methods




Tables (back to contents)

3.1 Ethnic composition of the Puttalam District

3.2 Employment in the Puttalam District according to sectors

4.1 Sources of income in Ambakandawila

4.2 CZM issues found in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

6.1 Legal landownership status of prawn farms in Ambakandawila

6.2 Extent of prawn farms in Ambakandawila

6.3 Example for costs involved in an Ambakandawila prawn farm

6.4 Basic capital costs involved in an Ambakandawila hatchery

6.5 Production figures of a number of small-scale prawn farms in Ambakandawila

8.1 Basic capital costs for 1acre of land

8.2 Working capital costs for 1 acre of land (red onion cultivation)

12.1 Samurdhi income assistance in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

Case Study Boxes

6.1 The rush for land

6.2 The spread of hatchery technology in Ambakandawila

6.3 Group prawn farms

6.4 Losers

6.5 Incorporation - from resistance to involvement

6.6 From fish wife to prawn wife and back again

6.7 The island

7.1 Theppams and FRP boats

7.2 The ‘Holy Cross’ Fishing Society

8.1 The Small Farmers Association

8.2 The vegetable trade

8.3 From labourer to landowner

9.1 Business or betrayal?

9.2 An apparent winner

9.3 In the shadow…

9.4 Symbol of a moral void or a good match?

9.5 Opposition?

10.1 Resistance

11.1 Villagers and the VOA

12.1 A new Colony

12.2 Excluded and isolated

15.1 A powerful patron?

16.1 Working with patrons


ABBREVIATIONS (back to contents)

ADB Asian Development Bank

ASC Aquaculture Support Centre

BAPF Business Association of Prawn Farmers

BOI Board of Investment

CCB Coconut Cultivation Board

CCD Coast Conservation Department

CEA Central Environmental Authority

CFHC Ceylon Fisheries Harbours Corporation

CPB Club Palm Bay

CRMP Coastal Resources Management Project

CTB Ceylon Tourist Board

CZM Coastal Zone Management

DCS Department of Census and Statistics

DFEO District Fisheries Extension Office

DFID Department for International Development (former ODA)

DI Department of Irrigation

DS Divisional Secretariat

DWLC Department of Wildlife Conservation

EDB Sri Lanka Export Development Board

EIA Environmental Impact Assessment

FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation

FD Forestry Department

FRP Fibre Reinforced Plastic

GDP Gross Domestic Product

GN Grama Niladhari

GNP Gross National Product

HDI Human Development Index

ICZM Integrated Coastal Zone Management

IPSF Iranawila Peoples’ Solidarity Forum

ISB Industrial Service Bureau

IRMP Integrated Resources Management Project

JVP Janatha Vimukthi Peramu (‘People’s Liberation Party’)

LC Land Commissioner

LRDB Land Reclamation and Development Board

LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

MFARD Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development

MP Member of Parliament

NAFSO National Fisheries Solidarity

NAQDA National Aquaculture Development Authority

NARA National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency

NGO Non-Governmental Organisation

NORAD Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation

NRM Natural Resource Management

NWP North Western Province

ODA Overseas Development Administration (UK)

PA Peoples’ Alliance

PC Provincial Council

PEA Provincial Environmental Authority

PLC Provincial Land Commissioner

PLS Post Larvae Shrimp

PMOF Provincial Ministry of Fisheries

PS Pradeshiya Sabha

Rs Rupees

SAMS Special Area Management Schemes

SBA Shrimp Breeders Association

SEDEC Social and Economic Development Centre

SFA Small Farmers Association

SFF Small Fishers Federation

SLCDF Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund

SLFP Sri Lanka Freedom Party

UNP United National Party

USAID United States Agency for International Development

VOA Voice of America

WDA Wayamba Development Authority







(back to contents)

This report presents findings from the DFID-funded research project ‘Participatory Mechanisms for Sustainable Development of Coastal Ecosystems’ (R6977). The project was a collaborative study by the University of Sussex, UK, and the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), Sri Lanka. The report is based on fieldwork carried out by M.A. Nihal Chandrasiri, R.M. Anula Rathnayaka, and Jens Foell, under the supervision of Dr. Elizabeth Harrison, Dr. R.L. Stirrat, and Dr. Sasanka Perera. The opinions expressed and conclusions drawn are however solely the responsibility of the authors.

The research came as a response to the growing popularity amongst donors of participatory approaches to natural resource management (NRM) in general, and to coastal zone management (CZM) in particular. The shortcomings of participatory approaches are widely discussed in academic circles, and are now receiving attention in the world of practical development. However, the practise of participatory development is still often based on problematic assumptions. It fails, for example, to appreciate the social complexity surrounding NRM in general and CZM in particular.

The work was carried out between 1997 and 1999. Field-based research focused on the Puttalam District, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was chosen for this project as it was the first tropical country with a centrally managed CZM programme. The Puttalam District was selected as many typical CZM problems manifest themselves here. Fieldwork principally comprised detailed qualitative work in three villages. It aimed at identifying the social complexities surrounding CZM, in order to assess the potential for the use of participatory mechanisms.

This report is divided into four parts. The first summarises the context in which the study has taken place. It discusses the concepts of participation in general, and of ‘stakeholders’ in particular, as well as how these concepts are being applied in CZM.

The second part summarises the fieldwork findings. Challenges to CZM in the Puttalam district as well as obstacles to successful management and participatory approaches are identified.

The third part discusses these fieldwork findings and draws out theoretical issues concerning social complexities in the field and patronage.

The fourth part suggests how obstacles to CZM and participatory development can be overcome. Most of these recommendations are aimed at development agencies with an interest in participatory policies and/or CZM. The section concludes by identifying management options for the Puttalam District.

Numerous people in Sri Lanka as well as in the UK have facilitated the research. The authors would like to thank everybody who contributed to this work: informants, hosts, discussion partners, and friends. However, the authors alone are responsible for the content of this report and the opinions expressed in it do not represent the views of DFID or the University of Sussex.





(back to contents)

Part One: Context and Themes

1. Introduction: Community participation, stakeholders, and coastal zone management.

This research project was a response to the growing popularity amongst donors of participatory approaches to natural resource management (NRM) in general, and to integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) in particular.

Although participatory approaches are now standard elements in NRM interventions, in practice they are often problematic. They usually elicit the participation of the most visible and powerful and the political nature of ‘empowerment’ is often not acknowledged. The quality of participation is doubtful, the quantity of participants rather than the quality of their participation frequently being stressed.


‘Stakeholder analysis’ has become increasingly popular because it acknowledges the existence of different and competing interest groups and that decisions about participation are not only technical but also political. However in practice, stakeholder analysis is confronted with similar problems to those inherent in participatory approaches more generally. These include the assumption that the ‘local’ is a clearly bounded and defined entity such as a village, within which there are clearly defined interest groups whose needs can be ranked and compared. There is a danger of stakeholder analysis becoming little more than rhetoric. This is aggravated by the need of development agencies to strike a balance between empirical complexity and the need for manageable categories.

Participatory and stakeholder approaches feature prominently in CZM and ICZM policy documents. However, little is known about the problems of, and potentials for, the implementation of such approaches. The concept of ICZM assumes that effective management of the coastal environment should combine an understanding of technical influences on sustainability with a sensitive and realistic appreciation of social, including institutional, factors. Many ICZM interventions have been implemented on the basis of community participation. The assumption has been that projects will be more effective and sustainable if local people are involved in their design and management.

This research project addresses some of the problems involved in a participatory approach to coastal zone management. It focuses on the social complexities of the Puttalam District in Sri Lanka in order to challenge the underlying assumptions of participation.


2. Coastal Zone Management in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was the first tropical country with a centrally managed CZM programme. Participation in coastal management in Sri Lanka has had a high priority.

3. The case of the Puttalam District.

The Puttalam District was chosen for this research in part because it displays many of the environmental problems and issues faced in tropical coastal areas. In addition, a substantial amount of existing technical research in the area provided an excellent baseline from which to examine issues of ‘stakeholder participation’.

Over the last five to ten years there has been a remarkable change in the ways natural resources are used in the Puttalam district. This is reflected in a number of critical environmental changes, both in the fishery and on land. Major issues identified by a number of studies include: the growth of commercial shrimp farming, increased pressure on the fisheries, reduced areas of mangroves, and the potential pollution of the water table by commercial agriculture. The research focused on three villages, in order to be able to make statements about these and other more general CZM issues.


Part Two: Fieldwork Findings.

4. Introduction.

Field research took place between March 1998 and June 1999. Given the issues discussed above regarding the complexity of interest formation, the research principally comprised detailed qualitative work in three locations. These were the villages of Ambakandawila, south of Chilaw town, which has seen a rapid expansion of unregulated shrimp farming, Mampuri on the Kalpitiya Peninsula, where issues of rapid economic change and vegetable cultivation are particularly salient, and Modarawella in the south of the District, where a number of tourist developments are located.

A long history of commodity production, as well as the national drive towards an open economy over the past two decades, are manifest in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. Local, regional, and global markets shape CZM in these villages to a great extent and constitute the wider context in which management attempts have to be situated. Similarly, national politics have a major impact at the village level.


5. Institutions.

A number of central, provincial, and local Government bodies have official management responsibilities for CZM issues in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. Some NGOs are also active on the village level. Furthermore, the Catholic Church is an important institution as all three villages are almost exclusively Catholic. The majority of households in the villages are based around nuclear families.

Management of environmental problems in the villages is unsuccessful. The shrimp industry, for example, is reportedly not sustainable. The social context of management is complex. Interference by political patrons, who have been supporting unsustainable resource use, is partly to blame. Patronage is important for most CZM issues and in some cases not only constrains but undermines formal management.


  1. Shrimp Aquaculture.

The shrimp industry in Sri Lanka has grown rapidly over the past decade and is almost entirely located in the Puttalam District. Central and provincial Government attempts to regulate the shrimp industry have been unsuccessful. There are a large number of illegal shrimp farms in the District and even legally approved farms do not always live up to the environmental standards expected. This has implications for the sustainability of the industry as the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem has been exceeded. A consequence is the periodic collapse of the industry due to diseases.

The environment of Ambakandawila, and to a lesser extent Modarawella, has undergone a major transformation due to the introduction of aquaculture. A large number of shrimp farms and hatcheries have sprung up in Ambakandawila. This has involved areas of mangrove forests being converted into cultivation ponds. In contrast to the situation in Puttalam District in general, where 70% of shrimp farmers come from outside the District, 23 out of 32 shrimp farms in Ambakandawila are locally owned. Most of these are small-scale, 60% being less than 2 acres. A large proportion of these farms is illegal as they are (partly or fully) built on state-owned land without formal permission. Only nine farms in Ambakandawila live up to official requirements in terms of landownership, registration and approval. The spread of illegal farming in the village was facilitated by political patronage. Individual politicians with influence in the area undermined the control and management attempts made by Government organisations and backed the encroachment of potential shrimp farming land.

Unregulated shrimp aquaculture has led to a situation where the productivity of the local lagoon has been affected, where mangrove forests have largely been depleted, and where some drinking water wells are salinated. Management of the sector poses a major challenge to CZM in Ambakandawila.

At present, benefits from shrimp aquaculture are few, as diseases have led to major financial losses. Small illegal farmers are not only partly responsible for disease outbreaks due to the uncontrolled nature of their farms, but are also amongst the main victims. They lack the capacity to absorb losses, have few resources to protect themselves from diseases, and are often trapped in a vicious circle of reinvesting in cultivation cycles in a desperate attempt to recover lost money. In times such as this, when diseases are widespread, shrimp farming becomes a lottery. The hatcheries are also affected as demand for post-larvae decreases.

The social complexities surrounding shrimp farming complicate environmental management as the costs and benefits of environmental changes are not neatly separable. There are big and small, legal and illegal shrimp farmers with overlapping as well as opposed interests. Few clearly bounded interest groups exist, and opposition to shrimp aquaculture has been constrained by these overlaps. People who are negatively affected without sharing the benefits have little power to do anything about it as people able to take advantage of the aquaculture boom tend to come from the better established and more powerful section of the village. Whether voluntarily or not, people continuously adapt to environmental changes despite negative effects.

Nevertheless, improved management of the shrimp industry could benefit both shrimp farmers and others for whom lagoons and other resource bases affected by the industry offer potential sources of income. Problems will arise if the shrimp industry turns out to be short-lived for people could be left without either a productive lagoon or productive shrimp farms. But the importance of political patronage in the shrimp industry makes one thing certain: management will require an active engagement with the political context of the shrimp farming sector.


7. Fishing.

The economic wellbeing of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella depends to a large extent on the sustainability of marine fishing. Fishing craft used are mainly motorised one-day FRP (fibre reinforced plastic) boats or non-mechanised wooden craft (theppam). The main fishing season is the north-east monsoon when the sea is calm and easily accessible from the village beaches. Fishing activities are restricted during the south-west monsoon. Fishermen from Ambakandawila then migrate to nearby Chilaw where the estuary of the lagoon allows access to the sea throughout the year. In Mampuri most men remain in the village. Those in Modarawella increasingly depend on alternative employment such as labour on multi-day fishing boats or migration overseas, as seasonal migration to the East Coast is restricted due to the civil war. Lagoon fisheries are marginal to the economies of all three villages. Only in Ambakandawila is there a substantial minority of people who fish in Chilaw lagoon during the off-season.

Both Mampuri and Modarawella have active fishing societies, whilst the one in Ambakandawila is presently inactive. The strength of fishing societies frequently depends on political backing. The outcomes of a number of fishing disputes were shaped by this strength. The societies are also vulnerable to political change as reliance on political connections requires adaptation to changes in the Government. This has led to the temporary collapses of both the fishing societies in Mampuri and Modarawella. Another constraint is the individualistic nature of the fishing economy, which leads many fishermen to pursue their own rather than collective interests.

Fishing disputes examined included the conflict surrounding shrimp trawling, beach seining and light fishing, diving, as well as a ban on seasonal fishermen from Mampuri beach. Near Chilaw in the 1980s inshore shrimp trawling conflicted with theppam fishing and was consequently banned. The beach seine owners of Mampuri (and from elsewhere) have recently been complaining about the impact a new light fishing method is allegedly having on their catches. Diving with SCUBA gear has become an increasingly popular fishing method along the coast of the Puttalam District. But local people have opposed divers as they perceive the latter’s activities to conflict with villagers’ fishing activities, and as they feel threatened by the outsiders’ presence in the villages. The fishermen organised in the local fishing society in Mampuri decided to ban seasonal fishermen who are nor permanently settled in the village from landing their boats here.

The nature of the fishing societies as well as the experience of disputes underline the importance of politics and especially political patronage in the fisheries. As in the shrimp sector, any management attempt has thus to be situated in this context.


8. Vegetable production.

There has been a major boom in vegetable cultivation in Mampuri due to the civil war. Prices for red onions and other crops that were produced in areas such as the Jaffna peninsula increased rapidly when supplies dried up due to fighting. This has led to increased wealth in the village. Vegetable cultivation in Mampuri is highly commercial. High-input, mono-cropping is common and agro-chemicals are used in large quantities. Vegetable production of the Kalpitiya Peninsula is for the domestic market. Nurachcholai, about 3 miles to the north of Mampuri, has one of the biggest vegetable wholesale markets in the country, and, depending on the season, dozens of lorries transport vegetables from here to the urban areas of the country every day.

Overall, Mampuri is a prosperous village in terms of visible material wealth. A seemingly successful integration of refugees and other migrants due to the wealth of jobs and other opportunities has taken place over the past decades. The only losers are people whose crops had failed due to diseases or freak weather. ‘Winning’ very much depends on market prices, which often fluctuate.

Technical knowledge often stems from a combination of hearsay and the advice of agents from agrochemical companies. Extension services are weak. This has consequences for the use of agro-chemicals. Many people determine the amount needed through a system of trial-and-error whilst others simply copy their neighbours. The result is frequent overuse which is economically inefficient and potentially harmful to the environment.

The pollution of drinking water by agro-chemicals is clearly an emerging issue in Mampuri. High nitrogen levels in fertilisers are likely to contaminate water, and a number of wells have been polluted in Mampuri. However, awareness of this threat is low, and people argue that impacts can be contained simply by locating wells away from fields. The individualistic nature of vegetable farming makes a collective response unlikely.


9. Tourism.

Tourism in Sri Lanka was promoted from the late 1970s onwards and is an important foreign exchange earner to the economy. Common environmental impacts of hotels on the coastal environment and its people include the enclosure of areas of beach formerly used by fishermen, sewage and other discharges polluting the hotels’ direct environments, excessive fresh water consumption leading to shortages, and increased erosion due to hotel structures modifying the coast.

So far, the environmental impacts of hotels in Modarawella are reportedly benign. The beach has not been enclosed, and although discharges of untreated sewage into the lagoon have occurred, the issue has been addressed by a treatment plant. Current complaints relate to increased traffic near one of the hotels. A new hotel will open in the near future, and other plots of land may soon be developed. Environmental impacts are likely to increase as the scale of development increases. The main fear associated with tourism amongst villagers concerns potential ‘cultural’ impacts. There are objections to the tourists’ behaviour in terms of dress code or the exchange of intimacies, which is feared to have a negative influence on children. However, these fears appear to be based mainly on experiences from more developed tourist resorts rather than from the local situation.

Local spin-offs from tourism are sparse. Few villagers work in hotels as they lack the required skills, and the wages offered are very low by local standards. On the other hand, the hotels have made a contribution to the infrastructure of Modarawella.

As developments in Modarawella expand, it is probably only a question of time before problems become more pressing. Efficient management now could be based on the lessons learnt elsewhere. However, people in the village seem to be ill-prepared to respond to such a management need. Not only are the hotels a powerful force due to their financial might, but villagers’ responses to tourism differ and are fragmented as they are based on individual rather than on collective experience. There is no clear interest group that is either opposed to or supportive of the hotel.


10. Mangrove.

Mangrove degradation in the Puttalam District is mainly caused by shrimp aquaculture. There have been attempts at organised mangrove conservation in both Ambakandawila and Modarawella. Replanting efforts in Modarawella appear to have been half-hearted and were not as urgently needed as in Ambakandawila, as large mangrove areas have been preserved anyway. Shrimp ponds have replaced mangrove forests in Ambakandawila. There was little resistance to this change. Not only were the more powerful lagoon fishermen (who potentially depend on mangrove for the maintenance of the lagoon’s productivity) incorporated into the shrimp industry, but shrimp farmers were generally more powerful than people with a stake in the lagoon.

Few people in Ambakandawila are dependent on lagoon fishing as the maritime fisheries are much more important. This is different on the eastern (land) side of the lagoon, where people have no access to the sea. A mangrove conservation project run by the Small Fishers Federation is based there and has been successful in mobilising fishermen for its cause. Thus, the potential for protection differs across the lagoon. A ‘natural’ interest in mangrove amongst people living in its environment can not be assumed.

The displacement of mangrove by shrimp farming cannot be halted without intervention from above. International donor as well as National Government or NGO assistance to mangrove conservation needs to account for the social and economic factors contributing to the decline of forests. These are not confined to the local level only.


11. Other issues.

Coastal erosion has been experienced in Ambakandawila, where a number of groins now protect the village beach. The building of these structures followed a long process of negotiations and lobbying, and is very much associated with the goodwill of individual political patrons. A Voice of America (VOA) radio station is based in Iranawila, a village that is part of the same parish as Ambakandawila. Villagers’ protest against the station received wide coverage in the media, where it was hailed as a ‘peoples’ struggle’. However, a close examination of the issue results in a picture that hints at villagers’ reactions being far from united behind a common purpose. Thus a number of people engaged in commercial transactions with the station despite widespread opposition.


12. Poverty.

Although there are visible indicators of a lack of material wealth and economic differentiation in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella, it is difficult to understand the nature of ‘poverty’ in these villages. Identifying poor people is far from straightforward.

Even seemingly clear indicators of differentiation such as housing or material wealth do not necessarily point at poverty and/or marginalisation in the Puttalam District. Amongst fishing families, the poor accommodation of a young family might not indicate a lack of wealth but simply its position at an early stage of the developmental cycle when accumulation of other assets (boats, nets) is more important. Furthermore, the ability of individuals or groups to communicate their status and needs to potential beneficiaries varies. It is often the wealthy and politically powerful who are most experienced in doing so, whilst others remain invisible.

The poor do not form a homogeneous group. Causes of poverty vary and these can result in a lack of common interests. As the poor are potentially powerless, they tend to adapt to, rather than resist, social or environmental changes that carry negative impacts on their established livelihoods. Direct links between CZM issues and poverty are difficult to establish, as the victims of development tend to move on and compensate for the loss of livelihoods by searching for alternatives. This fragmentation, combined with their very location on the margins of society, makes the least wealthy less visible.


Part three: discussion.

13. Community and interest groups.

Participatory and stakeholder approaches are based on a number of problematic notions. These include the assumptions that the ‘local’ is a clearly bounded and defined entity such as a village, with clearly defined interest groups, whose strength and needs can be ranked and compared. But the experience of the villages studied shows that the local is far from being a separate or even isolated unit and that micro-level interest formations are complex.

To understand what is happening in places like Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella, one has to understand what is happening elsewhere as well. There are complex movements of people, resources, and ideas between these villages and their wider environment. Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella are not clearly bounded social entities, but arenas for social interaction. Markets, whether global or domestic, have a great impact on the way local resources are managed. Decisions affecting management are thus often made in places located far away in geographical terms. In the realm of party politics, national or regional interests impact on the village. This has consequences for ideas of the village as social entity. Whilst physical proximity might define common or opposed interests as well as social interaction in some cases, social or economic links may do so in others and have a greater impact on what is happening in the locality.

People living in villages have stakes outside; people living elsewhere have stakes within; decisions affecting these interests are made by multiple actors in multiple locations. A categorisation into primary and secondary stakeholders, with the former usually focusing on people living within a village, frequently fails to appreciate this complexity and thus results in a partial picture.

Furthermore, categories like ‘the village’ and ‘villagers’ are highly problematic, not just because of inter-linkages to other levels, but also for their conflicting usage within the village itself. On the one hand, physical borders are unclear and overlap. But geography is just one point of reference for villagers’ identities. Other factors include origin, religion, caste, occupation, or length of residence. From these, people derive multiple identities, which are contextual, and which can also be contested by others. This is important as identities are used strategically; to stake claims; to deny claims; to include some; to exclude others.

Villages are not homogeneous entities, but divided along the lines of class, gender, or individual households. One aspect of social fragmentation in the village is the marginalisation of those who lack acceptance, wealth, or political power. Such people are isolated and underrepresented in formal village institutions and can find it hard to make their voice heard. Gender relations, other than the more obviously visible aspects of the gender division of labour, are also not easy to determine. On the one hand, most men as well as women refer to the household as a joint unit within which both sexes co-operate. But on the other hand, intra-household conflict is likely to be hidden from view. Individual women are affected by recent social and economic changes. Another fact that may compromise village solidarity is that people often prioritise the needs of individual households before the needs of wider groups. All these factors pose obstacles to the formation of interest groups as well as to the articulation of interests. Common interests might not be recognised, either by people in the villages themselves, or by outsiders.

Interest formation in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella does not fit into neat categories. Common and opposed interests within and between groups co-exist and people are multiple stakeholders, the same individuals and households often having different interests at different times or in different contexts. The processes of adaptation and/or incorporation imply that the pattern of interests changes over time. Cultures are neither sealed nor constant entities. People have options, adapt to new circumstances, and generate new ‘cultures’. Thus, a mapping of interests (i.e. stakeholder analysis) at one point may generate radically different outcomes than it would at another. Also, perceptions of natural resources issues can differ, even amongst people whose stakes in the issue are similar. Such a lack of common perceptions has the potential to compromise the formation of interest groups.

14. Power, patronage, and the market.

Political patronage is of major importance to CZM issues in the Puttalam District. In Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella it contributed to the spread of illegal shrimp farming and displacement of mangrove areas, to changes in fishing societies and other village institutions, to the outcomes of fishing conflicts such as the ones surrounding beach seining or diving, to the establishment of tourism, to the illegal occupation of land distributed by the Government and to the provision of coastal protection structures. Formal management attempts are often undermined by the working of patronage relations. Political power in the context of patronage is often equivalent to access to patrons.

By aiding short-term growth, patronage has compromised the long-term prospects of the shrimp industry. To reverse this, efficient formal management by State organisations is required. Patrons have to be convinced that such management is desirable and should not be undermined.

Patronage has to be placed in the context of wider market relations. Patronage is instrumental in protecting short-term commercial interests from intervention. As a consequence, any development intervention, including CZM, is vulnerable to interference facilitated by political patronage. This may compromise development objectives, and it is therefore important to develop mechanisms that engage with patronage structures.

The participatory aspects of CZM may paradoxically contribute to the continuing marginal role of development interventions in the context of patronage. A focus on the ‘local’ and a refusal to deal with politics can reinforce the status quo. As a result, the short-term interests of the private sector under the protection of patronage relations may continue to compromise the long-term interests of society.


Part four: policy implications

15. Consequences for notions of stakeholder analysis and participation.


16. Practical implications for CZM in the Puttalam District.






  (back to contents)


This research project is a response to the growing popularity amongst donors of participatory approaches to natural resource management (NRM) in general, and to coastal zone management (CZM) in particular. The shortcomings of participatory approaches are widely discussed in academic circles, and are now receiving attention in the world of practical development. However, the practise of participatory development is still often based on problematic assumptions.

1.1 Stakeholders and community participation in development projects

1.1.1 The promise of participation

From being the call of a few critical voices on the margin during the 1970s, ‘community participation’ has, by the late 1990s, become a virtual orthodoxy within development agencies. Emphasis on the participation of those affected by development interventions has both ethical and instrumental origins. On the one hand it illustrates an ideological shift away from supposedly undemocratic and top-down planning. More pragmatically, it manifests a belief that lack of participation by intended beneficiaries has often been responsible for project failure. This has been accompanied by a growing awareness among development agencies that ‘local people’ often have considerable knowledge and experience to assist the development process. The use of participatory mechanisms is now a standard approach to NRM interventions.

As the idea of ‘community participation’ has become part of the mainstream, a number of critics are challenging both its intellectual underpinnings and its practice. For example, Brown (1997) contests the individualistic nature of arguments for participation, suggesting that questions of power and authority are treated as being subordinate to individual values and attitudes. In a similar vein, others (Mosse 1998, Cleaver 1998, Olivier de Sardan 1995) critique the possibility of development agencies ever being truly ‘participatory’. This problem has a number of dimensions.

First, at a methodological level, taking full account of the complexity of interests and power is difficult. However well intentioned and explicitly targeted, participatory interventions still tend to elicit the participation of the most visible - often men, slightly better educated, more used to contact with development agencies. By their nature, the least powerful and marginal are likely to be least visible. Related to this, development agencies tend to focus on more formally constituted organisations, rather than less formal institutions that permeate social relations; those of household, kinship and the informal rules that emerge as the product of history. As with participation more generally, membership of formal organisations will often attract the articulate and more powerful.

Second, the quality of participation itself may be open to question. Taking part in a project or being consulted does not necessarily mean having greater control. For development agencies though, one of the simplest (and most popular) measures of participation is simply that of numbers taking part. But there are significant differences between (for example) taking part in a food for work scheme because of limited alternatives, and actually shaping the nature of choices made. What needs to assessed is the quality, not just the quantity of participation.

Lastly, participation is often associated with ideas of empowerment. However, the radical implications of this are seldom addressed by development agencies. Empowerment is a political process involving losers as well as gainers. It is debatable whether development agencies are able or inclined to engage in such politics. Furthermore, existing power relations which work to marginalise the people developers seek to empower might in fact be reinforced by a focus only on the ‘local’ which overlooks such relations.

In the face of these criticisms, it is important that the idea of participation is not simply rejected. Some would argue that a return to top down planning would be more efficient and effective. This is certainly not the alternative suggested here. Participation has opened up avenues for project beneficiaries to make positive contributions to interventions. More generally, it provides a context for potentially more democratic development. However, debate about the content and nature of participation which may stop it being an empty orthodoxy is important. In particular, development organisations need to address the contexts when less ‘participatory’ and more ‘directive’ externally situated forms of intervention, may in fact be more appropriate.


1.1.2 Stakeholder analysis and participation

In recognition of some of these criticisms, the idea of ‘community participation’ has been refined to accommodate heterogeneity both within and between communities. The concept of ‘stakeholder analysis and participation’ has gained currency because it acknowledges the existence of different and competing interest groups and accepts that among these may be some which could be opposed to the intentions of the development intervention. DFID (specifically the Social Development Department) has been especially active in developing concepts and methods for stakeholder analysis. In 1995, stakeholder participation was defined as the process whereby all those with an interest (stakeholders) play an active role in decision making and in the consequent activities which affect them (ODA 1995a: 94). Subsequently, technical booklets have been produced to assist planners with the practical implementation of stakeholder analysis (ODA 1995b, 1995c, 1995d).

Among agencies committed to stakeholder analysis, a number of common assumptions and approaches prevail. First is the need to identify primary and secondary (and sometimes tertiary) stakeholders. It is accepted that among the stakeholder are not only the ‘local community’, but also government, NGOs and donors. Second, interests (‘stakes’) of stakeholders need to be identified. Third, it is necessary to rank, or in some way quantify, the importance of the stakeholders to the project and their ability to influence outcomes. Last, stakeholder analysis is assumed to be an iterative process; stakes and stakeholders change over time and stakeholder analysis therefore needs to be repeated in order to take this into account.

Stakeholder analysis is based on an important observation: that interests vary and that decisions about participation are not only technical but political. However in practice, stakeholder analysis is confronted with similar problems to those discussed above. A number of assumptions still prevail. These include:

As with most participatory approaches, stakeholder analysis seeks to map interests at the community level. But social networks transcend this level, and analysis that is confined to the local space will only arrive at a partial picture. Another critical methodological question regards the complexity of interest formation. While organisational stakeholders (such as a government departments) are relatively easy to identify, appropriately disaggregated social groups are not. The result is the use of simple but potentially inappropriate categories such as ‘women’ ‘farmers’ or ‘fishermen’. As MacArthur (one of the main proponents of participatory approaches) notes, Associated questions are to decide where to draw the line in adding to the list and in making divisions between the sub-sections that are listed. .... For example, is it sufficient to recognise ‘women’ in poor rural areas as a single stakeholder class...? (MacArthur 1997: 261-262).

MacArthur’s solution is to disaggregate when different sections of these sub groups have different interests. Ultimately, however, we are left with the methodological problem which simple stakeholder analysis fails to address: how is such a decision to be made? Simply ‘asking the experts’ (as is implied by MacArthur) undermines the credibility of any stance about understanding the complexity of interests. Related to this is that in practice, stakeholder analysis tends to take a fairly elementary view of the formation and nature of formal institutions, especially nominally representative groups. Thus, for simplicity’s sake, ‘groups’ (farmers’ groups, women’s groups, fishermen’s groups) are the stakeholders with which development agencies work. But, as noted above, the vocal members and key actors in such groups, do not necessarily have the interests of the wider population as their principal concern.

As with the concept of participation in general, there is a danger that stakeholder analysis becomes an empty new orthodoxy, a rhetorical layer on conventional development practice. Development agencies face the difficult challenge of striking a balance between taking account of complexity and the need to have manageable categories.

This research aims to address the problems in stakeholder analysis. In coastal zone management in Sri Lanka, participatory and stakeholder approaches feature prominently in policy documents. However, little is known about the problems of, and potentials for, the implementation of such approaches.


1.2 Coastal zone management (CZM)

In coastal areas, land and water based activities are closely related and need to be understood in parallel. These relationships are complex; social, economic and biological aspects interact with one another. For instance, the use of agricultural fertilisers and herbicides may affect aquaculture, including brackish water fish farming. Larger scale aquaculture activities may result in the diversion of water from agriculture. Interacting with these physical dimensions are human factors. These include issues of access to and control over resources, questions of incentives for improved management, and the problem of identifying gainers and losers in the processes of technical and social change. Effective management of the coastal zone should combine an understanding of technical influences on sustainability with a sensitive and realistic appreciation of social, including institutional factors. This idea is encapsulated in the concept of CZM or ‘integrated CZM’.

CZM has been developed as a conceptual framework to address these complex socio-economic and ecological policy problems of coastal areas. Over the past decade CZM has gained significant importance as a policy tool and today it is generally recognised as the framework in which national development agencies and administrations develop their policies towards coastal areas. Its major features are outlined in a number of policy papers by international organisations. However, although these main features are generally agreed upon, there are significant differences in interpretation and emphasis, which is especially true of the place participatory policies are given.

The origin of modern CZM is generally attributed to the implementation of the US Coastal Zone Management Act which became US law in 1972. In the 1970s and early 1980s several other countries initiated coastal management plans modelled on the American example (on the international proliferation of CZM see Sorensen 1992). Most of these addressed specific problems such as shore erosion or declining fisheries and few attempted the management of coastal areas as a whole (Post and Lundin 1996). The limitations of single-sector approaches in dealing with the complex problems of coastal areas became increasingly apparent in the 1980s and programs with highly integrated design, like the ASEAN/US CRMP programme began to be planned and implemented.

The term ‘integrated’ in the context of coastal management refers originally to the integration of the various economic and administrative 'sectors' involved in coastal areas under one administrative body (Kenchington and Crawford 1993). Within what is often called a 'systems approach' (Vallega 1993), integrated CZM recognises that multiple factors across the boundaries of traditional sectors in coastal areas affect each other and thus have to be viewed and addressed together.

A crucial factor for the growing significance of CZM as a policy framework for coastal development was its support by UN organisations such as FAO and UNDP and eventually the adoption of integrated CZM as the framework to address coastal development problems by the UNCED world summit in Rio 1992. With the adoption of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the participating nations committed themselves to the principles of integrated CZM for the administration and development of their coastal areas. Since the UNCED summit in Rio the term 'integration' refers increasingly to the goals of CZM plans to bring about ‘sustainable development’, seeking to unite economic development and ecological objectives (Cicin-Sain 1993).

CZM is ideally multi-sectoral and aims to integrate the activities of existing users (Chua and Scura 1992; Clark 1996). However, CZM plans are still often unable to prevent continued environmental degradation and damage to local livelihoods. Often, those most seriously harmed by such changes are already the most vulnerable. However, paradoxically, they may be also actively involved in the process of environmental degradation. This is where understanding of social aspects of management becomes most essential - and is most frequently lacking.


1.3 Participation in coastal zone management

Many CZM projects have been implemented on the basis of community participation. Furthermore, participation features prominently in various CZM policy papers, the World Bank’s Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (Post and Lundin 1996), or the OECD Guidelines for Aid Agencies on Global and Regional Aspects of the Development and Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment (OECD 1996) being two examples. The assumption has been that projects will be more effective and sustainable if local people are involved in their design and management (Clark 1996; Coetzee 1991; Kurien 1994; Ruddle and Johannes 1985; Smith 1984; Van de Vuss 1991). The challenges facing participation in CZM reflect those in natural resource management more generally, which has in the past given high prominence to scientific and technical solutions.

Importantly the coast has a different, and often more complex social profile than many rural areas, especially if its definition includes all factors seriously affecting the coastal ecosystem (an issue still under debate). Coastal areas are often densely populated and urbanised, with both the social diversity and ecological stress this implies. Also, because of their high economic potential, government and other stakeholders usually have a strong interest in coastal areas. Often the interests regarding use and control of aquatic resources are contested and complex. For example, fishing communities may be in direct conflict with industrial fishing, which reduces the catch of smaller scale fishermen, but may be important for the national economy. Similarly, shrimp farming may be a critical export earner but have negative effects for those not engaged in the activity.

Thus, it is debatable whether participatory mechanisms, which have often been developed in potentially less complex rural settings, are adaptable to the social context of coastal areas. This research draws out the social complexities found in the Puttalam District of Sri Lanka in order to challenge some of the underlying assumptions of participatory development.



2.1 Historical overview

Sri Lanka was the first tropical country with a centrally managed CZM programme (Clark 1996). The policy and legal basis for CZM in Sri Lanka is provided by the Coast Conservation Act of 1981, which came into effect on 1 October 1983. Amendments to the Act were made in 1988. The Act mandated the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) to prepare a CZM plan to serve as a framework for regulation and control of development activities within the coastal zone. The first CZM plan was published in 1990 (CCD 1990). It was subsequently revised in 1997 (CCD 1997). CZM activities were further strengthened by the policy document, Coastal 2000: A Resource Management Strategy for Sri Lanka’s Coastal Region (Olsen et al. 1992).

Some of the strategies suggested in these policy documents include:


One potential constraint to the successful implementation of CZM in Sri Lanka is a rather narrow definition of the ‘coastal zone’. This only includes the area lying within a limit of three hundred meters land-wards of the mean high water line, and two kilometres seawards of the mean low water line, as well as some of the water areas of rivers, lagoons, or other bodies connected to the sea. Such definition excludes, for example, the majority of shrimp aquaculture developments in the country, and might compromise holistic management of development activities in the coastal area. A fuller description of the CCD as well as of other organisations involved in CZM in Sri Lanka can be found in appendix one.

2.2 Shift towards participation

Participation in coastal management in Sri Lanka has had a high priority. Thus, the USAID-funded Coastal Resources Management Project (CRMP) run in conjunction with the CCD is attempting to establish participatory management in two Special Area Management Schemes (SAMS). A number of other SAMS is currently proposed. Coastal 2000 calls for a decentralised and participatory approach to the management of resources. At the same time, the Dutch-funded Wetland Conservation Management Project or Integrated Resource Management Project (IRMP), implemented in conjunction with the Central Environmental Agency, has mounted a scheme for the participatory management of the Muthurajawela Wetlands and the Negombo Lagoon (Wetland Conservation Project/CEA 1994). More recently, a consultant mission charged with the planning and design of an ADB-funded Coastal Resource Management Project recommended a strategy working towards …maximum participation and involvement of all stakeholders and beneficiaries. (CRMP 1999).



The Puttalam district was chosen for this research in part because it displays many of the environmental problems and issues faced in tropical coastal areas, and more particularly because the processes of change taking place there are likely to be duplicated in other parts of the country as they develop. In addition, a substantial amount of existing technical research in the area provided an excellent baseline from which to examine issues of ‘stakeholder participation’.

The research focused on three villages in the Puttalam District. However, its aim was not so much to make statements about these villages, but to study in these villages in order to be able to make statements about more general CZM issues.

3.1 Introduction to Puttalam District

The Puttalam district is part of the North-Western Province (NWP), one of nine provinces in Sri Lanka, which in turn are divided into 24 Districts. It is located on the north-western coast of the country. The southern border lies just to the north of Negombo, 50km north of the capital Colombo. From there, it stretches about 150km north. The total area of the District, excluding inland waters, is 3,013 sq. km (Samarasinghe 1997). Its coastline measures 206 km (NARA 1997). The population of the Puttalam District is estimated at 601,104 (DCS 1994) and is predominantly Sinhala (see table 3.1). The majority of the population is employed in agriculture, fishing, or the Government sector (see table 3.2).

Table 3.1: Ethnic composition of the Puttalam District (1981 census).

Ethnic group


Sri Lanka Tamil

Up Country Tamil



% of population






Source: DCS 1981 census

Table 3.2: Employment in the Puttalam District according to sectors.









% of work force








Source: DCS 1981 census

3.2 Perceived CZM challenges for Chilaw-Puttalam

Over the last five to ten years there has been a remarkable change in the ways that natural resources are used in the district. This is reflected in a number of critical environmental changes, both in the fishery and on land. Major issues identified by a number of studies include: the growth of commercial shrimp farming, increased pressure on the fisheries, reduced areas of mangroves, and the potential pollution of the water table by commercial agriculture.

First, during the last few decades a large number of shrimp-culture farms have been established in the area. According to a NARA study, in 1994, a total of 450 farms had been approved by the authorities. However, the total number of farms in the area was over 900 (Dayaratne et al. 1995). A more recent study puts the number of unregistered farms at 693 (Rohitha 1997). Very few farms carry out the officially required environmental impact assessments, and a number of problems are apparently emerging. Shrimp farms use limited groundwater supplies to dilute the highly saline surface water in the Lagoon and Lake. This has resulted in increasing salinity which may result in ‘drastic environmental change’ (Dayaratne et al. 1995: 396).

Untreated aquaculture farm effluent is discharged directly into the Dutch Canal, Puttalam and Chilaw lagoon. Environmental change in the area has not only affected the ecosystem as a whole but also the shrimp industry itself. A series of disease outbreaks have led to periodic collapses of the industry, and deserted shrimp farms are now a common sight in the area. As one study concludes: ‘…self-pollution of the shrimp-farming industry by its own mismanagement of effluents is perhaps the biggest direct environmental issue that threatens the industry.’ (Corea et al. 1998). Disease has reportedly led to losses of 50% of the total production in 1988/89, and 90% in 1996 (Steele et al. 1997).

Furthermore, there are reports of conflicts between shrimp farmers and other resource users such as lagoon fishermen, who see their livelihoods as being compromised or even threatened by the proliferation of shrimp farming and the accompanying environmental changes (Firth 1997). Shrimp aquaculture is reported to have had a negative impact on lagoon fisheries through pollution, mangrove degradation (see below), as well as by blocking access to the lagoons. It is estimated that each hectare of shrimp farming area causes Rs. 21,000 (U$ 300) of damage to neighbouring fisheries each year (Steele et al. 1997). This is a considerable amount if compared to the incomes of small-scale fishermen. Other impacts shrimp aquaculture has reportedly had on neighbouring communities were the acceleration of flooding as well as the salination of drinking water supplies (Withanage 1995). These impacts have led to increased dissatisfaction among shrimp farmers, 70% of whom are foreign to the District (Corea et al. 1998), and people living near shrimp aquaculture developments.

