Archive for the ‘cop10’ Category

A Table from the Sea’s Edge

November 15, 2010

An awkward looking table with a set of chairs seen in COP10 puzzled me few weeks ago with its rugged and antique look since I’ve seen it for the first time.. I’ve seen it on one morning while a group of volunteers struggle to relocate the heavy table at the lobby of COP10 venue at Nagoya Congress Centre. It was the activities of volunteers that I captured on my lenses, but haven’t got time search for more information about the table until I receive the communique by secretariat of Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) with information about this “Table from the Sea’s Edge”.

Infact I’ve surprised when I received a press release from the CBD secretariat mentioning the table’s uniqueness.. The wooden structure is made out of driftwood that afloat in the sea and washed ashore.. these wood were collected from different parts of the world and the masterpiece was created by British furniture-maker and artist Silas Birtwistle.. It has been an important structure to symbolize the harmony between the ecosystems…

More about the table on

The driftwood table at COP10 (c) Malaka Rodrigo

The driftwood table at COP10 (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Ahmed Djoghlaf, The Executive Secretary of the CBD at COP-10

Volunteers relocating the heavy driftwood table (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Following is a press release by the Secretariat of Biological Diversity about this driftwood table and chairs…


A Table from the Sea’s Edge – Artwork in celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity

Montreal, 11 November 2010 – During the historic United Nations summit on biodiversity recently concluded in Nagoya, Japan, an object that gained great attention from conference delegates was a large table and chairs crafted from driftwood. Created by British furniture-maker and artist Silas Birtwistle, the striking artwork was exhibited in the courtyard of the conference centre throughout the United Nations meeting, where it was unveiled to the public for the first time. The project is supported by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), WWF, who supported its creation and facilitated its deployment at the conference, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the shipping line Maersk. Numerous other organizations also contributed in various ways.

Birtwistle conceived and created the work as a contribution to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. The idea was to help raise public awareness of interlinked environmental issues and promote conservation of the world’s coastal and marine biodiversity. The sea shore represents the boundary between marine and terrestrial environments. Ocean currents connect continents and cultures. The table symbolizes the interface between land and sea, connections between human land-based activities and the coastal and marine environment, the links between cultures, and the need for dialogue and agreement between countries to ensure the protection of biodiversity.

In 2009 and 2010, Birtwistle visited beaches in four continents and lining three oceans, in Belize, Canada, Malaysia, and the United Republic of Tanzania, to collect the driftwood. The WWF offices and the coastal communities working with WWF at the sites in East Africa and the Coral Triangle, Malaysia, helped in the collection.

To read the full press release, please click

Saying hello to our jumbo friends

November 14, 2010

Remember Anula and Kosala – the little elephants sent to Japan in exchange for Black Rhinos three years ago? Malaka Rodrigo visits the Sri Lankans jumbos now in Nagoya’s Higashiyama Zoo… Zoos around the world is also being visited by millions of people annually and provide a great opportunity to raise awareness on the need to protect biodiversity as WAZA officers pointed out at a side event at COP10 in Nagoya…

I had a date at Nagoya’s Higashiyama Zoo and I was late. The Chief Veterinarian of Higashiyama Zoo was waiting and he accompanied me to meet my Sri Lankan friends – Kosala and Anula. A group of Japanese pre-school children were already greeting the elephants, while some young artists were making replicas of the elephants out of clay as their assignments.

Anula greeting the Japanese crowd

“Kosala and Anula have become a key attraction of our zoo,” said the Director of Higashiyama Zoo, Hiroshi Kobayashi. Kosala and Anula were brought to the Nagoya Zoo in 2007 in exchange for a pair of Black Rhinos and since then have been sharing the Asian Elephant enclosure. The Japanese zoo is proud to be custodians of these Asian Elephants.

Hiroshi led me to their elephant shed through the backdoor. It is not an open enclosure like in Sri Lanka but as Japan’s winter starts from November, the elephants need to be provided warmth. However, both Kosala and Anula seem to enjoy the snow during the short period they are allowed outside.

Obediant Kosala

“They like to play with the snow like children,” said Hiroshi laughing. The elephant shed is heated and the elephants are well protected during this time, assure the zoo officials. Being larger animals, both the Asian and African elephants seem to be able to adapt to the changing climate and do not show any particular uneasiness in facing the cold.

The elephant shed in fact took me back to the Japanese children’s film “The Little Elephant” I watched when I was a child. The elephant shed which was the original one built at the zoo’s inception looks identical to the one in the film and I wondered whether the story of the famous film too is set in this very zoo.

