Chena turned into rubber lands | Sunday Observer
A green path to earn dollars

Chena turned into rubber lands

5 March, 2023


It was an enlightening and exciting journey through earth roads and narrow pathways. A team of journalists started the journey with such curiosity and a strong desire to get a glimpse of the flourishing Rubber cultivations in the dry lands of Ampara. The vehicle drove through thick greenery - shrubs, trees, field crops, paddy lands, and many maize lands.

The roads are highly dilapidated and halfway covered by a well-grown wild grass variety called Ali Mana which is invasive.

The team, which was escorted by the Ampara District officials of the Smallholder Tea and Rubber Revitalisation Project (STaRR Project) of the Ministry of Plantation Industries, firstly visited Kirawana village in Padiyathalawa. The vehicle slowly reached a tender green and cool Rubber plantation. The owner is a well experienced farmer though new to Rubber planting. He has been receiving facilitation through the STaRR Project and the Rubber Development Department (RDD) of Ampara.

He is none other than W. Dayarathne, President of the Kiravana Thurusaviya Society who warmly welcomed the team.

“The STaRR Project and the RDD provide us with great service. Here 104 village members are growing new Rubber in the village. Altogether we have cultivated more than 100 hectares. We were a little hesitant to start the cultivation at the beginning since we had no experience. However, we gradually got used to planting new rubber with the StaRR’s input support. Later, we understood that this is a good cultivation for us, because it gives us permanent income at old age.”

“Hemalatha, in our village, is the first Rubber smallholder who started Rubber tapping for the first time in new Rubber program of the STaRR Project. She commenced her rubber cultivation in 2016 under the StaRRs’ support. She is getting a good income now. However, I have to wait one more year to start tapping in my land.”

Dayarathne has been generous enough to donate his own private land to the Thurusaviya society of his village to start the Rubber processing centre.

“I did it happily because this Rubber cultivation will bring more good results in near future. The centre was opened two months ago and we have a Rubber processing centre in our Kiravana village now. The STaRR Project and the RDD assisted lot for us to bring this change,” he said.

The visiting team members observed several other Rubber lands in the village. Some of the lands are being raised up to the tapping age. Those who started the cultivation in 2018 and 2019 maintain their lands expecting the tapping within the next two years. Some of the new early growers have commenced Rubber tapping, thus becoming income earners. The village life is entering a new chapter with this green intervention. The great motivation factors are high income earning potential of rubber planting and the support - financial and initial input – extended by the Government.

Local situation

In Sri Lanka, the Rubber sector has been limited to about 140,000 hectares at present due to rapid infrastructure and regional development. More than 90,000 people are engaged in the rubber sector and the majority of them are smallholders. Now, the cultivation is gradually shifting into potential non-traditional areas such as Moneragala, Ampara. Even the Vavuniya district has also been identified as a potential area.

The STaRR Project has been under implementation since 2016 with the financial support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Sri Lanka. The Ministry of Plantation Industries launched the STaRR Project to promote rubber new cultivation in the Ampara and Moneragala districts to introduce and scale up Rubber cultivation in non-traditional areas. The program is implemented with close technical support of the Rubber Development Department (RDD) and the Rubber Research Institute (RRI). The STaRR Project has been targeting economically vulnerable people who are highly dependent on more volatile seasonal “chena” cultivation.

The project arranges lands from Mahaweli Authority, Forest Department, and Divisional secretaries for new growers in Ampara to establish new Rubber plantations. The project reaches beneficiaries under Thrusaviya Rubber Societies with the help of Thurusaviya Funds.


Just after visiting the Kiravana village, the team moved into Dambadeniya, another village in Ampara.

The team met a couple there, owners of a tiny grocery shop who also maintain a mushroom production hut in addition to their rubber cultivation plot.

The owner, Asoka Herath, a member of the Dambadeniya Thurusaviya Society shared her success story with us;

“I am grateful for the STaRR Project whose support is immense. My entire life was changed by the Project. Initially, we rejected to shift to Rubber cultivation in our lands where we had been practising chena cultivation for a long time. However, we were motivated to start the cultivation to draw a permanent income. Then, we started Rubber planting in 2019 Maha season. I cultivated two acres with newly budded Rubber plants with the support of my family members.”

“We were given budded plants, fertiliser, advice and installment-wise financial support. Later, my husband expanded the cultivation up to three acres as he was well aware of the benefits of the cultivation. Now, I am a Rubber land owner with three acres of rubber land. Our cultivation is growing well. I received even the Rs. 100,000 matching grants from the STaRR Project to start mushroom cultivation and it is running even better. Consequently, I opened this little grocery to sell my mushroom products and other grocery items.”

Holistic approach

The STaRR Project is following a holistic approach to uplift the livelihoods of project beneficiaries. They are being safeguarded in various aspects until new rubber lands generate income. The success story of Asoka is just one such example. People living in these areas are educated by the STaRR Project about the new rubber cultivations at the inception of the cultivation. Thereafter, the project has been providing planting materials, fertiliser, training, and financial incentives for new growers on the initiation of Rubber new cultivation. The RDD is closely engaged and guiding by delivering technical know-how the potential Rubber growers who are getting input support from the STaRR Project.