The disappearance of mangrove areas is another major change in the District. Although some studies claim that extraction for wood-fuel contributes to the problem (Dayaratna et al. 1995), shrimp aquaculture poses the largest threat. One third of all shrimp ponds are located on former mangrove land (Steele et al. 1997). This has led to degradation on a large scale, leading to a loss of an estimated 600 ha of mangrove forests. These changes negatively affect the productivity of lagoons in the District, as wild shrimps and fish use mangrove forests as breeding grounds.

Second, there has been an influx of refugees from the civil disturbances in the north. This has reportedly accentuated already mounting pressure on fishery resources, especially in Puttalam lagoon. About 40% of the total population of the area around the lagoon is dependent on fishing for their livelihoods. Since the 1960s, nylon nets, outboard motors and fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) boats have been introduced to the District (Stirrat 1988). The number of boats used and intensity of fishing effort has increased dramatically in many places during the 1980s. In the early 1980s, there were around 350 FRP boats in Puttalam Lagoon. This figure has increased to well over 1,000 and the current fishery of Puttalam lagoon is now judged to be well over sustainable limits (Dayaratna et al. 1995). There is as yet no conclusive study on the sustainability of the maritime fisheries of the District’s coast. However, there is the evidence of fishing conflicts that could point at resource scarcity, an example being the dispute surrounding shrimp trawling (De Alwis 1994).

Lastly, there are indications that commercial vegetable production to meet urban demands has increased rapidly in the Kalpitya area, using wells which draw up water from a lens in the peninsula. This cultivation is reported to have had serious impacts on local health because it involves the intensive use of fertilisers and herbicides, which seep into local drinking water (CEB 1998).






4. INTRODUCTION (back to contents)

    1. The field research
    2. Field research took place between March 1998 and June 1999. Given the issues discussed above regarding the complexity of interest formation, the research principally comprised detailed qualitative work in three locations. These are the villages of Ambakandawila, south of Chilaw town, which has seen a rapid expansion of unregulated shrimp farming, Mampuri on the Kalpitya Peninsula, where issues of rapid economic change and vegetable cultivation are particularly salient; and Modarawella in the south of the District, where a number of tourism developments are located.

      However, as these villages are not bounded entities, research was not restricted to the village level alone. Fieldwork also included other villages in the area, nearby towns where central and local Government offices as well as other institutions are located, and the capital Colombo. A full description of the research methods used can be found in appendix three.

    3. Descriptive background of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella.
      1. Ambakandawila

Ambakandawila is a village in the Chilaw division of Puttalam District, seventy-five km north of Colombo and about five km south of Chilaw town. It lies in the intermediate area between the Dry Zone to the North and the Wet Zone to the south and is located on the narrow isthmus between Chilaw lagoon and the sea, the former bordering Ambakandawila on its eastern side, the Indian Ocean bordering it to the west. During the fishing season, a considerable number of fishing craft is landed on the beach, which is lined by shrimp hatcheries and houses. There is a concentration of houses along the main road to Chilaw in the north and Thoduwawa to the south, as well as towards the lagoon. The houses closest to the lagoon border an almost uninterrupted line of shrimp farms.

Ambakandawila has been the subject of anthropological enquiry before (Stirrat 1988). His data serve as a baseline for many of the statements on social and economic change that follow.

The population of the Ambakandawila GN division consists of 1284 people, living in 283 families, in 276 houses (DS Chilaw 1997). Most households are organised around nuclear families. The population is almost exclusively Sinhala (97,2%), the vast majority being Catholics (95,8% of the total population). However, Tamil is also widely spoken by fishermen, especially of the older generation. Ambakandawila has one church in the centre of the village. The parish also includes the neighbouring villages of Iranawila (located south of Ambakandawila) and Welihena (to the north). Next to the church is a school.

Ambakandawila is fairly wealthy by Sri Lankan standards. Most houses have electricity, and many are brick-built, especially in the centre of the village. Other areas have seen more recent in-migration, and cajan (woven palm leaves) or wooden houses are more common than brick-built ones here.

Ambakandawila is traditionally a fishing village (Stirrat 1988). Fishing is still the main activity in the village during the northeast monsoon (vallal). The rough sea makes it difficult and risky to land crafts on the beach during the southwest monsoon (varakan). Thus, many of Ambakandawila’s fishermen migrate either to Chilaw where the sea can be accessed more easily through the estuary of the lagoon, to the Kalpitiya peninsula, or, if the security situation allows, to the North Eastern Coast. Others fish the lagoon instead. A number of people also work in Colombo, Chilaw or elsewhere in the country. However, one of the most important economic changes in Puttalam District, the introduction of shrimp aquaculture, has left its mark on Ambakandawila. There is a large number of shrimp farms and hatcheries, and many villagers are engaged or employed in shrimp aquaculture (see table 4.1).

Table 4.1: Sources of income in Ambakandawila

Source of income

Percentage of households



Shrimp aquaculture


Government employment


Casual work


Small scale trade


Overseas migration




`Source: own survey

Some more recent settlements immediately bordering the village officially belong to the GN divisions of Welihena to the north and West Iranawila to the south. However, there is no clear geographical separation and people from these settlements use facilities like the church or the post office in Ambakandawila. Furthermore, the Welihena area used to be part of Ambakandawila until people were settled there. People living within Ambakandawila GN division (which will be referred to as the centre of the village) are better established in terms of housing and ownership of fishing gear or shrimp farms, whilst labour is often employed from the areas outside.

The outside areas are also more diverse in terms of origin, as this is where people from other villages settled, attracted by the opportunities of the area and/or benefiting from a land distribution scheme. Out of a sample of 59 people from the outside, and 97 from the centre, only 6% of households from the centre did not have a single adult member that was born in Ambakandawila or its neighbouring villages, whilst it was 42% in the outer regions (and even 80% in one recently established settlement). Thus, to have a more representative sample of informants, fieldwork in Ambakandawila was not restricted to the people living within the official village borders but included some of the settlements located just outside as well. The term ‘villager’ broadly refers to people living in the ‘area’ of Ambakandawila.


4.2.2 Mampuri

Mampuri, in the north of Puttalam District, is located in the Northern Dry Zone of Sri Lanka, on the Kalpitiya peninsula which separates the vast Puttalam lagoon from the sea. The village lies about eleven kilometres from the junction at Palavi, near Puttalam, on the road heading north to Kalpitiya town. Its western border is the sea, which is flanked by a wide sandy beach on which beach-seining is common. To the east of the village is Puttalam lagoon, across which Puttalam town can be seen on a clear day.

As one enters Mampuri, its southern border is marked by a police road block that signals that one has entered Kalpitiya police division. Coconut trees give way to a number of houses, shops, a post office, a dispensary, a bank, two churches, and a filling station, that stretch along the road. The lagoon is always visible just to the east of the road. Two other roads lead to the beach, about 2 km to the west. One is a tarmac road, badly in need of repair, which leads to a dense settlement of fishermen close to the beach, in front of which a large amount of boats are landed. Along this road, there is the village school, houses, and vegetable fields. The other road further south is a gravel road with fewer houses along it. The area in between these two roads to the beach is taken up mainly by vegetable and tobacco fields, with some houses scattered between them.

Mampuri is extremely spread out: many farms are of several acres and separate neighbouring houses. The population consists of 2420 people living in 420 households (DS Kalpitiya 1998). Mampuri has grown immensely over this century. Whilst people describe it as a village that was traditionally inhabited by ethnic Tamils who have been established here since at least the turn of the century and who lived mainly by the main road, there have been waves of in-migration, especially over the past 20 years. According to official figures, Mampuri’s population has doubled since 1990 (1214 people according to the DS), however, this figure is likely to be incorrect.

Out of the households we spoke to, the members of 40% had settled here within the last 20 years. Probably most importantly, Tamil-speaking Sinhala fishermen originating from the area between Negombo and Chilaw, many of whom used to temporarily migrate to the peninsula, have now permanently settled in Mampuri. Many of the permanent houses in the densely populated settlement by the beach are thus of relatively recent origin. Overall, the influx of fishermen from areas further south has been an on-going process that spans up to 80 years.

Places of origin of the immigrants include the South of Puttalam District and other parts of Sri Lanka. Pull factors include the availability of land, profitable fisheries, and, in more recent times, the success of vegetable cultivation. Some people also have come to escape the war in the north-eastern part of the country. People in the village stress the ethnic harmony of the village. The whole peninsula in general is peaceful, despite officially being designated as an operational area (which implies LTTE activities and results in stricter security arrangements and higher salaries for Government servants).

Thus the population of Mampuri is far from homogeneous in terms of ethnicity or origin. Today, Sinhala make up 73.1% of the population (DS Kalpitiya 1998). However, many of them still speak Tamil as their first language. The other 26.9% are Tamil. The majority of people, 95%, are Catholic, whilst the remaining 5% are mainly Hindu. There are very few Buddhists and no Muslims (DS 1998). The existence of two churches in the village, as well as of a small chapel by the beach, indicates differentiation within the Catholic community (see 5.4.2). As in Ambakandawila, most people live in households based around nuclear families, but inter-marriages between different ethnic or occupational groups are frequent.

One of the most interesting processes in Mampuri is the one of Sinhalisation. Whilst most of the Sinhala fishermen used to speak Tamil and/or still do so, there is a trend towards the use of Sinhala, manifesting itself in most children being educated in Sinhala and the increased use of Sinhala in church. Even some of the long-established Tamils, despite having been one of the most powerful local groups in the past, due to their long local history as well as caste status, have adapted to this trend. The process reflects the political domination of Sinhala people in the Government controlled areas of the country.

Mampuri is definitely a prosperous village in terms of visible material wealth. There is plenty of water enabling cultivation despite the dry climate, and the fisheries manage to sustain a large number of fishermen. However, the capital-intensive nature of cultivation in Mampuri results in high risks, and many a farmer has lost substantial amounts of money due to crop failure or market fluctuations. Nevertheless, many jobs are available and there is a large number of service industries (shops, restaurants, kerosene shops) in the village. Diverse livelihood strategies are available to most, and social mobility is high. Furthermore, many people move between different sectors or communities. Labourers work both on farms and on boats, and successful farmers invest in fishing gear.

Overall, a picture of rapid social and economic change, shaped by waves of in-migration, the impact of the civil war, and other trends in the wider economy, characterises Mampuri.


4.2.3 Modarawella

Modarawella is a village near Marawila, a small town situated about sixty km. north of Colombo, and 15 km. south of Ambakandawila and Chilaw. It stretches along a sandy beach, at a distance of about two kilometres from the main Negombo-Chilaw road. The village is bordered to the north by the estuary of a small lagoon which is blocked by sand for most of the year. The Indian Ocean is to the west, and the lagoon, wetlands, canals, as well as some shrimp farms mark Modarawella’s eastern border. There are five hotel developments located in and around the village. A concentration of fishing boats as well as scattered theppams can be found by the beach. There is also an unused beach seine.

The area between the lagoon and the northern part of the beach is densely populated, and houses and coconut trees line the beach along its southern part. Another settlement is located away from the beach in a ‘former’ wetland and often gets flooded, even more so now that it is bordered by recently developed shrimp farms. A tarmac road leads from Modarawella to the main road, whilst two gravel road branch of it to run along the sea, across the estuary and towards Thoduwawa and Chilaw to the north, and to Marawila beach to the south


Modarawella forms its own GN division, and although it is part of the large Talwila parish, has its own little chapel. Most people attend mass here rather than in the main church in Talwila. Apart from Modarawella and Talwila, the parish also includes Talwila beach, which lies north of the estuary. Talwila Beach is, like Modarawella, a fishing village which is almost exclusively Sinhala Catholic, whilst Talwila is very different. The latter is a semi-urban, middle-class, residential area, with many of its inhabitants expressing negative views of the fishermen living by the beach. However, besides being part of the same parish, there also exist links in terms of landownership and kinship.

The population of Modarawella is 697, compromising 163 families. 99% of the population are Sinhalas, and 99% are Catholic (GN 1998). According to official data, 75% of households have fishing incomes, whilst our data suggests slightly less (about 65%). Other sources of income include shrimp farming or waged employment. Some of the latter can be found in the hotels. As in the Marawila area in general (the town is dubbed ‘little Italy’), many people have migrated to work overseas. 45% of households (out of a sample of almost 80% of all households) have either a member or close kin working abroad.

The fishermen in Modarawella claim to be poorer than the ones in Ambakandawila or Mampuri, and there is no large estuary that would enable easy access to the sea during the south-west monsoon. However, the village still lives up to the relatively still high standard of living found in many coastal areas of the country in general. Most houses are brick-built and have electricity.


4.3 Village boundaries

Referring to Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella in terms of ‘the village’ is problematic as none of them form clearly bounded geographical units. Not surprisingly, there are conflicting ideas about village borders.

One point of reference for the extent of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella were their respective ‘official’ borders. These borders are defined by GN divisions, the names of which are used for registration purposes, for postal addresses, as well as for other ‘official’ uses. The vast majority of people can name the GN division they live in, and direct questions about place of residence are answered in these terms.

However, when asked directly the same people who name their GN division as place of residence, often used a differing idea of where they live in other contexts. The borders of a GN division can overlap with parish borders, caste borders, or other organisational divisions. To give an example, the ‘official’ line separating Ambakandawila and Iranawila does not only mark a line between two GN-divisions, but also the border between two DS-divisions and two electorates. Nevertheless, both Ambakandawila and Iranawila are part of the same parish. There is one priest for both villages, and although there are two separate churches, the parts of Iranawila that are located closer to the church in Ambakandawila than to the one in Iranawila, relate to the former.

All three villages are in fact part of a wider parish network that includes neighbouring GN divisions. In Mampuri, there are even three churches within the GN division itself (whilst the parish includes another five) which indicates fragmentation within the village (see 5.4.2). Few people from Modarawella visit the main church in nearby Talwila, and the priest has to hold a separate mass at the small chapel in Modarawella itself. Fishing societies do not always correspond with GN borders either. The one in Modarawella includes parts of Marawila Beach, another GN division to the south of the village.

Moreover, physical proximity can override ‘official’ borders, whilst change over time further complicates the situation. Thus, the coconut estates that were nationalised and where plots of land were consequently distributed to landless people, used to be part of Ambakandawila, until a new GN was established in neighbouring Welihena. The border between the two GN divisions runs through populated areas, and people who live close to each other but in separate divisions would nevertheless refer to each other as fellow villagers. Furthermore, fishermen from both villages share landing places, which is another marker of residency.

Some of the people who settled in the former coconut estates outside Ambakandawila were born inside the village, and their kin still live there. These people would point out that they are from Ambakandawila, despite living just outside its borders, as this is where they still relate to. Thus, it is not only physical borders that inform people’s identities but also a number of other factors, including origin, religion, caste, occupation, length of residence etc. People often have multiple identities that are used in different situations. This is discussed in section 14.2.1.

As a consequence, the research team had to make choices about what and who to include whilst studying each village. The collection of qualitative data can never be restricted to clearly defined localities as this would ignore inter-linkages. Yet quantitative data needs some point of reference and official data usually refers to GN divisions. Empirical data collected by the team can include people living outside these units as well.


4.4 Environmental change in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella: challenges for CZM

Ambakandawila, Mampuri and Modarawella were chosen for field research as many of the CZM issues discussed in section 3 manifest themselves in these villages. The problems and where they were found, as well as where they are discussed in this report are summarised in table 4.2. Assessment of these issues is based on literature, expert advice, and villagers’ opinions. This discussion focuses on the social and institutional context of these issues.

The spread of shrimp farming in recent years has led to a number of environmental changes in Ambakandawila. On the western side of the village, the beach is lined with hatcheries, many having replaced houses or coconut trees. On the eastern side, the strip of land along the lagoon that was formerly taken up by forests of mangroves and mangrove associates, has now been largely converted into ponds for shrimp farming.

These changes have had environmental impacts that are being felt locally. Water pollution, coupled with reduced breeding grounds for shrimps and fish due to mangrove degradation, have decreased the lagoon’s productivity. The proliferation of shrimp farms in the area and a lack of efficient management have led to periodic collapses of the industry due to disease. Some wells located close to the shrimp farms have been polluted by high salinity levels.

In Modarawella, shrimp farming is on a much smaller scale, and this, as well as its location on the southern margin of the shrimp industry, has saved it from epidemic disease outbreaks. However, flooding after heavy rainfall has intensified in parts of the village, as the drainage of water is blocked by shrimp ponds. The issue of shrimp aquaculture is discussed in section 6.

All three villages are predominantly fishing villages and therefore depend on successful management of the fisheries. Fishing issues are more difficult to assess on the local level as the links between declining catches and environmental management issues are rather tenuous. However, the near-shore fisheries in Sri Lanka are judged by Government officials as being unsustainable, and a number of fishing disputes have manifested themselves in the three villages and were investigated. In Ambakandawila as well as in Modarawella, shrimp trawling led to conflict in the early nineties. Seasonal fishermen were recently banned from Mampuri beach as space for boats is limited. Fishermen using beach seines clashed with people fishing off boats over fishing methods. Companies using diving equipment to catch ornamental fish as well as other resources are perceived as a threat in Modarawella. Certain types of nets have led to unsustainable fishing all along the coast.

Furthermore, the civil war in the north-eastern part of the country has disrupted the traditional migration patterns of fishermen in the villages. This is most severely felt in Modarawella, but has led to social and economic changes everywhere. The lagoon fisheries in Ambakandawila are threatened not only by shrimp farming but also by other factors such as increased fishing pressure. All these issues will be discussed in section 7.

The recent economic changes in Mampuri have been less problematic than in Ambakandawila. However, apart from fisheries, other CZM issues emerge. The intensive use of fertilisers and herbicides poses a potential threat to the local ecosystem. There are reports about pollution of the water table, and a number of drinking water wells in Mampuri have been affected. Furthermore, the long-term prospects for the local economy may be at risk by decreasing prices due to competition from elsewhere. The issue of vegetable cultivation is discussed in section 8.

In Modarawella, the main issue examined is tourism. The focus of the investigation was relatively recent hotel developments. Environmental impacts seem to be fairly benign at present, but include issues such as enclosure and sewage disposal. A large proportion of the discussion in section 9 is dedicated to social impacts and future perspectives.

The issue of mangrove degradation, which is linked to both fishing and shrimp farming and thus mentioned in the relevant sections, is examined separately as well. It provides insights into institutionalised conservation efforts and is thus discussed in section 10.

Coastal erosion features prominently in recent CZM initiatives in Sri Lanka, and is experienced in Ambakandawila. This is discussed in section 11, together with the Voice of America (VOA) radio relay station development to the south of the village.

Lastly, the issue of ‘poverty’ is examined in section 12. Poverty alleviation or livelihood improvement programmes are part of many CZM initiatives, as the poor are often not only excluded from the benefits brought about by economic and social change due to their marginal position, but often even have to bear the cost of these change.

All these issues are analysed in the context of institutional management which CZM seeks to improve. The following section 5 thus draws out the existing institutional framework.


Table 4.2: CZM issues found in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella.

CZM issue

Problems associated

Found in


Shrimp farming

  • Uncontrolled spread of shrimp farms and hatcheries leading to over-development
  • Clearance of mangrove areas for shrimp ponds
  • Disease outbreaks leading to great financial losses
  • Pollution of the lagoon through discharges
  • Salination of drinking water wells
  • Flooding






  • Overexploitation of available resources
  • Restrictions on seasonal migration
  • Disputes over shrimp trawling, diving, methods used, space on beach
  • Degradation of lagoon fisheries





Vegetable cultivation

  • Pollution of the water table due to intensive use of agro-chemicals
  • Vulnerability to market fluctuations




  • Enclosure of land by the beach
  • Pollution and traffic
  • Social impacts



Mangrove degradation

  • Loss of bio-mass
  • Loss of breeding grounds for shrimps and fish
  • Loss of sources of building materials, woodfuel, or natural medicines





Coastal erosion

  • Loss of land and buildings




  • Alienation of land from villagers
  • Fear of radiation





5 INSTITUTIONS (back to contents)

5.1 Formal and informal institutions

Institutions mediate between people and the environment and govern access to natural resources. CZM generally aims to improve institutional management as a means for achieving sustainable development. Definitions of institutions vary greatly, and their understanding has changed over time (see Watson et al. 1999). On the widest level, institutions could be described as ‘patterns of routinised behaviour’ (O’Riordan and Jordan 1996: 68). Such a vague definition certainly encompasses the wide range of what is commonly referred to as an ‘institutions’ and includes Government departments as much as marriage customs.

Within the development literature, a distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ institutions is often made. The former describes state organisations and other bodies subject to legislation or formally constituted, whilst the latter includes more ‘customary’ organisations and practices, such as the household, marriage, or land tenure. This definition is problematic to the extent that it creates a dichotomy that leaves little room for exploring inter-linkages and overlaps between all types of institutions. Furthermore, there is a risk of underplaying the role of ‘informal’ institutions. On the other hand this categorisation can serve as a descriptive tool that draws on common features. Thus labelling the institutions encountered during this research as either ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ serves to give a clear and easily accessible account of the institutional context of Ambakandawila, Mampuri and Modarawella. How formal and informal institutions do in fact interact, overlap and change in these villages will emerge from the sections on different CZM issues that follow and is further discussed in part III.

Both formal and informal institutions work in the context of Sri Lanka’s political situation as well as the market economy. This context contributes to shaping the institutions discussed and thus needs some description.

5.2 Party politics in Sri Lanka

Post-colonial politics in Sri Lanka have been dominated by two parties, the United National Party (UNP), and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), with some threats from the far-left, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), or ‘People’s Liberation Party’. Whilst an SLFP dominated Government implemented far-reaching policies of nationalisation in the 1970s, the UNP’s return to power in 1977 marked a gradual departure from Sri Lanka’s post-colonial, socialist tradition, and a progressive adoption of free-market policies. The UNP’s reign lasted 17 years, and saw the escalation of ethnic problems between the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamils, into an outright civil-war in 1983, as well as an armed insurgency from the JVP. Whilst these developments were certainly important in shaping the country’s political economy, there is little space here to discuss them fully. The UNP remained in power until 1994, its position maintained by continued postponement of elections, as well as declarations of states of emergencies. In 1994, the SLFP-dominated ‘Peoples’ Alliance’ (PA) won the elections and promised a package of constitutional change addressing the ethnic problem and centralisation of power.

On the village level, political affiliation is divided between the UNP and the PA (most people now refer to the SLFP as PA). Whilst some people tend to strongly identify themselves with one party, others make their support dependent on existing power relations. Thus, political support can result in access to resources made available by political actors, an institution that is here labelled as ‘patronage’ (see 5.5.2). When fieldwork first commenced in 1998, the Central Government was run by the PA, whilst the Provincial Government of NWP was in the hands of the UNP. Thus, supporters of both parties had potential access to Government funds. This changed when elections to the Provincial Council of NWP were held in January 1999. The PA emerged as the winner, but their victory followed an election campaign marked by violence and intimidation of political opponents, and a large number of reported irregularities during the election itself. All three villages we worked in experienced political violence and irregularities in the polling stations during this time. Nevertheless, the PA is in a position of almost absolute power in the Puttalam District now (although some local councils are still held by the UNP), and PA politicians control Government resources.


5.3 The market

The Colonial period saw an increasing incorporation of Sri Lanka into the international economy. It left a legacy of large-scale commodity production for export, manifested in tea and rubber plantations that dominate parts of the country. However, post-colonial Governments until 1977 imposed restrictions on imports and exports and controlled large parts of the industry. This changed in 1977 when Sri Lanka began its move towards an ‘open economy’. From this point onwards, foreign investment was encouraged with the aim of transforming Sri Lanka into a ‘newly industrialised country’. A large, export-oriented textile industry has been established, ‘Free Trade Zones’ were set up, and tourism is being promoted.

Puttalam District has been linked to the wider regional as well as the global economy at least since the nineteenth century when it was famous for its commercial coconut plantations. It is described as having been fully incorporated into the market economy since the early twentieth century (Stirrat 1988). This long history of commodity production, as well as the national drive towards an open economy over the past two decades, are reflected in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. Villagers’ production is aimed at the market. Fish as well as vegetables are produced for sale, and complex trading mechanisms linking the villages to Colombo and other urban areas are in place. Shrimp production is almost exclusively geared towards exports and caters for demand in Japan, North America, and Europe. Technology and inputs in all sectors are imported from abroad and other parts of Sri Lanka. White tourists bringing in foreign exchange are a common sight on the streets of Modarawella. Thus, local, regional, and global markets shape CZM in these villages to a great extent and constitute the wider context in which management attempts have to be situated.


5.4 The formal institutional framework

5.4.1 The wider institutional framework

Many of the Government as well as non-Governmental institutions have offices (or at least extension offices) in Chilaw, Puttalam, or other towns of the District. Others operate only from Colombo. Local Government offices, the pradesiya sabhas (PS) as well as the Divisional Secretaries (DS) are located in Madampe for Ambakandawila, Kalpitya for Mampuri, and Mahawewa for Modarawella. The Provincial Government is based in Kurunegala (about 60km inland from Chilaw), but the Provincial Ministry of Fisheries (PMOF) is based in Chilaw town. The PMOF also runs an Aquaculture Service Centre, which is supported by the Industrial Service’s Bureau (ISB) of NWP.

Several MPs from the District sit in the central government has its seat in Colombo.. Politicians active on all three levels (PS, Provincial Council, and Central Government) are well known in the villages as they facilitate access to Government funds and patronage in general. Central Government institutions with extension services in the District include the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Development (MFARD). The MFARD runs an aquaculture extension office in Chilaw town (although this is now taken over by the newly established National Aquaculture Development Agency which is semi-autonomous from MFARD), and District Fisheries extension Offices (DFEO) in Puttalam (for Mampuri), and Mahawewa (for Ambakandawila and Modarawella). The Forest Department has its District office in Puttalam, and a Range office in Chilaw.

Agencies operating from Colombo include the Coast Conservation Department (CCD), the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). The CCD is an institution that was created in 1983 to govern CZM activities in Sri Lanka.

The Bishop of Chilaw is based in Chilaw town, whilst the Church-based Social and Economic development Centre (SEDEC) has its regional office in the town of Madampe. NGOs working in the three villages are discussed in section 5.4.2. They operate partly from regional offices located in the District, partly from national offices located in Colombo or elsewhere. How they access the village and vice versa differs from one to the others and is thus mentioned where relevant.

A list of all formal Central and Provincial Government organisations, and of some NGOs, that are relevant to CZM in the Puttalam District, can be found in appendix one.

5.4.2 Village institutions

The GN-Division is the smallest administrative unit in Sri Lanka. All three villages are separate GN divisions and as such have an office where the GN is available to the public. The GN him- or herself represents the Government on the village level and acts as a link between other government institutions (especially the DS) and villagers. Furthermore, people have to register with the GN in order to qualify for state benefits, schooling for their children, to vote, or to get a National ID. Similarly, all three villages have a Samurdhi officer and societies. Samurdhi is the official income support programme, which is distributed through these officers. Beneficiaries are organised in societies which occasionally organise volunteer work campaigns.

Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella are almost exclusively Catholic and religion is an important source of identity. This is partly due to the privileged position the Catholic community enjoyed in Colonial times, partly a reaction to the threat the post-colonial Government with its stress on Sinhala Buddhism posed to Catholicism, and partly due to the strict hierarchical organisation of the Church (Stirrat 1992). Almost all houses we visited displayed religious symbols, and a majority of people attends mass on a regular basis. The priest is an important figure in all three villages. His support is sought in times of disputes, illness, misfortune, or family problems. The annual feasts of obligation are the most important social occasions in these villages.

Nevertheless, there are some regional differences. In Ambakandawila, there is one church in the centre of the village, and the priest resides in a mission house next to the church. People from the two neighbouring villages that are part of Ambakandawila parish, and who live closer to Ambakandawila church than to the other (smaller) churches, tend to attend mass here. In contrast, Modarawella belongs to a large parish that includes some of the semi-urban areas near the main road. The priest resides away from the beach, amongst the non-fishing part of the parish. The difference is marked by people from Modarawella having mass not in the main church but outside a little chapel by the beach. In Mampuri, there are three churches, a small one by the beach, and two in the centre of the village, one associated with the Tamil community, the other one with the Sinhala one. Mass rotates between the two main churches, and feasts of obligation are held separately.

The research team’s work has been made much easier by introductions through the local priests. Furthermore, many arguments or fights between villagers are resolved by the priests, including land disputes, business differences, or fights between drunken youths, to mention but a few. The priest and other institutions of the Church often replace Government institutions such as the police in these matters. They also contribute to CZM, an example being the involvement of the priest in banning divers from Ambakandawila beach (see 7.9.3).

All three parishes are part of the Chilaw diocese, which is headed by the Bishop of Chilaw. One of the most important NGOs in the area is SEDEC (see above). Ambakandawila has at least three SEDEC saving and credit societies, which accumulate their own savings and take part in income generating programmes. Members are also involved in some charity work. Loans given out are small which makes the societies significant for poor people, but committee members tend to come from the well-established sector of village. There are stories of loans and grants being misappropriated. SEDEC has not been successful in establishing a working society in either Mampuri or Modarawella.

Most fishing villages in Sri Lanka, including Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella, have fishing societies through which Government support to the sector is channelled. The society in Modarawella also runs a bank and shops. These fishing societies are discussed in section 7.8.

Recent NGO activities in and around Ambakandawila include the efforts of the Small Fishers Federation (SFF), which is based in Pambala, on the eastern side of Chilaw lagoon. Palugastenna, one of the areas bordering the village and described as an ‘outer area’ in this report, is benefiting from a social development programme that includes provision of pre-school facilities and clean drinking water, saving groups, small grants for income generating projects, training for youths, and visits by a mobile medical service. The SFF also tried to involve people in Ambakandawila in their mangrove conservation programme around Chilaw lagoon. Furthermore, the SFF was active in a mangrove planting project in Mampuri, but all that remains here is a sign board by the main road.

In Mampuri, both Sri Lankan (Sarvodhaya) as well as foreign NGOs (Redd Barna) have provided some infrastructure in the form of wells, toilets, or roads in the past. The Small Farmer’s Association (see box 8.1) was also initiated by Redd Barna, as well as a women’s society that serves as a saving society and runs a pre-school. The Rural Development Foundation (RDF), which caters for the large population of displaced persons in Puttalam District in general, runs a Vocational Training Centre offering computer and typing courses in Mampuri. In Modarawella, an NGO called Natmarco was involved in mangrove conservation.

One remarkable factor about these institutions is that groups set up at the village level rarely tend to work very successfully. Whether SEDEC, fishing societies, or groups founded by NGOs, we could not find any that functioned over prolonged periods of time. There was no shortage of examples of failures. In most cases, people seem to join these groups simply to obtain short-term benefits - to get a loan for example - but then stop being active once they have what they wanted. Repayment rates in the groups managed at the village level are reportedly poor. The reasons for this are difficult to isolate, but one explanation could be a clash of interests between these formal groups and the less formal but better established institution of individual households (see 5.5.1). Thus, people who join NGO groups or fishing societies are also members of individual households, and they might prioritise the needs of the latter in a way that has detrimental consequences for the former. This is further discussed in section 14.2.3.

Party politics are another context that often interferes with such groups (see below). The few successful examples of working in groups we found (elsewhere) involved very small groups and dedicated management.

In the realm of party politics, both Ambakandawila and Modarawella feature ‘Rural Development Societies’ set up under the former UNP Government to channel support to party members. These societies have been inactive anymore since the government changed. On the other hand, supporters of the PA are talking about formalising their loosely organised groups. One example is a group of young men in Ambakandawila, who ‘work’ for politicians. Members describe this relationship in business terms, ‘we help them, they help us’. ‘Help’ includes the manning of polling stations during elections, body-guarding, or complaining to the priest over him recording malpractices of the PA during the PC election campaign. People who are part of this gang also help each other. One case involved a group member’s personal argument with an outsider being violently ‘resolved’ by the whole gang. Although not formalised (as yet?), this gang is widely acknowledged, and its undertakings that border on illegality were told to us in a matter-of-fact manner, showing how well established and powerful they are.

Compiling the list of formal village institutions was not easy. People are well aware of market trends, but they rarely tended to talk about formal organisations. Those who were seemingly direct beneficiaries of an NGO’s activity would not even know the group’s name or even why they do what they did. Few peoples’ knowledge about Government frameworks was very detailed once the scope of the discussion went beyond the GN. In discussions on management of environmental resources, people would be far more articulate on another topic; patronage (see 5.5.2). Furthermore, the working of informal institutions such as marriage or the household are known to everyone as they dominate life in the village itself and therefore deserve special attention


5.5 Informal institutions

5.5.1 Informal village institutions

The household, generally based around the nuclear family, but sometimes including close kin as well, is the basic economic unit in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. Households are created through marriage, and the latter is thought of as being the most important event in a person’s life. Villagers agree that marriages should ideally take place between members of the same religious, ethnic, and caste group, but there are many exceptions. Arranged marriages are not as common as they allegedly used to be, and most people seem to choose their spouses themselves, but this choice is arguably not ‘free’. People tend to seek partners who are acceptable to their parents for questions of dowry and inheritance hinge on parents’ approval to a marriage. Marriage celebrations usually involve considerable expense and large amounts of wealth are transferred to the new household, especially in the form of dowry. All three villages are predominantly Catholic, the vast majority of marriages being between Catholics.

Most people with a fishing background in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella tend to get married to other Sinhala Catholics from the Karava caste, whilst Tamils in Mampuri tend to marry other Tamils. However, inter-marriages between different ethnic, religious, and caste groups are common, especially in Mampuri with its heterogeneous population. But even people from more homogenous villages like Ambakandawila and Modarawella meet members of other castes and religious groups, be it a colleague at work in Colombo, or a worker from the South who has come to work on a shrimp farm in Ambakandawila. Non-Catholic spouses often have to convert, especially if they want to settle in the village. Apart from religion and caste, wealth plays an important role, and not surprisingly the rich tend to marry the rich.

Marriage marks the constitution of a new household. Dowries, often in the form of houses, land, or fishing gear are common, and form the starting capital of the new unit. Thus, a couple who elopes is seriously disadvantaged. Every married couple in the villages seeks to build their own house as soon as possible. This is often a cajan house to start with, whilst a brick-house might be built once a certain amount of wealth is accumulated. Thus, a household goes through a ‘developmental cycle’ (Stirrat 1988), in which it aims to improve material living conditions. Every household is expected to sustain itself, and assistance between related households tends to be very limited and often comes in the form of loans that have to be repaid.

Ideally households compromise two spouses and their children. However, the youngest son of a family generally inherits his parents ‘ house, and is expected to look after them in return. Other factors lead to less conventional households: separation of spouses, death of a spouse or parent, or overseas migration of members of a household often result in fragmentation and/or regrouping of households. One finds female-headed, single-man, or groups-of-kin households. In Modarawella, for example, we found one household that consisted of an elderly woman, her sister whose husband had recently died, her two son-in-laws for whom she cooked as her two daughters had both gone to the middle-east to work, and two grandchildren.

Within households, the division of labour is gendered. Men tend to do the fishing, run shrimp farms, and oversee cultivation. Women tend to be the managers of the household, thus controlling finances. Fishing especially is seen as an activity that involves co-operation between the spouses: men fish whilst women sell the catch. Similarly, decisions on vegetable farming or shrimp aquaculture are often jointly made. A simple dichotomy of men dominating the public sphere and women the private sphere does not hold good in these three villages.

To sum up, the social structure of the villages is generally made up of households, the majority of which consists of nuclear families. Economic activity in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella is generally aimed at maximising the material satisfaction of these households.


5.5.2 Patronage

‘Patronage’ is used here as a term describing the process of villagers making use of their ‘political connections’ (desapalana sambandetha) to achieve certain ends. Patronage proved to be important to most CZM issues, and interacts with the formal institutional framework in many ways. In some cases, this interaction is such patronage not only constrains but totally undermines formal management. This is aided by, and consequently reinforces, the weaknesses in many of the formal institutions in terms of resources for enforcing their mandates. It is in this light that patronage deserves special attention.

On a general level, patronage as it is understood here involves politicians doing favours for people in exchange for political support. Favours can include access to jobs and other resources available from the Government such as loans or subsidised fishing and agriculture inputs, the application of pressure on civil servants to make the bureaucracy work to a client’s advantage, or even the backing of a client’s illegal activities. MPs, especially of the ruling party, and to a certain extent lower level politicians, have the potential power to influence the careers of Government servants (e.g. affect a transfer to areas affected by the civil war, or support a promotion), which makes it difficult for the latter to refuse demands made. Political support can mean party membership, an active role in the party in general, or active campaigning on behalf of the patron in question.

Patrons include members of the PS and the PC, as well as MPs and Ministers. Power and influence of a patron correlate to his position in the official political hierarchy. Furthermore, although everyone who holds a political office is allocated a certain amount of Government funds to spend on his or her electorate, party membership is crucial. Thus, members of the ruling party are in a better position to influence decision making processes. Since the PA now runs both the Central as well as the Provincial Government (see 5.2), its politicians are currently the most ‘valuable’ contacts in Puttalam District.

Demands of clients are often ‘passed on’ through the political hierarchy. To give an example, a PS member might represent the interests of his local supporters towards an MP, who then passes the demand on to a Minister. However, it should be pointed out that the power of an individual politician does not necessarily depend strictly on his or her position in the formal hierarchy. A PS member could potentially have more power in ‘his or her village’ than a Provincial politician due to better ‘local knowledge’ and access to a local support base, or in some cases even due to kinship or friendship links to politicians on top of the hierarchy.

Politics at the village level often involves the organisation and reorganisation of personal and/or collective (in case of fishing societies for example) connections to a national hierarchy of patrons. It is not over-cynical to suggest that for many individuals, politics is not a question of ideology but of business interests. Of course, there are a number of (mainly older) people who are committed to one particular party, Ambakandawila, for example, has a traditional UNP support base. But many people change party allegiances as national power relations change.

Clients can include anyone in the village who has good links to the political hierarchy, usually in the form of personal relationships. This is generally the case for the better established and wealthier section of the community. These individuals are often in a position to secure a number of benefits for themselves, as well as for their kin, their friends, or their followers. An interesting point is that patrons might often be faced with conflicting demands from different clients whilst MPs belonging to the same political party might be competing with each other over the conflicting claims of their respective followers. This is where the power of an individual patron manifests itself most clearly and recent election campaigns in Sri Lanka have seen a lot of infighting. Most people we spoke to are familiar with the informal institution of patronage as it is described here, and most people use connections rather than formal ways when they need to ‘get things done’.

Patrons even take on roles of the police. Thus, when the police arrested some men involved in a violent confrontation between two sets of people in Ambakandawila, their release was secured by their respective patrons, and the conflict continued. It was eventually resolved by the two politicians who had interfered with the police earlier, and who then negotiated on behalf of their respective followers.

Thus the term ‘patronage’ is used here to describe a wide range of activities, the scope of which is hidden by this simple categorisation. Furthermore, its characterisation as an almost business-like transaction between self-interested individuals is likely to do injustice to the varying motivations of different actors and simplifies its ethical and moral dimensions. Nevertheless, the type of relationships labelled as patronage is so central to the CZM issues examined here that the need for a general category overrides the need for a precise definition. The cases of patronage presented in this report will hopefully speak for themselves, and are followed up by a deeper discussion in part three. Manifestations of patronage abound in any sector, but the political economy surrounding shrimp farming is probably the best documented example in this report (see section 6).

The issue of patronage is a delicate one for obvious reasons. Thus, the identity of some of the actors involved in the description of patronage relations in this report is often hidden behind rather vague titles such as ‘politician’. The names of people mentioned in the case studies have generally been changed as well.



6 SHRIMP AQUACULTURE (back to contents)

6.1 Background: shrimp aquaculture in the Puttalam District

6.1.1 History

Shrimp farming developments in the Puttalam District started in the 1980s when a number of large farms where built, often by multinational companies. Local entrepreneurs were quick to pick up on the trend, adding a number of medium to large-scale farms to the industry. In the 1990s, the first small, illegal farms were developed, often by former employees of the large farms. This trend escalated after 1994, when the election victory of the current Government and the surrounding euphoria led to people literally invading Government lands such as reserved mangrove areas to take part in the apparent boom. Today, there are 1075 shrimp farms in NWP, covering an area of 2620.14 ha (6474.36acres). 694 of these, taking up 788.65 ha (most of them are small-scale), are illegal (Rohitha 1997). The scale of the growth of the industry becomes apparent when one looks at the overall production trends of farmed shrimp in Sri Lanka (almost all of which is produced in the Puttalam District): 10 mt in 1984, and 5000 mt in 1995 (NARA 1997).

The growth of the industry was accompanied by a rising demand for post-larval shrimp (PLS) which is needed to stock ponds. In Sri Lanka, PLS is usually hatched from eggs in industrial hatcheries, where it is then reared, going through several larval stages (Nauplius, Protozoea, and Mysis) before being released into shrimp ponds as PLS for further growth. Although large shrimp farms tend to run their own, a high number of hatcheries have sprung up in the District to cater for the demand of shrimp farms. There are now 72 hatcheries in Sri Lanka, producing an estimated 376m PLS in 1998 (SBA 1999). There are 32 hatcheries located in and around Ambakandawila, which makes the village the centre of the industry.

