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Latest News in; ‘Land Reforestation’




This post is the last in our six-part series with John Ainger. John spent the first months of the year as an intern with Community Friends studying micro-enterprise and ecological economics in Portland, Oregon and Sri Lanka. He is now beginning his college career at University of Sussex in England.

Jeewa a naturally early bird gets up at 5:30, and wakes me up at what I consider midnight but actually 6 o’clock. The sunrise is truly astonishing, though for the locals it is just another start to the day.

It was quite sad for me leaving the beautiful place and people of Waitalawa and Ulla behind. For me, I felt perhaps that I had not fully grasped what day-to-day life meant here during my brief stay on the island of Sri Lanka. I had merely a small snapshot. I had come away thinking however, that these people were far more sustainable than we in the West are and that they were far more ‘local’ in their economics. It is nice to see that there are still a few places where the tentacles of globalisation have not yet reached. These people do not lead a ‘Western’ lifestyle but with a little help I believe they will be the happier for it.

While Community Friends are helping them, they can also teach us. Jeewa was sad to leave as I think he feels a real bond with these people. Over the course of our stay it had emerged that he was born and raised on a tea plantation so he felt a great deal of empathy.

Today I also walked along the train tracks to the 9 arches bridge-a colonially built bridge and I must say very impressive. The walk though is a killer; it’s a three hour round trip and my ankle is unfortunately feeling a bit the worse for wear. The trains are one of the few benefits I think my ancestors brought to Sri Lanka: the trains, the English language and cricket. As a bit of light relief after my walk I watch the world cup final with the locals, which is great fun, even though Sri Lanka lose to their neighbour and fierce rival, India. For my American audience cricket is a superior form of baseball!

My last big adventure before departing this island was to climb to the top of it. Needless to say it was absolutely pitch black when I exited my hotel (in Delhousie) at 2:45 am to start my ascent of Big Adam. I was thankful that in my still sleepy state, the route up Adam was lit and fairly easy to follow. It was just a question of whether my legs would survive the 5200 steps I would have to climb.

I was accompanied on my climb by several hundred Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims making their way up as well as the odd fellow tourist. Adam’s Peak is named as it is believed by Christians to be the place where Adam first stepped after being cast from heaven. Buddhists often call it ‘Sri Pada’ which means sacred footprint as it is where they believe Buddha left it on his way to paradise whilst Hindus believe the footprint is that of Lord Shiva’s.

I was among the first of the tourists to the top (many of the pilgrims had spent the night up there) and was chuffed with a climbing time of 1 hour 45. My quick time did mean however that I was waiting at the top in the freezing cold and wind before the sunrise. Boy, was it worth the wait. The sun comes up very quickly, but Adam casts a magnificent shadow behind him. The orange glow of the early sun and the Buddhist chants makes the whole experience feel very pure, like you could be there 500 years before. It’s mesmerising. The trek down is a killer-as they say, ‘You’re a fool not climb Adam’s Peak once, but a damn fool to do it again’. Very wise words.

No time for a nap as I reached the bottom at 9 am and devoured some rotis. I had to try and catch the train to Colombo. I missed it. It would have to be the bus. After two buses and 7 hours I finally reunite myself with my parents, greeted by Dad in a traditional Sri Lankan sarong and a nice cold Lion beer. Very nice!

A great end to a super trip and one which I’ll never forget. Thanks to all at Community Friends! I leave you now and close with this photo of the spectacular Sri Lankan beaches. Back to England and my studies at University of Sussex.


John Ainger
Community Friends’ Intern




Micro-Hydro Electricity Project

Back in 2006, when Community Friends began managing the tea estate, there was no electricity or health care. Villagers have joined Community Friends as partners in land restoration. Community Friends has invested in social programs benefiting the community, like the health clinic and an eco-friendly micro-hydro project. It is remarkable to see how the micro-hydro electricity project provides free electricity to the homes of people who have never had electricity before and allows the locals to watch World Cup cricket!

Community Friends helped install the micro-hydro system. The system equipment was donated by the World Bank and then Community Friends supported the installation. The micro-hydro generator utilizes the abundant water flow in this mountainous region. There is a beautiful stream that runs through the land and drops thousands of feet in elevation from its headwaters. As a result, the generator captures the power of this stream and the village has eliminated the use of burning kerosene by promoting lifestyle shifts away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. This provides clean power to the village and frees villagers to focus on important tasks rather than constantly struggling to obtain kerosene from far away town centers. In the future, Community Friends plans to utilize solar power as well.