Next, after observing those two locations, the vehicle turned into the narrow gravel road that runs towards the Aranthalawa which had been severely affected by the 30-year-war. The agricultural lands have not been completely utilised for agricultural production yet. The team was in utter shock to have witnessed the Aranthalawa bhikkhu massacre site on their way to meeting farmers in the area.

Amarawansa Gunaneththi of the Sawbhagya Thurusaviya Society, Aranthalawa shared his story with the team.

“In 2016, one Government project requested us to grow Rubber in our lands under their incentives and input support. But we were reluctant or rather hesitant to do so. We were engaged in seasonal farming and chena cultivation at the time. This Rubber was a new crop for us. Nevertheless, we understood that this is something like a pensionable job with a permanent income. Irrespective of rain and drought, we are certain about our permanent income source.”

Ranjani’s story

Ranjani Jayarathne who is growing rubber on her land was only too happy to express her views.

“We are also growing Rubber here in our village through STaRR project support. At the beginning, we were not very keen to grow rubber because it was not so close and familiar cultivation for us. But the STaRR officers helped us overcome fear. We were given plants, guidance, and even financial support. Now, we have planted rubber in those lands. The biggest problem we are facing here is water shortage during dry period. The STaRR project is supporting us to plan a water project to meet this issue. Then, we can receive water not only for rubber, but also for other crops as well.”


The Project initiated this program in the Aranthalawa Grama Niladari Division (GND) in 2018 to promote new Rubber cultivation. More than 22.5 hectares have been cultivated by 42 project beneficiaries in the Aranthalawa GN Division at present.

T.B. Sandya Kumari, also a resident of Aranthalawa also shared her views on new Rubber cultivation.

“We are maintaining newly planted rubber cultivations started in 2020. We expect to get income within 3, 4 years. The STaRR Project is assisting us in many ways; we were supported by providing planting materials for seasonal cropping and intercropping in Rubber. We were further assisted to start rearing dairy cows.”

The project closely assists and provides funds to Thurusaviya societies for infrastructure developments such as village- access roads, water projects and constructions of Rubber processing centres. The purpose of developing village roads is to improve the market accessibility for growers in transporting their harvest. The project also provides water bowsers to the Thurusaviya societies and extends support for the construction of agro-wells for the water supply to take care of the new rubber plantations during the dry season. Even farming equipment such as grass cutters, spray machines, and water pumps are also distributed among the Thurusaviya societies.

Pannalagama, Ampara

The next stop was the Pannalagama village in Ampara. First, the team met R.M.M. Dissanayake, a rubber grower.

”Even, elephants enter our village during midday. However, we have cultivated 55 acres of new Rubber as one bigger rubber land in the village. We maintain it well. We were supported by the STaRR Project arranging budded rubber plants, fertiliser, and also planting materials for intercropping and seasonal cropping. Some 33 farmers are doing Rubber cultivation in our village,” he said.

Damayanthi’s views

Y.M. Suneetha Damayanthi, Secretary of the Pannalgama Thurusaviya Society said that a secure livelihood was established for them through rubber cultivation. “There is no fear about the future of our children now. The STaRR has made a better future for them. We are thankful to everyone,” she said.

Ampara District Secretary J.M.A. Douglas said, “This STaRR Project has been under implementation in the Ampara district since 2016. The project is operating to expand the new rubber planting program over Uhana, Damana, Ampara, Padiyathalawa, Mahaoya, Pannalgama, and Aranthalawa. The Government lands that are under Divisional Secretaries, Mahaweli Authority, and Forest Department have been arranged for 30 years or farmers to cultivate rubber. Farmers are also enthusiastically engaged in this cultivation at present.”

“The harsh lands here in Ampara are now being converted into green cover with this development. New STaRR growers in Padiyathalawa, Kirivana village have commenced the rubber latex tapping in the recent past. They are earning for them as well as dollars for the whole country. Hence as a district, I am happy to express that we have been able to contribute to strengthening the economy of our country,” Douglas said.

Farmers who were engaged in seasonal farming and chena cultivations are now becoming proud rubber smallholders under this program initiated by the STaRR and the RDD. It is suggested to keep this service further on behalf of Rubber growers in the district,” he said.


According to the STaRR officials, the Project has reached a target of cultivating 3,000 hectares of new Rubber lands in the Moneragala and Ampara districts. Over 6000 new rubber growers in 124 Thurusavia societies benefit from this project with a permanent income by latex tapping. Nearly 4,500 low-income families have secured their ‘Path to progress’ by this cultivation drive. The Project and the RDD have been helping them even for processing and marketing the harvest.

The new rubber planting program further helps to expand the green forest cover in the Ampara and Moneragala districts. Thus, new rubber plantations play a vital role in curbing the harmful effects of climate change by creating a cool environment.

So, the lives of one time Chena cultivators have undergone massive transformation and a new chapter has just begun for them with this green initiative.