Central and Provincial Government attempts to regulate the shrimp industry have seen little success. Although development had been carefully planned at the outset, many entrepreneurs escaped official management. This is evident in the large number of illegal shrimp farms in the District. Furthermore, even legally approved farms do not always live up to the environmental standards expected and often expand their farms by encroaching on neighbouring wetlands. The uncontrolled nature of development has implications for the sustainability of the industry, as the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem is said to have been far exceeded. The consequence is the periodic collapse of the industry due to diseases such as whitespot and, more recently, yellowhead, leading to great financial losses. Furthermore, the future of the industry is very uncertain as efficient management is still lacking. At the time fieldwork was completed, only a fraction of shrimp farms in the District was in operation.


6.1.2 Shrimp diseases

The losses occurred due to shrimp diseases are difficult to quantify. Not only do different sources contradict each other, but other factors, such as the size of the industry, feed shortages, or damage through flooding, influence production size as well. One study claims that 50% of farm production was lost during a disease outbreak in 1988/89, whilst it was a staggering 90% in 1996 (Steele et al. 1997). Shrimp production in 1998 was at its highest ever level, but data for 1999 (when diseases were widespread) indicates a declining trend. Exports between January and March 1998 numbered 1000mt at a value of 900m Rs (12,8m US$), but only 500mt at a value of 415m Rs (5.9m US$) for the same period in 1999 (MFARD 1999). The average weight of shrimps farmed in Sri Lanka has more than halved from 45gr in 1991 to only 20gr in 1998 (SBA 1999), a change that indicates a reduction in quality of the produce.

A number of factors contribute to the spread of diseases, including:


6.1.3 The formal management framework

Overall, there are thirteen central Government institutions officially involved in the management of the shrimp industry. New developments have in principle to be approved by all of them. Organisations range from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (MFARD) and its newly established National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) to the Coconut Cultivation Board (CCB) and the CCD (see appendix two). On the provincial level, another five institutions are involved, including the Provincial Ministry of Fisheries (PMOF) which now also runs a Aquaculture Service Centre (ASC), and the Provincial Environmental Authority (PEA) (Rohitha 1997). The PMOF and NAQDA are responsible for the management of existing developments, for the enforcement of regulations, as well as for extension services. But responsibilities of these two organisations overlap, a situation that results in some confusion. Furthermore, the PMOF’s responsibilities have recently been widened to include the agriculture portfolio for NWP, thus increasing the Ministry’s workload and potentially weakening it.

Responsibility for state land, on which many of the illegal farms are located, lies with the Divisional Secretariats (DS). Furthermore, the DS are vested with the power to enforce many of the regulations that officially fall under one or more of the Government Institutions such as the Forest Department (FD) or the CCD. The FD is the responsible agent for mangrove areas. The CCD is responsible only for a strip reaching 300m inland from the sea. Whilst all hatcheries fall under its authority, few shrimp farms are located within this zone.

Development was reportedly well planned in the past. A zoning plan identifying suitable areas for shrimp aquaculture was drawn up with the help of the FAO in the 1980s. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded a Government-run model farm that served to disseminate technical knowledge for private development. However, the zoning plan collapsed after the change of Government in 1994. The FAO also funded a disease prevention project over the past two years. A number of workshops were organised in Puttalam District and a screening machine to test PLS was set up in Colombo (a considerable distance away from most hatcheries). The project also attempted to aid regulation of illegal farms, but few people followed the call for registration.

More recently, a technical committee was formed to co-ordinate management activities. This committee includes all regional as well as national institutions involved in the shrimp industry, as well as some representatives from the private sector. The committee’s plans include the regulation of illegal farms, the introduction of sedimentation tanks to farms, the reduction of stocking densities in shrimp ponds, as well as the control of hatchery production to ensure quality PLS.

In the non-governmental sector, the Business Association of Shrimp Farmers (BAPF) lobbies the Government on the problems faced by the industry. It is also attempting to organise farmers, particularly small-scale ones, in an attempt to disseminate knowledge that could aid the sustainability of the industry. The BAPF was started in 1996 and has 365 members, which includes small as well as large farms, legal as well as illegal ones. Separate attempts to form regional societies failed, due to a lack of interest as well as political problems. The hatcheries recently organised themselves through the ‘Shrimp Breeder Association’ (SBA), which was inaugurated in December 1998 and currently has 41 members (many of which are from Ambakandawila). The SBA aims to improve the position of hatcheries by organising the import of technology and improvements in the electricity supply, as well as by facilitating information exchange and by lobbying politicians. Large shrimp farms are organised in the Shrimp Farming Business and Exporters Association. The latter has 48 members, which account for 70% of the total shrimp production area, and forms a strong lobby.

Organisations critical of the industry include SEDEC which has made representations to various Government organisations to safeguard the rights of lagoon fishermen and villages who are experiencing negative impacts of the industry. The Colombo-based Environmental Foundation Ltd. and the National Fisheries Solidarity Forum (NAFSO) are also involved in this kind of lobbying, often in co-operation with village-based fishing societies or individuals. However, the only NGO with some presence in Ambakandawila is the Small Fishers Federation (SFF). This group runs a mangrove conservation programme in the Chilaw area and has attempted to organise fishermen around the lagoon to oppose the removal of mangrove, a process that is mainly caused by shrimp farms.

Whilst a general lack of capacities in terms of staff or funding amongst a number of the Government institutions, as well as the geographical distance of the Central Government bodies to NWP have been noted elsewhere (Rohitha 1997), a major factor that undermines efficient management is patronage (see below).


6.2 Shrimp aquaculture in Ambakandawila

6.2.1 Introduction

The aquaculture boom in Puttalam District had a major impact on Ambakandawila. A large number of shrimp farms as well as hatcheries have sprung up, changing the physical and social environment of the village. The environmental problems accompanying this change are summarised in table 4.2.

The proliferation of governing bodies described above does not have much influence in Ambakandawila, where many of the shrimp farms are illegal. Enforcement of existing regulations is weak, as witnessed by the conversion of reserved mangrove land to shrimp farms. The land that is now taken up by Ambakandawila’s illegal shrimp farms was originally identified as being unsuitable for shrimp cultivation due to high sulphur concentrations found in the soil of mangrove areas. Controlled development of these areas would therefore not have taken place.

Few of the farmers in Ambakandawila have much knowledge about the official framework or the services available, and even fewer attend the seminars that occasionally take part in Chilaw. Many of the owners of illegal farms are deeply suspicious of any management attempts due to their vulnerable position. Shrimp farming in Ambakandawila is thus more or less managed by the private sector alone. If any, then private consultants rather than official extension services advise shrimp farmers in the village. Environmental standards are rarely a topic for the individual shrimp farmer.


6.2.2 Profile of shrimp farmers

The first shrimp farm in Ambakandawila was started in 1988 by a Swiss national on privately owned coconut land. Now there are 32 shrimp farms. Out of these 32 farms, 9 are established on privately owned land, 11 are partly on private land but have extended their farms by encroaching onto public land and 12 are totally illegal as they have been established on reserved mangrove land without any legal entitlement (see table 6.1). How many of these farms are registered is difficult to establish, a fact that is telling for the state of official management. The GN of Ambakandawila knows of 13 farms that have registered as he has to authorise their application, but some of these have only part of their actual area approved. There are another three that were seemingly able to obtain registration without the GN’s authorisation. The PMOF has a list of 20 approved shrimp farms in Ambakandawila (the largest farm is registered as being located in Iranawila, thus the number is 21). The total extent of farms registered with the PMOF (including the largest one) is 94.15 acres, whilst the GN’s list totals 117,5 acres.

Comparing the two lists is very difficult for a number of reasons. These include farms often being registered under a different name to the one ‘known’ as the owner’s in the village, many Catholic names in the area being very similar, and some farmers registering a larger, others a lesser, area of land than they actually use. The numbers available at the DS are different again; the DS puts the number of legal farms in Ambakandawila at 14, covering 67 acres, whilst there are 18 illegal ones, covering 17,5 acres. This confusion shows how farmers escape official management: reliable information is simply not available. The bottom line is that if regulations were fully enforced, only 9 of Ambakandawila’s shrimp farms could exist as they do.

Table 6.1: Legal landownership status of shrimp farms in Ambakandawila.


Number of farms

Percentage of total farms

Private land



Private/public land



Public land



Most farms were started after the 1994 elections. The sudden rush for land in the District and the lack of protection of this land by the responsible authorities (i.e. FD), often due to politicians backing squatters, is thus one of the main factors behind the proliferation of uncontrolled shrimp farming in Ambakandawila (see below).

Most of the shrimp farms in the village are very small. Twenty eight farms or 87% of the total are under four acres and more than a third are less than one acre. Only four farms or 12,5% are larger than four acres (see table 6.2). Thus, in comparison to the industry in NWP in general, where only 57,4% of registered, and 46% of unregistered farms are less than 2 ha or 4.942 acres (Rohitha 1997), Ambakandawila has a large proportion of very small farms. Shrimp farms in Sri Lanka only require Environmental Impact assessments (EIA) or are monitored if their size exceeds 4 ha (9.88 acres). Thus even if more farms in Ambakandawila were approved, their control would still be limited.

Table 6.2: Extent of shrimp farms in Ambakandawila.

Size of farms (in acres)

Number of farms

Percentage of total farms

Below 1












Above 10



One of the reasons for the high number of very small farms is that there is a high proportion of villagers involved in shrimp farming in Ambakandawila. Out of 32 farms, 23 are owned by people living in Ambakandawila. However, three of the four largest farms are owned by people from Chilaw and Negombo, whilst the biggest one which has an extent of 30 acres and is BOI approved (but has recently closed down due to diseases), is owned by a Swiss National. The locally owned farms make up only 32,6% of the shrimp farming area. Nevertheless, ownership of the industry is high in Ambakandawila, a view that is shared by many villagers. The polarised picture of ‘local’ people being marginalised by "big shrimp business" as presented by Firth (1997) does not apply to Ambakandawila, at least not in terms of level of ownership.

Most of the local shrimp farmers live in the centre of the village and come from families traditionally engaged in fishing, and more than half (53% out of the 47 households we spoke to) have formerly been fishing themselves and often continue to do so. Furthermore, some of these shrimp farmers used to fish or still occasionally fish the lagoon. Thus these are the same families who are affected by the potential negative effects aquaculture has on the productivity of the lagoon (see 6.2.13).

Apart from their common social origin, all the shrimp farmers are Sinhala Catholics, and many play a prominent part in the local Church. Local inter-marriages and the institutions of dowry and inheritance have in many cases facilitated a continuation of their parents’ economic success. The better established families are not just advantaged in financial terms but also better connected in terms of relations to politicians in Chilaw and elsewhere, an important factor where patronage plays a prominent role in the acquisition of land for shrimp farming (see below). On the other hand, people living in the marginal areas of Ambakandawila were not in as good a position to start shrimp farming, and ownership is thus much lower there.

Aquaculture is very much a male business. All the shrimp farms are run by men, the only role for women being the provision of food for labourers. But there are also some notable exceptions to this male dominance. Fish wives in Ambakandawila have traditionally been the financial managers of most households (Stirrat 1988). There are many cases where the proceeds from aquaculture are still managed by women, and where decisions about investments are made jointly by the spouses, even if only the man has a physical presence at the farm itself. One hatchery is co-owned by a brother and a sister, the latter having acquired all the necessary skills to run the enterprise. Similarly, we met one female hatchery consultant.

Another domain where women are represented is trading. Some village women act as middle-‘men’ between hatcheries and shrimp farms and organise the transfer of PLS on a commission basis. Others work for a large trader and buy shrimp harvests of the farmers. Thus, women are represented in the industry, although their importance is arguably lesser than in fishing, which is generally seen as a livelihood to which co-operation between the spouses is essential (see 7.4).


6.2.3 Shrimp hatcheries

The proliferation of shrimp farms in Ambakandawila has been accompanied by the spread of shrimp hatcheries. The first hatchery opened in 1991, setting an example for the ones to follow (see box 6.2). There are 32 hatcheries in and around Ambakandawila overall, 26 of which are located within Ambakandawila GN-division. Sixteen are fully and three are partly owned by people residing in the village, and most have more than one owner. The land by the beach has been inhabited by fishermen for a long time, thus people were able to claim it and receive titles or at least long-term leases. Some of these people sold their land to entrepreneurs from elsewhere, mainly Chilaw town, but others started hatcheries themselves, often motivated and guided by their neighbours’ success.

This bandwagon phenomenon, coupled with the ability of people to claim plots of land bordering the beach, might be one of the reasons why there is such a concentration of hatcheries in Ambakandawila, a concentration that is not found elsewhere in the District. As it was fishing families who had formerly inhabited these lands (and still do, often living next to their hatchery), almost all of the local hatchery owners originate from the fishing sector. People living by the beach have also traditionally been the more successful and wealthier part of the village (Stirrat 1988) and were thus in a better position to afford the investment (which is considerably higher than the one involved in shrimp farming, see 6.2.5). One side-effect of the boom in hatcheries in Ambakandawila is an immense increase of value of land bordering the beach, which in some cases has led to land disputes.

So far it has not been possible to satisfactorily establish the number of hatcheries that are officially approved, but the number seems to be very small. Most hatchery owners simply register their business as a limited company and this seems to be accepted by Government officials as it involves some control and the hatcheries paying taxes. But some hatcheries have not even done that. The high proportion of illegal hatcheries might be due to a number of reasons; among them is the fact that shrimp farming is an important foreign exchange earner, and a lack of supply of PLS was at one point a constraint to the further expansion of the industry.


6.2.4 Land acquisition and access

The development of aquaculture in Ambakandawila was largely unplanned and uncontrolled. The large farms as well as the approved small ones were established on private land in the early nineties, their success setting an example for the illegal ones that were to follow. The change of Government in 1994 was for many people a signal to simply take over state lands, especially reserved mangrove forests. Many people justify this by arguing that local resources should be utilised by villagers themselves rather than by big companies, and many claim that aquaculture developments established before 1994 were often mainly benefiting large, multinational companies. In fact, 70% of shrimp farms in NWP is owned by people foreign to the District (Corea et al. 1998). This was to change under the new government, and people took the initiative, often encouraged and backed by politicians.

The prospect for this uncontrolled development to be reversed is slim. The social and economic cost would undoubtedly be large. People with a stake in illegal shrimp farming are numerous and their political power is potentially high. Furthermore, many of the shrimp farmers reportedly had the backing of politicians from different levels. The informal institutions of patronage undercut formal attempts at regulation by the FD or the DS, and was instrumental in the shaping of today’s situation. Although the DS normally controls state-owned land, the fact that this was mangrove also put it under the FD. Unclear and overlapping responsibilities created loopholes that could be used when people in positions of power applied pressure on the officials in these organisations. During fieldwork, we witnessed one politician publicly admitting that he used to back the invasion of state land, arguing that he was not aware of the consequences.

Even where shrimp farmers were successfully taken to court, the penalties imposed for the destruction of mangrove were not sufficient to prevent further encroachments. Fines ranged from Rs.5,000 to Rs.6,000 (US$70-85), small sums in comparison to the investments involved even in small shrimp-farms (see 6.2.5). Furthermore, the legal process is very time-consuming. Both DS and FD agree that the weak legal system is another constraint to action against illegal shrimp farming.

According to the narratives of people in Ambakandawila, people with political backing took a leading role in invading state land (see box 6.1), but others were to follow. Everyone with the courage and confidence to do so could apparently join in the free-for-all. A number of people also managed to get titles for non-reserved land by the lagoon, political connections seem to have facilitated these transfers of land rights in villagers’ opinions. Apart from patronage, the pre-existing social context of the village was said to have helped to moderate the rush for land. Thus, people from the well-established centre divided the land amongst themselves, kinship and friendship bonds as well as local leadership (see box 6.1) containing potential conflict.

Box 6.1: The rush for land

When we interviewed people in Ambakandawila about the advent of illegal shrimp farming, one individual who had allegedly taken a leading role in encroaching on state lands was frequently mentioned. What follows here is a summary of events involving this individual, which we distilled from different people’s narratives:

Marcus is a young villager of Ambakandawila who has very good connections to local politicians on both the Provincial as well as the National level. He is also the leader of a group of young men from the village who support politicians during election campaigns, receiving political backing for their private undertakings in return. After the change in Government in 1994, Marcus plotted to encroach on Government-owned mangrove land. Marcus first secured political backing for his plans and he and others then found out that responsibility for this ‘reserve’ was and is rather unclear. The ‘reserve’ status of the area was not law as yet, limiting the power of the FD to protect it, whilst the DS should be responsible for state land in general. Neither institution claimed full responsibility when the group inquired, although it is unclear in how far this ‘unwillingness’ was influenced by Marcus’ political backing being known to the officials.

Marcus and his friends then invaded a plot of approximately one acre of land by the lagoon. Further land had been unofficially divided by people of the village, but Marcus was the first to start clearing '‘his'’ plot, helped by members of his group who were to follow later. Some people in the village complained to the GN and the FD, as well as to the politicians backing Marcus and his followers, but with little success. When a close friend of Marcus started clearing another plot, the same group of people complained again but was this time met with a violent assault by Marcus and others. They gave up (see box 6.5). However, FD officials eventually took Marcus to court a few months later. Marcus’ had by that time completed construction of his shrimp farm and was well into his first cultivation cycle. He was therefore allowed to continue the farm due to the high investment involved.

Everyone watched the case with great interest as the outcome would determine whether it was possible to ‘get away’ with encroachment. People meanwhile continued to divide the mangrove land by the village, with Marcus acting as an authority that facilitated a relatively peaceful distribution. Thus Marcus organised unofficial letters signed by his patron that supported individual claims. The court case dragged on, and it was soon clear that the worst that could possibly happen was for Marcus to be fined a relatively small fine. At the same time, the case had the potential of providing Marcus with a more or less official entitlement to the land (i.e. a document allowing Marcus to continue the farm as the damage was irreversible). Thus, encroachment started on a large scale in Ambakandawila, and most illegal farms were started in 1996.

The FD continued to sporadically intervene, but were unable to stop people from clearing forests at the weekend or during holidays. People who were brought to court were increasingly bold in their defence. Thus, some claimed that they had found ready-built, deserted ponds, that they had a right to resources in their village, or that the land they had occupied had been empty and useless before. Stories have it that cases were avoided or withdrawn after political intervention. The FD claims that unclear responsibility and a lack of resources needed to monitor large areas of mangrove as well as to fight long-drawn battles in court, are to blame. The DS meanwhile claims that authority rests with the FD, and made very few attempts to intervene itself. In Ambakandawila, the almost total destruction of the strip of mangrove along the lagoon was more or less due to Marcus and his followers having been politically powerful enough to go ahead with illegal shrimp farming. The same group of people is now attempting to get titles for Government land located just outside the village, and to that end played a role in the violent election campaign leading to the PA’s take over of the Provincial Government (see 5.2).

Now that most of the potential shrimp farming land in and around Ambakandawila has been developed, the few remaining areas are likely to follow if shrimp farming recovers to become once more a profitable option. Thus, members of the informal group of supporters of the PA (see 5.4.1) have their eyes on some land located just outside of the village (see box 12.1). However, there are other groups of PA supporters from other villages with the same objective. A number of local level as well as national level politicians are thus negotiating over the fate of the land at the moment, although the current collapse of the industry might have halted aspirations of potential shrimp farmers for now.

Some people occupied and cleared state land simply to sell it on as they either could not afford the investment involved in a shrimp farm or did not want to take the risk. This happened especially in the outer areas. Prices were often small (i.e. US$ 300 per acre). In Welihena, a gang of thugs, allegedly directed by a local-level politician, took advantage of the vulnerable position the illegal squatters were in and forcibly took over plots that were already claimed. Those evicted then had to buy ‘their’ plot back.

The case of the hatcheries is different. As mentioned before, hatcheries are more visible as they are by the main road that runs parallel to the beach. The high investment involved limited the amount of people willing to risk their hatchery being destroyed by the authorities. All of them are therefore established on privately owned land. Nevertheless, patronage seems to have played a role here as well, especially in the acquiring of legal titles or leases for land by the beach. Whilst one usually requires some sort of evidence (such as an old leasing contract), one has to prove a history of use of the land in question to underline claims to land. Some people were evidently able to get titles without.


6.2.5 Capital and credit

Setting up a shrimp farm or hatchery is very capital intensive as inputs are expensive (see tables 6.3 and 6.4). Everyone who has done so in Ambakandawila depends on credit, often from informal sources, which is the only option for illegal farms. Illegal shrimp farms are excluded from tax-holidays, official extension services, or infrastructure provisions. They often face high production costs due to reliance on informal credit, generator-produced electricity, dependence on imported inputs obtained from secondary sources, and a lack of skills leading to inefficient management. Furthermore, small-scale farms do not have the same capacity to absorb losses due to shrimp diseases as larger companies. The fact that the latter form a strong lobby provides them with access to Government support. Many large developments are BOI-approved, thus enjoying tax holidays and duty-free imports. Some obtain further incomes by providing the illegal farms with second hand technology and inputs on credit. Most farmers who rely on these companies for inputs are also bound to sell their harvest to them.

Almost all farmers we spoke to had raised the money as a group, usually of kin, but sometimes of friends. Costs for shrimp farms vary and depend on prices for land, labour, or technological needs. To give some examples, if heavy machinery can not reach the site, or if owners of bulldozers are unwilling to hire them out due to the risk of confiscation, the pond has to be manually dug. This takes longer and requires more labour. Electricity is more expensive when a farm can not be connected to the main grid, in which case it is has to be supplied by a generator. Some generators are shared, thus reducing costs for individual farmers. Others are not.

Shrimp farming investments in Ambakandawila ranged from Rs. 400,000 to Rs. 1,100,000 (US$5,700-15,700) per acre up to the first cycle, a figure that includes pond building, preparation, technology such as paddle-wheels or generators, feeds, PLS, and labour (see table 6.3 for an example).

Table 6.3: Example for costs involved in an Ambakandawila shrimp farm (1 acre).

A. Basic capital costs


Cost (in Rupees)


Building of pond


Manually dug, concrete in- and outlets

Lights and wiring



3 Paddle-wheels


bought of large shrimp farmer









Approx. US$ 7,000

B. Running costs (1 acre, one cycle of about 4 months)


Cost (in Rupees)


Pond preparation


includes pond cleaning plus preparation of soil



depends on market price and stocking intensity



depending on survival rate, stocking density, market price of feed, and duration of different stages of cultivation

Fuel (Generator)


35,000/month, no electricity from the grid



2 labourers at 4000/month each, plus additional labour for harvest






Approx. US$ 5650-8440


Shrimp farming is a high-input industry, and feeds tend to make up the bulk of the running costs. Profitability of farms has decreased as feed prices have reportedly doubled from approximately Rs. 60/kg in 1995 to Rs. 120/kg now.

Hatcheries are even more expensive to set up (see table 6.4), but they are also less risky as production cycles are shorter and as the bulk of the investment goes into basic capital costs.

Table 6.4: Basic capital costs involved in an Ambakandawila hatchery.


Where from

Cost (in Rupees)

Building, concrete tanks, furniture etc



Plastic tank









Tube lights









Ph meter, salinity meter, microscope, sand-filter








3,114,500 (US$ 44,500)

The hatchery in this example is co-owned by five people. Each of them invested around Rs. 600,000. One of the share-holders contributed Rs. 580,000. Rs. 210,000 came from savings and the proceeds of pawning jewellery and other valuables, Rs. 280,000 came from a moneylender (on a 2 ½ years basis, 6% interest/month), and Rs. 90,000 from his father-in-law. The other four investors spent Rs. 600,000 to 650,000 each. The initial investment amounted to Rs. 3,300,000 (some costs could not be remembered by the informant when table 6.4 was compiled). Another Rs. 600,000 (U$ 8570) was invested in improvements at a later stage. The total value of this hatchery is therefore almost Rs. 4,000,000 or US$ 57,000.

Production costs of hatcheries vary and cover inputs such as brood-stock, artemia and other feeds for post-larvae and brood-stock, chemicals, and electricity. The cost of producing one PLS reportedly ranges between Rs. 0,25 and 0,60 (US$ 0.004-0.008), whilst it can fetch more than Rs.1 (US$0.014) when demand is high.

With a few exceptions, every shrimp farmer and hatchery owner in Ambakandawila depends on moneylenders. Not only are illegal shrimp farmers excluded from bank-loans, but lending policies have also changed since the industry collapsed in 1996, leading to heavy losses of the banks. Some people were able to secure a bank-loan by claiming to use it for other purposes. The moneylenders are individuals from the Chilaw area who normally cater for a number of people within the same village. People lending to shrimp farmers in Ambakandawila know the village and their debtors personally and are in a good position to assess risk and the value of collateral. This ‘personal’ relationship gives a certain amount of security to both sides. In the case of land or houses being used as collateral, titles are officially transferred to the moneylender who is thus in an advantaged position. Interest rates range between 6 and 10% per month.


6.2.6 Benefits of Shrimp Aquaculture

Reliable figures on the profitability of shrimp farms in Ambakandawila could not be obtained during this research. Another study claims that profits of small shrimp farms (with an extent of less than 4ha or 9.884 acres) in Sri Lanka amounted to Rs. 100,000 (US$ 1430) per ha/year (Rs. 40,470 or US$ 578 per acre/year) in 1995, whilst it was six times higher for large farms. The financial rate of return is estimated at 16% for small farms and 30% for large ones (Steele et al. 1997). Reasons for this contrast include the fact that productivity of small farms is much lower (2000kg/ha/year) than for large farms (6000kg/ha/year), whilst the small farms pay more for inputs (ibid.).

Whether or not the overall wealth of the village has increased through the introduction of shrimp aquaculture is difficult to assess as well. There certainly is a lot of capital that is bound up in the farms and hatcheries. But, with the exception of a few individuals, there is no obvious differentiation between shrimp farmers or hatchery owners on the one side, and more prosperous fishermen on the other. Furthermore, a number of people involved in aquaculture continue to go fishing themselves, at least in the main season when incomes from the sea are high.

Some of the reasons for the lack of differentiation might be the spread of benefits as many farms and hatcheries are co-owned, the high level of reinvestment, especially in shrimp farming, and, probably most importantly, the high risks involved. Thus, the periodic collapses of the shrimp industry in NWP in general have left and leave their mark on Ambakandawila, leading to large personal losses (see 6.2.10). The few people who did very well were often amongst the wealthiest villagers before they started shrimp farming already. But as people often invest savings that would otherwise have gone into building a house, to manage to build both a hatchery/shrimp farm as well as a house is a considerable success. Whether or not this success is in the end worth more than just having a house will depend on the future of shrimp farming. Many people (we found 16 families in the centre of the village alone) had to give up shrimp farming already and thus to forfeit their investment. Out of 47 households that are or were involved in shrimp farming, only 7 stated that they had gained, 22 recorded large losses, and 18 made no clear statements or claimed they had neither lost nor gained.

Hatchery owners seem to do better than shrimp farmers. The reason is that shrimp farmers can easily lose the fruits of 3 months of work and expenditure to diseases, whilst hatcheries are more flexible in responding to decreasing demand. Profits in busy times are high, and this may well compensate for periods with little business.

The combined income of Ambakandawila’s shrimp farmers, or the losses that happened to them due to diseases are difficult to quantify. The same applies to their contribution to the national economy in earning foreign exchange. The only data available were the statistics of a trader who buys the harvests of a number of small-scale shrimp farms in Ambakandawila, to sell them on to a large company with a processing plant near Chilaw. These numbers cover two separate three-month periods and are summarised in table 6.5.

Table 6.5: Production figures of a number of small-scale shrimp farms in Ambakandawila.


No of harvests

Size of harvests

Value of harvests (Rs.)

Total amount

Total value (in Rs.)

June-Aug 98





Rs. 14,779,644

Jan-March 99





Rs. 8,170,387






Rs. 22,950,031 (US$328,000)


Thus, within these two periods, production of a (unknown) number of small-scale shrimp farms in Ambakandawila amounted to 47,156kg, earning them US$ 328,000, which will result in even higher foreign exchange earnings after value has been added through processing and trading.

The wider problem involved in assessing wealth during field research, as indicators such as the state of housing or accumulation of material goods might point at a certain stage of the development cycle of a household rather than its actual wealth, is discussed in section 12. 

6.2.7 Marketing and trading linkages

Ambakandawila is a small village but its links to the global economy are complex. Industrial shrimp production in Sri Lanka and thus Ambakandawila is almost exclusively for export, whilst most inputs are imported. The village economy is thus largely dependent on world markets. Shrimp farmers in Ambakandawila contribute to the foreign exchange earnings of Sri Lanka. Most people sell their harvest to one of two processing plants nearby, either directly or through a middle-man. A number of people in the village also work for such a middle-man. The majority of exports are handled by just five large companies, with one of them controlling almost 70% of the total volume in 1997 (Foreign Trade Data Summary Report 1998).

Advances in the form of inputs and technology, given by the buyers of shrimps, are also common. A shrimp farmer receiving such assistance is bound to sell his harvest to the creditor, a potentially exploitative relationship, but risks for the creditor are high as well. Nevertheless, the potential for large companies to make additional profits on processing the production of small producers, on the provision of inputs on credit (for which interest is charged), and on the existence of a market for imported inputs as well as second hand machines, is great. Thus, the distribution of benefits from shrimp farming would appear to favour large companies.

The complex nature of the shrimp industry requires a long-term planning horizon. The lack of managerial skills, as well as the ability to absorb fluctuations in the market, leads to the failure of many small-scale shrimp farmers in Ambakandawila. On the other hand, some people have successfully entered the international arena. For example the village teacher who runs the biggest hatchery and frequently travels to Singapore to import technology and other inputs. Thus, a tin of artemia (used to grow feed for post-larvae) costs about US$ 35 in Sri Lanka but only US$ 17 in Singapore, whilst an air-blower that costs US$ 5000 in Sri Lanka can be had for US$ 2100 in Singapore, making a trip well worthwhile.


6.2.8 Technology and technical knowledge

All shrimp farms in Sri Lanka operate at a semi-intensive scale with differences in stocking density, farm size, and level of aeration (Corea et al. 1995). After the pond is prepared, which involves the removal of mud as well as a lime treatment in order to control ph-levels, it is filled with water and fertilised, to be stocked with PLS. The growing shrimp has to be fed, and after about one month, the water of the pond has to be permanently exchanged, to avoid high concentrations of excess-feed lowering oxygen levels. Furthermore, salinity and Ph-levels should ideally be monitored, which is not always done by small farmers. The whole cycle can take up to five months.

The rapid proliferation of shrimp farming in NWP, and the bandwagon nature of many peoples’ decision to try their luck as well, has led to a rather informal dispersion of technical know-how. The story is the same in Ambakandawila as elsewhere in the Province. Former employees of the early farms have often used their acquired knowledge to start their own shrimp farms, to manage farms for others willing to invest, and to set themselves up as ‘consultants’. The quality of the knowledge of these individuals obviously varies. Other people employ these consultants to advise them on setting up farms or hatcheries, or often simply copy their neighbours and kin. As a consequence, one finds the same farming methods within one area, whilst they might be different somewhere else in the District.

All the hatcheries in Ambakandawila seem to follow the example of one individual that built the first village hatchery in 1991 (see box 6.2). The outcomes of such informal methods of knowledge transfer vary greatly. Successes are remarkable in some cases but they have led to inefficiencies or even catastrophic outcomes in others. As the production of quality post-larvae depends to a large degree on skill, many a hatchery’s success or failure has depended on individual consultants. As mentioned before, there are also attempts by organisations such as the ASC or the BAPF, or by the recent FAO-funded project to counter diseases by educating shrimp farmers in workshops and seminars. But many of the shrimp farmers we spoke to do not attend these occasions and are often suspicious about formal management attempts.

Box 6.2: The spread of hatchery technology in Ambakandawila

Anthony used to work as an aquaculturalist for the MFARD in the early eighties, being involved in research into different shrimp aquaculture systems. He left his job to work for the private sector in 1987, and was employed by one of the first large-scale shrimp farms in the country. Anthony then moved on to set up his own business after he had developed a relatively low-cost hatchery system. He built the first hatchery in Ambakandawila in 1991, choosing the village as it offers easy access to water from the sea, with private land bordering the beach being available. One of Anthony’s neighbours soon copied him, and the former was happy to help the latter to do so. Anthony then sold on his first hatchery and built another one at the other side of the village, where even more people followed his example. Thus one hatchery after the other was built in Ambakandawila, all of them modelled on the pioneer’s design.

Anthony has by now built four hatcheries in the village. He tends to sell them on as he is aware of the risky nature of the industry, knowing about the experience of other countries where the shrimp aquaculture boom was relatively short-lived. Anthony also works as a consultant for hatcheries and shrimp farms, instructing people on design and day-to-day running in Ambakandawila as well as elsewhere in the District.

Most of the other consultants working in Ambakandawila are former employees of Anthony and learned their skills from him. Anthony certainly did well out of the shrimp hatchery business. He lives in the biggest house in the area (just outside Ambakandawila, where he moved when he started his first hatchery), owns several vehicles, and has used his profits from shrimp aquaculture to invest in other industries.

6.2.9 Labour and co-operation.

Once the ponds of a shrimp farm are built and prepared, labour inputs include guards to deter poachers (on a 24 hours basis once the PLS has grown into a reasonable size), application of feeds, exchange and aeration of water, and maintenance of ponds and equipment. Some of the shrimp farms and especially the hatcheries in Ambakandawila have created fairly permanent jobs and a number of people prefer these jobs to working in the fisheries. It is estimated that aquaculture in Sri Lanka creates about 2.5 to 3.5 jobs per ha (or 1 to 1.4 jobs per acre) of pond area (Steele et al. 1997). A large proportion of labour on small-scale shrimp farms is done by members of the family which owns the farm. This involves high opportunity costs and has in many cases replaced fishing activities. It is generally the male members of a household who work on the farm, whilst women are responsible for preparation of meals and their transport to the farm, as well as for maintenance of the household (see box 6.6 for an example).

A number of people also find casual employment on a daily basis in activities such as harvesting or pond preparation. Within our sample of 156 households, 24 had one or more members being employed in the aquaculture industry, with half of them coming from the areas just outside Ambakandawila, where ownership is lower (see above). The two large shrimp farms in the village employ labourers from the outside who are accommodated on the farm. One of the reasons for this import of labour is to deter poaching in co-operation with other villagers.

Most small-scale shrimp farms and many hatcheries are run by groups of kin or even friends. 60% of aquaculture households we spoke to were part of a group of investors. This is due to the high investments involved, and of course there are stories of success as well as failure of such co-operation (see box 6.3 for an example of failure).

Box 6.3: Group shrimp farms

Two fishing families living by Ambakandawila beach are linked by the marriage of their children. Thus, the parents of Michael (household A), and the parents of his wife Anula (household B), decided to start a shrimp farm together, with Michael running it. Household A contributed a larger share of the capital needed and its members mortgaged their land to afford the investment. Household B was to contribute more money later on, as a son who was working abroad had not sent the money needed to make an equal investment. The first harvest was successful, but the two families soon started arguing over the distribution of the income. Household A claimed a larger share reflecting their larger capital input, but Household B argued that the profit of a joint farm should be shared, and that they would compensate for the lower initial investment by contributing more to the costs of inputs at a later stage. Household A now claims that B pocketed the money and abandoned them as a result of the argument, whilst B says that they were excluded by A. The second cycle resulted in large losses that were now largely born by A alone. The argument therefore escalated to a degree where members of both households started to physically threaten each other. The local priest and the police became involved and decided that the farm should be sold off, with both parties getting equal parts of the proceeds. Michael’s mother is very bitter about this decision and claims that this was unfair, and both households say that they are much indebted as a result.

6.2.10 Loss and vulnerability

The periodic occurrence of shrimp diseases has left its mark on Ambakandawila. Many a shrimp farmer had to give up and even more made huge financial losses. At least 22 out of the 47 shrimp farmers we spoke to have been unsuccessful. Others are trapped in a vicious circle of having to reinvest their income in a desperate attempt to at least recover the initial investment. Increasing prices for inputs from the international market and high rates of interest rates, especially at informal credit sources, aggravate this situation. In times such as this, when diseases are widespread, shrimp farming becomes a lottery. The hatcheries are also affected by these collapses as demand for post-larvae decreases. However, they are less likely to lose their whole investment at once as it is the case for shrimp farmers affected by diseases.

Apart from the diseases, Ambakandawila’s farmers also face other constraints, such as flooding caused by heavy rain destroying ponds and helping shrimps to escape, shortages of feeds, problems with the electricity supply, or lack of know-how.

Most people in the Government as well as the private sector agree that the periodic collapses of the industry are the consequence of the lack of efficient management and regulation. However, small-scale, illegal shrimp farms might not only have a greater part in aggravating the situation due to their unregulated nature, but are also the most vulnerable to the effects of diseases. Few have the capacity to absorb losses, and many people in Ambakandawila have been painfully hit. Official management attempts are seen as plots by large farmers to harm small ones even further. Shrimp farmers in Ambakandawila are as much victims as they are agents of environmental degradation

Box 6.4: Losers

Case one:

Jude was one of the people who helped Marcus (see box 6.1) to clear state-owned mangrove land to make space for the first illegal shrimp farm in Ambakandawila. He has three children, and has done a number of jobs in the past, putting him into the position to build a house for his family a few years ago. However, encouraged by Marcus’ success in 1995, Jude decided to invest in a shrimp farm instead, hoping to make a large profit in a short period of time. Apart from his own savings, Jude mortgaged his land (given to him as dowry when he got married) at an interest rate of 20% per year, borrowed money from his sister, and purchased inputs on credit of a large shrimp farmer. He cleared about ¾ of an acre of mangrove land, and dug the pond manually.

Jude recovered part of the investment in his first harvest but did not break even. He then had to reinvest a large sum of money into the next cycle. This time as well as on the third attempt, Jude’s shrimps caught whitespot, and he lost the complete harvest. Jude now had to sell his pond (for a very low price as he had no title) as well as his motorbike, TV, and other valuables. Today, two and a half years later, Jude works as a mason (earning about U$ 150/month), still paying off his debts amounting to Rs. 350,000 (U$ 5000, a large proportion of his payments goes into servicing interest). He still has not managed to build a house, and he and his family continue to live in a wood hut. ‘God punished me for being greedy’ is how Jude sees it himself today.

Case 2:

Anthony had inherited a large amount of land from his father and was thus able to mortgage some plots to invest in shrimp farming. He illegally built two ponds on Government land and invested about Rs. 900,000 (US$12,850) up to the first harvest. This was successful, but Anthony managed to recover a large part of his investment. However, he had to get another loan to buy inputs for the second cycle, hoping to have a similar income to the first and thus make a healthy profit. But his generator broke down, and he thinks that the lack of aeration over a period of time led to his shrimps being weakened and affected by diseases. Thus, the harvest was almost totally lost. Anthony had by now accumulated debts of over Rs. 400,000 (US$ 5710). His only way of making up for this was to try again, and he thus sold some land and mortgaged others.

By now, Anthony has gone through 8 cycles, 4 of which resulted in total losses, mainly due to diseases (except in one case when the PLS in his ponds simply died as they were of low quality). The other four enabled him to repay some of the debts, but he also had to sell about 2 acres of coconut land, and still owes Rs. 500,000 (US$ 7140). Anthony’s only other income is from selling coconuts and hardly suffices to service his debts on a monthly basis. He is therefore currently investing in another cycle as he knows of no other way to compensate for his losses, and as so much of his capital is bound up in the farm, even though he likens his own behaviour to ‘playing the lottery’.

6.2.11 Environmental impacts

Apart from the damage the shrimp industry has inflicted on itself, the most obvious environmental impact in Ambakandawila is the physical change of its environment. The destruction of mangrove forests in Ambakandawila has been almost total within a fairly short amount of time. Aerial photographs that were taken only 5 years ago show an almost uninterrupted strip of mangrove forests separating the village from the lagoon. This has now been replaced by illegal farms. The beach is bordered by a line of purpose built hatcheries and littered with their garbage. Plastic tubes connected to water-pumps reach into the sea to serve as water inlets.

However, the consequences these transformations have for villagers are not straightforward, and some people's perceptions differ from those of others. Many people perceive the value of mangrove in terms of its direct use value, and this is often seen as being outweighed by the use value of shrimp ponds. Even the link between mangrove degradation and a decreasing productivity of the lagoon is dismissed by many who see lagoon fishing as a marginal activity (see 6.2.12) and would say that the loss of lagoon resources is outweighed by the gains made through shrimp farming. Problems will arise if the shrimp industry should turn out to be short-lived. People could be left without either productive lagoon or productive shrimp farms.

Another change in the lagoon that seems to be connected to shrimp farming is accelerated plankton growth. Villagers claim that this is caused by the fertilised water being discharged by the shrimp farms. Although increased plankton growth can have a positive impact on fish stocks, it also makes fishing efforts a lot harder.