It was set in World War II where the military try to kill the elephants upon an order to get rid of dangerous animals and the attempt by the elephant keeper and Japanese kids to save their little elephant. In fact during World War II, the Japanese military had received orders to kill some dangerous animals fearing they would escape during the bombings. “But Nagoya Zoo is special as none of their elephants were harmed,” revealed director Hiroshi.

The Japanese government requisitioned Nagoya Zoo for military purposes during the World War and many animals died but the two elephants were able to survive through the efforts of the zoo staff. In 1945, Higashiyama zoo served as a major recreation facility in war-ravaged Japan and the surviving elephants, Makany and Held gave hope to children and boosted the popularity of the zoo. So the Nagoya Zoo considers elephants special.

“That is why we are especially proud to have both Kosala and Anula and grateful to Sri Lanka for sending these elephants,” said director Hiroshi. “Sri Lanka is negotiating to get down a Sea Lion from Higashiyama zoo and despite loads of requests from other zoos, we favour Sri Lanka because of the elephants the Colombo Zoo sent us,” he said.

Anula and Kosala are indeed special, as they can also now understand three languages said the animal keeper through a translator. They still understand the commands they’ve been taught in Sri Lanka – ‘ali bashawa’, but also know some commands in English and in Japanese. Two Sri Lankan mahouts stayed with the elephants during their first few months in Japan and helped the Japanese mahouts get used to the animals.

Anula - beloved friend of Japanese children

Enclosure that keeps elephants warm during winter

The elephants are given different kinds of grass and some fresh plants as fodder. During the winter, it is not easy to find food from Japan, but the zoo imports grass cubes from America to feed the elephants.

The keepers showed us banana plants and fresh leaves similar to our Jak that grows in Japan. Both Kosala and Anula who were about 1 tonne at the time they were shipped from Sri Lanka now weigh about 2 tonnes and look healthy.

Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya was established in 1937 – one year after Sri Lanka’s Dehiwala Zoo opened. It now houses over 500 animals ranging from koala bears and gorillas to polar bears.

The Nagoya zoo is renovating its premises to make the zoo a bridge between humans and nature. Their plan is to make social animals that usually live in a group to actually form groups, and make the exhibition area as similar to their natural habitat as possible.

According to this new plan, both Anula and Kosala will get a new enclosure five times as big as the present one. The Zoo is also adjacent to a Botanical Garden and recreational facilities, so visitors get a total experience.

WAZA presents Zoos’ contribution to protect Biodiversity at COP10

Zoos are not only animal exhibit centres, but also contribute in protecting biodiversity. The Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya breeds and conserves at least 50 endangered species such as Western Lowland Gorilla, Orangutans, Great Indian Rhinoceros and the Snow Leopard. The Higashiyama Zoo is also the studbook keeper for Koalas and Orangutans in Japan where they keep the pedigree of individual animals to avoid inbreeding.

Most modern zoos and aquariums today are attempting to move toward conservation efforts. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) presenting their strategic plan at the UN Summit of Biodiversity – COP10 held last month in Japan revealed some practical examples where zoos had helped in the recovery of many species such as the American Condor, Przewalski’s Horse etc.

They are bred and released to the wild. However this is not easy as releasing an animal to the wild needs to be done after careful assessment. If adverse conditions prevail, even the released animals can face the same fate as their doomed cousins.

Gerald Dick, the Chief Executive Officer of WAZA – a global organization which unifies the principles and practices of over 1,000 zoos and aquariums – highlights that some species only survive in captivity in zoos. “Over 600 million visitors annually come through the gates of the world’s zoos and aquariums. So zoos also have a great opportunity to promote environmental education, raise awareness on the need for wildlife conservation,” said Mark Penning – the President WAZA addressing the COP10 side event.

There are two more zoos being built in Sri Lanka – one in Pinnawala and the other in Ridiyagama, so Sri Lanka also has a good opportunity to rethink its role in conservation.

WAZA officers Gerald Dick and Mark Penning at COP10 published on 14.11.2010 on SundayTimes

COP10 – The Biodiversity Knowledge Fair

November 8, 2010

The UN biodiversity summit COP10 held in Nagoya – Japan ended with some important agreements. While the main discussions with official delegates from 192 countries together with European Union who signed the UN Convention of Biological Diversity is happening, there were hundreds of side events been organized elsewhere in Nagoya Congress Centre. These side-events ranging from announcements of results of research to launching of new initiatives on protecting Global Biodiversity made COP10 a ‘KNOWLEDGE FAIR’. The exhibition and freely available publications on Biodiversity in the venue too made sure it a global event of knowledge sharing.