I see the micro-hydro project as being one of the most important developments that Community Friends has brought to the people of Waitalawa. One of the key problems affecting them at the moment, as I see it, is young people moving out of the area–causing a negative cycle and a lack of workforce. Having electricity and connectivity through TV and hopefully the internet at some point is key to reversing this decline. Through community land stewardship and economic development, the people who work this land are becoming more empowered to manage it for themselves, benefiting future generations. This economic transition from the colonial model to a local living economy will create profits that circulate within the community.

John Ainger
Community Friends’ Intern




John & Jeeva in Waitalawa

Waitalawa is such an incredible place. The Community Friends tea estate here is situated in 40 acres of land and is one of the highest tea plantations in the Knuckles Mountain Range. It is also the only organic tea estate here.

Our driver, Yappa, who took us up to the land, does incredibly well negotiating the winding dirt track. After picking up vital supplies, we happen to pass the village manager, K.P., and a couple of the local residents. So with typical Sri Lankan kindness we give them a lift to the top. I must say I was slightly nervous about introducing myself as an Englishman from London assuming there would be some bitterness toward the British who set up the tea plantations in the first place. There isn’t. K.P. straight away tells me how the superintendent for the area 40 years ago went by the name of ‘Richard’ and was also an Englishman from London!

Furthermore I am greeted with smiles all round from the tea pickers and in particular from Soma and Tikira, who are hosting us. Tikira is one of the oldest residents in the village. He has a couple of tattoos on his arms. They are hard to make out but he says that they are of a bird and a stag. I ask him when he got them and he tells me that he was once a bit of a rebel in his youth–drinking and smoking with his friends. He doesn’t now though, and he seems almost apologetic about his past and now leads a very simple life. Now he enjoys gardening with Dasuni, his great granddaughter. Dasuni had a very difficult birth and we are very fortunate that she is here today—thanks to the doctors and directors of Community Friends who assisted with the birth.

Dasuni, age 2, with Tikira, age 99.

Before K.P. goes home to eat dinner with his wife, I with the help of Jeewa ask how the tea estate is going. K.P. as the land manager has a tough job, telling workers each morning where they will be working for the rest of the day. These decisions can greatly affect the villagers’ income. Anyway, things have been quite tough lately on the tea estates due to two main problems. Firstly, there has been an unprecedented 8 months of rain which has badly affected the tea crop this year and has contributed to soil erosion. Secondly, and possibly more worryingly, there is a shortage of tea pickers. Jeewa had noticed this on the drive up that many of the plants are passed the point of picking. Young men in particular are leaving Waitalawa and seeking better paid, less work jobs in the city. That now is the major problem that has to be tackled.

John Ainger
Community Friends’ Intern




John Ainger in Sri Lanka

John Ainger, a Community Friends’ intern, has been traveling in Sri Lanka and sharing his insights. John will be attending University of Sussex in the fall. He is studying micro-enterprise and ecological economics with Community Friends.

After a long flight from London via Bahrain, I have just arrived at my hotel in Negombo with Jeewa, the naturalist for Community Friends. It is quite the flight into Colombo. Colombo is right next to the Second biggest lagoon in Sri Lanka (Jeewa hit me with his first fact) and it is very daunting as you fly low over this stretch of water. It is about 31 degrees Celsius but it is starting to cool and the infamous Sri Lankan mosquitoes are just waking up to begin the hunt…

Jeeva and John

Already I have an early insight into the role Community Friends has to play in Sri Lanka. On the flight over from Bahrain I sat next to a lady who had clearly been removed from her home village to work in Bahrain as a servant. Initially I presumed she had been holidaying in Bahrain, but when she said she wasn’t I began to recall some of the stories I have been told about young women being taken from their home to work in the Middle East.

I asked her what Bahrain was like she said quietly, ‘Bahrain nice, Bahrain people not nice’. I decided not to ask any more on that topic but told her my plans. She seemed very happy to be coming home. I presume she could not read English as she did not recognize the names of the places I was going to on the map. I have to say I did not realize that I would so soon discover the implications of lack of education for a woman in Sri Lanka.

Jeewa knows everyone. Even those he doesn’t know, he knows. It’s quite remarkable. I think we passed a dozen long lost friends on the road as we traveled northeast from Negombo to Kandy!