Finally, four drinking water wells have been salinated in Ambakandawila since shrimp farms were started in their immediate environment. This can be caused by either water from the ponds intruding into the water table, or by the removal of mangrove that acted as natural barrier keeping salt water out of the water table. However, villagers’ accounts tended to exaggerate the extent of the problem, seemingly feeding on experiences elsewhere rather than on the reality in the village where ‘only’ few wells have been affected. In Madawaththa, a village located half-way between Ambakandawila and Chilaw, a whole settlement of 20 families has been affected by salinisation of its drinking water, and a waterline promised by the shrimp farmer responsible has not materialised.

6.2.12 Winners and losers.

As discussed above, it is not clear to what extent people of Ambakandawila have benefited from shrimp aquaculture. Losers, apart from people who made financial losses due to shrimp diseases, are even harder to identify. There is little in terms of overt conflict. Costs in terms of environmental impacts, and benefits in terms of incomes of the industry are not clearly separated. Fishermen complaining about the state of the lagoon have stakes in shrimp farming themselves: so do people whose wells have been spoilt or whose land is flooded (see box 6.5). Although hatchery outlets form potential obstructions to fishing activities, the fishing origin of the hatchery owners provides a basis from which to negotiate.

In fact, almost all of the local shrimp farmers and hatchery owners come from a fishing background, and many still go fishing. The supposed ‘victims’ of aquaculture, lagoon fishermen, are involved in the industry themselves. Shrimp farms are often run by people who live in the part of the village centre that is close to the lagoon and who were thus in a good position to capture land there. These people have traditionally been more involved in the lagoon fisheries as well (Stirrat 1988). Out of 29 families we spoke to and who live close to the lagoon, 20 (69%) are or used to be engaged in aquaculture, and the number rises to 23 (80%) if one includes people who have close kin doing so. There are members in almost all of these households which used to fish the lagoon and most of them still do so. Out of 13 fishermen who only fish the lagoon and not the sea, 7 come from these shrimp farming households.

This overlapping of interests becomes more complex as one moves into the realm of kinship links. In the centre of the village, there are few people who are not involved in shrimp aquaculture themselves or who could not point out a relation that is involved, a point that is interesting when examining the potential for local opposition to shrimp farming as we shall see later.

However, the situation is different in the outer areas of the village, where a high number of people depend on the lagoon at least during the south-west monsoon (16 households out of 59). It is here that the largest number of theppams can be found during the varakan (60 on one landing place alone). Ownership of shrimp farms is very low in this area as well (only 6 households out of 59). Thus, people living in this area can be expected to be losing out from decreased catches in the lagoon, at least during the south-west monsoon when they depend on it. Statements on how profitable incomes from the lagoon were before the advent of shrimp farming are contradictory, but it seems that it always constituted more of an emergency source of income rather than a livelihood to people. Furthermore, fishing pressure during the south-west monsoon seems to be very high, and has probably increased over the last few years due to in-migration. Thus this and possibly other factors like pollution from other sources than shrimp farming have to be considered as well.

Shrimp aquaculture is by now well established in the area, thus people have to a certain extent adapted to the environmental changes that came with the industry. Furthermore, people can seek employment on the shrimp farms as well as in and around Chilaw town. Opportunities for alternative livelihoods made it possible for people to adapt to the decreasing productivity of the lagoon.

Nevertheless, the people who do depend on the lagoon for at least part of the year belong to the weakest part of society, and are potentially powerless to resist shrimp farming even if they wanted to. The relative lack of overt conflict is probably due to this political weakness.

Whilst there has been some resistance to the introduction of shrimp farming in Ambakandawila, a ‘Lagoon Fishermen Society’ that was set up with the help of an NGO with interests in mangrove conservation (the SFF) being an example, the situation has been radically altered by incorporation. Individuals who took leadership roles in this society were from the more powerful part of the village and thus had more potential to get involved. Some of the people who moved from lagoon fishing to shrimp farming (people from the centre) justify this by pointing out that they had to get involved since their incomes from the lagoon were decreasing due to other shrimp farmers. Even people who do not have direct stakes in shrimp farming do not see resistance as an option as kin and friends are involved. Out of the 156 households we spoke to, only 18 (11.5%) stated that they oppose shrimp aquaculture, but 10 out of these 18 have kin who in some way depend on it. A larger number of people acknowledged the negative impacts of the industry but would point out that it is ‘our’ people who harm ‘our’ lagoon, and think that it would be hypocritical to oppose shrimp farming.

The current situation in Ambakandawila therefore differs to the picture emerging from the literature elsewhere (Firth 1997). In Ambakandawila there is no clear opposition between shrimp farmers and small fishermen. Interest groups are far from homogeneous. Many people do both fishing and shrimp farming, or are at least linked to both through kinship and economic necessity. Dividing lines between different interest might run along occupational differences in one situation, along geographical in another.

However, the lagoon has nevertheless always been a livelihood source that people would fall back to in times of trouble. Sustainable management would certainly benefit people who would be enabled to go back to or start fishing in the lagoon.

The prominent role women enjoy in fishing households (Stirrat 1988) is potentially threatened by the introduction of aquaculture, predominantly a male business. However, the nature of this change is difficult to predict and would require more detailed research. In many cases, women still maintain control over household finances even if their husbands run the business. There is also some involvement of women in aquaculture, not only in terms of wage-labour (where they are paid less than men for the same work) but also in management and trading (see above).


Box 6.5: Incorporation - from resistance to involvement

Nihal and his family live close to the lagoon, where he used to go for fishing at the same time as doing other jobs. Their house borders a shrimp farm that is located on former mangrove land, but Nihal’s first contact with shrimp farming was a job at a large (legal) shrimp farm in a neighbour village. He was nevertheless opposed to any developments within the mangrove forests of Ambakandawila. When the SFF started a mangrove programme in the lagoon in 1996, Nihal was one of the people representing Ambakandawila’s lagoon fishermen in a ‘management committee’ that met in Pambala, across the lagoon. This experience added to his awareness of the importance of mangrove in maintaining stocks of fish and wild shrimps in the lagoon. Thus, when encroachment and construction of illegal farms began in Ambakandawila (see box 6.1), Nihal was one of the people who complained to the authorities, but with little success. He decided to give up on his resistance after he and others were attacked by a gang organised by some of the illegal farmers.

As time went on, Nihal befriended one of the illegal shrimp farmers, and eventually decided to get involved himself. He argues today that he felt justified in doing so by reasoning that since he bears the cost of illegal shrimp farming in terms of reduced catches from the lagoon, spoilt water supplies, and flooding, he might as well share into the benefits. Nihal’s well is spoilt and his land gets flooded after heavy rain due to the farm behind his house blocking drainage. Besides, if the Government is not stopping illegal shrimp farming, why should he be expected to do so? Nihal even regrets now that he did not turn around earlier as that would have enabled him to claim the land located next to his house, and to take advantage of times when diseases were less prevalent

Nihal sold his fishing gear, and with three friends invested in an illegal shrimp farm in 1997. So far, they have not been able to recover their investment but have lost a lot of money. Nihal is also part of the group of PA followers that supports politicians during election campaigns (a job that includes body-guarding, canvassing, and intimidation of voters and opponents). Nihal hopes to be able to get support for his shrimp farming activities as well as more land in return: ‘I help the MP [uses first name] with his business, he helps me with mine.’

Some women are pleased about the fact that they do not have to sell fish anymore when their husbands engage in aquaculture rather than fishing. But others (as well as many men) complain about the stressful and time consuming nature of shrimp farming, which separates spouses geographically as men stay on the farms. Whilst fishing is seen by many as an activity involving close co-operation between the spouses, shrimp farming stops the men from spending time with their families. Thus, if a shrimp farm is located further away from the house, the husband has to stay there to guard it whilst the wife carries the additional burden of having to take meals there (see box 6.6).

The four households whose wells were affected now have to obtain water from other wells. This involves additional burdens in terms of carrying water, a burden that is born by the female household members. At least two of these households are engaged in shrimp farming themselves.


Box 6.6: from fish wife to shrimp wife and back again

Mary is from Negombo, but married to Ambakandawila, where her father used to come for fishing. Her husband Lionel is a son of a wealthy fishing family, and already had his own boat and gear at the time of marriage. His fishing efforts were very successful as can be seen by their large house and a number of consumer goods, as well as by his large selection of fishing nets. Mary’s role was and is to meet her husband by the beach where they would empty the nets together. After that she usually sells the catch either by the beach or in Chilaw market. Both describe fishing as an activity that requires co-operation between spouses. So does running the household. Although Mary does most of the domestic work, Lionel helps to look after the children and goes on errands on his motorbike.

By the time shrimp aquaculture boomed in Ambakandawila, the household was in a position to join in. They invested in a hatchery, jointly built with Lionel’s kin, and run by his brother. The couple then decided to start a shrimp farm as well. This led to a radical change in the household routine; the shrimp farm was located a few kilometres away from their house, and Lionel had to spend most of his time there in order to deter poachers. He stopped fishing and employed people to fish of his boat which resulted in smaller incomes and damage to his gear as the labourers where not careful in looking after it.

Family life became disrupted. Mary had to run the household herself, and Lionel hardly ever saw his children and very little of his wife. Furthermore, Mary had to walk to and from the shrimp farm three times a day to deliver her husband’s meals. The risk involved in shrimp farming soon became obvious. Diseases spread, and there were shortages in feed supplies which could be just as detrimental to the growth of the shrimps. Lionel became very stressed, hardly slept, and intra-household relationships deteriorated as a result. He had to give up having accumulated losses of Rs. 500,000 (US$ 7140).

Lionel is now fishing again, and the whole family agrees that this is a better life style. They say it was foolish to turn away from the livelihood that made them what they are. The family still has shares in the hatchery, which is less risky than shrimp farming, but which is not going too well at the moment. ‘Just like fishing, sometimes you make lots of money, at other times none at all.’

6.3 Shrimp farming in Modarawella

6.3.1 Introduction

Shrimp farming is done on a much smaller scale in Modarawella than in Ambakandawila, but it features an environmental problem not encountered in Ambakandawila. This involves the exacerbation of flooding due to shrimp farms.

Modarawella has five hatcheries and ten shrimp farms. The latter are all very small, with the largest one having an extent of less than four acres. All of the farms are located on privately owned land and most apparently have approval (although the GN was only involved in the approval process of four of them). There is no space for large farms in the area. The lagoon in Modarawella is also very small and there is no permanent link to the sea. Thus, the shrimp farms have to mix their water with sea water in order to achieve appropriate salinity levels. Shrimp farmers in Modarawella have so far not been hit by disease outbreaks. Eight out of the ten farms are owned by villagers and the other two by people from nearby. As in Ambakandawila, skills and know-how were informally dispersed through people working on large shrimp farms or hatcheries and neighbours helping each other


6.3.2 Flooding

Hettiwaththe is a part of Modarawella where people were settled during a land distribution scheme in the 1970s. As this used to be wetland, flooding in times of heavy rainfalls has been occurring ever since people moved here. However, half of the recently developed shrimp farms are located on a former wetland (which was not being utilised before due to saline soils) bordering Hettiwaththe, and people argue that this land used to absorb floods and thus lessen their impact. It is therefore generally believed that the shrimp farms have worsened floods in terms of making them more intense and longer lasting. The farms apparently block drainage of water. There are 32 households that are affected by the floods.

The shrimp farms are on private land, so it is difficult to argue against them. Furthermore, as floods threaten the shrimp farms themselves (although not to the degree they do for the lower-lying residential areas), there is some action to relieve the situation. The shrimp farmers join forces to open up the estuary to enable water to drain off in times of floods. This is both in response to their farms being threatened as well as in acknowledgement of other people being threatened. The proximity of farmers and flood victim certainly plays a role. Furthermore, the fact that the shrimp farming community is very small and largely ‘local’ makes communication and organisation fairly easy. They claim that co-operation is generally quite good with people helping each other out with inputs. The periodic opening up of the estuary by the shrimp farmers is done on an informal basis; people meet up once it is obvious that something needs to be done. They consult the GN and the DS, before starting the work. Every shrimp farmer is obliged to contribute money as well as labour.

The estuary used to be totally blocked after the Government had built a road on an expensive embankment. This exacerbated flooding and villagers eventually destroyed the road. Some people were arrested as it was assumed that political sabotage was at work, but the general consensus on the need for an open estuary helped to resolve the situation.

A recently built large tourist resort, the Club Palm Bay is also thought to have replaced wetland that helped to absorb floods. This is discussed in section 9.

6.3.3 Resistance

The first opposition to shrimp aquaculture in Modarawella arose when a farm was built next to a coconut estate. This case is an example of successful institutional management. The family owning the coconut estate complained to the authorities, including the GN, the DS, and the PMOF when work on the farm first started. The site was assessed and it was decided that a 60 feet buffer-zone should be kept between the shrimp ponds and the nearest line of coconut trees to avoid intrusion of saline water. The shrimp farmer, a person who lives in the village but has few links to fellow-villagers, tried to ignore the directive, thus infuriating the estate owner. In the end, the shrimp farmer had to give in as the PMOF and the police were backing his opponent.

The estate owner meanwhile organised other villagers against the shrimp farms, especially the people of Heththiwaththa. Their protest was rather formal. A petition was signed and sent to local MPs as well as to the office of the president. The fishing society helped to do this. A meeting was held at the DS, to which the MP of the area attended. People claim that it was decided to formally assess the situation in Heththiwaththa, but that this has never happened. Nevertheless, the fact that this meeting took place is probably due to the potential power of the fishing society as well as the estate owner, who belongs to the wealthy section of the village and is thus on par with shrimp farmers.

Not everyone in Heththiwaththa is opposed to shrimp farming. Out of the 32 households living there, 8 have either kin involved in shrimp farming, or sold some land to shrimp farmers themselves. Some of these people claim that the problem of flooding has not been worsened by the farms, but that an increase in rainfall over the years is to blame. They even commend the shrimp farmers for their action in opening up the estuary.

One thing that is striking about resistance to shrimp aquaculture in Modarawella is the involvement of some of the better connected activists from the fishing society. Shrimp farming in Modarawella started much later than in Ambakandawila, and is done on a much smaller scale. However, the arguments presented against it seem to be informed by experiences from elsewhere. Today there is a national lobby against shrimp farming which argues that it has a negative impact on fishermen. People in Modarawella are well aware of these arguments and resistance is not only informed by the local experience of shrimp farming.

The local mangrove forests have so far not come under attack from shrimp farmers as this would certainly result in opposition as it had done in the neighbouring village of Talwila Beach (see box 10.1). The latter village is located on a small strip of land between the lagoon and the sea, and clean drinking water is sparse as it is. People there fear that shrimp farms would worsen the situation and oppose potential developers.

One shrimp farmer tried to get approval to build a pond on an island in the lagoon near Modarawella, but his plan was opposed by the fishing society. The latter then tried to plant mangrove on this island, but this time it was the shrimp farmer who blocked their efforts. Both made use of patronage relations (see box 6.7).

Box 6.7: The island

Peter is a fish trader and also has a small shrimp farm bordering the lagoon in Talwila, opposite of Modarawella. Opposite his farm is a little island in the lagoon, and although its edges are covered in mangrove, there is a large clearing in the middle (someone had apparently once tried to cultivate the area). Peter tried to get a permit to build a shrimp farm on this island, and spend quite a bit of money in the process. It involved a number of applications and fees to various Government institutions. But crucial to the undertaking was political backing, and Peter managed to get a MP to advise the DS to grant Peter the land, despite him being an UNP member. Being a member of the local council, the PS, he claims to have connections on both sides.

However, the local fishing society of Modarawella got involved in a mangrove replanting project at the same time (see section 10.3.3), and decided to re-afforest the island in question. Peter could not accept this and blocked attempts by underlining the claim to the land with the politician’s letter. But the chairman of the fishing society was a member of the PA and had a good connection to the MP in question himself. Thus he got the same patron to advise the FD to block the release of the land. All this happened three years ago, and the result is that neither side can do anything; Peter can not start to build his pond, whilst the fishing society failed to plant mangrove on the island, due to the contradicting letters.

6.4 Summary: challenges for CZM

Management of the unregulated shrimp industry poses a major challenge to CZM in Ambakandawila. The problem is not a lack of regulation, but a lack of enforcement and the active involvement of individual politicians in illegal procedures. This has led to the present situation where productivity of the lagoon has been affected, mangrove forests have largely been depleted, and some drinking water wells are salinated. Small illegal farmers are not only partly responsible for these problems as well as for disease outbreaks due to the uncontrolled nature of their farms, but are also amongst the main victims. They lack the capacity to absorb losses, have few resources to protect themselves from diseases, and are often trapped in a vicious circle of having to reinvest in cultivation cycles in a desperate attempt to recover lost money. In Modarawella, people who are affected by worsened floods have little power to do anything about it.

The social complexities surrounding shrimp farming further complicate management: costs and benefits of environmental changes are not neatly separable. There are big and small, legal and illegal shrimp farmers with overlapping as well as opposed interests; few clearly bounded interest groups exist, and opposition to shrimp aquaculture has been contained by these overlaps. People who are negatively affected without sharing into the benefits have little power to do anything about it. The process of people, whether voluntarily or not, adapting to environmental changes despite negative effects has progressed far. Lastly, some issues such as the depletion of mangrove forests are not necessarily perceived by villagers as problems.

Nevertheless, improved management of the shrimp industry could benefit both shrimp farmers, and others for whom lagoons and other resource bases affected by the industry offer potential sources of income. But the importance of political patronage in the shrimp industry makes one thing certain: management will require an active engagement with the political context of the shrimp farming sector. Ideally, such engagement should aim at the design of practical strategies for dealing with patronage (see part four).



7 FISHING (back to contents)

7.1 Background

Sri Lanka’s fisheries sector accounted for 2.8% of the country’s GDP in 1997. Total annual fish production was 228,550t. 65% of this were landed by the coastal fisheries, 25% by the deep sea fisheries, and 10% by the inland fisheries. (CRMP 1999). An estimated 100,000 people are presently employed in the marine fisheries of Sri Lanka (Maldeniya 1997).

The overall production of the fisheries in Puttalam District is 27,028mt, the highest of all Sri Lankan districts (NARA 1997). 14.2% of total employment in the District depend on the fisheries, constituting a livelihood for about 12,958 families (DCS 1981). There are an estimated 8000 fishing crafts.

The Puttalam fisheries have been important to the District economy for a considerable amount of time and are thought to have been one of the first sectors to be integrated into the capitalist system. Official reports of commercial fish trade date back to the sixteenth century (Stirrat 1988). Fishing activities in the District are governed by the monsoons. The main fishing season is the north-east monsoon (vallal), when the sea is calm and easily accessible for craft as well as for beach seine operations. During the south-west monsoon (varakan), strong winds and rough seas make it difficult to access the sea.

The Government body responsible for the fishing sector in Sri Lanka is the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development (MFARD). It is assisted by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). On the District level, the MFARD is represented by the District Fisheries Extension Offices (DFEOs). These are responsible for fisheries management, enforcement of regulations, society development, welfare, and Government support. They also oversee the activities of the village-level fishing societies (see 7.8). Mampuri falls under the DFEO in Puttalam, whilst Ambakandawila and Modarawella fall under the DFEO in Mahawewa. The Provincial Ministry of Fisheries (PMOF), based in Chilaw, has some powers over management as well.

7.2 Fishing gear

Fishing methods used by people from Mampuri, Ambakandawila and Modarawella include gill net and line fishing off a number of different crafts, as well as beach seining. Beach seines (mahadhel) are employed along the coast from Udappuwa in the south (about 20km north of Chilaw) to Talawila to the north of Mampuri. Some mahadhels employ up to 60 people, but a number of between 35 and 40 men is more common. The large nets are usually laid by wooden crafts, and then pulled in manually by labourers from the beach in a long, drawn-out process.

Fishing craft include theppams, FRP boats, orus, and large, multi-day boats. Larger one-day boats (3.5t) used to be promoted in the past but are rarely used now.

Theppams are small wooden crafts that consist of a number of rounded logs tied together. Most of them are non-mechanised, and people use a hollowed bamboo cane halved along its length to row them. Theppams are mainly used for near-shore fishing and crewed by one or two people. Fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) boats are about 5 metres long and usually powered by an outboard engine. They offer more space, comfort, and reach than theppams, but are a lot more expensive, more clumsy, and can not be operated by one man alone. Orus are outrigger canoes. These vary in size, and are usually sail-powered. The latter are becoming less common in the District as they require a crew of three to four men whilst not necessarily bringing in larger catches than the FRP boats. They are nevertheless still widely used in the Negombo area, to the south of Puttalam District. Larger boats can be found in the different fisheries harbours of the country. There is no properly developed fisheries harbour in Puttalam district (the closest one is located in Negombo), but some large boats are based in Chilaw and Kalpitiya.

7.3 Fishing in Mampuri, Ambakandawila, and Modarawella

Ambakandawila and Modarawella are predominantly fishing villages, whilst Mampuri features a large settlement of fishermen by the beach. Decreasing catches are most commonly reported in Modarawella, whilst a number of disputes have manifested themselves in Mampuri and Ambakandawila.

7.3.1 Mampuri

Between one third and one half of the population in Mampuri are engaged in fishing. A large number of craft, predominantly FRP boats with outboard engines, are landed on the beach by the fishing settlement. There are also seven beach seining operations based along the village shore. According to the DFEO of Puttalam, there are 99 boat owners in the village, who own 114 FRP boats, 17 theppams, 1 oru, and 11 mahadhel crafts between them. The Kalpitiya DS puts the number of FRP boats at180. The latter number is equivalent to the number officials from the fishing society in Mampuri told us, but counts done at different times of the day by the research team never exceeded 100.

There is only a handful of theppams on Mampuri beach, as the near-shore fisheries are apparently of little interest. A few more theppams, as well as some FRP boats and orus, can be found by the lagoon, but few people (about 10 families) fish here.

Many of the fishermen by the beach used to fish off Mampuri on a seasonal basis but settled permanently when the war restricted access to the eastern coast. There are both boat-owners, as well as labourers working for the former. Drift nets, line fishing, and other fishing methods (often aiming at particular species at particular times) are common. More recently a new method, whereby fish are attracted by generator powered lights, has been introduced.

The seven beach seines in Mampuri each take up a strip of beach about 400-500metres long. Some of the beach seines are locally owned, whilst other are run by people from other villages (but who stay at their fishing place during the season). The labourers, who earn far less than people being employed at the vegetable farms (except the ones doing the more skilled jobs like laying the net), are mainly from the war-torn eastern part of the country, as well as from the Udappuwa area. The mahadhels’ operation is cost-intensive as all workers are paid a fixed salary (and an advance before they start work), regardless of catches, and are also fed. Traditionally, mahadhel teams operate from the western coast during the north-east monsoon and move to the eastern coast before the onset of the south-west monsoon. Nets and craft usually stay in place. The war has interrupted these migration patterns, but some mahadhel operators from Mampuri still migrate or are doing so again.

The total production of fishermen in Mampuri is difficult to quantify, but the employees of the shop where fish is iced near the landing place estimate that they handle about 4000-8000kg per day during the main-season. The production of mahadhels is estimated to range between 150 and 400kg per catch per net. The net is laid twice a day on successful days, and not at all if prospects look unpromising.

During the south-west monsoon, a majority of fishermen now stays in the village. Boat-owners try to access the sea when possible, whilst labourers without a fishing job try to get work on the vegetable farms in the village instead. Furthermore, people use savings accumulated during the main season, and some are migrating to the East Coast again.

7.3.2 Ambakandawila

Ambakandawila has traditionally been a fishing village (Stirrat 1988). According to the DFEO in Mahawewa, there are 47 FRP boats and 133 theppams registered in Ambakandawila, employing 385 people from 215 families.

During the north-east monsoon, a large number of FRP boats and theppams are landed along the beach. During the south-west monsoon almost all the FRP boats of Ambakandawila are taken to a landing place in the lagoon close to Chilaw market and many fishermen stay there in temporary shelters. This place is located close to the estuary of the lagoon, from where the sea can be accessed even in rough conditions. Some of the theppam owners stay by the beach in Ambakandawila in order to try their luck on days when the sea is not too rough, whilst others fish the lagoon.

The proliferation of mechanised FRP boats has led to social changes that were predicted by Stirrat (1988). Whilst most people in the 1960s were fishing from their own theppam, there is now a split between those who own FRP boats and those who do not, but who are employed on the boats. Theppams are still common, but there are many FRP boats and wage labour in small-scale fishing has become commonplace. This might have positive impacts in terms of employment opportunities for in-migrants. Out of 26 FRP-owners we spoke to, 20 (77%) come from the centre of the village, which made up 62% of the sample, and the most successful fishermen of Ambakandawila live there.

7.3.3 Modarawella

The fishing community in Modarawella is smaller than the ones of Mampuri and Ambakandawila, but fishing is nevertheless the main income of a majority of households in the village. The DFEO data for the village is rather confused but states that there are about 140 fishing families, owning 23 FRP and large boats, 47 theppams and oru, and 2 mahadhel crafts. We counted 23 FRP boats, 35 theppams, 4 orus, and 2 mahadhel crafts on the beach. The latter are currently not in use. There are also a number of people who work on, or even own, multi-day boats that are based elsewhere.

According to our own survey, leaving out old people and households where information was not available, 66,35% of households have a fishing income, whilst 33,65% have not. Out of a sample of 64 fishing households, members of 23 fished off theppams, 20 off FRP boats, 19 work on multi-day boats elsewhere, and 2 fish from oru. People working on the large boats do so mainly from the fishing harbour of Negombo, about 20km south of the village. But others also found employment in Trincomalee at the East Coast, Kirinda on the South Coast, or in Chilaw.

The lagoon in Modarawella is very small and does not offer a profitable fishing ground. The fishing community in the village seems to be far more negatively affected by the war restricting migration to the East Coast than either Ambakandawila or Mampuri are. Most houses look fairly old and people claim that they were built before the war started. The high proportion of people working on multi-day boats (which involves long periods of absence from home) also points to a lack of alternatives for individual fishermen. Another alternative to fishing is overseas migration, especially to Italy. Many a fishing family has thus sold their gear to afford the agency fee and flight ticket to send their son to earn some Lira. A number of people also seek other jobs during the south-west monsoon, including building work, coconut harvesting, or net-mending in other parts of the country.

7.4 Profile of fishermen and fish wives

The majority of fishing families of Mampuri, Ambakandawila, and Modarawella belong to the Karava fishing caste, which is believed to originate from Negombo. Both fishermen from Ambakandawila and Mampuri trace their families’ origin to Negombo. The Karava are Sinhala but many are bilingual and some even speak Tamil as their first language. Whilst this custom has died out in Modarawella, most Sinhala fishermen in Mampuri speak Tamil as first language, whilst a lot of people in Ambakandawila know Tamil but speak Sinhala at home. Tamil is more common amongst older people and thought of being the language spoken at sea in Ambakandawila. All families we met send their children to a Sinhala medium school.

Due to common caste origin and inter-marriages, there are many kinship links between the Sinhala fishing villages of Puttalam District in general, and Mampuri, Ambakandawila and Modarawella in particular. Thus people travel between these villages, know about the state of the fisheries in other places, attend church feasts in their kin’s villages, and often migrate from one place to another.

Fishing is nevertheless a very individualistic activity, with individual households forming the basic economic units. Within these households, spouses co-operate. Only the men go to sea, but women come to collect the catch and sell it in most cases. This gives the latter a great deal of control over household finances. Both male and female informants tend to characterise fishing as a joint activity. 

Box 7.1: Theppams and FRP boats

Lionel is a fisherman and settled in Modarawella eight years ago when he got married. He used to be employed on someone else’s boat, but managed to buy his own FRP boat and engine four years ago. But that meant he was not able to invest in housing and household goods and Lionel has not been very successful since he bought the boat. Two seasons were particularly bad, whilst maintenance costs for the boat were high. Lionel is still paying off the loan he has had taken out to buy the boat, and he had to get another loan recently to finance a costly repair. His family still live in one of the poorest cajan houses in Modarawella, and they own very little in terms of material goods.

Herman who lives nearby tends to laugh at Lionel. Herman has been fishing from a theppam for ten years. He is very good at it and even fishes during the south-west monsoon when accessing the sea is difficult. Thus, Herman was able to build a brick-house as well as to buy furniture and a large TV. He owns three theppams by now, and employs two or three young men from the village to fish from them. Herman thinks that FRP boats are not profitable as catches are declining whilst prices for fuel and nets increase. Theppams on the other hand entail no risk, as all they require is hard labour, but catches can nevertheless be very good.

Rohan on the other hand lives in Mampuri and has been fishing since the age of fourteen. He and his father used to have theppams, and Rohan was given one of them when he got married at the age of nineteen. He used to migrate between the eastern coast and Mampuri, but this stopped when the civil war started in 1983. Thus, Rohan bought a FRP boat as it was difficult to access the sea on a theppam from Mampuri beach all year around. The fishing grounds further off the coast, and thus beyond the reach of theppams, are much better anyway. Rohan did well and is known for his extensive knowledge of the fishing grounds in the area. He managed to accumulate a large selection of nets to take advantage of different fishing conditions, and has four boats by now. Rohan employs seven others to fish with him. His house is one of the largest in the settlement by the beach, and he even owns a car.

The majority of people we spoke to, except in Modarawella where many people are employed on multi-day boats, fish from theppams or FRP boats. Theppams are either operated by one or two people, whilst FRP boats need at least two. Thus, one finds either two male members of one household (i.e. father and son) co-operating, or the boat-owner hires a labourer. Some boats are crewed by paid labourers alone. The fishing community is therefore divided into those who own crafts and nets, and those who do not. Some people also move between the two groups, a theppam owner for example might decide to find work on a FRP boat during the south-west monsoon.

Some of the wealthiest fishermen we met own one or more FRP boats, but others are not doing as well. Engine-powered FRP boats are expensive to run as they require fuel and repairs. Theppams in contrast require little maintenance, and some people are doing extremely well fishing from them (see box 7.1).

    1. Incomes and marketing
    2. Fish production in Mampuri, Ambakandawila, and Modarawella is aimed at the market, and sophisticated trading networks channel the fish to the main market in Colombo. There is a major fish-market in Chilaw where both wholesale traders as well as individual fishwives are active. The activities of fish traders provide a constant topic of concern amongst the fishing families, and suspicions about exploitation and manipulation of the market abound. On the other hand, many traders provide fishermen with advances and credit, an arrangement that helps people to sustain themselves during the off-season or to purchase new gear.

      During the main season, fish traders visit Ambakandawila, and many women sell their husbands’ catches by the beach. The buyers include large traders who come with their own lorries, middle-men who buy fish to sell it on to other traders in Chilaw, and small-scale traders who buy just a few kilos and cycle to villages a few miles inland to sell it there. But if prices are low, or supply exceeds demand, fish wives bring their produce to Chilaw individually to sell it there. Few traders come to Ambakandawila during the south-west monsoon, and most people are based in Chilaw anyway. Furthermore, prices in Chilaw market are very high at this time as supply is lower due to the weather limiting fishing activities.

      The fish trade in Mampuri is controlled by a few large traders who are based by the landing place on the beach, and who take a large proportion of the catch to Colombo themselves. There are also smaller buyers on bicycles and motorbikes who transport fish to the refugee camps, Puttalam, or further inland. ‘Line-lorries’ operate a transport service on a commission basis, on which catches can be sent individually in boxes to recipients in Colombo. Most of the mahadhels take advantage of this service.

      Trade in Modarawella is on a smaller scale. Most people sell their catch by laying it out on the village road where mostly small-scale bicycle traders (and the occasional lorry), who search the different fishing villages in the area for a good deal, come to buy. There is also a small fish market by the main road 2 km away from Modarawella, and some people take their catch there. Some village women buy fish from others to take to this market.


      If a boat employs labour, then catches are usually divided into four parts; one to cover fuel, one for the boat-owner, and one for each of the two labourers. If the boat is manned by the owner and a labourer, the former gets two parts. The risk of fuel not getting covered by the income from the catch is born by the owner alone.

      Incomes vary greatly, as they depend on season, weather conditions, skill, and luck. But evidence from past research (Stirrat 1988), as well as an assessment based on visible material wealth suggests that many fishermen earn considerably more than middle-class, urban based clerks. The largest catch one FRP boat achieved during fieldwork in a single day was Rs.20.000 (US$ 285, the equivalent of four to five months wages for a shrimp farm labourer), but this was very exceptional. Incomes are reportedly more likely to range between Rs. 100-2000 (US$ 1.4-28) per day, per boat. On some days, fishermen return without catch and can not even cover the fuel used to go to sea.

    3. Migration

Migration patterns of fishermen in the Puttalam District are complex and have changed over time. They vary from one village to another, and often depend on geography as much as on individual decisions or kinship-links. During the south-west monsoon, fishermen from Modarawella and Mampuri used to migrate to the East Coast of the country, whilst fishermen from Ambakandawila have predominantly tended to go to nearby Chilaw or Puttalam lagoon. The Kalpitiya peninsula has always been a popular fishing spot during the north-east monsoon. But migration to the East Coast has been seriously restricted since the onset of the civil war in 1983. This had a large direct impact on Mampuri and Modarawella, affecting not only changes in migration patterns but also in settlement patterns and livelihoods. The East Coast had traditionally been the more lucrative fishing ground for fishermen from Modarawella. Furthermore, there is no estuary that could enable fishermen to access the sea year-around near the village. Thus people were forced to look for alternatives, including work on multi-day boats and overseas migration.

Many fishermen who used to migrate between the eastern coast and Mampuri have now permanently settled down in the village, thus consolidating the community (see 7.9.4).

The high proportion of FRP boats in Mampuri is apparently due to restricted migration as theppams were not profitable in Mampuri alone, and as powerful engines can facilitate access to the sea even on rough days during the south-west monsoon. Thus, fishing production does not come to an almost complete standstill as it does in Modarawella, and people even benefit from higher prices which result from poor East Coast supplies. Nevertheless, most fishermen tend to live on savings accumulated during the main fishing season as off-season incomes are much lower. Some people, especially from the less wealthy sector of the fishing community, have also started to migrate again, all in all about 20 families this year. But some of these families had to pay a bitter price: two fishermen from Mampuri disappeared whilst out fishing off the eastern coast during fieldwork, and are feared to have been killed by the LTTE.

Fishermen in Ambakandawila have been less affected by the changes as a high proportion of the fishing community can continue fishing from Chilaw during the south-west monsoon. Some also migrate to Puttalam lagoon, whilst the poorest section of the community fishes Chilaw lagoon (see 7.7).

Overall, fishermen from all three communities seem to have lower incomes during the off-season, partly because they can fish on fewer days, the fishing grounds are less productive, and the effort involved is greater. A large amount of the villagers’ jewellery and other valuables tend to seasonally migrate to the pawn shops, the accumulation of material goods during the main fishing season thus being a way of ‘saving’ for the off-season (cf. Stirrat 1988).

7.7 Lagoon fishing

Lagoon fishing is not of major importance in terms of production in any of the three villages, but it offers an off-season income to a fairly large number of people from the weakest sector of Ambakandawila. There are four landing places offering access to Chilaw lagoon in and around Ambakandawila. We found all together over 100 theppams on these landing places during the south-west monsoon, although many of them did not appear to be in use on a daily basis. Incomes are not very high, but often suffice to meet daily needs. However, the impacts of aquaculture, declining mangrove areas, increased fishing pressure, changes in salinity levels due to excessive rainfall, and probably of other pollutants on fish and shrimp stocks are being felt in Ambakandawila. The majority of people complain about declining catches. More recently, an excessive amount of plankton that obstructs fishing efforts has appeared in the lagoon, a phenomenon that many blame on discharges from shrimp farms.

Many of the people fishing the lagoon are recent in-migrants who have neither the expertise nor the gear needed for maritime fishing. Others are too old to go to sea. But overall, dependence on the lagoon is not that high and very seasonal. The lagoon thus offers a supplemental income rather than a livelihood. Furthermore, people have other alternatives and often find casual work on shrimp farms or in Chilaw town at times when fishing the lagoon does not result in a sufficient income.

This is different in Pambala, located opposite Ambakandawila, on the eastern (inland) side of Chilaw lagoon. Fishermen here have no access to the sea, and depend on the lagoon alone all year around. People we spoke to estimated that there were about 80 families with an income from fishing in Pambala. It was here that a mangrove reserve was successfully established. The area near Pambala is also the most productive of the lagoon. Thus, there have been a number of disputes over this area, when Pambala fishermen claimed that people from Ambakandawila and elsewhere, who only use the lagoon at certain times, were using destructive fishing methods. The fishermen of the village also won a case against fishermen from Chilaw, who tried to put up their fixed nets near the village, in 1996. This case gave the Pambala fishermen some legal entitlement to ‘their’ fishing grounds.

But the lagoon fishermen from Ambakandawila are neither fully dependent on the lagoon, nor ‘traditional’, as the lagoon serves as an emergency source of income. Thus, there was little resistance to shrimp farming and mangrove degradation (see 6.2.12).

The productivity of Puttalam lagoon and its importance to communities settled around it is high according to studies carried out in recent years (Dayaratne et al. 1995). These studies judge the fisheries of the lagoon to be well over sustainable limits and recommend management. The need for management seems less pressing in Mampuri. Here, only about ten families derive an income from the lagoon all year, and the number is only slightly higher during the south-west monsoon. Nobody we spoke to complained about declining catches or increasing competition. The majority of sea fishermen considered that the incomes that could be derived from the lagoon were not worth the effort, even during the south-west monsoon when maritime fishing is not possible every day. Only some of the less wealthy boat labourers who cannot find jobs by the beach add to the regular fishermen in the lagoon during the off-season.

The small lagoon in Modarawella is mainly fished for home-consumption or for small, supplementary incomes. People nevertheless objected to sewage being released into the lagoon by a tourist development, as this was feared to affect the taste of lagoon fish consumed in the village (see 9.2.7).

7.8 Fishing Societies

There are fishing societies in most Sri Lankan villages. These act mainly to channel Government support such as loans and subsidised gear to fishermen, but also serve as saving societies, and, if they are successful at accumulating money, give out loans themselves. Societies are run by committees, led by chairmen who usually are influential persons in their village.

The fishing societies of Mampuri and Modarawella are fairly active, whilst the one in Ambakandawila is currently dormant. They played an important role in the fishing disputes explored in the next section. In Mampuri, the fishing society was involved in the exclusion of seasonal fishermen from the beach (7.9.4), as well as in a dispute with the beach seines (7.9.2). In Modarawella, the fishing society campaigned against the presence of divers in the village (7.9.3), and was also involved in formal protests against shrimp farming (6.3.3) and tourism developments. Furthermore, members of the societies meet on a monthly basis, and these meetings offer a forum for fishermen to communicate and for problems to be discussed.

The St. Anthony’s Fishing Co-operative Society in Mampuri is currently run by a well-connected and articulate person who is not a fisherman himself. This man used to chair the society’s committee before the 1994 election when it was said to be run successfully in terms of securing resources for fishermen. However, after the general election, a supporter of the PA took over as chairman of the society. People assumed that he would be in a better position to ensure Government support. But this individual was reportedly a poor manager, and the activities of the society ceased. Eventually, some fishermen got together and asked the former and present chairman to take over again. His skills in representing the interests of local fishermen became apparent during a conflict between beach seines and fishermen fishing with lights (see 7.9.2). National party politics also had an impact on the ‘Holy Cross Fishing Society’ in Modarawella. Its UNP-affiliated chairman had to resign and hand the leadership over to a PA supporter in 1994 (see box 7.2). As in Mampuri, the former chairman subsequently returned to power. Modarawella’s society is, according to the DFEO of Mahawewa, one of the more successful societies in his area. It has accumulated a fair amount of money, has its own meeting hall, and runs a gear shop, an ice shop, as well as a co-operative bank. A large proportion of village fishermen are members. However, a closer look reveals that even this society struggles to motivate its membership (see box 7.2).


Box 7.2: The ‘Holy Cross’ Fishing Society

Martin is the chairman of the Holy Cross Fishing Society. He first got this office when the present society was founded in the late 1980s. Martin had been a local leader of the UNP, so nobody contested his claim to the position in the fishing society. He did well due to his long experience as the chair of another, political, society, and managed to secure a number of loans, subsidies, and grants of the Government for members of Holy Cross. The society was soon able to give out its own loans. However, when Sri Lanka’s Government changed in 1994, a member of the PA, took over the chairmanship of the society. Martin nevertheless remained active, and returned to office a few years later.

There are now two factions represented in the society: one group around Martin, who is associated with the UNP, and another one around the former chairman, who support the PA. Moves of the society are often blocked by one section if they are proposed by the other and vice versa. Furthermore, there are some voices that call for Martin to resign again, arguing that although he is good at organising the society, he is not in as good a position to ensure State patronage to the society as a supporter of the ruling party would be.

Apart from national-level political issues, there is also a problem in motivating members. The society has well over a hundred members, but meetings hardly ever attract more than twenty people. The committee blames the selfishness of people, who only turn up when there is something on offer, but who turn their back to the society once they got what they wanted. People not attending the meetings themselves, on the other hand, claim that there is no point in doing so, as the committee members channel benefits only to their kin and friends. Others say that one has to be a member of the right party to get anything.

Martin thinks that people who criticise the society are probably doing so to excuse their inactivity. Furthermore, people who have not repaid a loan in the past cannot get any further ones, and have thus little incentive for working for the society. Neither can people who have no collateral to offer. Martin is troubled by the fact that few people are active in the society. For him, the society is not just about loan and subsidies, but also about organising fishermen to stand up for their rights and practise solidarity. But the only way to attract more people would be to hand out more resources. Then again, this would anger the active members who would then wonder why they are making the effort, if anyone can get what should be their reward. Martin feels that he should encourage people, but that the balance between carrot and stick is difficult to strike. His position is often a difficult one: ‘Who is better’, he wonders, ‘a non active member who pays his or her dues in time, or an active member who fails to repay a loan?’