You can read the list of these side events at following link and contact CBD officers for more infomation on anything that you’d like to get more information

Please find some of the pics that captured the moments of these side events and exhibition at COP10. Outcome of some of these important side events will also be covered through this blog in the future…

from the Side-event Media Workshop on Biodiversity

from a BirdLife International side event

from Global Marine protected areas side event

Announcing an alliance on Protecting Biodiversity

A Kakapo made with the wishes by Kids

The Globe with Origamis on Web of Life

A dance on life by youth in COP10

Participants go through freely available publications on Biodiversity







The Entrance of Nagoya Convention Hall at early morning on 29.10.2010.. This area is usually full of activities, but it was deserted at the time I left the convention hall around 5.45 am working overnight to finish my articles. I didn’t wanted to waste my day time at the expense of missing some important sessions for writing, so I had taken the night time to do my writing. Even the next day sessions were dragged passing 6am. Reporting CBD COP10 was not an easy task because I’ve also set an additional objective of using it as a ‘knowledge fair’; but it was the single most event which had given me lots of opportunities to get updated on earth’s Biological Diversity and the need to conserve it..!!

Call for new biodiversity targets

November 2, 2010

Biodiversity Secretariat chief at Nagoya

Biodiversity is key to our survival, but threatened all over the world. All 193 signatories to the United Nations’ Convention of Biological Diversity were in the Japanese city of Nagoya last week discussing ways to halt the extinction crisis which affects life on earth – Malaka Rodrigo reports from Nagoya

Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction. Yes, you heard it right. Scientists estimate that in 2100, more than half of the species living in the earth today will become extinct. This time the cause is not external but the activities of one single species that is also part of earth’s biodiversity – Homo sapiens – none other than ourselves.

The 2007 IUCN Red List for Sri Lanka indicated that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could be considered extinct from the island. Most were endemic. The report also highlights that 223 species of terrestrial vertebrates, 157 species of selected inland invertebrates and the 675 plant species evaluated are categorized as Nationally Threatened. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka and thus deserve extra attention. In addition, among the vertebrate fauna, the highest number of threatened species was recorded from the reptiles (56 or 25%), followed by amphibians, birds, mammals and freshwater fish respectively.

In 2002 the world’s leaders who are part of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed to a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 also coupling it with Millennium Development Goals. The delegates of these countries met in Nagoya, Japan for a 12-day summit known as the 10th Conference of Parties (COP10) to review these targets and set a new strategy to slow down biodiversity loss during the next decade. The Sri Lankan delegates in Nagoya were also reviewing the new strategic plans.

“It is not an easy process. The Convention of Biodiversity has so many points to discuss and 40 items in the agenda are being discussed daily,” said Gamini Gamage, head of Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka. Protected areas, invasive species, biodiversity & climate change, biofuel, agricultural biodiversity, traditional knowledge are some of these agenda items being discussed.

“The most difficult part of the negotiations has been agreeing on a protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) where many countries have different opinions,” said Mr. Gamage. ABS protocol links with Genetic Resources and aims to create a legal framework that would give nations much better control over their resources from trees to fungi and from fish to frogs that can lead to cures for cancer or new crops more resistant to climate change. It is said that the users of the genetic resources should do it with the prior consent of the provider communities or countries and the benefit should also go back to the providers.

Gene piracy has been a concern for Sri Lanka where some plants like Binara or Kothala Himbatu are patented elsewhere. “We had many concerns regarding the initial proposals of the protocol, but things have progressed at COP10,” says Mr. Gamage. But the complexity of the issue has had delegates debating until late to come up with an agreement.

“This also highlights the need of having more understanding of these new legal backgrounds,” pointed out Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who visited Nagoya to attend the high-level meeting together with Central Environment Authority Chairman, Charitha Herath. Addressing the summit, Minister Yapa said the government of Sri Lanka is committed to mainstreaming biodiversity as an integral part of the national planning and accounting process. He has plans for setting up a special Biodiversity Act for Sri Lanka, he added, stressing the subject is becoming complex with elements of economics and law coming in.

Mr. Gamage says the discussions are now mainly turned toward the economic value of the biodiversity and ecosystem services. “The convention was established in 1992 and initially mainly focused purely on conservation aspects. But it evolved into sustainable use of biodiversity and now has begun making an economic case to highlight the value of biodiversity and consequences of its loss,” he said.

Delegates hoped a fruitful agreement and a realistic strategic plan to save Earth’s biodiversity could be achieved before the conference ended on October 29. Time is running out for many species. As the old slogan says; “Extinct is Forever”..!!

The Convention of Biological Diversity

Biodiversity, a contraction of the synonymous phrase ‘biological diversity’, is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part including diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.

The CBD is one of the three “Rio Conventions”, emerging from the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It came into force at the end of 1993, with the following objectives: “The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.” There are currently 193 Parties to the Convention (192 countries and the European Union).