John Ainger
Community Friends’ Intern




Record Drought

A record drought has hit hard in Sri Lanka causing more suffering for farmers and a decrease in hydro-electric power. Unfortunately, our 10,000 tree reforestation project was launched at the same time as the drought started and we have experienced a 50% failure rate with our new tree plantings. We have now established micro-nurseries run by villagers to help provide new tree starts that will be used to replace the dead trees. The good news is that we are able to employ the local workforce to maintain the 10,000 tree goal. Once these fruit-bearing trees reach maturity in about five years, the village will have a new revenue stream and the economic transition from tea to fruit will take place.


The blueprint for the reforestation project was designed by both the local community and the local university Agro-forestry Department. Dr. Gamini Hittinayake is a senior lecturer of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya and a consultant for the Community Friends land restoration project in Waitalawa. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Hittinayake’s expertise.


We are now hoping that the drought will be over with the coming of the next monsoon.

Carsten Henningsen




Tree Planting Under Way

With the ground prepared, holes dug, fire breaks established, contour drains cut, the planting of our 10,000 is officially ready to commence. The work of planting trees is being supervised jointly by KP, Dr. Hittunayaka, Jeewa, Deva and Seevali. Working through KP, we have arranged for tea pluckers from the local community to mount the massive effort to get the trees into the ground during the present wet season. As this planting window could be very short, the whole crew is working long hours to make this happen as quickly as possible.


We anticipate that within five years, the fruit-bearing trees will begin to mature and the village can begin the transition from tea to more nutritious crops. Certainly this transition will benefit the villagers who now live in poverty and cannot even afford to buy the tea they grow for the factories.

Jay Goodfriend




Hindu Blessing for Tree Planting

As we await the coming of the rain, the local villagers are holding a blessing ceremony on the land as a way of assuring our success. The whole community is now behind the effort and we are happy to be a part of their world. This occasion included good food and a large turn out of our friends and workers.

Jay Goodfriend







Tree Planting Under Way

KP supervises ground preparation for tree planting.





Funding for Tree Planting

Community Friends’ board is pleased to announce that a source for bridge funding been found that will pay for the purchase and planting of 10,000 trees on the land to be reforested in Sri Lanka. Work is about to start, preparing the land itself – which means clearing weeds and tangled surface growth, digging contour drains to help stabilize the hillsides and improve the land’s water retention, and digging 10,000 holes. We will also be starting a local nursery so that as many of the 10,000 trees as possible will be grown by micro-entrepreneurs in our community.

We are also pleased to announce that Dr. Gamini Hittunayaka, of the University of Peradenia, has offered to provide us with technical support in guiding our many choices and strategies for this program.

Thanks to all for your generous support!

Jay Goodfriend




Land Transition

This month we are meeting in Kandy, Sri Lanka, to hear a proposal for the land revitalization. Decades of tea production have deeply impacted the soil and wildlife habitat here, leaving nothing but crystalline dolomite where once a verdant forest stood. Steeply sloping terrain combined with torrential rains during two seasonal monsoons have further contributed to the decline of topsoil deposits. And, once again, we are confronted with a local population that seems to be held in poverty by the jobs they cling to – tending and plucking tea.

The proposal that we are considering is this: transition the land away from tea towards agroforestry. This means replacing the tea plants with fruit-bearing trees. In this way, we can help stimulate the local economy with fruit production while at the same time repairing the land by creating greater biodiversity, a return of native species, and through the elimination of chemical fertilizers. The proposal is to plant trees during two or three rainy seasons, so that the young trees freshly planted will have abundant water and a weaker sun to contend with.

The idea is to attempt to plant 10,000 trees including mango, jack, mara, avocado, sabukku, sapu, toona, as well as many others. The trees are to be selected and mixed in such a way as to support the reemergence of full biodiversity. For instance, some trees find it acceptable to establish themselves in very poor soil and harsh sunlight. These will be the first wave. Then, once they are established somewhat and the soil is stabilized by their presence, a second wave of trees can be attempted. After that, understory and other plants that encourage wildlife, by providing forage, shelter, etc.

In order to obtain funding to get these first 10,000 trees started, we are looking at Carbon Offsets from the trees themselves. This will require support from the agricultural experts in Kandy – fortunately Geeva will help us make that connection.

It is our estimate that within 7-10 years of planting, we will start to see a reasonably-sized fruit crop that will be the true economic engine to help support the local population.

Jay Goodfriend