Staff at the DFEO of Mahawewa confirm that a number of fishing societies collapsed due to the political change in 1994. They also stated that a comeback of former committee members associated with the UNP is common, as the latter are more experienced and skilled in running a society than the political newcomers.

The ‘St. Rogus Fishing Society’ of Ambakandawila is not active at the moment due to a committee member having misappropriated funds. Members, who had received a loan from a state-owned bank channelled through the Fishing society, had made repayments through monthly instalments to the society’s committee. But the person acting as secretary and treasurer at the times is alleged to have pocketed these payments. People became suspicious when demands from the bank continued to arrive, and the police started investigating. The committee member is now being prosecuted (the case is still in court) but stories abound that some Government officials who are protected by politicians were also involved.

Some people we met in the three villages would happily admit to having taken out loans in the past without repaying them. After all, the Government can not do more than confiscate the gear bought with the loan, but they would not do so as the gear has lost value through use. Thus, it would seem that a number of people have less interest in sustained co-operative organisation than they have in outwitting the Government or the fishing society itself for short-term personal gain.

The problems encountered by the fishing societies seem to be common in all organised groups we encountered on the village level. This probably reflects the nature of party politics in Sri Lanka as a whole, as well as the problematic interaction of formalised groups with the informal institution of individual households. The consequences this has for faith in institutionalised groups as agents of development is discussed in part three.


    1. Fishing disputes

7.9.1 Shrimp trawling

Commercial near-shore shrimp trawling in the 1980s conflicted with near-shore fishing activities of theppam fishermen along the coast near Chilaw. Both fishermen from Ambakandawila and Modarawella were affected as the large trawlers intruded into their fishing grounds off the village shores. The proliferation of shrimp trawling in this area not only led to competition over shrimp catches. The daily passage of large trawlers also posed a threat to the small theppams that are used by many villagers, allegedly causing injury to people as well as gear. Shrimp trawling was banned by the Government in 1992, after civil unrest in Chilaw. The numerous fishermen settled on Chilaw Beach had long opposed the shrimp trawlers, most of the latter being owned by wealthy people living in the main part of the town. The owners of the shrimp trawlers as well as their employees were compensated by MFARD, an extremely expensive management solution (De Alvis 1994).

The only people who were actively involved in the protest against shrimp trawling in Ambakandawila seem to be fishermen who had been on the fishing society committee at the time. In Modarawella, people even attacked a trawler, injuring some of the crew and creating some damage. A lot of people think that the ban of shrimp trawling constitutes a victory of ‘small’ fishermen against ‘businessmen’ from Chilaw. But politics seem to have played an important role. A number of people feel that the protest only really gained momentum due to being supported by smuggling rings with political contacts. The small smuggling boats going to and returning from India were allegedly obstructed by the trawlers, and their owners are thus said to have orchestrated the campaign with the support of local politicians.

The Government is currently considering reintroducing shrimp trawling (although in a more controlled manner), as it is believed that shrimp stocks are not fully exploited by small-scale fishermen. A reintroduction would without doubt raise a lot of tension, but it is interesting how positions are shaped by political affiliations. Thus, although there is a strong climate against shrimp trawling in the villages, people active in the governing PA would raise doubts about the ban and point out that other fishing methods are far more destructive.

7.9.2 Beach seines and fishing with lights

The beach seine (mahadhel) owners of Mampuri (and from elsewhere) have recently been complaining about the impacts a new fishing method is allegedly having on their catches. The argument is that boats using electric lights attract fish to their longlines. As they drift away from the coast (they are not anchored), fish, (both the targeted species and others), follow them and abandon the near-shore waters that the mahadhels fish. Boat owners argue that their fishing has no effect on the mahadhels as they target geographically different fishing grounds, at least eight kilometres off the coast, whilst the mahadhels stay within one kilometre off the shore. The mahadhels have been complaining about declining catches, but whether or not it is really the light fishermen that are to blame rather than other factors (global climate changes is often mentioned by fishermen) has as yet not been scientifically established.

The mahadhel owners sent a delegation to a politician who is very influential in the fisheries sector. The consequence was that some fishermen using lights were arrested in Mampuri by Puttalam police. This prompted the Fishing Society to flex its muscles and intervene, the imprisoned men eventually being released. What happened here is that both sides made use of established patron and client relationships, and apart from the quality of their contacts, the light fishermen’s strength in numbers might have been decisive. As a matter of fact, both sides contacted the same politician, and the latter now says that he was wrong to support the mahadhels in the first place. This view is supported by the DFEO of Puttalam who pointed out to the police that there was no legal basis for proceeding against the arrested fishermen. Whatever the outcome, the course of action in this conflict was initially dictated by political contacts rather than by formal management mechanisms.

Some of the mahadhel owners have voiced consternation, and are even considering abandoning their cost-intensive fishing method. Thus, if declining catches are really due to competition by other fishermen, and if political contacts rather than organisational management govern the outcomes of the issues, the losers would be beach seine owners and workers. This is in line with views voiced by Government officials, who think that mahadhels are an out-dated and inefficient fishing method. Mahadhel-owners should therefore ‘modernise’ and invest in multi-day boats instead.

7.9.3 Diving

Diving with SCUBA gear has become an increasingly popular fishing method along the coast of the Puttalam District. Divers usually operate in teams, paid by an entrepreneur who provides gear and accommodation. Teams of divers have been renting houses in all three villages in order to access the sea from the village beaches. This often involved local people, not only for the rental of accommodation, but also for the hiring of boats and sometimes labour. However, divers also met with opposition as their activities were perceived to conflict with villagers’ fishing activities, as well as due to social problems created by the outsiders’ presence in the villages.

Most of the divers target export-quality ornamental fish found at reefs off the coast. It is common to smash parts of the reefs where fish are hiding, and this has long-term impacts on the productivity of the reefs in general, thus affecting other fishermen. Divers are thought to target other species as well. Lobsters, for example, fetch high prices and fishermen operating from craft very rarely catch them. But divers who have the advantage of being able to scan the bottom of the sea are thought to wipe out and over-exploit existing stocks of lobsters, often selling their catch at sea (where traders meet them on boats) to avoid confrontation with jealous local fishermen. Furthermore, the divers’ presence by the reef, which serves as fishing grounds for most local fishermen, is thought to scare fish away.

In Modarawella, divers were active on a seasonal basis for a few years. Four people from the village also work for companies that used to operate from Modarawella itself but are now based elsewhere. The Holy Cross Fishing Society ‘evicted’ groups of divers from the village who thus had to relocate.

The first groups to come to the village only stayed for one season, but a second, larger one came the following year and successfully established itself by paying inflated prices for house rental, food, and boat hire. Many people were at first sympathetic towards their presence but opposition grew when people witnessed the divers’ destructive fishing methods, and when it became clear that they targetted not only ornamental fish but also species that should be reserved for the local fishermen. Thus, the ‘Holy Cross’ society contacted the DFEO and other authorities, but with little success, as there was no legal basis to proceed against the divers. The foreman of the divers meanwhile tried to ‘buy off’ opposition by offering money to fishing society activists. Eventually, a member of ‘Holy Cross’ with good contacts to people in MFARD spoke to a politician there, as well as to a local MP. This resulted in the police giving the fishermen unofficial ‘permission’ to proceed on their own accord. The divers were then confronted and threatened by a large group of fishermen and finally left the village in March 1998.

However, this remains a symbolic victory, as groups of divers are now based in villages to the north and south of Modarawella. They continue to frequent the same reef the fishermen use from there. People in Modarawella think that although they were successful in ensuring political backing to remove the divers from their village, the people operating the diving enterprises are a powerful lobby with their own contacts, and can thus escape a wider ban.

In Ambakandawila meanwhile, social frictions gave the impulse to oppose groups of divers basing themselves in the village. One incident involved the police searching houses in fear of LTTE terrorists infiltrating the village by posing as divers. Furthermore, one group of divers was well paid and thus presented a source of a steady supply of free drinks to some of the village men, which led to resentment amongst village women. Rumours of drug abuse and other ‘immoral’ activities also abounded. Thus, the local priest intervened and asked this group of divers to leave the village in 1997. But another group arrived in Ambakandawila in 1998. One of the new divers temporarily residing in the village had an affair with a local woman, which led to local resentment peaking in a violent confrontation. This time the priest and the Parish Council decided on a ‘formal’ ban, which was also recommended by the police. Whether this ban is able to stop diving in Ambakandawila has to be seen.

7.9.4 Exclusion of seasonal fishermen

Mampuri beach has attracted a number of seasonal fishermen for a long time. But as more and more people settled permanently at Mampuri beach in the 1980s, space for boats became scarcer. In the 1990s, friction rose, and the fishermen organised in the local fishing society decided to ban seasonal fishermen who were not permanently settled in the village from landing their boats here. Negotiations involved the local society, as well as politicians and staff from the MFARD. A place a few kilometres up the coast was found for seasonal migrants, and the fishing society now controls access to ‘its’ own beach (although this is done on an informal basis). However, the exclusion of migrants only applies to the actual landing place. Access to the sea near Mampuri is still open, and the seasonal fishermen are still allowed to come to the fishing settlement in Mampuri to obtain kerosene, sell their catch, and meet other needs.

The ban is the result of a long-term process of seasonal fishermen settling down permanently in Mampuri. This process was caused (or at least hastened) by the civil war restricting migration (see 7.6). Most fishermen in the village are still sympathetic towards the migrants as most have been in the same position fairly recently themselves. The only way to become a new member of the established fishing community in Mampuri is to ‘marry in’, i.e. to get married to one of the daughters of the established fishing families.

7.9.5 Nets

Another disputed topic in the fisheries of Puttalam is the use of a certain type of nets, balludhels. These nets are constructed by grouping a number of net pieces together to trap fish. They are very heavy and thus create damage when being dragged over the bottom of the sea. Reefs especially are thought to be under threat from these nets, and their use is thus banned in reef areas. Many fishermen agree that balludhels are highly destructive and frequently mention them when other disputes such as diving or shrimp trawling are discussed. But many fishermen still use these nets, as they guarantee large catches in the short term, and the ban is difficult to enforce. The problem here is that there is no separate group of users that could be opposed by non-users, such as happened in the case of shrimp trawling. Anyone can construct a balludhel out of existing net stocks, and accusations abound. Both users and opponents come from the same class of boat and theppam owners.

7.10 Perspectives and challenges for CZM

Winners and losers of the different fishing disputes have been identified in the relevant sections. The losers from a lack of management of the coastal fisheries of the Puttalam district in general would, of course, be the majority of fishing families. Some might successfully enter into multi-day boat fishing away from the coast, or into other sectors of the economy, but small scale fishing is the dominant activity in Ambakandawila and Modarawella as well as in the fishing settlement on Mampuri beach. Thus, dependence on the coastal fisheries is high and its decline would without doubt be felt severely.

The nature of the fishing societies, as well as the experience from some of the disputes examined here, demonstrate the importance of politics and especially political patronage in the sector. Any management attempt has thus to be situated in this context.

Fisheries management in Sri Lanka is currently undergoing a major-change as the new Fisheries Act from 1996 is being implemented. Amongst other changes, this Act prescribes the formation of regional fishing committees, made up by fishermen themselves, a process that aims at decentralisation of management. A new permit system would also help to limit intrusion of fishing grounds by people foreign to an area. This could for example help to control fishing with lights in the Mampuri area. But implementation and enforcement of the new Act is reportedly difficult. How the changes interact with the existing political context remains to be seen.





VEGETABLE PRODUCTION (back to contents)

    1. Background: Vegetable cultivation on the Kalpitiya peninsula
    2. There is a flourishing vegetable industry on the Kalpitiya peninsula. Water is abundant which enables cultivation despite the dry climate. Between 3068 ha and 3647 ha of land is cultivated with cash crops on the peninsula. Red onions, one of the most profitable crops over the past decade, make up 998ha, (DCS 1995). Vegetable production is aimed at the domestic market. Cultivation is very intensive and involves the use of large amounts of agro-chemicals. Shops selling these chemicals are a common sight on the peninsula, and there is a large vegetable wholesale market in Nurachcholai, to the north of Mampuri.

      The civil war in the North Eastern part of the country has had a major impact on Kalpitiya’s economy. Vegetable production in Jaffna, the main supplier of crops like red onions until the early 1980s, had almost come to a standstill due to fighting. This led to a boom on the Kalpitiya peninsula, which produced the same crops, when prices rose due to limited supplies in the late 1980s. Cultivation reportedly expanded as a consequence. At the same time, the peninsula’s population has more than doubled between 1990 and 1998, from 31309 to 77636, mainly due to an influx of people displaced by the war.

      The intensive use of fertilisers and herbicides in the vegetable economy poses a potential threat to the local ecosystem and it is in this light that cultivation in Mampuri was examined by the research team.

    3. Vegetable cultivation in Mampuri
      1. Introduction

      Mampuri has been a place of cultivation for a long time. Tobacco used to be a major crop in the past, although there are currently only 5ha of tobacco fields in Mampuri. Coconut trees are also common, but there is no working estate in the village at the moment. Vegetables produced include onions, chillies, and beans, and on a lesser scale, pumpkins and potatoes. The overall productive area in Mampuri totals, according to official figures (which are not necessarily accurate), 210 parcels of land totalling 203 ha or 501 acres (DCS 1995). The most important cash crop in terms of incomes is red onions, planted on at least 165.5 acres of land. The sudden success of people cultivating red onions in the late 1980s led to a gold-rush scenario similar to the one surrounding shrimp farming in Ambakandawila. Many people with no former experience in cultivation entered the sector. A lot of houses were built by people who became rich almost overnight due to a sudden increase in market prices.

      A major factor contributing to the expansion of cultivation in the village has been the introduction of waterpumps. Crops require a large amount of watering due to the dry climate on the peninsula. The effort entailed in manual watering thus set a limit on cultivation in the past. Waterpumps, on the other hand, allow for larger holdings. Apart from requiring a lot of water, farming in Mampuri also requires the intensive use of fertilisers and herbicides.

      The influx of refugees from conflict areas is felt locally. Although there are no concentrations of Muslim refugees as elsewhere on the peninsula in Mampuri, farmers resort to these if there are shortages of labour in the village.

      8.2.2 Profile of vegetable farmers

      Most land in Mampuri suitable for cultivation has by now been converted into farms. The size of holdings varies greatly. Some farmers have a number of fields spread across the village as well as outside the village borders which can total up to 30 acres. Others cultivate vegetables on land surrounding their house, on plots that sometimes are smaller than ½ acre. Average holdings have a size of between 1 and 5 acres. 2 acres is the most common size as the Government used to lease out such plots in the past, and many of these former leases have now been fully transferred to the cultivators. How much land individual farmers cultivate also depends on seasons, the occurrence of diseases, as well as on market prices. To give an example, one farmer we spoke to owns 12 acres of land. But the size of the area he cultivates varies; it is only 5 acres when prospects are not too promising, whilst he leases additional land to increase his cultivation to 15 acres at other times.

      According to the GN, 460 people are involved in the agricultural sector, a number that includes both land-holders as well as labourers. The farming community is very heterogeneous. Well-established Tamil families traditionally dominated the sector, most of the early Sinhalese immigrants coming to fish. Today, the picture is far more complex. The sudden boom in onion farming at the end of the 1980s attracted a large number of people formerly not engaged in farming. Furthermore, immigrants who originally came to the village in order to find employment on farms or boats have by now managed to establish their own farms. Even fishermen entered the farming sector when its success became apparent, either acquiring land from the State (often as a lease), or buying or leasing land of others.

      Many farmers in Mampuri are or were remarkably successful. However, diseases or freak weather can also lead to large financial losses. Furthermore, success is very much dependent on fluctuations in the market. The economic status of farmers in Mampuri thus varies greatly. Some have been able to build new houses, buy cars, and expand their holdings, whilst others had to lease out or even sell land.

      The Tamil population has in many cases had a head start on other villagers due to their longer establishment in the locality, inherited land holdings, and better contacts. Other people managed to establish themselves in Mampuri due to kin or friendship relations.

      Farming in Mampuri is highly individualistic. Few farmers co-operate, and everyone markets their produce individually. There are no co-operative societies. A ‘Small Farmers Association’ was started with the support of Redd Barna, a Scandinavian NGO, in 1988. However, this organisation collapsed in 1994 (see box 8.1) and currently comprises less than two dozen people, all from the same area of Mampuri along the southern road to the beach.

      Box 8.1: The Small Farmers Association

      Ugupurea is an area in the southern part of Mampuri. Tobacco growers from the South of Puttalam District used to seasonally migrate here to cultivate their crop, but there were no permanent houses until the early 1970s. However, the availability of land in Ugupurea soon attracted settlers, including some of the labourers that had been working for the tobacco growers on a seasonal basis. The relatively short history of permanent settlement in the area meant that in the 1980s Ugupurea was less developed in terms of housing and infrastructure than other parts of the village. Thus, when Redd Barna started a rural credit and development programme on the Kalpitiya peninsula in the 1980s, its first achievements in Mampuri were the provision of a road linking Ugupurea with the main road and the establishment of a pre-school. Furthermore, a ‘Small Farmers Association’ (SFA) was founded. Most of its members were from Ugupurea

      The SFA’s main purpose was to serve as a savings- and micro-credit society, in order to lessen dependency on moneylenders as well as to provide credit to people that had formerly no access to such. A link to the Government-owned Rural Development Bank was created, and SFA members were able to obtain credit in groups. The SFA also helped members to get access to subsidised inputs for farming. We met some people who were thus able to improve their social standing.

      However, the chairman of the SFA was associated with the UNP. This was held against him after the PA’s election victory in 1994, when PA supporters claimed the chairmanship of the society and took over. This take-over marked a change in the SFA’s fortunes: the new committee members had no experience in running a society and were thus less successful in doing it. They furthermore reportedly assumed that loans given by ‘their’ Government would not have to be repaid and consequently failed to meet obligations. Former committee members eventually attempted to bring things in order, but were not able to secure new loans, as large sums of money channelled through the society had not been repaid to lenders. The SFA therefore ceased to be active, and there is currently no functioning organisation for farmers in Mampuri

      Some of the vegetable farms are run jointly by men and women. Men are often more likely to offer information on cultivation, and tend to do the majority of the physical work. Women, on the other hand, are often better educated as young men are taken out of school early when their labour power is needed, whilst women tend to stay on. Thus financial matters are, similarly to the fishwives described in section 7.4, a female domain in many households. In the labour sector, women are paid less then men (see 8.2.5).

      8.2.3 Land acquisition and access.

      The only area with a reported long history of legal land ownership in Mampuri is the one stretching along the main road to Kalpitya. Towards the sea, the soil is increasingly sandy, and many people claim that much of the land there had been scarcely inhabited ‘desert’ or scrub-land in the past (30-60 years ago). Most of this land used to belong to the government and was subsequently taken over by individual settlers. The authorities encouraged these settlements and often offered long-term leases. Illegal occupations took place as well, but most were subsequently legalised in Government-sponsored land distribution schemes (Swarnaboomi under the former Government, Jayaboomi under the current one).

      The value of land has increased rapidly over the last decade, but prices are still well below the levels paid for land bordering the beach in Modarawella, for example. One acre of farming land can cost between Rs. 50,000 and 175,000 (U$700-2500), depending on its location, fertility of the soil, accessibility, and infrastructure. Land located away from a road and close to the beach, where high salinity and strong winds occur, for example, will be at the lower end of the market.

      Cultivators who do not have their own land rent plots from others. This is done on a yearly basis. Landowners benefit not only from the income they get from the rent (about Rs. 10,000 per annum), but also from their plots having been made productive and infrastructure having been set up by the tenant. The leaseholder, on the other hand, is in a rather insecure position as investments are always in danger of being alienated. A successful harvest might well attract the attention of the landowner and mean the termination of the lease. Landowners tend to lease out their land when they lack capital to invest in a production cycle themselves.

      8.2.4 Capital and inputs

      Basic capital costs for vegetable cultivation include the costs of land, waterpumps, and waterlines, whilst working capital costs include seeds, labour, agro-chemicals, and fuel or electricity. These are summarised in tables 8.1 and 8.2 respectively.

      Table 8.1: Basic capital costs for 1acre of land.


      Rs. 10,000 (lease per annum)


      Rs. 25,000-40,000

      Water-lines etc

      Rs. 15,000


      Rs. 50,000-65,000 (US$ 714-928)

      Table 8.2: Working capital costs for 1 acre of land (red onion cultivation)

      Seeds (500kg)

      Rs. 45,000

      Fertilisers, herbicides etc

      Rs. 10,000-15,000

      Labour (1 labourer for 3 months, labour for harvest)

      Rs. 15,000

      Fuel (for waterpump)

      Rs. 10,000

      Total (3 months)

      Rs. 80,000-85,000 (US$ 1140-1215)


      At the time this data was collected, the price for red onions was about Rs. 60/kg. A good harvest of 4000kg at Rs. 60/kg could thus yield an income of Rs. 240,000 (US$ 3430). However, the size of a harvest depends on weather and pests and can vary greatly. Furthermore, market prices, and thus incomes, fluctuate.

      Fertilisers and herbicides are available on credit from three shops in Mampuri. The provision of credit ensures custom for the traders, whilst farmers are enabled to pay for part of their working capital after having sold their harvest. The Government extension service in Palakuda, 20km north of Mampuri, offers agro-chemicals as well. This service is less popular than the private shops amongst farmers in Mampuri. Payment to the public sector has to be made sooner, and transport costs are high due to the distance.

      The price for seeds has reportedly more than doubled over the past few years. Red onion seeds are produced on the Jaffna peninsula. Some traders still managed to transport them overland until a few years ago, but trade is now entirely via the sea, and through Colombo harbour. There, it is currently controlled by just three individuals from Colombo. Wholesale buyers from the peninsula and Puttalam have to buy from these three traders and supply is often limited. The price for seeds is very high as a result, and it is even higher on the peninsula when transport costs and profits of the middle-men are added. Thus, seeds represent a considerable proportion of the working capital.

      Moneylenders catering to the farming community in Mampuri come from the area and Puttalam, and charge between 6% and 10% interest per month.

      8.2.5 Labour

      Smaller farms depend mainly on household labour, both male and female. Watering the crops, an activity that usually takes up most of the morning, requires the largest input. Additional labour is employed for short-term, labour-intensive activities such as harvesting crops, or for the drying and sorting of tobacco. This is drawn from the pool of labourers in the village. If needed, additional manpower can be imported from the large settlements of displaced persons that have sprung up on the peninsula in the 1990s. The large farms are often worked by permanent labourers. These are paid a monthly salary and, in many cases, are settled on the farm itself.

      Waged jobs are to a certain extent differentiated by gender. More skilled and better paid work like drying and sorting tobacco, as well as physically more demanding activities like watering, are always done by men. Harvesting, which requires a large number of labourers, is a female domain, as women are paid less then men even when doing the same work.

      8.2.6 Marketing and trading

      Most of the vegetable production of the Kalpitya Peninsula is for the domestic market. Nurachcholai, about 3 miles to the north of Mampuri, has one of the biggest vegetable wholesale markets in the country, and, depending on the season, dozens of lorries transport vegetables from here to the urban areas of the country every day. Middlemen, such as Derek from Mampuri (see box 8.2), sell farmers’ produce to traders, charging a commission to the farmers. There are 52 stalls in Nurachcholai, 7 of which are very large. The traders who come to buy in the market often travel around the country to meet their needs. They might buy large onions from the Dambulla area (east of Puttalam District), before coming to Nurachcholai to buy red onions. Where buyers come from also depends on the timing of markets in different regions. Thus if the weekly vegetable market in Avissawella is on a Wednesday, buyers from there will come to the peninsula on a Tuesday.

      Box 8.2: The vegetable trade

      Derek is a Tamil. His father was born in Mampuri, and, after living in other villages on the peninsula and getting married to a woman from Jaffna, settled here again. The family had 7 children of which Derek is the eldest, and inherited 12 acres of land in Mampuri from Derek’s grandfather. Derek left school early in order to help cultivate this land, planting tobacco and chillies, which were sold to traders from Colombo. Red onions were introduced in the 1980s, and it was at about that time that Derek started a small-scale retail business. This was an attempt at diversifying his income after disease had destroyed his tobacco harvest.

      From small beginnings that involved buying crops from farmers that he visited on his bike, and reselling them to lorries by the main road, Derek was finally able to set up a shop by the main junction of the village. His business grew as more and more of the local farmers sold their produce through him, and he managed to win a number of regular customers who would take lorry-loads of vegetables to markets in Colombo and other urban areas of the country. The wholesale market in Nurachcholai was started in 1992, but Derek did not move there until 1997. He now has one of the biggest stalls there, and still cultivates about 10 acres of farming land himself. Almost all of Mampuri’s producers sell their harvest through him, paying Rs.1 per kg in commission.

      Derek’s turn-over depends very much on the season. He estimates that he sells about 2000kg of vegetables a day between January and March, when prices are low; and about 5000kg a day between April and June, especially during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April when prices are high. July to September is the busiest period, and Derek often sells up to 10,000kg a day. Things calm down again during October to December, when sales amount to about 3000kg a day. Derek’s customers include regular ones who place orders in advance, as well as others who buy whatever is available. Demand often exceeds supply in busy times.

      Tobacco is less formally traded. Most of it is sold to agents of tobacco factories in the South of the District. They come to Mampuri during the season and visit the producers’ houses or store-rooms to view the tobacco and make offers.

      Vegetable imports from abroad have increased in volume since 1994 and are a constant topic of consternation amongst Mampuri’s farmers. These imports often put a ceiling on the market and keep prices low despite a low supply from the peninsula. Rising working capital costs also make it difficult to compete with the imports.


      8.2.7 Technology and technical knowledge

      The relatively recent introduction of crops such as red onions in the 1980s, the fact that many farmers have entered the sector only recently, and the rapid technical change, especially in terms of agrochemical use, has important consequences for notions of ‘local knowledge’. Thus, expertise is not locally developed but often recently acquired. Although most farmers claim that their practise is based on experience, the latter is often limited. Technical knowledge often stems from a combination of hearsay and the advice of agents of agrochemical companies. Extension services are weak. The responsible office of the Government is located 20km away from Mampuri and has limited capacity. Unwillingness to use these services is widespread.

      This has consequences for the use of agro-chemicals. Many people determine the amount needed through a system of trial-and-error. Others simply copy their neighbours. The result is likely to be overuse that is not only economically inefficient but also potentially harmful to the environment.

      Agent, a USAID funded agency promoting technology solutions (made in and imported from the USA), has set up a model-farm in Daluva, to the south of Mampuri, in co-operation with a local farmer. They promote sprinkler technology that could reduce the use of agro-chemicals and labour input, but few people seem to be willing to risk the high investment this entails.

      8.2.8 The issue of environmental degradation

      The pollution of drinking water clearly is an emerging issue in Mampuri. High levels of nitrogen in fertilisers are likely to be reflected in the water. A number of wells have been polluted in Mampuri: we spoke to 4 people whose wells were affected, but heard about another 5. However, the ‘victims’ we spoke to were farmers themselves, did not appear to be too worried about the problem, and argued that it could be contained by simply locating wells away from cultivated land. Indeed, one of the few studies that were conducted on the peninsula found that nitrate concentrations were highest in water samples taken from beneath agriculture soils (where they ranged between 5-20mg/l NO3). They are much lower elsewhere. The same study also points at the danger of excessive water consumption leading to seawater intrusion into the water table that could increase salinity. It concludes that ‘there are reasons to believe that the groundwater resources in [the peninsula] are threatened with overexploitation’ (CEB 1998). As yet, awareness about the possible negative impacts of agro-chemicals on drinking water is very low amongst the people of Mampuri.

      If the reports of people in Mampuri are true, than the transformation of relatively barren land into cultivated areas, especially the planting of coconut trees, could be seen as a positive environmental change accompanying population growth. This has been a long, ongoing process.


      8.2.9 Profits and losses

      As mentioned above, many of Mampuri’s farmers have been remarkably successful, whilst others had to absorb losses. Apart from ‘natural’ threats such as disease or freak weather, fluctuations in the market seem to determine success or failure for the farmers (see box 8.3). Thus, the consequence when prices for red onions increased rapidly was a proliferation of new houses and vehicles in the village. Others were not quick enough to benefit from the boom as by the time they had a harvest ready for the market, prices had decreased again due to an over-supply.

      There are many cases of upward-mobility in Mampuri. A lot of people who came to the village as labourers were eventually able to take advantage of the land available and set up their own farms, in some cases within a very short amount of time. There is a wealth of opportunities in Mampuri, not only in the farming sector, but also in fishing and the service industry. Thus others could progress through a diverse livelihood strategy to eventually invest in farmland. On the other hand, commercial farming is risky. People who do not have the capacity to absorb losses can therefore quickly find themselves lower down the economic scale. In some cases the owner of a large house and a plot of land would find himself in a position where he had to engage in low-paid wage labour due to a lack of capital to invest in his land.

      Box 8.3: From labourer to landowner

      Mary is the daughter of a small tobacco-cultivator from the Kochchikade area. Her father used to come to Mampuri for the tobacco season every year in the 1960s. Mary often accompanied him, staying in temporary shelters for several months at a time. Her brother meanwhile worked as a driver, and it was through him that Mary met Martin, her husband. They got married in 1971 and Martin came to Mampuri on a seasonal basis to work for his father-in-law. The couple permanently moved to Mampuri in 1974. They settled on land that was barren but which officially belonged to someone from the village, and bought the plot (2 ½ acres) in 1976. Their first two years had been spent working not only for Mary’s father but also for other farmers in the area, enabling them to afford the land. Mary and Martin gradually started to cultivate their land, planting red onions in the 1980s. They thus made a large profit when prices for red onions rose dramatically in the late 1980s. Having so far been living in a small house, the two could now afford to build a larger one, as well as a tube well. Furthermore, they were able to send their daughter to a good school.

      However, last year was less successful for Martin and Mary; the quality of a crop of tobacco they had planted was lowered by excessive rain affecting the drying process, so no profit was made. A small crop of chillies gave some relief, but they also had to get a loan from a moneylender to pay back an outstanding one from the year before as well as to finance the next cultivation cycle. The couple then decided to plant red onions but could not get any seeds for two months. The next onion harvest was successful, but most of the money was needed to repay the loan plus interest. The following three months saw excessive rain again, and the couple only managed to plant chillies and beans, which brought little profit. Thus, a year of hard work has resulted in a very small surplus.

      8.2.10 Winners and losers

      Overall, Mampuri is a prosperous village in terms of visible material wealth. A seemingly successful integration of refugees and other migrants due to the wealth of jobs and other opportunities has taken place over the past decades. Many of the seemingly poor have migrated fairly recently and had as yet not had time to establish themselves. Rural differentiation is thus not necessarily the result of a static class structure in Mampuri but of in-migration of less wealthy people from elsewhere. We met nobody who was not able to find work. No other resource users reported to us that their interests were being overridden by the farmers to a degree that has led to conflict. The only losers were people whose crops had failed due to diseases or freak weather. ‘Winning’ very much depends on market prices, and fluctuations in the market were likened to a lottery.

      If the fears surrounding the threat posed on water supplies is correct, a large number of people, farmers and non-farmers, wealthy and less wealthy, will bear the cost.

    4. Challenges for CZM

The lack of response to the emerging water problem reflects the individualistic nature of farming in Mampuri. ‘Victims’ are farmers themselves and consider environmental costs as being out-weighed by benefits obtained from farming incomes. Government extension services are weak, and it is difficult to see a role for participatory management tools if the issue needs to be addressed. Management of this issue is unlikely to materialise on the local level.

The need for resource management in Mampuri could become even more pressing in the future. Land is becoming scarcer and opportunities might diminish. More importantly, the long-term prospects for the local economy could be negatively affected by developments in the civil war and the wider economy in general. Already there are signs of production on the Jaffna Peninsula restarting, and there is further competition from imported vegetables. The effects on Mampuri’s farming economy, which thrived on decreasing production elsewhere, could be immense if prices decrease. Dependency on expensive inputs involves a risk that could be aggravated if incomes fall.



9 TOURISM (back to contents)

9.1 Background: tourism in Sri Lanka

Tourism in Sri Lanka has been promoted since the late 1970s onwards and is an important foreign exchange earner to the economy. The tourism sector peaked in 1982, when 407,230 arrivals were recorded. But the outbreak of the civil war in 1983 reversed this trend and arrival numbers went down to 182,620 in 1987. The tourism industry consequently recovered, and recorded 381,063 tourist arrivals in 1998, 4.1% up from year before. The majority of visitors arrive from Western Europe, which makes up 63% of the market (CTB 1998). The peak season is from November to February.

Formal organisations involved in the management of the tourism industry in coastal areas include the Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB), local authorities such as the PS and Urban Councils, the CCD, as well as MFARD. Thus, development and running of hotels is overseen by the CTB, who consults the other institutions. The CCD overlooks impacts of hotels on the coastal environment, whilst the MFARD protects fishermen’s rights against intrusion from the hotels.

The benefits of tourism include foreign exchange earnings and employment opportunities. Foreign exchange earnings have amounted to US$ 224million in 1994 (Samarasinghe 1997). In 1993, an estimated 30,710 people were employed in the tourism sector, whilst another 43,000 people benefited indirectly. A recent study concludes that tourism not only provides more jobs than the aquaculture industry, but that its negative impacts on coastal communities are much more benign. It recommends that tourism development should be preferred to aquaculture development (Steele et al. 1997).

According to officials at the CTB, there are a number of common environmental impacts of hotels on the coastal environment and its people. These include the enclosure of areas of beach that were formerly used by fishermen, sewage and other discharges polluting the hotels’ immediate environments, excessive fresh water consumption leading to shortages, increased erosion due to hotel structures modifying the coast; and social conflict linked to increased drug use, crime, and prostitution.

Most of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is concentrated along the south-western coast where 80% of hotels are located. However, Negombo, located just to the south of Puttalam District is a major resort, popular for its beaches as well as its proximity to the country’s only international airport at Katunayaka. The tourism industry of the Puttalam District is fairly small and more or less restricted to the villages bordering the Negombo area. The developments at Marawila are the most northern beach resorts on the western coast. The Wilpattu National Park, part of which is located in the north of Puttalam District, used to be a major tourist attraction before the onset of the civil war, but is currently closed for visitors due to LTTE activities. Some visitors to Sri Lanka travel through Chilaw and Puttalam on their way from Colombo or Negombo to the ancient cities in the North-Central Province, and the occasional individual tourists can be seen exploring the fish market of Chilaw.

    1. Tourism in Modarawella
      1. Background
      2. The Marawila region has attracted tourists for at least a decade: the area is quieter than nearby Negombo and features a long sandy beach, lagoons, and a thriving batik industry. Furthermore, Marawila is located close to the international airport at Katunayaka as well. There are three hotels to immediately south of Modarawella. Two of them are small with less than twenty rooms each, whilst the third consist of two medium-sized resorts that have recently merged. Only the latter attracts a fair number of foreign guests, whilst the other two cater mainly for locals and are used for weddings and other occasions.

        Immediately north of Modarawella, in Talwila Beach, lies the Club Palm Bay (CPB), a major all-inclusive resort with 106 rooms, a large pool, a small golf course, and many other facilities. Its site extends into the lagoon and separates Talwila Beach from Modarawella. The CPB first opened its doors to guests in December 1996, whilst the officially opening took place in September 1997. It now attracts a large number of foreign tourists, as well as wealthy Sri Lankans, who often come to eat and swim at the weekend. Although the CPB is located in Talwila Beach, the closest house in Modarawella lies only 200 metres from its gates and white tourists staying at the CPB are a common site on Modarawella’s roads. Buses and cars travelling to the resort usually pass through the village.

        Another large, three-story hotel is currently being built in Modarawella itself. It is scheduled to open in late 1999. There will be 44 rooms and a swimming-pool, and guests will be exclusively foreign. Unlike the CPB, this hotel is being built in the middle of the village, its walls almost touching the houses next door.

        The presence of the three hotels to the south has not much of an impact on Modarawella. Thus, this discussion of tourism in Modarawella will focus on the CPB as well as on the hotel currently under construction.


      3. Ownership
      4. The CPB is owned and run by a Colombo-based company, York Management, which operates a number of hotels in Sri Lanka. There is a resident manager with a long history of experience in the hotel trade staying on the site.

        The new hotel is being built by a family from Talwila, the village bordering Modarawella to the east, and part of the same parish. This family lives inland, and in contrast to the majority of people living in Modarawella, has no fishing background. However, its members are known in the village and they feel confident about being able to establish a good relationship to people living around the hotel. The development is financed by an elderly Swedish citizen, who married into the family, and who visits the country frequently. The Swede’s brother-in-law, who will be called Peter here, is currently overseeing construction work and will be in charge of managing the hotel after completion. 

      5. Land acquisition
      6. The site of the CPB used to belong to a person from Marawila, who originally sold the land to a different hotel development company. However, the latter as well as the land, were taken over by York management, who subsequently developed CPB. Reportedly the land has never been used for residential or commercial purposes and was described as ‘wasteland’ with a few coconut trees and some mangrove. It also served to absorb flood waters. Most of the CPB site borders the lagoon, from which it is separated by mangrove and bougainvillaea growth, whilst the area bordering Talwila Beach is marked by a high wall. A fence with a guarded gate stretches along the road between Talwila Beach and Modarawella. The CPB site was enlarged by filling in the lagoon during construction.

        The land on which the other hotel is currently being built was bought from a local family living nearby (see box 9.1). The plot only extends to one acre, and the hotel building, framing a central courtyard where the pool is located, takes up most of it. Thus, the three-story complex rises extremely close to neighbouring houses, towering over them by two floors. Peter tried to buy some of the neighbouring plots as well, but had no success. People did not want to give up their houses as well as the location by the beach whilst only being compensated for the land. More recently, Peter succeeded in purchasing some plots of land nearby. The well that will provide water for the hotel is separated from the rest of the site. Peter also built a path, connecting the beach with the road and running past his hotel. This road is supposed to provide access for fishermen to the beach and its construction apparently constituted a condition for approval of the hotel project.

        The value of land bordering the beach in Modarawella has reportedly risen immensely due to the hotel developments, although hatchery developments contributed to this increase as well. Villagers who currently consider selling land assume that they may be able to get up to Rs. 2,500,000 (US$ 357,000) for one acre! To put that into perspective, one acre of extremely fertile farming land in Mampuri is worth about Rs. 150,000 (US$ 2,140).


      7. ‘Local’ management
      8. Whilst the PS of the area seems to have a keen interest in tourist developments, neither the GN of Talwila Beach nor the one of Modarawella were at any stage officially informed of or consulted about the hotels built in their divisions. Furthermore, although an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is mandatory for any hotel development with a capacity of more than hundred rooms, none were ever carried out for the CPB. Neighbours of the new hotel in Modarawella were at least consulted before work on the hotel began, but nothing like that happened at the CPB. Thus, it appears that local involvement was lacking in the approval or planning process.


        Box 9.1: Business or betrayal?

        Mary Fernando, an old widow living by herself, sold an acre of coconut land near her house to a hotel developer. Mary’s son had accumulated large debts with a moneylender at the time, so the considerable amount paid for the land enabled the family to pay off the debt as well as to save some money. Some villagers accuse Mary of ‘betraying’ the fishing community, of which her family is part, by giving up land bordering the beach. But Mary is not bothered and now plans to sell the land she is living on, 100 meters away from the new hotel, as well.This is happening against the background of troubled relationships between Mary and her neighbours, most of whom are her in-laws. Some of these arguments concern issues of inheritance; Mary feels that her husband was disadvantaged compared to her brother-in-law when her father-in-law’s property was divided. But the neighbours are also engaged in a number of petty arguments over the use of wells or land. The state of affairs becomes obvious when one listens to Mary articulately criticising her neighbours on their spouses’ background, on their morals, or on the frequency of their church attendance. She, on the other hand, was not offered a lift by her brother-in-law when both travelled to a Church feast in Negombo.

        Mary does not care how the land she is currently trying to sell is being developed, and even implies that her unfriendly neighbours ‘deserve’ hotels. She is planning to leave Modarawella herself as neither she nor her children (who all live elsewhere, two of them in Europe) have any stake in the village since the death of her husband. Her interests coincide with those of potential hotel developers rather than those of her fellow villagers. Her neighbours are already bearing the cost of her decision to sell the first plot (see box 9.3) and these costs are likely to increase and to affect more people if another hotel should be built on her land.

        Furthermore, villagers think that the financial power of large hotels leads to more or less unconditional backing by the authorities. One of the local officials we spoke to said he would be reluctant to intervene if one of the large hotels is breaking rules, as he fears their political might. What he meant by ‘political might’ is backing by influential politicians. In fact, two Ministers from the Government attended the opening ceremony at CPB. Peter, meanwhile, obtained the mediation of an influential politician to obtain his neighbours’ support (box 9.3).

      9. Labour
      10. The CPB has around 180 members of staff, 150 of whom are permanent. 120 of the employees stay in accommodation located on the site itself, as they are not from the area. Members of staff we spoke to came from different places from all over Sri Lanka, and most had previous experience of working in hotels. Thus, they could offer skills like knowledge of foreign languages, of how to deal with strangers not used to Sri Lankan customs, or of how to set up a dining table the European way. One of the reasons why only less than ten employees at CPB are recruited from the immediate neighbourhood of the resort is that these skills are underrepresented here. Very few of the ‘local’ employees have had previous experience of working in hotels or catering, others do jobs that require little in terms of experience, such as maintenance work, gardening, or guarding. Another reason for the low proportion of local labour is that wages offered by the CPB are very low by local standards. Most staff only earn about one dollar per day, whilst one can earn four time as much on a building site in the village, and sometimes even ten times as much from fishing.

        Up to 70 people currently work at the building site of the other hotel, the majority of whom are local. These people earn far more than staff at the CPB. However, once the hotel opens its gate, staff will be imported from elsewhere. On the one hand, the owner wants to avoid problems concerning salaries or working conditions with people from the village, on the other hand, he wants to make sure that employees are not distracted from their jobs.

        Overall, there are 11 people employed in the tourism industry in Modarawella itself, a number that includes employees of the small hotels to the south of the village, as well as two people who have recently given up their jobs.

        Some of our informants complain about the fact that few jobs in the local hotels go to people residing in Modarawella, but others acknowledge that hiring locals could result in problems, and that the skills needed are underrepresented in the village. Some people also point out that jobs still go to fellow countrymen, which is just as valid in their eyes. Furthermore, most villagers, especially fishing families, agree that the wages paid by the hotels are far too low anyway. Exchanging the relative freedom of life as a fisherman, who tends to earn more even in a bad season, for a life as a ‘wage slave’ in a hotel is therefore not seen as being a desirable option. Others nevertheless think that working at a hotel provides a good training, as one learns languages and makes contacts with foreigners, contacts that could for example be used to aid overseas migration of family members. A few people also think that tourism offers an alternative to the declining fisheries.

      11. Benefits
      12. Local economic spin-offs, apart from the few jobs that went to villagers inside the CPB, include incomes from the provision of transport for staff and guests of the hotel. There are eight three-wheelers catering mainly for the CPB, all of which are owned by people from the area, three by people residing in Modarawella. There is also one shop, owned by a person from Marawila, catering to tourists in the village, and other businesses have outlets inside the hotel. But overall there are few spin-offs for Modarawella’s economy, as the CPB is an all-inclusive resort. Thus, guests eat inside the resort, and no restaurants catering to foreign tastes have sprung up by the beach as they have elsewhere in Sri Lanka. The majority of tourists also arrive in groups, often accompanied by a tour guide who tends to make all their arrangements inside the hotel.

        Some supplies to the hotel are bought from the local market. There are two fish traders in Modarawella who sell their produce to the CPB, as well as to the hotels to the south of the village. However, both expressed dissatisfaction about payments being delayed, as the hotels make payments through bank accounts rather than by cash-in-hand as it is common in the fish trade. Some of the fishing boat owners in Modarawella also get an income from tourists occasionally hiring their boats.

        Economic spin-offs from the CPB seem to have been higher during construction. They included labour jobs on site, subcontracting for the provision of materials and labour, as well as the sale of food, liquor, tobacco, and other needs of the workforce at the time. One of the less ‘official’ benefits for villagers was the availability of building materials that were stolen from the site. This is one reason why people did not oppose developments at the time (see box 9.5).


        Box 9.2: An apparent winner

        Stewart is in his 30s and moved to Modarawella from the hill country when he got married to a woman from the village. He is not very popular amongst the villagers as most people believe him to have a criminal past. Furthermore, his marriage is not acknowledged as being legitimate. Stewart used to trade fish on a small scale until construction work at the Club Palm Bay site began in 1993. He then set up a business supplying food (and, according to common opinion, illicit alcohol) to about 50-60 workers at the site.

        Stewart bought a three-wheeler in August 1996, initially to provide transport for people working at the building site of the CPB, for tourists from January 1997 onwards. Stewart was the only person doing so for the first one and a half years. He did well and was soon able to buy a second three-wheeler. But since then, other people have entered the business, and there is a lot of competition between the eight three-wheeler drivers catering for the hotel today.

        Stewart also built a wooden hut on the beach, hoping to claim the land to set up a business selling souvenirs and drinks to tourists. This is illegal as structures built by the beach need to be approved by the CCD, but Stewart assumed that he had enough political backing to escape prosecution. However, his patron turned around and withdrew support, reportedly due to another villager discrediting Stewart. Thus, the CCD is threatening to demolish the hut, and Stewart has no business at the moment due to the uncertainty. He does not appear to be doing too well at the moment, despite maintaining a steady presence by the entrance to the hotel where he tries to meet as many tourists as possible, not only offering transport but also guided tours or boat trips. Stewart continues to live in a rather dilapidated house.

        People nevertheless identify Stewart as the main ‘local’ beneficiary of tourism in the village, claiming that he has a close relationship to the hotel’s management. They also accuse him of importing drugs and prostitutes to Modarawella. Stewart himself is not as convinced of his successes but thinks that the CPB will offer greater benefits to people like him once it has become more popular.


        More generally, a number of people from the village, whether fishermen or housewives, mention foreign exchange earnings for the country as a whole when asked about benefits from the hotel. This reflects peoples’ considerable knowledge of tourism, informed by the media or relatives who live in places like Negombo. Although some people think that the presence of foreign tourists creates problems in the village, others think that contact to foreigners is good, as one can learn language skills and widen one’s circle of friends and contacts to the international arena.

        The hotels have also made a contribution to the infrastructure of Modarawella. Thus, roads and communication services were improved. Furthermore, the CPB has been supporting the local church, as well as temples, schools, and individual families in the area in general. People who are sympathetic towards tourism tend to mention this charity, whilst others see it more as an attempt to dwarf opposition by ‘buying’ people off. Some even criticise the priest or others involved for accepting this kind of support as acceptance would carry obligations. As one fisherman put it: ‘They give us peanuts and now we can not speak up anymore’. 

      13. Environmental impacts
      14. An EIA of the CPB was never carried out, despite official regulation making such assessment mandatory for hotels with more than 100 rooms. One official stated that this could be due to the fact that the hotel expanded in stages. This section focuses on villagers’ opinions about the CPB, as no scientific assessments of its environmental impacts has taken place,

        When asked about environmental impacts associated with the CPB, members of the vast majority of households mentioned the discharge of sewage into the lagoon. Many informants say that they are reluctant to eat lagoon fish as a result. But there is a sewage treatment plant on the hotel premises, and the management claims that untreated sewage has never been released into the lagoon. Some of the hotel staff contradict this position and confirmed the rumours circulating in the village. The issue seems to be addressed now, but it certainly has created a lot of local resentment against the hotel.

        The only official probe into the water quality of the lagoon surrounding the hotel was made when a resident complained about a large amount of dead fish in the lagoon in 1996, before the hotel was opened. A NARA report claimed that the deaths were caused by bacterial infections that were not linked to the CPB building site. However, the report also pointed out that rubbish dumped in the lagoon during construction could have had a negative impact on the lagoon.

        Another common complaint against the CPB concerns its blocking of access to the lagoon. People fishing the lagoon (which is mainly done for home consumption rather than for a livelihood, see 7.7) used to be able to walk across the formerly empty and open site to get to the water. Furthermore, it is not possible to follow the banks of the lagoon along the hotel’s border anymore. A discussion with the CPB management resulted in access being temporarily granted, but this was withdrawn when thefts occurred. Some of the villagers believe that it is against official regulations to enclose the bank of a lagoon, although the whole CPB site is privately owned.

        Modarawella also experiences frequent floods, and there are claims that it was not only the development of shrimp farms (see 6.3.2), but also the establishment of the CPB have contributed to the worsening situation. The land the hotel is sited on used to absorb flood waters. A possible solution would be to permanently open up the estuary of the lagoon. This is done on a temporary basis when excessive rain fall cause parts of the village to get flooded (see 6.3.2). Opening the estuary involves the removal of the road in front of the lagoon. Not only does this restrict access to the hotel, but also prevents movement of villagers living on both sides of the temporary opening, a factor which fuels resentment. The CPB contributes to the resolution of the problem by rebuilding the road once water has drained off. Residents think that this does not go far enough, and that the hotel should build a bridge. But this is apparently against the hotel’s interest as a bridge may lead to an increase in traffic along the coastal road, a development that would disturb hotel guests and make the CPB less attractive.

        Other complaints about the CPB refer to increased traffic creating dust in the village (the road is not surfaced). This affects especially fish wives sitting on the street to sell their husbands’ catch. However, we observed no excessive amounts of traffic. Neighbours of the new hotel also fear that their privacy will be invaded when foreign guests inhabit rooms overlooking their houses and gardens. This set of complaints refers to ‘quality of life’ rather than livelihood issues.

        Fishing activities in Modarawella are hardly affected by the hotels. No parts of the village beach have been enclosed for the exclusive use for tourism as happened elsewhere in the country. But some people fear that this will happen in the future. However, the Coasts Conservation Act of 1981 declares that beaches are open access areas, and most fishermen are well aware of the legal situation. Thus, attempts by the CPB to make the beach more attractive by planting trees met with opposition and sabotage, as people feared this to be the first step towards enclosure. Even the erection of sun umbrellas on the beach in front of the hotel was originally sabotaged. However, all these incidents allegedly involved only one small group of people whose motives are not entirely clear (see box 9.5). People selling land for hotel developments are being criticised for alienating areas of beach from the fishing community (see box 9.1).

        Another complaint against the hotel refers to the presence of lightly dressed tourists by the beach. Thus, some fishing women said that they feel uncomfortable about going to the beach to collect their husbands’ catch, and men agreed that they would prefer if their wives were spared the sight. Both groups agree that the presence of tourists is certainly bad for children (see 9.2.8). Thus, even if the beach is not physically enclosed, the demands of tourism developments can still conflict with the demands of villagers in a more subtle way.

        The CPB recently established an environmental committee consisting of members of staff. Its projects include recycling of waste as well as the use of sewage as fertiliser.

        The potential impacts of the new hotel are as yet uncertain. However, some neighbours already complain about obstructions, although others arranged themselves with Peter (see box 9.3). 

        Box 9.3: In the shadow…

        Peter and his Swedish brother-in-law started building a three-storey hotel soon after they had bought the land from Mary (see box 9.1) in 1995. However, the plot is rather small and almost fully taken up by the hotel building, which thus looms over the houses located just a few meters away on either side. Apart from being disturbed by the obstruction and noise occurring during construction, the neighbours thus fear that their privacy will be affected once the hotel opens. Hotel guests will be able to look into windows and even toilets from their position on third floor balconies. Both sides, whether tourists or locals, will have to put up with noise and ‘odd’ behaviour of the other group due to the proximity of their abodes.

        One house bordering the hotel is now totally walled in since the hotel developers were able to buy a plot of land on its other side. Richard and Helen who own the house were made an offer for their land, but declined it as they had only recently built a new, comfortable house. The money offered would not have been enough to buy new land by the beach (where both want to live as their livelihood is based on fishing) as well as to build a new house. Richard is worried about the hotel but feels powerless to do anything about the situation. He does not even openly complain to Peter as he sees him as a rich man with many connections, and thinks that complaints would only stir up trouble whilst not leading to anything. ‘It would only get me the police on my neck.’, as Richard points out.

        The house on the other side of the hotel is inhabited by Anthony and his family. Anthony has good contacts to Sasanka, a politician who is very influential in the area. This relationship offers many advantages to Anthony and gives him a high standing in the village. But Peter knows Sasanka as well and contacted the latter before starting to build the hotel. Sasanka then arranged for Peter and Anthony to meet at his house. Faced with this situation, Anthony realised that he had to come to an arrangement with Peter in order not to jeopardise his relationship to Sasanka. On the other hand, Peter had to equally come to an arrangement with Anthony. Thus, they ‘agreed’ that the hotel would dispose of its sewage safely and not block access to the beach whilst Anthony offered a good ‘neighbourly’ relationship in return. Being dependant on the same patron, both sides had to come to an understanding.

        The local fishing society meanwhile contacted the MFARD with a petition asking for villagers’ rights to access to the beach being safeguarded. This apparently led to Peter being instructed to purchase additional land to build a path linking the road to the beach next to the hotel. Apart from having fulfilled this obligation, Peter pleased the residents living by the new path by lining it with brick walls, thus adding a popular feature to peoples’ gardens. One of the women living close to Richard and Helen therefore disagrees with the latter’s resentment against the hotel: ‘Peter is a nice guy, he built a pretty-looking wall for us.’

      15. Social friction
      16. One of the most common criticisms of tourism concerns what many people perceive as a ‘clash of cultures’. This usually referred to the dress code of foreign visitors, which a number of people termed ‘uncivilised’, as well as to the exchange of intimacies in public. However, stories of actual incidents involving the latter were very few. If pressed further, some informants would admit that the issue does not pose a large problem as yet, but they fear a situation developing such as that in Negombo. Negombo is not far away from Modarawella, and many people have kin there, and/or visit the town frequently for work or to attend church feasts. Nevertheless, when asked about costs and benefits of tourism, most people would say that costs outweigh benefits due to the perceived loss of culture.

        The main fear expressed regarding the loss of culture concerned children copying the tourists’ behaviour and thus not growing up in a ‘Sinhala way’. Parents find it difficult to communicate what is right or wrong to their children if ‘bad examples’ are present in the village. These fears are far more common amongst families living in the immediate environment of the hotel, whilst residents living just a few hundred meters away would often say that it does not affect them. Furthermore, some informants acknowledged that although the tourists’ behaviour might affect their children, there are other forces that do so too; TV, for example, where ‘one can see naked people every day nowadays’ as one person put it. Others even have an understanding attitude towards the tourists, pointing out that many foreigners are friendly, but that they simply are not used to the climate and therefore have to discard their clothes. ‘Besides’, as people say, ‘they should be able to enjoy themselves as they have paid a lot of money for their holidays.

        The CPB addresses the problem by making sure that guests arriving at the hotel in groups are advised to cover up when walking through the village by their tour guides. We nevertheless saw a number of people dressed only in swimming trunks walking through the village.

        Box 9.4: Symbol of a moral void or a good match?

        A common story used to illustrate the loss of values experienced in the village was the one of a local young man, Nihal, who got involved with a European girl, Rachel. At one stage, the couple was seen exchanging intimacies in public, standing on the beach in front of CPB where Rachel was staying. This resulted in some people being outraged, complaining to the hotel management, and physically threatening Nihal. The latter had been working at CPB, speaks English, and has been well exposed to what people would term ‘western’ ideas. He in turn complains about the conservative and ‘narrow-minded’ attitudes of his fellow-villagers.

        Nihal’s parents and kin are supportive of him as they are pleased about him going out with a foreign girl. They hope the relationship will result in marriage. The father thinks that this would guarantee a comfortable life for Nihal, as Rachel’s parents are very wealthy. In fact, Nihal has visited his girlfriend in Europe twice and could even get work there. Despite Nihal being frequently cited as a bad example of a villager having changed under the impact of tourism, his family members are not the only people who view the relationship with sympathy. Many households have members who work overseas and envy Nihal for not having to go through an agency to get there. Furthermore, Nihal is not the only young man in the village with an interest in female tourists…

        Apart from differing dress codes and the exchange of intimacies, people also fear the spread of drug use, prostitution, and activities of touts in the village. No problems of this kind have been reported so far, although there are some rumours, usually linked to Stewart (see box 9.2). Another issue consists of children begging from white tourists, encouraged by hand-outs they sometimes receive. A white person walking through the village is usually accompanied by children asking for sweets, pens, and sometimes even money. This is a game for the children, as none of them are actually in need, and some adults find it amusing too. Some parents even encourage their children to beg from tourists. But the majority of people are annoyed or even embarrassed about their children acting like beggars.

        The future of the village is seen as being very uncertain, as the new hotel as well as an increase in guests at the CPB could accelerate social change in the village. Thus, it is fears of things to come rather than actual problems that make people feel uncomfortable about tourism. Peoples’ fear in turn is fed by the experiences from elsewhere, experiences that are communicated to the village through kin, friends, newspapers, pamphlets, radio and TV. News about a relatively recent protest against a large hotel development near Dambulla, 200km away from Modarawella, for example, or the protest against the VOA at nearby Iranawila, where there had been a proposal to establish a hotel at the same time as the radio station, have contributed to shaping the villagers’ views. Thus, although tourism is locally experienced, it is far from being a ‘local’ issue alone in peoples’ narratives.


      17. Winners, losers, and resistance

      Out of our (not necessarily representative) sample of 77 households whose members offered an opinion on tourism, one third were outspoken against tourism, whilst slightly more said that they support the establishment of hotels in the locality. The remaining people stated neither support nor opposition. Thus, opinions are divided. However, whether people support the hotels or not, everyone is well aware that the establishment of facilities for tourists in the area is a development that can not be reversed as the investments made were high. It is therefore common for people to point out the futility of our questions on the issue, the reason being that peoples’ opinions will not have any impact on the situation anyway. This highlights the fact that local residents were apparently not involved in the establishment of tourism in their village.


      There was some opposition to the CPB during its construction. This was organised by an individual who generally opposes tourism as being against the interests of fishermen and who has links to a range of critical NGOs such as SEDEC and NAFSO. However, some people living in the immediate environment of the hotel were not pleased about this protest at the time. They saw their incomes obtained from construction workers meeting their needs in the village shops endangered, and thus boycotted the protest, which in turn faded away. More recently, the CPB was the target of some acts of sabotage, seemingly by a gang of youth from Talwila beach (see box 9.5).

      The management of the CPB is meanwhile very concerned about the hotel’s relations to neighbouring communities, and made a lot of efforts to improve them. Donations to the church and other institutions are made, and a number of community leaders have been contacted to facilitate communication between the two sides. Some of these leaders are very keen on helping the CPB as they believe it to be a positive presence that furthers development in the region. 

      Box 9.5: Opposition?

      Some people living next to the CPB in Talwila Beach are very outspoken against the hotel. Lucy, for example, thinks that there is little land for the next generation to build their houses, and asks ‘why do they allow a large hotel to build here?’ She also blames the CPB for fishing activities being obstructed (a claim that seems to be unfounded), for a lack of space for children to play, for its sewage discharges having polluted the lagoon, and for worsened flooding in the village. Lucy was one of our first informants in Talwila Beach, and we therefore had the initial impression of people facing a large number of negative impacts here.

      However, a closer inspection proved that opinions are far more divided, and that many of Lucy’s arguments involved exaggerations. Furthermore, some of Lucy’s neighbours happily work at the hotel, and others had no complaints whatsoever. But there is some recent opposition. A group of young men has repeatedly threatened staff from the CPB and sabotaged planting activities as well as the erection of sun umbrellas by the hotel. But Lukas, who opposes hotels on ideological grounds and whose attempts to organise opposition against the CPB before its opening were ridiculed by some of the young men in the village, dismisses these acts of sabotage as being aimless.

      An incident that reportedly sparked off trouble between young men from Talwila Beach and the hotel was the exclusion of drunken youth from a concert hosted by the hotel. Some of the men who were shown to the gate retaliated by throwing stones at hotel buildings. All later incidents involved the same gang of young men, with one individual, Derek, being especially active. However, as Lukas puts it, Derek is just making ‘trouble for the sake of trouble’. One of Derek’s relatives who has some standing in Talwila Beach is sympathetic towards the hotel and thus helps to calm things down. Despite the problems the CPB faces with Derek and his gang, a majority of people we spoke to in Talwila Beach are not necessarily against the hotel. Overall, villagers’ experiences of and opinions on the hotel vary greatly.

      Apart from the informal ‘resistance’ at Talwila beach, some people have also used formal channels to safeguard their interests vis-a-vis the hotels. Examples are a residents’ complaint to NARA concerning the water quality of the lagoon (see 9.2.7), as well as a petition by the local fishing society asking the MFARD to ensure that access to the beach will not be restricted by the new hotel (see box 9.3).

      There are also villagers who benefit from tourism, but nevertheless criticise its impacts. One case involves a trader with a good income from selling fish to the hotels, who wants to protect his children from the sight of ‘strange foreigners’ and is thus in the process of moving away from the village. His is an act of adaptation rather than resistance.

      Women were generally more articulate on the issue of sparsely dressed tourists being seen in the village, and a number of men also expressed concern about their wives being exposed to the sight of strangers. Thus, tourism could theoretically restrict the movements of women in the village, although we encountered no cases where this has actually happened during our research.

      Overall, people voicing opposition to the hotel do so individually. There is no united opposition against tourism in the village. Experiences and opinions vary, and people adapt to the new situation created by tourism developments. Some bear higher costs than others, Richard and Helen (box 9.3) for example, whilst others, such as Mary (box 9.1), benefit from the new boom, with little regret about the negative impacts tourism could have on fellow villagers. There are no clear interest groups opposed to or supportive of the hotel. Rather, the village is split on the issue, and people’s views are shaped by factors such as their own circumstances, knowledge, or geographical distance to the hotels. The social context of the hotel developments is not one of a village community sharing a common experience of a new industry entering their village, but one of individual households with differing experiences.


    2. Challenges for CZM

Overall, tourism in Modarawella does not appear to have had a devastating effect on the village. Environmental impacts seem to be benign, whilst what people term ‘cultural’ impacts seem to refer to fears that development in Modarawella will mirror the negative experiences made elsewhere in the country. But the long-term impact of tourism in Modarawella is difficult to predict. Thus, the opening of the new hotel could as easily create a boom in enterprises catering for the hotel guests and thus benefit villagers as it could result in more widespread and organised opposition due to increased alienation of village resources from its permanent residents. The current village experience of tourism is best described as fragmented rather than unified. As such, there is little potential for communal answers to the challenges posed by tourism to emerge.

Nevertheless, the impact of tourism in Modarawella appears at present to be manageable. Such management could involve the restriction of the extent of developments in the locality, increased communication between village institutions and hotel developers, as well as education of visitors. But it would need political will and foresight, and the financial might of the hotels combined with the relative fragmented nature of the village could well work in favour of the hotels.


10 MANGROVE (back to contents)

10.1 Background: mangrove in Sri Lanka

There are nearly 40 species of mangroves and mangrove associates represented in Sri Lanka. The total extent of the country’s mangrove forests is 12,750 ha, 3210 ha of which are located in Puttalam District (Amarasinghe 1996). Mangroves are part of complex inter-tidal environments, located along the fringes of lagoons and estuaries and are ecologically important.

As such, mangrove areas serve as a host environment for a number of animal species, including various types of fish, aquatic birds, shrimps, crabs, molluscs, and worms. Shrimps, for example, spawn in the sea, but the post-larvae then enters mangrove areas that provide them with feed and refuge from predators until they reach adulthood. Furthermore, 2/3 of fish species inhabiting coastal waters spend reportedly some part of their life cycle in mangrove and related environments (ibid.). The detritus found in mangrove areas provides food and refuge for a large range of aquatic organisms, some of which are of direct commercial value to humans, whilst others are fed on by predators who in turn are. Thus, mangrove areas play an important role in sustaining fish and shrimp stocks in lagoon environments, and thus the lagoon fisheries. Mangrove degradation has negative impacts on people fishing the lagoon. It is for example reported that catch of fish per unit effort has dropped on average from 4kg to 1 ½ kg per day during the past three years in Pambala lagoon due to shrinking mangrove areas (SFF 1997)

Mangrove forests also provide a number of direct use-values. These include the use of wood for construction of fences and cajan-huts, as well as for wood-fuel, the extraction of tannin used to increase the durability of sails and fishing nets and the harvesting of leafs for indigenous medicines and consumption. Other services mangrove areas offer are the prevention of soil erosion, wind shelter, and the absorption of toxic materials from water.

Mangrove forests are therefore valuable assets to coastal communities, especially where the latter are dependent on lagoon fisheries. This is one of the imperatives behind mangrove conservation efforts in general. Another one is the general value of mangrove forests as a ‘biological asset’ that forms part of our ‘global heritage’ (Amarasinghe 1996). The major threat to mangrove forests in the Puttalam District is the expansion of shrimp aquaculture. One third of all shrimp ponds are located on former mangrove land, resulting in a loss of an estimated 600ha of forest (Steele et al. 1997).

    1. Mangrove in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella
    2. Ambakandawila borders Chilaw lagoon, one of the most important environments for mangroves after Puttalam lagoon and Mundal Lake in the District. The extent of mangrove areas around Chilaw lagoon is estimated at 100 ha (Steele et al. 1997). Large areas have been depleted over the past five years, the areas bordering Ambakandawila being a good example. A large proportion of mangrove forests bordering the village in the past had been earmarked for reservation (see 10.3.1). But they were invaded by people developing shrimp farms in the period following the 1994 general election, often with the backing of political patrons (see 6.2.4).

      Ambakandawila used to be separated from the lagoon by a strip of mangrove forest up to 300m wide. This can still be seen on aerial photographs taken in 1994, which are available from the PMOF. Today, this strip has disappeared, and all that is left in most places is a thin line of trees bordering the shrimp farms. Two of the few remaining mangrove areas in Chilaw lagoon are located near Ambakandawila. One of them hosts an illegal liquor industry made up by a few dozen small distilleries that require the cover of mangrove forests. The other one is located behind a recently distributed area of land, and has been the object of competition of several sets of PA supporters who would like to develop the land (see 6.2.4).

      The extent of mangrove areas in and around the Puttalam lagoon is estimated at 1000ha (ibid.). One study (Dayaratne et al. 1995) claims that 55% of households around the Puttalam lagoon depend on mangrove forests for woodfuel. However, there are hardly any trees in Mampuri, where the number of dependant households is therefore more likely to be close to zero. The village was nevertheless chosen for a reforestation experiment that proved unsuccessful.

      Modarawella is located on the fringe of a large area of wetland, the flora of which is dominated by mangroves. This area has an extent of 165ha and is marked as a reserve by the Forest Department. It seems to represent one of the few successes in conservation efforts. This area is reportedly not as suited for shrimp aquaculture as other lagoons are, due to low salinity levels. All of the shrimp farms in Modarawella itself are located on private land and have not replaced mangroves.

      Dependence on mangrove for the purposes described in section 10.1 is apparently low in all three villages. The lagoon fisheries are fairly marginal to the villages’ economies, although they provide an income to the less wealthy during the off-season in Ambakandawila (see 7.7). Few people in either village cook with wood-fuel, as most can afford gas stoves. The need for mangrove wood is restricted to the less wealthy, and nobody complained to us about not being able to meet these needs. A small number of people derives a supplemental income from collecting and selling wood for fence poles.


    3. Institutional conservation efforts in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

10.3.1 The Forest Department (FD)

All mangrove areas in Puttalam District fall under the responsibility of the FD District office in Puttalam, which also has a sub-office in Chilaw. However, the Puttalam office is responsible for large areas of different kinds of forests in the whole district. Mangrove forests make up just a small proportion of this area and their conservation is not a major priority. Teak plantations, for example, are of higher value to the Department. The availability of resources in terms of staff and funding is also limited; there are only three members of staff responsible for the Chilaw area (7 DS divisions). The potential for mangrove conservation efforts is fairly constrained according to staff at the FD. Responsibility should therefore also be taken up by the DS.

However, the FD was the implementing institution of a mangrove conservation project in the early 1990s, jointly funded by NORAD and the Sri Lankan Government. Project activities included surveying and zoning of mangrove areas, as well as rehabilitation (replanting) and education. These activities took place at the same time as areas were cleared by shrimp farmers and seem to have had little impact on the latter’s activities. Funding for the project ran out before the survey had been completed. All project activities were halted, and the proposed ‘conservation’ and ‘rehabilitation’ zones never became law, leaving a grey area of unclear responsibilities which shrimp farmers could take advantage of. Representatives of the FD pointed out that the areas in question do not have reserve status. This limits their power to proceed against shrimp farmers, whilst the DS would point out that the quasi-reserve status of the mangrove forests puts them under the authority of the FD (see 6.2.4).

Nevertheless, 53 cases concerning the illegal removal of mangrove were taken to court by the FD in Chilaw division according to FD officials. 51 of these involved shrimp farmers. But these cases have not had much of an effect in terms of preventing other potential shrimp farmers from invading mangrove areas. Only 11 court cases have been completed so far, as the process usually takes years. Where people were convicted, fines ranged from 5,000 to 6,000 Rupees (U$70-85), a sum that pales in comparison to the amounts of money involved in shrimp farming (see 6.2.5). Furthermore, these cases use up resources of the FD by taking so long, and FD staff are exposed to intimidation by shrimp farmers. The long-drawn legal processes are also ineffective in halting mangrove destruction as the damage is usually done by the time a case is presented in court.

Finally, some individuals in the FD reportedly sympathise with small-scale shrimp farmers. Such sympathy is probably based on dissatisfaction with a large proportion of the shrimp industry being owned by companies foreign to the District or even to the country, as well as on personal connections to people involved.

      1. The mangrove programme of the Small Fishers Federation (SFF)
      2. The SFF is a national NGO with its headquarters in Pambala, located on the eastern side of Chilaw lagoon. Its activities include a social development programme, a rural aquaculture development programme, as well as a fisheries and aquatic resources conservation and management programme. Funding comes mainly from international donors. The SFF established a Mangrove Centre in Pambala in 1996. This centre serves as an information and education facility. Furthermore, it has an attached nursery, producing saplings for replanting programmes. There is also a reserve around Pambala. The mangrove centre’s activities are based on the premise that the participation of fishing communities in mangrove conservation efforts is instrumental to the success of such efforts. It was active in awareness raising amongst fishermen and helped to organise them in groups.

        The centre has been working with eight groups, loosely organised according to landing places, around Chilaw lagoon. Lagoon fishermen from Ambakandawila have attended meetings of a ‘lagoon management committee’ at Pambala, and some agreed to get involved in conservation efforts. However, these efforts were not successful in Ambakandawila. Not only had mangrove degradation already progressed far by the time the mangrove conservation project started in 1996, but shrimp farmers made up a powerful group within the village. As such, they had been able to encroach on state land and replace mangrove forests with shrimp ponds even before the SFF had become active. Lagoon fishermen, in contrast, represented the less wealthy and less powerful part of society, or, if they did not, were in a position to take advantage of the shrimp boom themselves (see 6.2.12). Resistance was consequently not a viable option, and people therefore had to adapt to decreasing productivity of the lagoon.

        People who make decisions in Ambakandawila perceive the value of mangrove forests largely in terms of use-value. Dependency on the lagoon is relatively low, and the use of mangrove for extractive uses is limited. Converting mangrove into shrimp ponds is therefore perceived as a way of increasing the value of the land by the lagoon (although not everyone has the capital needed for shrimp farming). The SFF’s efforts in conserving mangroves might have been more successful before the advent of illegal shrimp farming in Ambakandawila, but the potential for participation by fishermen changed over time and in this case diminished very quickly. This is different in Pambala, where the programme has been more successful as dependence on lagoon fisheries is higher (see 7.7).

      3. Natmarco

The ‘National Mangrove and Coastal Habitat Conservation Fund’ (Natmarco) was started in 1992 as one of the first NGOs in Puttalam District to be active in mangrove conservation. It managed to secure funding from international donors, including NORAD, USAID, and the Japanese Embassy, and established a nursery in Pambala. Natmarco also undertook a replanting programme in and around Modarawella between 1993 and 1995, working in co-operation with the local fishing society there. A spokesperson for Natmarco claims that 10,000 mangrove saplings were planted, although information collected in Modarawella contradicts this statement.

Natmarco distributed caps, t-shirts, and clay-stoves, and mobilised people to take part in replanting activities through the fishing society in Modarawella. However, few villagers participated, and most of them were marine fishermen who dominate the local fishing society. The few people who fish the lagoon were reportedly opposed to planting activities. They apparently perceived the saplings as obstacles in which nets could get caught and torn. People present on the day claimed that only 700 out of the planned 10,000 saplings were planted in the end. Few actually grew, as they were not suited to this particular lagoon. But mangrove forests in the area look healthy and lush as it is. The project does not seem to have made much of an impact. A cleared area that was supposed to be replanted could not be accessed due to competition with a shrimp farmer (see box 6.7). Only a few trees planted with the help of Natmarco remain today. The general feeling is that the whole programme was misguided and aimed at the extraction of funding from donors rather than at the conservation of the environment. 

10.4 Successes

The case of Ambakandawila shows that the use value of mangrove is insignificant in comparison with the value of shrimp ponds to wealthy villagers and they can compromise conservation efforts. But conservation has born fruit in some places. Thus, the SFF’s centre in Pambala is not only working in a context where dependence on, and thus commitment to the conservation of, mangroves is high, but has also strengthened the position of Pambala fishermen to defend their rights against intrusion from shrimp farmers. Near Merawela, in another part of Chilaw lagoon, mangroves forests have high use-values for the illicit liquor industry located there and are thus well maintained. Furthermore, education efforts have born some fruit as shown by a number of individuals with heightened awareness encountered during this research. One of these individuals was instrumental in resisting shrimp farming in Talwila beach, near Modarawella (see box 10.1).

Box 10.1: Resistance

Cyril lives in Talwila Beach, on a narrow stretch of land located between the lagoon and the sea. He fishes the sea, but is nevertheless aware of the importance of mangrove to his immediate environment. Thus, Cyril knows of its importance in protecting the water table from salt water intrusion, and points out that the quality of water in his village depends on mangrove forests. He proudly showed us a number of brochures he obtained from the FD as well as from NGOs, explaining about the importance of mangroves. Cyril also used to be employed by the FD to guard the wetland reserved under the mangrove conservation programme a few years ago (see 10.3.1). He used to patrol the area on a regular basis.

A few years ago, an in-law of Cyril tried to set up a shrimp farm on private land bordering the lagoon. But Cyril was opposed to this and informed the GN of his relative clearing the land. The GN then asked the potential shrimp farmer for an official permit and called the police when it became apparent that none existed. Cyril’s relative thus had to abandon the project. He resents Cyril for interfering as he had spent Rs. 25.000 (U$ 357) on hiring a bulldozer to clear the land, a sum that was lost. The FD project employing Cyril is now stopped, as funding has run out, but Cyril still keeps his eyes and ears open voluntarily.

Thus, the potential for mangrove conservation depends to a large part on the social and environmental context. It is high only where dependence on mangrove resources is perceived as being high, and only where people doing so have power to safeguard the forests. Circumstances determining this can differ radically from one place to another, even within a relatively small geographical area like Chilaw lagoon. Communities living around this and other lagoons are not homogeneous. The assumption that lagoon communities have a ‘natural’ interest in mangrove conservation does therefore not always stand up.

10.5 Challenges for CZM

Mangrove degradation in the Puttalam District is mainly caused by shrimp aquaculture. The potential victims of this process, people dependent on lagoon fisheries, tend to be less powerful then shrimp farmers. Thus, conservation has to constitute a priority on political agendas. The displacement of mangrove by shrimp farming cannot be halted without intervention from the top. International donor as well as National Government or NGO assistance to mangrove conservation needs to deal with the social and economic factors contributing to the decline of forests. A successful strategy can not focus on the local level only. The identification of factors contributing to the problem, and of potential avenues for halting or even reversing the process of degradation is of major importance. Participatory tools are not necessarily the most appropriate management tool for this CZM issue. They might require strengthening by top-down or co-management mechanisms.


OTHER ISSUES (back to contents)

    1. Coastal Erosion
    2. Coastal erosion poses a major threat to Sri Lanka’s western coast, and a current CZM initiative funded by the ADB focuses on coastal protection. Out of the three field locations, Ambakandawila was the only village were coastal erosion is experienced. A series of groines is securing the village beach.

      A number of people claim that Ambakandawila beach used to be considerably wider twenty or thirty years ago. Subsequent erosion is blamed on coastal development further south, especially around Colombo and Negombo. People claim that erosion has gradually moved up to first affect villages in the south of Puttalam district before reaching Ambakandawila itself. The construction of a breakwater at Thoduwawa, a few kilometres south of Ambakandawila, is thought to have accelerated erosion in the village.

      The problem of erosion was first being felt in Ambakandawila in the 1980s, when the local fishing society contacted MFARD as well as individual politicians for assistance. There was little response until 1991, when a heavy storm worsened the situation by washing away large parts of the village beach. Central and Provincial Government Ministers of the time reportedly visited the village in person, and arranged for the CCD to intervene. The CCD then transported a large amount of boulders to the village, but the groynes were not constructed until 1997.

      One of the reasons for this delay was that representatives of the fishing society had suggested building a breakwater that would make the sea easily accessible from the village even during the south-west monsoon. But the money for such an initiative could not be found, and the groines were finally built after the beach had almost disappeared during the south-west monsoon in 1996. This time, members of the new Government were associated with the initiative. Some people now claim that the groines simply shifted the problem to the North of the village, threatening the road to Chilaw town.

      Out of 24 people who offered an opinion on the issue, 14 thought that the groines had improved the situation, 3 thought that it is worse now than it was before they were built, whilst 7 argued that neither is the case, an opinion that was mostly justified by arguing that the problem had simply been relocated.

      The issue of coastal erosion is clearly one that requires management on a wider level as coastal development in one place affects erosion in another. Furthermore, mitigation measures require technical expertise and are expensive. But what is striking about villagers’ narratives is the fact that the assistance received is not associated with the relevant state organisations such as the CCD, but with individual political patrons. People would describe activities in terms of ‘[politician’s name] helped us’. This shows to what a degree individual politicians have replaced formal organisation as managers of the environment in peoples’ minds.


    3. The Voice of America (VOA) radio relay station

The VOA has had a presence in Sri Lanka since 1951, under an agreement between the Sri Lankan and American Governments. This agreement was re-negotiated in 1983, as the VOA wanted to expand its facilities in the country, and required a new site for a large relay station. A site in Iranawila, close to Ambakandawila, was identified, and construction began in 1993. An alternative site near Puttalam had briefly been considered in the late 1980s, but the VOAs interests subsequently moved back to Iranawila. The establishment of the station in Iranawila was met with strong opposition. Sections of the Catholic Church played a major role in an ensuing protest campaign. Both the Bishop of Chilaw as well as the priest based in Ambakandawila at the time put a lot of effort into organising resistance. But protest also originated amongst people threatened with displacement in Iranawila as well as amongst other people in and around the village.

As the campaign went on, a large number of other groups became involved, making the station a major political issue at the time. Protest culminated in a mass demonstration just before the National elections in 1994. The PA had argued strongly against the VOA whilst being in opposition, but construction continued even after it came to power, the new Government feeling unable to break an international agreement. But continued protest, in which sabotage and violence were increasingly used, and in which one person was shot dead by the police, contributed to an alleged compromise between the Sri Lankan and US Governments.

Part of this compromise was, according to newspaper articles, the restriction of the site to just over 400 acres. But an American official claims that there had never been plans for the present site to be enlarged. The rejection of the Puttalam site was linked to the project being scaled down to its present size. Whether as a result of new negotiation or not, the fact is that the VOA has not caused any displacement as its site is restricted to a former Government-run coconut estate. Nevertheless, the redistribution of land that is assumed to have originally been targeted for development through the VOA, the ‘New Colony’ in Iranawilawaththa (see box 12.1), was celebrated as proof for the Government acting in the ‘peoples’ interest.

Displacement was not the only point of contention surrounding the project. Others included fears of radiation, fears of the area becoming a potential war target, fears of local culture being eroded by foreign presence, or suspicion that the station would be used for military purposes (IPSF 1994). During the protest itself, misbehaviour of police guarding the site added to local discontent. The media as well as material published with the help of the Catholic Church and SEDEC (ibid.) meanwhile presented the protest campaign as one of local villagers resenting foreign intrusion and alienation of local resources. People in and around Iranawila, including Ambakandawila, were thus characterised as a united, homogeneous group.

However, fieldwork in Ambakandawila and Iranawila revealed a much more complex picture. Thus, experiences of the VOA differed amongst people living in its wider neighbourhood. Whilst people are generally critical of the VOA, and whilst many people still fear that the station might have negative impacts once it goes on air, opposition is not quite as clear-cut as one might believe from reading about it. In Iranawila, the driving force behind the protest were people personally threatened with displacement, whilst the people who were most active in the campaign in Ambakandawila are all closely associated with the church. Other people were less active, and some even collaborated with the VOA. Thus, people rented out houses to workers building the station, worked on the site themselves, or sold building materials (see box 11.1). Others did not think that joining the protest was worth the effort, whilst a few even supported the station.

Thus, the villagers’ experience of the VOA was more complex than generalisations of a villagers’ struggle against the VOA would suggest. On the other hand, the successful establishment of such images worked well. It helped to legitimise and thus strengthen the protest campaign, which in turn led to a greater awareness of the VOA’s impact. Furthermore, the presence of the VOA in Iranawila, together with the controversy it created, illustrate that a village is not a bounded entity. Land use in Iranawila became a national issue. 

Box 11.1: Villagers and the VOA

Maria was very active in the protest against the VOA. She is afraid of the effects the station could have on unborn babies, and was outraged at the prospect of people in the village being displaced in order to please foreign interests. Thus, Maria attended most of the protest actions, most importantly the weekly prayer meetings, and helped to organise the campaign. She found this experience very ‘empowering’, and is pleased that villagers like her managed to make such an impression.

However, a lot of Maria’s fellow-villagers’ positions were not as clear-cut. Thus, a number of people expressed their opposition to the VOA and even took part in protest actions, but were on the other hand quick to secure financial benefits from the station for themselves. These benefits included the rental of houses to VOA workers, the sale of sand or other building materials, or employment on the construction site itself. Such behaviour was of course criticised by other villagers, but justified in a number of ways, for example, by economic necessity, or by arguing that since it was not possible to stop the Station, the people who had to bear the costs might as well benefit. One person went to the demonstration because the priest told him to do so, but could not see this contradicting him selling sand to the contractors. Some of the resentment created through such ‘collaboration’ continues until today, the split between villagers being one of the less obvious costs of the establishment of the VOA.

Others entered commercial relations with the VOA unknowingly. One family agreed to house a group of workers who came to fence-in the site earmarked for the VOA. As at this point not much was known about the station, the owners of the house took no further interest in the precise nature of the labourer’s work. Later on, this family agreed to house another group of labourers engaged in the project. This time the request came from a friend of the family and could not be refused. One member of that family was very active not only in the Church but also in the protest campaign and was rather surprised when she came under criticism for housing the ‘enemy’. But by that time friendly links to the workers had been formed, and to kick them out would have meant a job loss for the latter. The family was aware of its contradictory position but felt unable to act. Besides, the workers staying in the house expressed opposition to the VOA themselves, but felt powerless to decline the job as that would have meant loosing access to other jobs through their contractor as well as going without income for some time. Furthermore, some people who have taken part in the protest in the past were working at the VOA at the time of our fieldwork. They say that they feel disillusioned and that they now regret having sacrificed this earlier income opportunity for a cause that was lost.


12 POVERTY (back to contents)

12.1 Poverty in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is amongst the 49 poorest countries in the world, when classified in terms of the gross national product (GNP) per head. However, Sri Lanka performs much better in terms of other criteria. If measured in terms of real purchasing power, the GNP per head would amount to about US$3,250. The Human Development Index (HDI) which includes life expectancy, adult literacy, and educational enrolment besides the gross domestic product (GDP), ranks Sri Lanka at the 91st position, out of a total of 175 countries. This comparatively higher rank is due the country’s high adult literacy rate (90%) as well as to the high life expectancy at birth (72 years) of her population (Samarasinghe 1997). DFID, with its focus on poverty eradication, has scaled down its activities in Sri Lanka.

Within the country, coastal areas are more developed than those inland. 75% of Sri Lanka’s industries are located in the area around the capital Colombo alone (Samarasinghe 1997). Coastal areas generally feature a better infrastructure, even outside Colombo. Nevertheless, as one enters Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella, one is confronted with sights that indicate material poverty and differentiation between people in the village. It is common to find a dilapidated cajan (palm leaf) house with little furniture next to a large bungalow featuring a wide range of the latest consumer goods. But despite such stark contrasts, identifying ‘the poor’ is far from straightforward.

12.2 Problems with identifying ‘the poor’

Poverty is a vague category, a fact that is underlined by the wide range of definitions of and indicators for it to be found in the development literature. The discrepancy between Sri Lanka’s performance measured in terms of GDP and the one measured in terms of HDI (see above) shows how assessments can differ. But the question whether poverty appraisals should focus on material factors such as monetary incomes, at the cost of ignoring other indicators of human well-being, such as income distribution, health, or community support, is not the only problem of ‘poverty’ as a concept. ‘Poverty’ also has a cultural dimension.

Even seemingly straightforward indicators of differentiation such as housing or material wealth do not necessarily point at poverty and/or marginalisation in the Puttalam District. Amongst fishing families, the poor accommodation of a young family may not indicate a lack of wealth but simply its position at an early stage of the developmental cycle, when accumulation of other assets (boats, nets) is more important. Households in the communities studied are created through marriage (see 5.5.1), and a newly created unit takes some time to establish itself. In contrast, a fisherman with a good house but no gear, and a number of daughters that need to be married off and dowried in the near future, might be seen as worse off (Stirrat 1988). An understanding of the dynamic nature of poverty requires knowledge of its cultural context.

Furthermore, the ability of individuals or groups to articulate their status and needs varies. This ability depends on, and is a manifestation of, power. Thus, it is often the wealthy and politically powerful who have the most experience in communicating their problems, be it to a local patron, a representative of an NGO, or a researcher. The less wealthy and potentially ‘powerless’ often lack these skills, their standing in the community partly being linked to a lack of contacts on which to ‘practise’. Even detailed interviews can fail to identify the problems faced by the less wealthy.

One hatchery owner spent a considerable amount of time complaining to us about the erratic electricity supply, seeing us as potentially helpful in addressing the issue. Others living in poor accommodation and obviously struggling to make a living would hardly be willing to talk to us at all. Furthermore, interviews in front of a cajan house would often attract a large number of onlookers, muting the interviewee to embarrassed silence, whilst interviews with wealthy people were mostly held in the privacy of a spacious house.

On a practical level, access to the villages also depended on the establishment of relations with the village elite, and their help in organising accommodation for the research team. This resulted in us staying with parts of the wealthier section of the village. We would therefore spend more time with the better off, a fact that further contributed to their life being more visible. Thus, it is difficult to escape the power-relations that work to disadvantage the poor whilst working at identifying them.

Causes of poverty vary and these can result in a lack of common interests. As the poor are potentially powerless, they tend to adapt to, rather than resist, social or environmental changes that carry negative impacts on their established livelihoods. Direct links between CZM issues and poverty are difficult to establish, as the victims of development tend to move on and compensate for the loss of livelihoods by searching for alternatives. This fragmentation combined with the very location of the ‘poor’ on the margins of society makes them less visible.

All these factors make it difficult to identify ‘the poor’, even in the context of long-term field research.

12.3 Poverty in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

12.3.1 Description

Despite the problems discussed above, it is possible to make some statements on poverty in the three villages

A majority of houses in the centre of Ambakandawila is brick-built and has electricity. There are also some cajan as well as wooden houses, but these are in the minority. This is radically different in some of the outer areas, where the latter kind of housing dominates. People here are poorer not only in terms of housing, but also in terms of ownership of other property, fishing gear or shrimp farms (see 6.2.2 and 7.3.2). Out of 59 households visited in the outer areas, 40 (68%) were living in either cajan or wooden houses. This was different in the centre, where the number was only 17 (17%) out of 97 households. One of the reasons for this contrast is the fact that the outer areas have been colonised more recently and people here had less time than people in the centre to establish themselves (see 12.3.2).

The discrepancy in wealth between Ambakandawila’s centre and the outer areas is also linked to wealth being passed on within families through the institutions of inheritance and dowry. Most of the land in the centre belongs to families that have been in the village for several generations and who are thus well established. Their off-spring are given land after marriage and this and other assets form a foundation for future success. There are few members of families that have been in the village for more than one generation who could be labelled as poor.

In Mampuri, social and economic change has led to a number of waves of in-migration (see 4.2.2). The relative wealth of opportunities, with jobs in the farming as well as the fishing sector being available, has attracted a number of poor from elsewhere. There are certain areas in the village where landless people have settled, creating a situation where pockets of relatively poor people live amongst a seemingly well-established and relatively wealthy population.

The standard of living in Modarawella is reportedly lower than that in Ambakandawila. Houses look smaller and older, and people would point out that they are not as well off as people in Ambakandawila due to the fisheries not being as good as they are there. There are about 30 cajan houses in Modarawella, making up about 20% of all buildings. Overseas migration, on the other hand, has contributed to increased wealth in the village. Furthermore, prices and wages for casual work are generally higher than in both Mampuri and Ambakandawila, due to the more ‘urban’ location of Modarawella in the proximity of Marawila.

To move away from housing and other material goods, at no stage did we encounter anyone who claimed not to be able to meet his or her daily needs. Consumption of food and drink is, according to a research assistant from inland, high in comparison to other areas of the country. Fishermen as well as farmers, whether wealthy boat owners or ‘poor’ labourers, tended to justify high consumption with the physical requirements of their work.

      1. Poverty and in-migration
      2. Many of the visibly less wealthy households in Ambakandawila, Mampuri and Modarawella consist of people who have moved to the villages fairly recently. In Mampuri, many poor are people from the interior of the country who were attracted by the wealth of opportunities of the coastal area. Their presence may be an indicator of problems elsewhere, their position improving as they establish themselves. A number of people who started off as labourers or seasonal migrants have managed to become land-owners or independent fishermen themselves. On another level, the wealth of the village as a whole very much depends on in-migrants as a source of cheap labour.

        The less prosperous parts of Ambakandawila are those that have been colonised more recently (see box 12.1). However, the dominance of people living in the centre of Ambakandawila may lessen the chance of upwards mobility for others compared with Mampuri. Ambakandawila seems to be a more exclusive ‘community’, with strong notions of insiders and outsiders.

        Box 12.1: A new Colony

        The ‘New Colony’ of Iranawilawaththa borders Ambakandawila to the south. It is located in a sandy area, away from the road and the beach.

        When we first visited the New Colony in July 1998, few people seemed to actually live there, and most buildings looked rather temporary. This was apparently due to some people having secured land for their children to settle on once they leave their parent’s house. Others are reported to have taken land as an additional asset, despite not needing it for settlement. Most people who moved to the New Colony looked outwardly poor, and the area has few attractions for settlement due to a lack of infrastructure

        People living in the centre of Ambakandawila soon nicknamed the New Colony after a slum area from a TV series. They look down at people living there as ‘non-fishermen’ who are poor due to being alcoholics and/or having eloped and thus having had to start off without a dowry or other capital. Efforts by the priest to integrate people from the New Colony into the church choir or the wider parish community in general were resisted. Sixteen of the twenty households we spoke to in the New Colony settlement had had no prior contact to Ambakandawila before moving there.

        Few own fishing gear (3 out of 20) and even fewer have experience of the sea, although some had started fishing in the lagoon. Many inhabitants of the New Colony live by doing casual labour, and nobody has a share in the aquaculture industry. It was also here that we found the highest proportion of non-Catholics (5 out of 20). Furthermore, 14 out of the 20 people we spoke to had not officially been settled here but were squatting on empty plots. Indeed, the area has long attracted people desperate for land, and an informal system to accommodate newcomers was in place

        The New Colony changed dramatically in the run up to the Provincial Council elections in January. Some politicians came to visit the area during their campaigns and promised improvements to the infra-structure. More importantly, the influx of people squatting on empty land increased, as politicians ‘permitted’ them to settle here in exchange for votes. This influx resulted in chaos, and the informal system of accommodating squatters broke down. Soon, arguments began over plots of land, and areas that were supposed to stay clear in order for roads to be built in the future were occupied. Thus the DS of Mahawewa recently launched a new programme in which plots that had not been taken up by the supposed owners, and further ones that had not been distributed previously, are given out. Applications for 350 plots of land are currently under review.

        Both the formal land distribution schemes (in 1995 and 1999), as well as the informal settlement of people facilitated by politicians’ ‘permits’, resulted in a concentration of poor people in the New Colony. People from the centre of Ambakandawila continue to view people in the New Colony as ‘outsiders’ due to their relative recent settlementHowever, the ambiguous nature of this exclusion becomes apparent when the same people who reject people from the New Colony as fellow villagers, demand that potential shrimp farming land located behind the settlement should be given to people from Ambakandawila.

        A large proportion of the families benefiting from land distribution schemes, or migrating to places like Mampuri on their own accord, are young and at an early stage of the developmental cycle. It is common for households to first start off in a cajan or wooden house, whilst a brick house will subsequently be built in stages. The state of housing in certain areas of the village correlates to the length of settlement. As said above, the majority of houses in central Ambakandawila is brick-built, whilst a 20 year old settlement near the New Colony features a large number of houses that are brick-built but not completely finished yet. All the houses in the New Colony are either wooden or cajan, with all of the wooden ones belonging to people who moved there in 1995 or 1996.

        Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella do not only experience in- but also out-migration. People go to work in Colombo or other cities, on multi-day boats based elsewhere, as well as overseas. Apart from pull-factors such as high incomes, out-migration is often a reaction to people not being satisfied with the opportunities in the village. A large proportion of households (45% from our sample) in Modarawella, for example, has one of its members working overseas, an ‘exodus’ that is reportedly motivated by the declining fisheries. It is generally the more wealthy and/or better educated people who leave as overseas migration requires a large initial investment for agency fees and air fares and employment in urban areas requires qualifications.

        Overall, the high incidence of people moving in and out of the villages shows how people adapt to social and environmental changes. Managing environmental resources in ‘their’ village is not the only option for people who can borrow on other ‘ecological spaces’.

      3. Other reasons for poverty

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to claim that all ‘poor’ people in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella are either young and/or relatively new to the village. There are a number of other reasons for a lack of wealth as well. These include:

Box 12.2: Excluded and isolated

Neelan, his daughter Lakshmi, her husband, and her five children live in Sandanwaththa, one of the former coconut estates just outside Ambakandawila. Neelan and his daughter had to flee the civil war in the north of the country and came to Chilaw fifteen years ago, ‘freed’ of all their possessions. A trader from Chilaw took pity on them and bought a little plot of land in Sandanwaththa where the two could settle. This was fourteen years ago, but the household, which has now grown to include eight members, is nevertheless isolated within the village. Neelan’s house looks very poor; it is a dilapidated cajan house that does not even have a cement floor.

All three adults of the household do casual work in Chilaw market, but incomes are small and unreliable. The household nevertheless failed to get Samurdhi (see below), despite neighbours who are better off receiving the same, a fact that Nihal blames on the Samurdhi officer not liking him. Neelan’s daughter once tried to sell home-cooked food in a little shop in the village, but failed to do so as ‘people did not want Tamil-vadhis’ (lentil cakes) as she says today. Neighbours also occasionally bully members of the household, and one once tried to steal some land of Neelan by building a little shed on it. Furthermore, Neelan’s daughter has to walk a little way to obtain water from a sympathetic family’s well, as their immediate neighbours would not let them use theirs.

The only ‘successful’ contact with the village seems to be the acceptance of two of Lakshmi’s children at Ambakandawila school (the other three are going to a Tamil-medium school in Chilaw). But Neelan nevertheless thinks that the family is ‘on their own in the village’.


12.3.4 Official income assistance

People in the villages we worked in receive Samurdhi, the official income assistance in Sri Lanka. This is paid to families with an income of less than Rs. 1000 or U$14 per month. A family of three or more members is paid Rs. 500/month, one with two members Rs. 200/month, and a single person Rs.100/month. Families that are considered to be in an extremely disadvantaged position are paid Rs. 1000/month, but there are no examples in any of the three villages. The number of Samurdhi recepients according to categories is shown in Table 12.1.

Table 12.1: Samurdhi income assistance in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella.


No of families

No of recipients

Rs. 1000/ month

Rs.500/ month

Rs.200/ month

Rs.100/ month

















approx. 80






However, it is doubtful whether these numbers are representative of the income situation in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella. Fishing incomes, for example, are seasonal and difficult to assess, the cash-in-hand nature of the trade excluding them from any sort of control. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that there are such a high proportion of families with incomes below Rs. 1000 in these villages. We met quite a few families who certainly do not need income assistance but who nevertheless receive it, a state of affairs that others would explain with accusations of patronage.But some people we did perceive as being poor could not qualify for Samurdhi, be it for active exclusion as alleged in the case of Neelan (box 12.2), or for the fact that some landless people could as yet not register in the village where they currently live.

Thus, there is a danger of resources reaching the village through poverty-focused development interventions being misdirected. This is what seems to be happening with Samurdhi.


12.4 Challenges for CZM

The very position of the poor at the margin of society makes them not only less visible, but also more difficult to target. Whether they apply participatory mechanisms or not, developers depend on villagers for access to the locality, and people facilitating this are likely to be the better positioned ones. Empowerment of the weakest part of society might be against the interests of these collaborators. Attempts could be made to alienate resources away from their poverty alleviating purpose. Furthermore, empowerment of the poor can compromise the availability of cheap labour and thus be against others’ interests.

These problems are further complicated by the fact that apparent indicators of poverty can be misleading. Poverty alleviation, in CZM and elsewhere, poses a challenge to research and assessment methodologies, as well as to the political skill of the practitioner in the field.








  1. INTRODUCTION (back to contents)

Opportunities and limitations of participatory policies have been discussed in part one of this report. An acknowledgement of the fact that communities are not homogeneous entities is one of the virtues of the ‘stakeholder’ approach to participation. Nevertheless, the ‘local’ focus of participatory models and the sometimes rigid categorisation produced by stakeholder approaches are problematic. So is the tendency for management models, including participatory ones, tend to focus on formal institutions as agents of resource management.

The cases of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella show that the ‘local’ is a problematic category that often hides a wide range of social complexities; and that CZM as well as participatory development in general needs to be contextualised. These two (inter-linked) sets of issues are discussed in the following two sections.

Section 14 deals with concepts of community and interest groups and shows that:

Section 15 addresses the political and social context of the communities studied and focuses on patronage and the market. It argues that:

Part four then draws out the consequences of these points for participatory management tools in CZM.



Romantic notions of clearly defined village communities in the context of developing countries are widespread. They manifest themselves in development thinking (and thus practise) when categories such as ‘villagers’, ‘village women’, or ‘farmers’ are evoked, ignoring differences in class, caste, or power within these groups.

A number of these assumptions still prevail in stakeholder approaches. These include:

But the experience of Ambakandawila, Mampuri and Modarawella shows that the local is far from being a separate or even isolated unit (14.1), and that micro-level interest formations are complex (14.2).

14.1 The village as arena for social interaction

Village communities do not exist in a social vacuum. To understand what is happening in places like Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella, one has to understand what is happening elsewhere as well. There are complex movements of people, resources, or ideas between these villages and their wider environment. These create multiple links to regional, national, and global levels, making these very distinctions problematic.

Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella have experienced rapid social change over their recent past including population growth, diversification of the economy, and social differentiation. The introduction of aquaculture in Ambakandawila has diversified a community predominantly dependent on fishing. Land bordering the lagoon or the beach has acquired new value, and rapid environmental change has accompanied these processes. Mampuri has seen a huge population expansion, a boom of its farming sector, and the creation of a considerable settled fishing community. Modarawella has experienced the advent of tourism in and around the village.

Thus, Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella are far from being clearly bounded social entities. Rather, these villages are arenas for social interaction. People in Mampuri originate from all over the country. They benefit from the war in another part of the country through higher prices for their produce. They depend on waterpumps made in Japan for their cultivation, the produce of which will be consumed in Colombo or Kandy.

The shrimp farmers of Ambakandawila depend on the taste for shrimp of consumers in Japan, Europe, and the USA, and the prices they receive are set by foreign consumers. At the same time, shrimp farm discharges affect fishermen from across the lagoon. Land use in Iranawila became a national issue when the establishment of the VOA relay station was opposed by local as well as national groups.

Fishing families in Modarawella send their sons and daughters to work in Italy and the Middle-East, whilst children in the village follow white tourists around to ask them for sweets and pens. Opinions on tourism are informed by the media and stories from other parts of the country as much as by the local experience. Fishermen from all three villages share the sea with people from fishing communities all along the coast as well as with large trawlers from elsewhere. The movement of people and ideas mirrors the movement of goods and resources. Markets, whether global or domestic, have a great impact on the way local resources are managed. Decisions affecting the local ecosystem are thus often made in places located far away in geographical terms.

In the realm of party politics, the national or regional situation is reflected in the village. Friends start arguing during election campaigns; the leadership of local societies adapts to wider political changes; new societies are set up to mirror national power relations and facilitate the workings of patronage; mangrove areas are converted into shrimp ponds in the free-for-all that follows National elections. The power of individuals within the community depends on their links to political patrons elsewhere (see section 15).

All this has consequences for ideas of the village as social entity. A shrimp farmer who knows everything about the price for shrimps in the world market and salinity levels in the water might have more in common (and more interaction) with his trading partner in Colombo or even Japan than with his Tamil neighbour whom he does not even speak to. A party activist might resent his neighbour whose political affiliation is different, but seek the friendship of a MP based in Puttalam. Whilst physical proximity might define common or opposed interests as well as social interaction (i.e. in the case of conflict over ‘local’ resources) in some cases, social or economical proximity might do so in others and have a greater impact on what is happening in the village.

Thus Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella do not exist as discrete units, and what happens in these villages can only be understood in the context of the wider society. One could even argue that the extent of inter-linkages invalidates the very distinction between the ‘local’, the ‘regional’, and the ‘national’ (cf. Sivaramakrishnan and Agrawal 1998). Ignoring this complexity would result in a partial picture. The interaction of interventions with market or patronage relations, for example, is likely to result in unexpected (and unwanted) outcomes if the latter are not appreciated. These outcomes may take the shape of individual political patrons being strengthened as they manage to claim project achievements as their own. In other cases, attempts at empowerment of village people might be compromised by a failure to acknowledge the powerful position of political patrons.

Thus, interests are not confined to villages. People living in villages have stakes outside; people living elsewhere have stakes within. Decisions affecting these interests are made by multiple actors in multiple locations. A categorisation into primary and secondary stakeholders, with the former usually focusing on people living within a village, frequently fails to appreciate this complexity. Furthermore, interest formations that do exist in a locality are far from clear-cut, as will be argued in the next section.

14.2 ‘Stakeholders’ in the community: the formation of interests and interest groups

14.2.1 The ‘village community’

Categories like ‘the village’ and ‘villagers’ are highly problematic, not just for inter-linkages to other levels, but also for their conflicting usage within the village itself. On the one hand, physical borders are unclear and overlap, as has been discussed in section 4.3. But geography is just one point of reference for villagers’ identities. Other factors include origin, religion, caste, occupation, or length of residence. From these, people derive multiple identities, which are used in different situations, often to further individual interests. They can also be contested.

These multiple identities are manifested in language. People often refer to very different groups at different times when they use categories like ‘us’ or ‘our people’. The latter could refer to everyone living in the village but equally so to different groups within or beyond the village. For example, a fisherman in Ambakandawila might identify with the other established fishing families in the centre of the village, with everyone in the village and its neighbourhood, with all Sinhala Catholic fishermen in the District, with all fishermen in general, or with all Sri Lankans.

In the case of shrimp farming in Ambakandawila, people asserted that village land should be utilised by people living in the village (or rather by a certain group of people in the village, see below), and not by people from elsewhere in the country. But in the conflict surrounding the VOA, the rights of Sri Lankans versus the rights of the USA were said to be at stake, the point of reference for ‘the local’ now being the whole country.

Thus, identities are contextual. They depend on physical borders and residency in some cases, on origin or social differences in others. This is important as identities can be used strategically, to either stake claims, or to exclude others.

In the villages, the language of ‘insiders and outsiders’, for example, is often used to deny others the status of ‘primary stakeholders’, whilst asserting one’s own claims. In Mampuri, the lack of space on the beach has led to the consolidation of a ‘local’ fishing ‘community’. The rush for reserved mangrove land and it subsequent conversion into shrimp ponds in Ambakandawila was justified by the moral argument that ‘local resources should be utilised by local people’. But in this context what was ‘local’ often only referred to a small number of well-established families of the village. Indeed, when asked about the less wealthy living in the more recently established ‘New Colony’, people from the centre would call them ‘outsiders’, despite their ‘local’ residence, and point out differences along the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Other ‘non-locals’ include wealthy people living as close as Chilaw.

In the case of the struggle for potential shrimp farming land bordering the ‘New Colony’, this whole model gets turned upside down as circumstances require it. This wetland and mangrove area, people from the ‘centre’ will say, is clearly part of Ambakandawila. Local people, (i.e. themselves), have a right to that land, whilst denying the rights of those living adjacent to the contested land (see box 12.1). In this case, ‘localness’ is also defined in terms of being more local than another group who have their eyes on the same land. This group also has political backing to further its claim, and its members come from a village further away but in the same electorate as Iranawila. Thus definitions of borders and ideas of communities are strategically used to stake claims (cf. Li 1996).

In contrast to Ambakandawila, the vocabulary of insiders and outsiders to the community is much less frequently used in Mampuri, the exclusion of seasonal fishermen from the beach (7.9.4) being the only exception. Many people are aware that they or their parents have been migrants to the peninsula themselves. Furthermore, there is less of a ‘core community’ as the village is so diverse. Disputes over land or other resources have so far been limited. The need to exclude has thus been less pressing.

Another example of the ‘strategic’ use of language as marker of identities is a petition to the MFARD against the presence of divers in the Modarawella area. This is signed by ‘the traditional small-scale fishermen of Barudhelpolle and Talwila Beach’. ‘Traditional’ carries here an implicit claim of established de facto rights, whilst ‘small-scale’ points at a status that implies victimisation and the need for protection. These ‘traditional fishermen’ are likely to be quick to adapt new technology when available, or to migrate overseas when opportunities arise.

On another level, categories of ‘us’ and ‘ours’ are also used to legitimise action, or to hide non-involvement or ignorance. Thus, a shrimp farmer breaking the law to make short-term profits would claim to do so in the name of ‘reclaiming village resources for villagers’. An activist in a fishing society using connections to a politician to further his personal interest does so in the name of the ‘village fishermen’. And an informant telling us about a spectacular protest action against the VOA would phrase actions in terms of ‘we did…’ to take undue credit and hide the fact that he or she was not even present at the event narrated.

These ways of using identities to stake or contest claims are used to further peoples’ position in a competitive market. They also point at what can be seen as either a lack of community, or the existence of exclusive communities within the villages. But village identities are not the only factor compromising solidarity. There are a number of other factors which are important.


14.2.2 Social fragmentation and marginalisation

Villages are not homogeneous entities but divided along the lines of class, gender, and individual households. One aspect of social fragmentation of the village is the marginalisation of those who lack acceptance, wealth, or political power. Such people are isolated and underrepresented in formal village institutions and can find it hard to make their voice heard. This isolation can even border on invisibility.

The beach seine workers in Mampuri are a case in point. They could lose their livelihood (as well as a safe haven away from the war in the case of the Tamil labourers from the East Coast) if their employers give up operations due to declining catches. These workers are a ‘stakeholder’ group that most people consider not to be part of the village community. They live on the beach and have little contact with the village during the fishing season. They are absent during the off-season and would disappear if the mahadels stopped operating.

Another example consists of the poorest fishermen in Ambakandawila. Some of them fish the lagoon during the south-west monsoon, when access to the sea is restricted. But productivity of the lagoon has recently decreased, due to the impacts of shrimp farming amongst other factors. However, the more influential lagoon fishermen have entered the shrimp farming sector thus weakening the potential for resistance. Others have to adapt and look for alternative sources of income, their voice being marginalised by the dominance of shrimp aquaculture in the village.

The less wealthy in Ambakandawila are generally in a disadvantaged position. Many of them lack acceptance due to being denied villagers’ status (see 14.2.1). Others are totally isolated, the Tamil family in Sandanwaththe being a good example (see box 12.2). Such marginalisation makes it difficult to identify and target weaker parts of society in the context of development interventions. People in a better position may have stakes in the maintenance of the status quo and manipulate attempts of empowerment.

Gender relations, other than the more obviously visible aspects of the gender division of labour, are also not easy to determine. The research failed to produce evidence of major cleavages along gender lines Ambakandawila, Mampuri, or Modarawella. Nevertheless, some guesses on the gender impacts of the different CZM issues were made in the relevant sections. Most men as well as women refer to the household as a joint unit within which both sexes co-operate. Yet it has to be remembered that intra-household conflict is usually hidden from view.

Individual women are affected by recent social and economic changes. Shrimp aquaculture, for example, is a male domain, despite some cases of female participation. Its continued importance might affect the relatively powerful position women traditionally enjoy in fishing households. The continued proliferation of tourism in Modarawella might eventually restrict women’s freedom of movement. Women would then find it difficult to organise behind a common cause if needed due to social organisation running along household lines (see 14.2.3).

All these factors pose obstacles to the formation of interest groups as well as to the articulation of interests. Common interests may not be recognised, either by villagers or by outsiders. Thus, even long-term research faces the practical difficulties of identifying or categorising the ‘victims’ of others’ activities, and of obtaining data from or about them. One can expect these limitations to be even more marked in the case of short-term appraisal techniques that are commonly used for the purpose of development interventions. People without a voice are unlikely to be able to establish themselves as stakeholders or participants, especially when they are actively excluded by fellow villagers.


14.2.3 The village and the household

As already discussed, the basic social unit in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella are individual households based around nuclear families (5.5.1). These households form economic units, and generally compete in the market individually. In Ambakandawila, this individualism was partly shaped by the nature of the fishing economy (Stirrat 1988). However, economic interests are not the only motivation for a household’s activities. To characterise the village households as units whose sole aim is the maximisation of profits would run the risk of creating an abstraction (or even caricature) like the ‘Homo Economicus’ used in economic theory (cf. Daly et al. 1990).

Households are linked by kinship, friendship or religious identity, to mention but a few relationships that often override economic consideration in decision making whilst also creating intra-household solidarity. Furthermore, ‘centrifugal’ forces working towards individuation, such as the nature of the fishing economy, interact with ‘centripetal’ forces, that work towards the creation of larger social units, such as the efforts of the Catholic Church to win control over peoples’ lives (Stirrat 1988). Over-emphasising the importance of individual households runs the risk of simplifying and reducing social processes. And of course, intra-household relationships are not always characterised by co-operation, but also by conflict, between husbands and wives, or between parents and children, for example.

Despite these caveats, the research identified a range of situations where people prioritised the needs of individual households over the ‘common good’. The relative frequency of such encounters therefore justifies the distillation of a theoretical point despite the danger of generalisation. The social fragmentation of a village into individual units has consequences where participatory management seeks to unite people behind a common purpose.

The example of the sale of land for tourist development in Modarawella (box 9.1) is a case in point. The prospect of the economic gain made by the transfer did not only over-ride consideration about impacts the hotel could have on neighbours, but was in fact justified by deteriorated relationships with the latter. The interests of this household thus matched the ones of the hotel developer more closely than the ones of fellow-villagers with whom the seller was linked by kinship ties and common social background. Similarly, opinions on tourism in general vary greatly in the village and depend very much on personal experience. A mother whose children are exposed to sparsely dressed tourists on a daily basis would state opposition to what she sees as a negative cultural influence. In contrast, a family living in a nearby but more secluded spot would have no complaints. Impacts of tourism are thus not measured in terms of impacts on the village as an entity but in terms of impacts on individual households.

In the case of the establishment of the VOA, collaboration for financial gain was a constant point of consternation amongst the villagers active in the protest. The media characterised the campaign against the station in terms of a struggle between ‘villagers’ in general and the VOA, and opposition was clearly strong in Ambakandawila. But a number of people nevertheless refrained from objecting to the VOA at the time, partly in order to further their financial interests. Thus people sold sand and other building materials, rented out accommodation to labourers working for the VOA, or found employment at the construction site themselves (see box 11.1). This was justified in many ways, but the bottom-line is that reactions to the VOA in the village differed widely, and that to some people financial gain was more important than opposition.

Another example is ‘solidarity’ between fishermen. The latter features prominently in villagers’ narratives, but is forgotten when accusations regarding fishing methods are made. Thus, accusations and counter-accusations of the use of baludhel nets (see 7.9.5) are frequently made. It is impossible to verify these accusations, but a number of people guess that the majority of fishermen in the villages would occasionally use these nets if conditions were advantageous, despite rhetoric against them.

Within the fishing societies, members often outwit the group by taking out loans without repayment, thus compromising the potentially long-term benefit of a formal interest group for the sake of short-term financial gain. A similar thing happened in the 1960s, when the Government set up a fishing co-operative centre in Ambakandawila. This was done to help fishing families to sell their catch, but people would make the sales dependent on prices in Chilaw market, and even buy fish there to resell it to the co-operative if prices paid by the latter were higher. The project was therefore not financially viable (Stirrat 1988).

The experience of the fishing societies is reportedly mirrored in other groups such as the SFA in Mampuri or SEDEC societies. Failure of groups can be linked to other factors as well, examples being political interference or incorporation of group members into opposed interest groups. But the strength of individual households is certainly a force that needs to be reckoned with in these villages. To convince people that the benefits gained by sacrificing time and resources for a common cause outweigh the ones gained from working towards the furthering of the household is a difficult task. Indeed, many of the people who put effort in organising groups voiced disillusionment and complained at their efforts neither being appreciated, nor successful.

Nevertheless, there have been some cases of collective action as well. Shrimp farmers residing in Ambakandawila joined forces to push out a shrimp farmer from elsewhere who had encroached onto land that villagers wanted to utilise themselves. The fishermen in Mampuri agreed on exclusive rights to the beach for everyone living in the village (7.9.4). And the fishing society in Modarawella managed to mobilise a large group of people to evict commercial divers from the village (7.9.3). But this type of collective action can not be taken for granted. Whether or not people act as an interest group depends on a variety of factors that developers need to take into account.


14.2.4 Overlapping interests and multiple stakeholders

Interest formations in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella do not fit into neat categories. People within these villages are multiple stakeholders with overlapping interests.

A good example is the formation of interests surrounding shrimp aquaculture in Ambakandawila. Neither shrimp farmers nor lagoon fishermen in Ambakandawila form separate, homogeneous groups whose interests can be neatly mapped out. Most of the shrimp farmers come from a fishing background, and many still go fishing, especially in the sea. Even the supposed ‘victims’ of aquaculture, lagoon fishermen, are involved in the industry themselves (see 6.2.12). There is thus a large number of households whose members are involved in shrimp farming (as owners, share-holders, or labourers), as well as in fishing the lagoon. They have an interest in the continuation of both these activities. Of course, not all lagoon fishermen have this option, especially not the least wealthy ones. Furthermore, the ability of the latter to resist is compromised by the fact that the more powerful lagoon fishermen have taken up shrimp farming themselves.

Differences also persist between shrimp farmers as divisions between different interest groups run not only along occupational but also along geographical or ‘class’ lines. Thus, the interests of small-scale shrimp farmers (and fishermen) in the village can be opposed to the interests of large aquaculture companies from elsewhere, the argument being ‘local resources to local people’. Large and small shrimp farmers might be linked by exploitative relationships rather than, or as well as, by common interests. Both need clean water for their ponds, but the former might have an interest in small farmers having to depend on them for informal credit or sale of their produce. Nevertheless, people are willing to join forces with other shrimp farmers who are ‘outsiders’ when they deal with common interests such as securing benefits for the industry from the Government.

Another example of people whose interests are shared in one context, but opposed in another, are the male and female members of a fishing household. They may share the need for sustainable fishing incomes for the household, but have opposed views on issues of division of labour, alcohol consumption, or religious matters. Gender issues are an area were opposed interests within a social group are widely recognised, but the simple categorisation of ‘women’ as a separate stakeholder group might than underplay shared interest between the genders. Categories have to be adjusted to a given context.

Other ‘multiple stakeholders’ include the fish trader who derives an income from the tourist hotels in and around Modarawella but who is worried about his children being exposed to ‘uncivilised’ foreigners and thus is forced to move away, or the labourer who has to work at the VOA despite being opposed to it as refusal would compromise his ability to get work from his employer, a contractor hired by the VOA. Individual fishermen have stakes in both the ban of destructive fishing methods for the long-term sustainability of the fisheries, as well as using them themselves when conditions are suitable.

Of course, there are fairly homogeneous interest groups, the fishermen concentrated in the settlement by the beach in Mampuri being an example. Their common interest of needing space for their boats was secured when seasonal fishermen were banned from the beach.

Nevertheless, common and opposed interests within and between groups co-exist and need to be contextualised. There is thus an intricate web of over-lapping interests and multiple stakeholders. The latter do either not fit into neat categories, or would fit into different ones in different contexts. The processes of adaptation and/or incorporation also show that these webs change over time, as argued in the next section.

14.2.5 Interests changing over time.

Webs of interest groups continuously evolve and/or change in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. Thus, a mapping of interest (i.e. stakeholder analysis) at one point might generate radically different outcomes than it would at another. Cultures are not sealed entities: people have options and can adapt to new circumstances (cf. Benhabib 1995).

On one level, new interest groups are created by social or economic change, such as the introduction of shrimp aquaculture in Ambakandawila. People entered a new livelihood that had previously not even been an option. But apart from this stark (and obvious) change, interest formations also change in a more subtle manner; through processes of adaptation and/or incorporation.

To stick to the example of the Ambakandawila shrimp farmers, some of them were previously opposed to shrimp farms themselves, but eventually changed their minds (see box 6.5 for an example). Others saw their fishing efforts in the lagoon compromised by shrimp farms but adapted rather than resisted by finding employment on the latter, thus becoming stakeholders in the industry themselves. The potential for opposition thus diminished over time, a factor that contributed to people in Ambakandawila failing to organise themselves against mangrove degradation (see section 10). This process is not unidirectional either, as shrimp farmers who have failed and made losses are often forced to go (back to) fishing. Thus, the introduction of aquaculture does not necessarily lead to the marginalisation of "small fishermen", and/or a polarisation between different groups, but to the formation of new ones

Not all fishermen have been fishermen for all their lives. There are quite a few people who came to the area recently and only then started fishing the lagoon. They adapted to their new environment, and can be expected to do so again if lagoon fishing fails to generate sufficient incomes. The fact that they have little choice in the matter as the shrimp industry is politically powerful is something that intervention is unlikely to change.

Thus, rather than defending supposedly "traditional rights", it could might make more sense to help people to adapt to new circumstances and define new rights, at least if the process of change has progressed so far that opposition, to shrimp farming for example, does not make sense anymore.


      1. Differing perceptions

Perceptions of natural resources issues can differ, even amongst people whose stakes in the issue are similar. Such a lack of common perceptions has the potential to compromise the formation of interest groups.

The example of Heththiwaththa, the area that gets frequently flooded in Modarawella, shows that the ambiguous position of people as both, potential ‘victim’ as well as potential beneficiaries of aquaculture, leads not only to an absence of resistance, but also to differing perceptions of problems. The majority of people there blames the shrimp farms in the vicinity for having worsened flooding, but a small minority of people argues to the contrary. Some from the latter group have either kin involved in shrimp farming or sold land to shrimp farms, a situation that is likely to have shaped their differing verdict. The group of ‘flood victims’ is thus potentially weakened.

In other cases, perceptions are shaped by party affiliation. The issue of commercial shrimp trawling is one example. The vast majority of fishermen in Ambakandawila and Modarawella are deeply opposed to shrimp trawling. The only exceptions were members of the PA , as the latter is allegedly considering a reintroduction of this fishing method. Thus, party supporters are obliged to agree with politicians higher up in the hierarchy to maintain valuable connections. Similarly, one of the few people from Ambakandawila who overtly supported the establishment of the VOA radio station was a member of the UNP when it was in power. The UNP had invited the VOA to Iranawila whilst being in Government, and the local party representative had to defend the decision in the locality itself.

The example of how perceptions of mangrove differ between some people in Ambakandawila and the SFF, (an NGO with interests in mangrove conservation), is described in section 10. The SFF’s analysis of communities surrounding the lagoon probably failed to appreciate that villages are not inhabited by homogeneous groups of lagoon fishermen with traditional knowledge of the lagoon and its resources, but also by shrimp farmers and other people ignorant about, or dismissive of, the value of mangrove.


14.2.7 Power in the community

This section has argued that interest groups go beyond village borders, are fragmented, overlap, and change over time. But that obviously does not stop people from pursuing their interests. And they do so individually as well as in groups. Thus, the obstacles cited above can be overcome, a fact that will be discussed in part three. But such a discussion has to be preceded by an examination of the context of power relations. Ultimately, the pursuit of interest depends on power. Within the villages examined, power was often defined as lying in access to patrons. However, the latter is often linked to wealth and/or market power. Thus, the next section will examine political patronage in the context of the market.


15 POWER, PATRONAGE, AND THE MARKET (back to contents)

15.1 Patronage in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella

Section 5.5.2 has defined the kinds of relationship that are labelled ‘political patronage’ in this report. A reading of the subsequent sections on CZM issues then presented a large range of examples for patronage in action. Patronage in Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella contributed to the spread of illegal shrimp farming and displacement of mangrove areas, to changes in fishing societies and other village institutions, to the outcomes of fishing conflicts such as the ones surrounding beach seining or diving, to the establishment of tourism and to the illegal occupation of land distributed by the Government; and to the provision of coastal protection structures. Political patronage plays a major role in the management of coastal resources in the Puttalam District.

Patronage has also been labelled as an ‘informal’ institution in section 5.5.2. In fact, the processes set in motion by patron-client relations are almost always ‘unofficial’ and based on ‘private’ or ‘hidden’, rather than ‘public’, relationships. They nevertheless interact with formal institutions involved in CZM. In many cases, this interaction takes the shape of the informal institution of political patronage influencing or even totally undermining formal management. The political backing of illegal shrimp farmers defying official regulations is the clearest example of such undermining.

Individual politicians who act as patrons have wide-ranging powers that enable them to interfere with formal institutions. Such power can be based on the ability to influence an official’s career, or in some cases even on the ability to resort to violence without being held responsible for it. But patronage has to remain unofficial, and often borders illegality. It therefore has to make use of weaknesses and loopholes in the formal organisational framework, a process that probably reinforces these weaknesses. Thus, a lack of action against activities backed by a powerful patron can be publicly ‘explained’ by unclear responsibilities and/or by a lack of resources in terms of staff or funding, rather than by patronage. We spoke to a number of officials who would resort to these explanations when asked about failures to intervene in irregularities, but who later admitted to having been personally threatened. On the other hand, people justify their resorting to the help of patrons by questioning the legitimacy of institutions, claiming that these are corrupt and/or acting against the interests of ‘ordinary’ people.


15.2 Patronage, patrons, and power

Benhabib (1995) argues that entitlements, including entitlements to environmental resources, depend on political power. Political power in the context of patronage is often equivalent to access to patrons. This access combined with economic power and other factors that confer status onto an individual thus shapes power relations within the community. One conclusion that could be read from this report would imply that power is very much vested in individuals, especially politicians with a high position in the official hierarchy. However, a closer examination of patrons reveals a more complex picture.

A certain set of politicians would feature frequently in narratives of patronage at work within each of the three villages studied. Opinions on these individuals varied, and depended very much on the narrator’s position in relation to them. The most frequent way of discrediting a politician that had acted against an informant’s interest was to claim that this individual is a friend of the wealthy, who does not care for ‘small people’. Such discrediting is one of the few means of resistance available to people disadvantaged by acts of patronage.

However, such criticism not only crosses party lines but equally applies to politicians belonging to the same party as the person making the accusation supports. Patron-client relations do not only depend on party affiliation, but also on territories such as electorates, for example. The demands of one patron’s clientele can conflict with the ones made by another’s. In the case of the land behind the New Colony, for example, Ambakandawila’s group of PA supporters was faced with conflicting demands from PA supporters from another village and thus discredited the politician backing the latter. The result of this intra-party conflict was that neither side has been able to claim the land so far. Conflicting interests within party lines is just one force restricting the power of individual patrons, market forces are another (see box 15.1). The extension of patronage is often linked to potential beneficiaries’ wealth.

Steve’s story indicates that political patronage works within a given context, a context that limits the range of choices open to individual actors, relatively regardless of their position in the hierarchy. As such, a rather Foucauldian picture of people being vehicles rather than agents of power emerges. The context in which patronage has to be placed is the open economy. Of course, free market-policy is open to resistance, but this would have to be broad-based. Such broad-based resistance does not seem to exist in contemporary Sri Lanka, despite the anti-capitalist JVP performing fairly well in elections. Thus, individual action, such as Steve’s, is likely to conform to wider trends in society.

The close link between economic might and patronage is illustrated by villagers’ opinions on the potential for resistance to tourism developments in Modarawella. It is assumed to be impossible, due to the financial power of the hotels, which in villagers’ opinions guarantees them backing by very powerful patrons. Even the best-connected individual cannot compete with the connections that are assumed to be behind large investors.

Patronage relations can facilitate and shape economic activities geared towards the market in the villages. It is one of the means by which the market is freed from formal restrictions in the social context of the Puttalam District.

Box 15.1: A powerful patron?

Steve is a very influential politician in the Puttalam District. His name had frequently sprung up in villagers’ narratives on political backing, giving us the impression of him being a man with almost absolute power. We therefore arranged a meeting with Steve, facilitated by a local party supporter we had befriended, who was known for his good links to Steve. Thus, we went the same way as many ‘clients’ before us, although our aim was a to get a story rather than political backing. We got a story, but it was a rather different one to what we had expected:

Steve did not appear to be a man who makes decisions according to his will, but one who is exposed to a number of forces. Thus, when petitioners representing a number of people approach Steve, he usually bows to their wishes. If the potential clients are wealthy, resistance is totally out of question. These obligations are summed up by Steve’s statement: ‘If someone manages to get to me and asks me for a written reference, they will get it.’ Furthermore, Steve described his relationship to party colleagues, who are in a similar position as he is, as being problematic: ‘Everyone has their pitch, and you have to respect that, otherwise you are in trouble.’ He admits that he could theoretically get away with acting against other politician’s wishes due to his high position in the hierarchy, but that doing so would compromise his long term interests. After all, competitors can stir up trouble against one within their electorates as well as within the party in general. Thus, Steve sometimes has to negotiate with his colleagues to resolve conflicts between their respective sets of followers.

But the most striking part of the discussion was when Steve revealed his views on society: he thinks that the less wealthy should be supported, but then again, ‘society does not work like that, does it?’ Thus, he thinks that the wealthy have a lot of power, a power that he can not resist. By acting against their interests, Steve would jeopardise his own position. Not only are wealthy people likely to have a number of alternative options to make patronage work for them, but support to entrepreneurs is also in line with the policies generally pursued by the Government. Thus, Steve does apparently not feel powerful enough to challenge the status quo.

15.3 Patronage and the market

The liberalisation of the economy to accelerate economic growth is arguably the priority of development policy in contemporary Sri Lanka (cf. Woost 1997). And one could argue that Steve and other patrons only have power as long as their actions support economic growth. Capitalist entrepreneurs, the private sector’s representatives, are also likely to be backed by the upper layers of the political hierarchy, a top on whom people like Steve depend. But then again, this is a circular argument, as the hierarchy is in turn dependent on support from the base. However, the analysis of such intricate and far-reaching webs of power is beyond this discussion. The point to be emphasised here is that the private sector economy and its representatives are in a powerful position within Sri Lanka.

This level of analysis leads to the question whether the private sector, and consequently individuals within the private sector, are more powerful than political patrons. But this is a question that can only be posed, and not answered, here. However, the evidence presented in this report shows that the existence of patronage relations with their relative strength in influencing and undermining the activities of state organisation, can serve the private sector, the supposed subject of formal management, well. Patronage is instrumental in protecting short-term commercial interests from intervention. As a consequence, any development intervention, including CZM, is vulnerable to interference facilitated by political patronage.

Patronage aided the proliferation of illegal shrimp farming in Ambakandawila, a process that was aimed at short-term economic gain. The lack of enforcement of regulations in the shrimp sector in general is not only manifest in illegal farms but also in regulations allegedly being ignored by legal, often large-scale farms. One of the consequences of this lack is that the shrimp industry in Sri Lanka is not sustainable. By aiding short-term growth, patronage has compromised the long-term prospects of the industry. To reverse this, efficient formal management by state organisations is required. Patrons have to be convinced that such management is desirable and should not be undermined. The signs that exactly this process is happening are there. Private sector representatives increasingly lobby the Government to raise and enforce environmental standards of the industry, and politicians admit to having been wrong in backing the breach of regulations.

Thus, the interaction of the market and patronage relations has compromised sustainability in this particular context. The main lesson this experience entails for CZM is to pay due consideration to the context of the market as well as to ‘cultural’ mechanisms aiding market activities. Thus, both macro- and micro-level realities have to be comprehended in order for intervention to be situated within them. The market economy in Puttalam District has a major impact in shaping social interaction in the villages in general, and one of the avenues (or cultural mechanisms) that helps it to do so is patronage. As such, the market, and patronage, are strong forces in CZM. Formal management interventions may well be marginal in comparison. They might have little impact in modifying sophisticated structures and mechanisms that are geared towards short-term economic growth as the latter work through well-established mechanisms such as individuation and patronage.

In this light, the participatory aspects of CZM may paradoxically contribute to the continuing marginal role of development interventions. The theoretical focus on the individual in participatory approaches is in line with neo-liberal ideologies which seek to weaken the role of the state (Brown 1997). Indeed, the case presented here shows a context in which participatory development in practise may support the existing processes of individuation and social fragmentation. But more importantly, as wider power relations are dominated by patronage and aid the short-term interests of the private sector by undermining formal management, they could be reinforced by being ignored due to a focus on the ‘local’ and a refusal to deal with politics.





16.1 Introduction: limitations of stakeholder analysis and participation

The examination of CZM issues in villages of the Puttalam District indicates that participatory coastal zone management, and participatory natural resource management in general, can be problematic due to the constraints posed by social complexities. These constraints are discussed in part three and include the following:

Such constraints can be overcome. This part of the report indicates how this could be done, whilst arguing that there is no simple recipe. The practical policy implications for CZM in general (16.3) and management in the context of patronage (16.4) are preceded by the outline of a general strategy of how to address potential shortcomings of established practice (16.2).

Policy implications for CZM in the Puttalam District are discussed in section 17.

16.2 An overall strategy

Fieldwork in the Puttalam District encountered social complexities that need to be dealt with in order for intervention to be successful. The following needs have to be addressed in a strategy that aims at strengthening participatory mechanisms.

16.2.1 Interventions should not be limited to the context of the community level.

In the light of the importance of wider market and political relations that create multiple links between the local and other levels, the (village) ‘community’ might not necessarily be the best framework for resource management interventions. A wider approach to analysis is needed in order to explore the context of a proposed management intervention, especially if it is to be participatory.

Organisational interests or market relations constitute an important context of development. But ‘informal institutions’ such as patronage relations or households can play a major role in CZM issues as well. Established approaches such as those aimed at ‘institutional strengthening’, for example, might be misguided or insufficient if the institutions in question are marginal to CZM due to their activities being undermined by patronage. Furthermore, the fact that structures and groups imposed during the implementation of development interventions interact with existing social structures, needs to be considered, in order to foresee and address potential problems.

Whilst ‘contextualising’ interventions, practitioners will be confronted with politics. For donors to enter the arena of politics is obviously problematic in both practical and ethical terms. But the effort of trying to develop mechanisms to deal with political realities in a practical manner, the risks involved in doing so, and the possible cost of trade-offs, might all be justified by the benefit of greater success in achieving project goals. In contrast, an intervention that ignores political realities might encounter unexpected obstacles that seriously undermine stated objectives at a latter stage. The example of dealing with political patronage relations (see 16.4) illuminates a possible approach.

16.2.2 Categorisation for the purpose of development interventions needs to be flexible.

Stakeholder analysis or other processes that involve the mapping of interests and interest groups needs to be extremely flexible. They have to enable an acknowledgement of social complexities that feature overlapping and changing interests, and consequently people who do not necessarily fit into neat categories.

16.2.3 Poverty assessments need to be sophisticated and well informed.

During stakeholder analysis, the identification of marginal groups requires sophisticated research methodologies. Problems to be overcome include the invisibility of the weaker parts of society due to their position at the margin, and active exclusion by others. Furthermore, the precise nature of poverty, i.e. how it relates to a person’s position in the developmental cycle, or to other social and ‘cultural’ factors, needs to be examined. Short-term appraisals, or assessments based on material indicators alone, are unlikely to produce the necessary information.

16.3 Practical implications for CZM

The practical implications of this strategy will differ from one case to another. Contextualisation is therefore the key to successful management. The suggestions offered here relate not as much to written guidelines as to the way theories are applied in practical situations by staff working on development programmes. Key questions that need to be asked during project planning and/or implementation and their possible answers include:

16.3.1 Context: how can intervention be placed in context?

A social network analysis, which is informed by multi-disciplinary, and especially qualitative, research, is needed to identify the social and institutional context of CZM. Such an analysis has to take account of formal and informal institutions and structures, and include macro, meso, and micro level structures.

16.3.2 Participation: is there a potential for participatory management?

Participatory mechanisms are not necessarily the most appropriate and/or efficient management tools for many CZM issues. Their use should thus not be promoted at any cost, but their feasibility has to be individually assessed for different management activities. Experiences of past development interventions, or of group organisations, in a given area can help to inform such an assessment. Furthermore, bottom-up and top-down approaches can be creatively combined in the design of appropriate management tools. A dogmatic insistence on participatory mechanisms can lead to unwanted outcomes and/or compromise a project’s objectives.

If stakeholder analysis and stakeholder participation are judged to be appropriate tools, their application has to be flexible:

16.3.3 The mapping of interest groups: how can categorisation be flexible, and does it work for a given purpose?

The concept of a ‘flexible’ stakeholder analysis refers to the need to use categorisations in a flexible and creative manner. For this purpose, it has to be well informed, by qualitative data if possible. Both researchers as well as practitioner have to acknowledge that categorisations into interest groups result in pictures that represent indicators for, or abstracts of, a social situation, rather than reality. Thus, site-specific limitations to stakeholder analysis and/or case studies of exceptions to the rule constitute vital information for the practitioner in the field and should not be hidden away in appendices of reports.

How information collected in a stakeholder analysis is applied in the facilitation of stakeholder participation depends very much on management needs. Decisions on this issue require judgements by the practitioner in the field. Thus, the process of categorisation should be aimed at management specific needs, in order for possible pitfalls to be identified during the process (i.e. before project implementation) and to make judgements easier. Different causes, even within the context of one and the same project component, might require separate mapping exercises, as people who have shared interests in one context might have opposed interests in another.

Furthermore, stakeholder groups are likely to transcend the local level; people living in the village might have more in common with people from a similar background from elsewhere as they have with fellow-villagers from a different section of society. Thus, flexibility also refers to the need to go beyond bounded geographical areas when interests are mapped.

The quality of collected information should be continuously tested by monitoring its application. Thus, the repeating of stakeholder analysis over time does not only serve to account for change over time, but also to improve results from previous exercises. Furthermore, mapping exercises should be transparent and easily accessible in order to facilitate participation during the appraisal aimed at facilitating participation during a project.


16.3.4 Poverty: are CZM (or NRM) initiatives appropriate frameworks for addressing poverty?

Poverty alleviation features prominently as an objective of many CZM initiatives. But whether or not problems associated with poverty can be addressed by an intervention depends on the nature and underlying causes of poverty in a given location. Thus, successful CZM might not necessarily contribute to poverty alleviation. Indicators for successful CZM are often based on technical factors, whilst social considerations are neglected. Coastal protection or the promotion of aquaculture might be successful in terms of saving economically important land or generating incomes and foreign exchange, but beneficiaries do not necessarily include the very poor. They might not only find it difficult to participate but even have their interests compromised through the dominance of more articulate groups that are better positioned to influence project design.

Project components such as small-scale income generating activities are often ‘add-ons’ and badly targeted. If the objectives of a CZM or NRM initiative do not explicitly meet the needs of weaker parts of society, a separate initiative might be more appropriate than ‘added on’ components. Or alternatively, rather than assuming that the benefits from a well-managed coast will trickle-down eventually, the poor could be actively included in project components. But this is very difficult due to the constraints mentioned above.

      1. Sustainability: is the interaction of an intervention with its social context likely to result in environmentally sustainable management?

It is not enough to name environmental sustainability as a project goal, assuming that all stakeholders would share this priority. Rather, one needs to critically assess whether sustainability is a likely outcome, considering the possible ways the intervention’s interaction with other structures and social forces could take. This interaction can potentially compromise sustainability.

Questions to be asked in such an assessment include:

16.3.6 The practitioner in the field: what can be done to implement these suggestions?

The challenges to successful CZM presented here are most likely to be met by the practitioners in the field, in the interface between theory and practise, rather than on paper. The problems involved will vary from one situation to another. No technical booklet can ever forecast all the difficulties that one might face in the field, and no practitioner should ever be guided by theoretical experience only.


Recommendations to the individual practitioner thus include:


16.4 Patronage: how to work in the context of patronage?

Political patronage relations are a major force in the shaping of CZM in the Puttalam District of Sri Lanka (see section 15). This confronts CZM practitioners with the question of how to deal with such relations. The answer suggested here is that it is important to actively engage with patronage in order to avoid project activities being manipulated by it.

The existence of patronage relations is not necessarily a constraint to development, but has the potential to be transformed into a positive and dynamic factor. A precondition for directing patronage towards the aims of a given management project would be to acknowledge that patrons are ‘primary stakeholders’ that need to be dealt with. Ensuring the support of these stakeholders for proposed project components is vital but may be difficult. It can take the form of regular meetings between project staff and individual politicians, and such meetings can even be institutionalised in ‘policy platforms’. Development interventions offer potential benefits to regional politicians, who are therefore likely to have an interest in co-operation. However, the outcome of negotiations should result in a ‘give-and-take’ rather than in a ‘give-only’ situation (see box 16.1).

A general challenge to the development of mechanisms that can accommodate patronage relations is that the success of dealing with patrons depends very much on individuals. An individual patron may be unwilling to compromise, but knowledge and experience of patronage can minimise this risk. Thus, the success of this research project in managing to collect a large amount of sensitive data on patronage was based on a progressive understanding of the issue, an understanding that helped us to gain access to, and trust of, patrons as well as clients. Success thus depends to a large extent on the political skills and pragmatism on the part of project representatives.

At the same time, the power of individual patrons must not be over-estimated. If an intervention has a large number of beneficiaries who back its activities, a patron’s will can be defied through strength in numbers. At the end of the day, politicians depend on a wide support base. Furthermore, project activities that imply radical social changes might find the approval of politicians in a given locality, but be opposed to wider trends in society. Thus, their realisation on a regional level can be compromised despite ‘local’ support.

Patronage itself has therefore to be placed in the context of market forces. The experience of Puttalam district shows that the type of market forces aided by political patrons might have objectives that compromise successful CZM. CZM can work through co-operation with patrons, but it requires the most powerful stakeholders to be convinced that it is necessary for CZM (and thus sustainable economic growth) to have priority over short-term economic growth. This can be difficult.

Box 16.1 presents some experiences of development organisations working in the context of patronage. One has adopted an approach similar to the one suggested here (and thus helped to inform this section), whilst the other one refuses to engage with political patrons. Both seem to be successful in their ways.


Box 16.1: Working with patrons

Some organisations have sought to come to arrangements with political patrons, whilst others refuse to do so.

The Integrated Resources Management Programme (IRMP) is an initiative launched by the CEA, with the assistance of the Netherlands Government. IRMP is currently engaged in managing the Muthurajawela-Negombo lagoon area, aiming at the conservation of lagoon fisheries and ecologically significant marsh and mangrove systems. Programme activities include income generating projects, organisation of stakeholder groups, as well as the establishment of a visitors centre to promote eco-tourism in the lagoon. An incident that occurred at the opening of this visitors’ centre illustrates how vital co-operation with local patrons can be.

The ceremony on the opening day was severely disrupted when access to the centre was blocked and project staff threatened by a local MP. One official of the programme was even taken hostage. This was apparently due to the MP feeling that his position was not sufficiently acknowledged by the programme, whilst a political opponent was present at the ceremony. Thus, he objected not only to a lack of communication between project staff and himself, but also to his opponent being invited to ‘his’ electorate. The situation was eventually resolved through negotiations on the day itself. As a consequence, IRMP introduced a policy platform that now serves as a forum for co-ordination with PA politicians of the area. MPs and their following are given the opportunity to discuss programme activities

As Fernando, a member of staff of IRMP told me: ’Our project has social impacts and is therefore political. We need to have a dialogue with politicians. They might not be interested in ecology, but if our activities can help them to get support, they will co-operate. We might not be able or willing to fully fit into their agenda, but we can neutralise them by giving them something. This means striking a balance, if you give too much, you risk the politicians wanting everything their way.’ Fernando also told me of how they once defied opposition by a politician. A large group of people thus took part in the opposed project, and their strength in numbers then changed the politicians’ minds. Nevertheless, as Fernando says: ‘Our project would be compromised if we would ignore politics.’

The IRMP’s experience seems to offer a successful way of dealing with patrons. But others are opposed to such co-operation. Rajindra, a representative of the Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund (SLCDF), for example, states that his organisation refuses to work with politicians as a matter of principal, ‘We do not do deals with politicians.’ In fact, the SLCDF’s reputation allegedly hinges on such refusal, and it is this reputation that gives it its strength. The SLCDF funds and monitors NGOs working in Sri Lanka.

Opinions are equally divided amongst other (Sri Lankan) people working in development. A representative of a social justice NGO, for example, thinks that although their aim is to strengthen civil society, they recognise that ‘one has to work with the structures’. Thus, the NGO lobbies ‘nice’ politicians to take up its causes, and always seeks dialogue. In contrast, a member of an environmental NGO thought that it is dangerous to deal with politicians as one can not trust them. They are ‘two-faced thugs’, unreliable, and ‘their short-term thinking does not fit environmental causes.’ Overall, the discussion of the importance of patronage in development seemed to be welcomed, as it hardly ever features in ‘official’ policy documents.


    1. The potential for participation (back to contents)
    2. The often individualistic nature of livelihood activities in the Puttalam District does not offer a ‘natural’ breeding ground for participatory management mechanisms. The experience of fishing societies, farmer associations, or other organised groups shows that communal activities are often constrained by individual action aimed at short-term benefit (i.e. people not repaying loans). Furthermore, those likely to participate in interventions are those with previous experience in development and Government sponsored activities; they tend to be more articulate and to possess more skills needed in order to gain access to assistance than people with greater needs do. Another constraint is patronage; attempts at ‘empowerment’ on the local level could be in vain if power is vested with patrons living outside the project area.

      Mangrove management around Chilaw lagoon, the excessive use of agrochemicals in Mampuri, or the safe-guarding of villagers’ rights in the context of tourism developments in Modarawella, are all issues that might require intervention from the top. The empowerment of lagoon fishermen to conserve mangrove areas, for example, is of little use in the context of shrimp farmers being more powerful and able to destroy forests without being punished for it. Furthermore, those who participate in conservation efforts are likely to be people who are in a position to take advantage of the aquaculture boom may change sides when the opportunity arises. This is what happened in Ambakandawila. In such situations, participatory approaches have to be complemented by authoritative management, i.e. a strict enforcement of regulations aimed at mangrove conservation.

    3. Management of the shrimp industry

The recent establishment of a technical committee involving both Government as well as private organisations indicates that the urgent need for management of the shrimp industry is being recognised. Such management should not focus on the large farms alone, but a major obstacle to the integration of small-scale, illegal shrimp farmers into CZM is that many of them are highly suspicious of any official management attempts, which they assume to be biased against themselves. Furthermore, many proposed management options aiming at the sustainability of the environment as well as the industry itself are not an option for small shrimp farmers. The latter do not, for example, have the space needed for the introduction of sedimentation tanks. An intervention aimed at raising standards in the industry would thus require large inputs in terms of funding, staff, and efforts in planning and awareness raising.

Crucial to successful management is political will, especially amongst political patrons in the Puttalam District. This ‘stakeholder’ group includes politicians, from the Council or Provincial level as well as parliamentarians, who have been backing unsustainable practices in the past. Achieving their willingness to co-operate is of primary importance. Anyone with experience in working in organisations charged with the management of the shrimp industry in NWP is likely to be able to point out who these individuals are.

17.3 Management of the Fisheries

Outcomes of fishing disputes examined in the context of this research have been shaped by the strength of village fishing societies. The implementation of the recent Fisheries Act with its focus on localised management is likely to increase the importance of these societies. Successful management is possible where fishing societies are working well; but fishing communities that are currently lacking effective representation (e.g. Ambakandawila) may require more assistance to management. Fishing societies are political organisations. Their leadership tends to reflect national power relations, and not they usually fail to represent all sections of fishing communities. Thus, management mechanisms implemented through these societies might have to be complemented by activities that aim at including fishermen who do not participate in them. Designing such activities would require high inputs in terms of (localised) research, and it should be assessed whether such efforts are necessary and/or feasible.

    1. Managing the impacts of vegetable cultivation on the Kalpitiya peninsula

The potential threat of agrochemical pollution of drinking water on the Kalpitiya peninsula needs to be addressed urgently. People who would benefit from an intervention include farmers themselves as well as the general population, including a large amount of refugees from the civil war. More technical research on the issue is needed, the results of which should be made easily accessible on the peninsula itself.

The fact that intensive cultivation generates large profits, combined with the lack of communal farming organisation and efficient extension services, as well as the localised nature of impacts, make it unlikely that a communal response to the problem will emerge in places such as Mampuri. The state appears to be the appropriate agent of environmental protection in this case.

17.5 Management of Chilaw lagoon and mangrove conservation

The environmental problems in Chilaw lagoon are reportedly caused by a number of factors. Successful management would thus have to be broad-based. But addressing the environmental impacts of the shrimp industry (see 17.2) should certainly constitute a priority, not just for technical but also for social reasons. Such an approach would certainly respond to peoples’ perceptions of the problems, as shrimp farming is widely perceived as being the most important cause of declining incomes from lagoon fishing.

However, it is doubtful whether the lagoon has the potential to provide a sustainable livelihood for a large population. People on its eastern shore, who do not have access to the sea, should be prioritised. The sea provides an income for a large part of the year to people on the western side of the lagoon. During the off-season, the provision of alternative livelihoods might help to avoid intense, seasonal fishing pressure in the lagoon. Helping people to adapt to new circumstances and define new livelihoods is generally appropriate where environmental change has progressed so far that opposition to the agents of change, i.e. shrimp farming, does not make sense anymore.

As mentioned above, community-centred approaches to mangrove conservation need to be backed by authoritative intervention. These could be facilitated not only through the securing of political will, but also through the design of better and quicker procedures for institutions like the FD, the DS or the courts to pursue offenders. A first step would be a revival of the initiative aimed at strengthening the legal status of mangrove areas in the District by making them official reserves. This could be done without alienating people living near mangrove areas, who should be allowed access if appropriate. It does not make sense to commit funds to conservation activities if the latter only reflect donor priorities. The political will for protection needs to exist in the province.

17.6 Managing tourism

Recommendations on the management of impacts from the tourism industry in Modarawella are likely to conform to more general principles that are partly already being implemented in Sri Lanka. Levels of development should be controlled in given locations, and zoning plans should be drawn up ahead of the expansion of the industry. What is most striking about Modarawella is that residents of the village were not included in the planning processes; not even the GN was officially informed of proposed developments. More transparency, as well as opportunities for people living in the environments of proposed developments to have an input, would minimise problems and conflicts.

17.7 Poverty

The coastal villages of the Puttalam District do not display mass-poverty. The poor sections of the populace are isolated and fragmented. This isolation is unlikely to be overcome, either by participatory approaches, or by broad-based CZM programmes. Being able to address these peoples’ needs would require well-targeted and designed activities. Such activities are unlikely to emerge as by-products of CZM initiatives, but might require separate intervention. Of course, successful CZM can result in reduced poverty, but its impacts should not be over-estimated.


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1. National Institutions

Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development (MFARD)

The overall responsibility for development and management of Sri Lanka’s fisheries is vested with the MFARD, which is headed by a Cabinet Minister. Within the Ministry, there are two departments; the department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) and the CCD. NARA (see below) handles research. A new aquaculture development authority (NAQDA), enjoying a semi-autonomous status, was founded earlier this year to replace the aquaculture division within DFAR. DFAR is the implementing agency for administration, development, regulation, and monitoring of fisheries and aquatic resources. It is also responsible for extension and other technical and welfare services to fishing communities. The current legal framework for the DFAR’s activities is given by the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act of 1996.

National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA)

The establishment of NAQDA was initiated by the recent Act on aquaculture. NAQDA has taken on responsibilities that formerly rested with the DFAR within the MFARD. It is divided into three divisions: aquaculture development, export promotion, and planning. At the time field research was completed, NAQDA was still in the process of establishing itself and was not fully functional as yet.

Coast Conservation Department (CCD)

The CCD is the agency exercising overall responsibility for activities within Sri Lanka’s coastal zone. It originated in the Coast Protection Unit of the Colombo Port Commission in 1963, which was later integrated into the Ministry of Fisheries as the Coast Conservation Division in 1978. This division was then upgraded to a department with the coming into force of the Coast Conservation Act in 1983. The CCD’s functions are to survey the coastal zone and prepare CZM plans, to regulate and control development activities within the coastal zone and to formulate and execute schemes of work for coast conservation. Any development activities within the coastal zone require permission from the CCD. A Coast Conservation Advisory Council co-ordinates the CCD’s activities with the ones of other organisations, and reviews environmental impacts of proposed development activities in the coastal zone.

National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA)

NARA was established under the NARA Act of 1981. It is responsible for the provision of scientific and technological expertise for the development of aquatic resources, the conduct of research on aquatic resources, as well as the dissemination of information concerning aquatic resources. NARA also provides extension services for the private sector.

Central Environmental Authority (CEA)

The CEA falls under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. It was established under the National Environment Act (47) of 1980. Its responsibilities include the management and protection of natural resources. As such, the CEA is a major project-approving agency.

Department of Forest Conservation (FD)

The FD falls under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and is charged with enforcing the forest conservation ordinance. Its responsibilities in the coastal zone include the management and protection of mangrove forests.

Ceylon Tourist board (CTB)

The CTB falls under the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. Its duties include the promotion and management of tourism developments in the country.

Land Commissioner (LC)

The LC is the regulatory authority for state land. It has the power to acquire, lease out, tenure, or sell state land. As such, the LC was for example involved in the land allocation to shrimp farms.

Divisional Secretaries (DS)

Divisional Secretaries (also known as Assistant Government Agents or AGAs), head Divisional Secretariats which administer the DS divisions. The DS represents the Government on the local level, and is vested with the power to enforce regulations that fall under the CCD, the FD, the LC, or other Government Departments. DS divisions are in turn divided into GN divisions. The village-based GNs report to the DS.

Department of Irrigation (DI)

The DI is in charge of irrigation systems and generally examines whether projects affect irrigation systems and water drainage of area.

Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC)

The DWLC falls under the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, and Plantation Industries. It is responsible for the monitoring of impacts of development on protected species and sanctuaries.

Land Reclamation and Development Board (LRDB)

The LRDB is responsible for low-lands and marshy lands.

Coconut Cultivation Board (CCB)

The CCB is responsible for the coconut industry, a major foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. Conversion of coconut land, into shrimp farms for example, requires the CCB’s approval.

Board of Investment (BOI)

The BOI promotes and regulates foreign investment. Incentives on offer from the BOI include tax exemptions and concessions as well as duty-free imports. Most large-scale shrimp farms are BOI-approved.

Marine Pollution Prevention Authority (MPPA)

The MPPA falls under the Ministry of Ports and Reconstruction and is charged with the protection of coastal waters.

Ceylon Fisheries harbours Corporation (CFHC)

The CFHC falls under MFARD. It was established in 1972 and is responsible for construction, operation, and management of fishery harbours and related facilities.


2. Provincial Institutions

Provincial Ministry of Fisheries (PMOF)

The PMOF of the NWP (also known as Wayamba) is responsible for policy making, planning, and implementation within the fisheries sector of the Province. It is also a monitoring and approving agency, (e.g. for shrimp farms). The PMOF co-ordinates its management activities within the shrimp sector with Central Government institutions. Its recently established Aquaculture Service Centre (ASC) offers extension services to shrimp farmers. The division of responsibilities between MFARD and PMOF is not clear, a situation that leads to some confusion. The PMOF’s portfolio was recently enlarged to include the provincial agriculture sector as well.

Provincial Environmental Authority (PEA)

The PEA was established under the Provincial Environmental Statue (12) from 1991 and is responsible for the management and protection of natural resources in NWP. All industrial projects in the Province need approval and license from the PEA. It also draws up terms of reference for IEEs and EIAs. The PEA is the main project-approving agency for shrimp farms in NWP.

Provincial Land Commissioner (PLC)

The PLC can theoretically proceed against encroachment of state land on the provincial level, but it is currently very weak.

Wayamba Development Authority (WDA)

The WDA facilitates agriculture and aquaculture development programmes, providing a data base and marketing facilities.

Industrial Service Bureau (ISB)

The ISB promotes the development of industries, trying to attract and assist investment. It also disseminates information on industrial development. Funded by foreign donors, the ISB is relatively independent despite falling under the Provincial Government. The ISB’s aquaculture division supports the ASC at the PMOF.

3. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

This list is restricted to NGOs active in CZM-related issues in NWP who were encountered in the course of this research.

Business Association of Shrimp Farmers (BAPF)

The BAPF represents the interests of the private sector in the shrimp aquaculture industry. As such, it lobbies the Government on problems faced by the industry. The BAPF was started when disease outbreaks lead to great financial losses amongst farmers in 1996. It called on the Government to provide relief to the sector, especially in the form of loans that many banks refused after the outbreak. The BAPF is also attempting to organise farmers, particularly small-scale ones, in an attempt to disseminate knowledge that could aid the sustainability of the industry. The organisation has reportedly 365 members, which includes small and large farms, legal and illegal shrimp farmers.

Shrimp Breeder Association (SBA)

Hatchery owners recently organised themselves in the SBA, which was inaugurated in December 1998 and currently has 41 members. The SBA aims to improve the position of hatcheries by organising the import of technology or improvements to the electricity supply, as well as by facilitating information exchange and by lobbying politicians. It also publishes a journal on aquaculture related issues.

Shrimp Farmers Business and Export Association (PFBEA)

Large-scale shrimp farms are organised in the PFBEA. It was founded in 1986 and has 48 members, who account for 70% of the total shrimp production area in the country. The PFBEA forms a strong lobby for the industry and has close contacts to MFARD and NARA. Furthermore, the association has links with other organisations on the international level. Its activities include the exchange and dissemination of information.

Social and Economic Development Centre (SEDEC)

SEDEC is a Catholic Church-based social justice NGO. On the village level, it runs saving and credit as well as income generating programmes. This is done through a network of village-based groups (i.e. farmer, fishermen, or women societies). Activities also include the promotion of Christian values. On the wider level, SEDEC organises awareness raising campaigns, supports protest movements (e.g. against the VOA), and lobbies the Government (e.g. on the negative impacts of shrimp farming).

National Fisheries Solidarity Forum (NAFSO)

NAFSO is a fisheries NGO that seeks to organise fishermen in local level groups to build up a national movement. It campaigns on fishermen’s rights and other social justice issues, networking with other groups in Asia. NAFSO originated in SEDEC, but later became independent as its mission goes beyond the interests of the Church.

Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL)

The EFL is a public-interest environmental law organisation. It has a staff of lawyers, scientists and other experts, and runs a legal aid clinic that provides legal advice on environmental issues, and helps to bring cases involving the breach of environmental law to court. The EFL is also involved in PR work concerning the environment.

Small Fishers Federation (SFF)

The SFF is a national NGO with its headquarter in Pambala, near Chilaw lagoon. Its activities include a social development programme, a rural aquaculture development programme, as well as a fisheries and aquatic resources conservation and management programme. The SFF currently has 128 village-level groups that fall under these programmes. Activities include mangrove conservation, income generating projects, or the dissemination of technical skills.



(Provincial Environmental Statue No 12, 1990. Source: Rohitha 1997)

  1. If land for a proposed shrimp farm is not privately owned, it has to be released by the DS (leases are issued by the PLC), before an application can be made.
  2. Applications for the approval of shrimp aquaculture projects have to be made to the PEA, who makes a decision on whether an IEE or an EIA is needed.
  3. The application as well as the EIA report is then evaluated by a scooping committee that includes representatives of PEA, PMOF, FD, NARA, DWLC, CCD, DI, DS, ISB, and MFARD. The LRDB, CCB, or the Water Resource Board are involved if deemed necessary.
  4. After the evaluation, a conditional approval will be granted. An environmental protection license is issued once the farm is developed.



Introduction (back to contents)

Field research was preceded by a phase of secondary data collection and review, which resulted in the publication of a literature review on Participatory Policies and Stakeholder Analysis in Coastal Zone management (Henkel 1997). Secondary data collection continued throughout the research, when additional as well as updated information on CZM issues and the Puttalam District was obtained from relevant organisations, the media, and individuals.

Field research took place between March 1998 and June 1999 and focused on detailed qualitative work in three locations in the Puttalam District: the villages of Ambakandawila, Mampuri, and Modarawella. This was complemented by research in other parts of the District, especially the main towns of Chilaw and Puttalam, as well as in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. Such an approach was necessary to account for inter-linkages between the three villages and other places (see section 14.1). It also acknowledges the fact that stakeholders with interests in these localities are based outside as well as inside the village communities. Especially potentially more powerful stakeholders, such as national politicians, may be based in urban areas.

The choice of field locations depended not only on the range of relevant CZM issues that could be assessed in a given place, but also on questions of access and the availability of accommodation. Thus, to enter a village successfully, a pre-established relationship to people with influence in the villages was necessary. Equally important was an introduction to the village priest and other community leaders. Ambakandawila was also chosen because a previous study (Stirrat 1988) provided a solid foundation for an assessment of socio-economic impacts of recent developments.

Methods used during field research included: participant observation; case studies of key-informants; household surveys; issue-specific surveys; and interviews with individuals in Government institutions, NGOs, the private sector, and development agencies.

Participant observation

The basic method used for this study was participant observation. This involved a team of two to three researchers residing in the villages studied. The team spent altogether seven months in Ambakandawila, three months in Mampuri, and three months in Modarawella. The time in Ambakandawila was divided into two lengthy and one shorter stay, distributed over the course of one year. This enabled the team to observe change over time, as well as to reap some of the benefits a focus on a single field location would have offered. Furthermore, the relatively short distances between all three villages, combined with the mobility provided by a motorbike, allowed for frequent revisits to any location. Thus the team was able to attend special occasions, or to revisit key-informants, in one village whilst staying in another. Networks of friends and other key-informants (see below) made these revisits very effective at the later stages of field research.

Accommodation for the research team was rented within the village. A typical day in the field would usually involve visits to community leaders or visits to informants recommended by others to start with. Once the team had established itself, work included visits to selected key-informants, transect walks, interviews with people met by chance, or spontaneous visits to unfamiliar households. The latter kind of approach was usually only adopted once the research team was well-known in the village, in order to avoid suspicion. To make the sample of informants as representative as possible, particular geographical areas and members of particular classes or occupational groups were targeted if it was felt to be necessary. Appraisal techniques varied and involved structured, semi-structured, and unstructured interviews, as well as observations. Furthermore, field stays included boat trips, participation in religious festival, weddings, school events, parties, and other social occasions, and the observation of, or participation in, harvesting, fishing, or other livelihood activities.

Many of these activities were not restricted to the village alone but went beyond its borders. Furthermore, special occasions such as political meetings or festivals elsewhere were also attended.

A systematic survey of households (see below) was initially undertaken in Modarawella as the small size of the community made it feasible in a short amount of time. In Ambakandawila, a survey was undertaken at a later stage in order to test the qualitative data for its representative value. Mampuri proved to be more difficult as the village is geographically large and fragmented. Furthermore, the stay there was cut short by a loss of accommodation as well as by a temporary evacuation of the research team due to election-related violence. In any case, the bulk of valuable information tended to come from extensive interviews with key-informants.

Case studies of key-informants

Key-informants were identified on the basis of peoples’ willingness to talk and sacrifice time, of the general quality and relevance of information offered by particular individuals, of achieving a representative sample (in terms of gender, age, livelihood, class, political affiliation etc), and of friendship. The families the team stayed with fell automatically in the category of key-informants due to the large amount of time spent with them. Conversations with key-informants generally took up a lot of time, adding up to a total of 30 hours and more of structured and semi-structured interviews in some cases. Such interaction often involved close personal relationship that opened many doors and was based on mutual trust.

Work with key-informants provided the research with quality data on family life, beliefs and opinions, economics, politics, kinship and friendship networks, gossip, as well as information on more sensitive issues. It was also used to feed back and test the team’s analysis, or to try to disentangle contradicting information received from elsewhere. Furthermore, key-informants could be useful in introducing the team to other important informants as well as to the finer points of village life. Some relationships have resulted in very detailed case studies. The production of the latter was helped by ‘traditional’ anthropological methods; kinship diagrams and detailed neighbourhood maps were for example used to understand land ownership issues.

Village household surveys

Village household surveys generated a large amount of quantitative data, including information on origin, family history, or livelihoods of villagers to back up qualitative data. These surveys also helped to map the villages in geographical as well as social terms.

The most systematic approach was adopted in Modarawella where more than 80% of all households were covered. Respondents in all three villages included women, men, sometimes children, and often a combination of all. The team generally had a equal number of female and male respondents. Apart from generating quantitative data, the surveys were also used to test qualitative information and to uncover issues relevant to the research. Thus, questionnaires included open-ended questions on opinions. The team often spent more time in a household if the respondents of a general questionnaire proved to be willing to talk. There was no strict separation between the collection of quantitative and qualitative data. Furthermore, some quantitative information could be extracted from qualitative data.

The sample in Modarawella covered 135 households, the one in Ambakandawila 156, and the one in Mampuri 70. These numbers partly include households located outside the official village borders.

Issue-specific surveys

Issue-specific surveys were undertaken to strengthen field data on issues of special importance to the research. Thus, specific questionnaires were applied to shrimp farmers, shrimp hatchery owners, fishermen, farmers, and labourers in Ambakandawila and Mampuri.

Interviews with individuals in Government institutions, NGOs, and development agencies

These interviews, both formal and informal, were held to illuminate the wider political and CZM context of the village studies. During the research team’s stay in Ambakandawila, for example, close contact was kept with people involved in the shrimp industry. The research team generally followed regional and national trends to understand political and market forces affecting village life. At the same time, contact with individuals working in formal organisations was used to feed back and discuss research findings. Dissemination took therefore already place whilst field research was still in progress. This strategy was helpful in the design of the policy implications introduced in this report. Where possible, an attempt was made to examine the social background of ‘officials’. Throughout fieldwork, a number of visits to Colombo were made in order to maintain these contacts, peaking in a prolonged stay during the last two months of fieldwork.

Evaluation of methodology

Although this field research can be described as being long-term by the standards of conventional development practice, it was rather short in anthropological terms, especially considering the range of issues and field locations covered. This has resulted in data on some issues not being as strong as it could be. Furthermore, the team’s sample of informants is not necessarily fully representative. Some groups of people were difficult to access, and more time was generally spent with the wealthier sections of the villages as the team resided with members of the latter.

Nevertheless, fieldwork successfully covered a wide range of issues. Residence in the villages and a flexible approach allowing for work inside as well as outside of the field locations, and with people from the upper as well as the lower end of the social spectrum, resulted in a deep understanding of the social context studied. The methodology of participant observation enabled the team to cross-check collected information through observations as well as on-going questioning. Such an approach is arguably more reliable than the use of surveys alone. Direct questions are often strategically answered. The experience of this research shows how the picture which emerges from initial interviews may differ from that which emerges from prolonged fieldwork which allows closer relationships to develop.




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