Earth’s valued Biodiversity

Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million.

Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species – for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.

If we do not act today, more than half of Earth’s valued biodiversity will be lost.

Published on SundayTimes (Features section) on 31.10.10 

Meeting the challenges of biodiversity loss

October 31, 2010
Malaka Rodrigo reporting from COP10, Nagoya
The United Nation’s Nagoya Biodiversity Summit (COP10) that started on October 18 with the participation of the 193

'Seal the Deal' at nagoya

signatories to the UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), concluded successfully yesterday.

The summit which was scheduled to end on Friday was extended until the early hours of the next day due to intense negotiations on some issues, but the signatories adopted historic decisions that will permit the community of nations to meet the unprecedented challenges of the continued loss of biodiversity. The Sri Lankan delegates too had supported the new strategic plan. The next conference of the parties of CBD – the COP11 – will be held in India in 2012 and will be of special importance to Sri Lanka.

Governments agreed on a package of measures that will ensure that the ecosystems of the planet will continue to sustain human well-being into the future. The meeting achieved its three inter-linked goals: adoption of a new ten-year strategic plan to guide international and national efforts to save biodiversity through enhancing the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a resource mobilization strategy which provides the way forward to a substantial increase to current levels of official development assistance in support of biodiversity and a new international protocol on access to and sharing of the benefits from the use of the genetic resources of the planet.

The Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity or the “Aichi Target,” adopted by the meeting includes 20 headline targets, organized under five strategic goals that address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and reduce the pressures on biodiversity. In line with these global biodiversity targets, nations will have to make their own targets.

The COP10 summit had 18,000 participants and its main aim was to take measures to protect biodiversity.

Published on SundayTimes on 31.10.2010

Related Article: Call for new biodiversity targets

Sri Lankan Representation @ COP10

October 28, 2010

Environmental Minister - Anura Priyadarshana Yapa addressing the summit

Mr.Gamini Gamage - the Head of Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka

Damayanthi and Nimal from Centre of Community Development who presented the award winning Yam project from Sri Lanka as a global success story

A bilateral ministerial discussion with Japananese delegates

Minister Meeting of Korean Environment Minister

A Team of Sri Lankans at COP10

Prof.Sarath Kotagama at a BirdLife International event reviewing a document

from UN Biodiversity Conference – COP10

October 28, 2010
Word’s Biodiversity is facing an extinct crisis and UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) signed in 1992 is meeting in Nagoya, Japan to set a new strategic planning for next decade aiming to protect earth’s biodiversity. Currently 190 countries has signed the Convention and the discussions are underway to adopt a new strategic plan. Following photos are taken during the event.
For more information abou this 10th Conference of Parties (COP10), pls visit 

Flags of the 190 signatory countries of UN's Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)


Venue of COP10 - Congress Centre

Working group II - the Chair

2010 - the Year of Biodiversity

AHMED DJOGHLAF - the Executive Secretary of CBD

from a BirdLife International event


A press conference

A meeting on progress

A Kakapo bird made out of kids' messages

A message - Save Kakapo

Media covering the event


From an event


Youth power at COP10 - Biodiversity dance

CBD COP10 Begins in Nagoya

October 24, 2010
Malaka Rodrigo reporting from Nagoya, Japan

A 12-day-long summit aiming to address the global biodiversity crisis is in progress in the Japanese city of Nagoya, with representatives from all the 190 signatory countries of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) including Sri Lanka, attending the event.

Sri Lanka who signed the convention in 1992, is already identified as one of the top 35 Biodiversity Hotspots of the World, and the outcome of the summit is also important locally. The Biodiversity crisis already hit Sri Lanka, as the 2007 edition of the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by IUCN, indicated that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could already be extinct.

The report also categorised one in every two species of mammals and amphibians, one in every three species of reptiles and freshwater fish, and one in every five species of birds in the island are currently facing the risk of becoming threatened in the wild. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka, meaning, if they become extinct, it is a loss for the whole world.

This is a worldwide problem and scientists point out that this is the greatest extinction crisis after dinosaurs became extinct millions of years ago. The latest report ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 3’ published by the CBD, reveals that 875 species have become extinct in the wild, while another 3,325 are critically endangered. The Nagoya meeting titled 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10), aims at adopting a new strategy to take measures to address this biodiversity crisis. (Global Biodiversity Outlook – 3 can be downloaded from following link

Sri Lanka’s official delegation comprises of Environmental Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and the head of Biodiversity Secretariat Gamini Gamage, who will also attend talks on adopting a new regime for Genetic Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol (ABS).

This protocol aims at providing access to genetic resources of the biologically rich countries like Sri Lanka, and became a hotly debated topic at the summit. Bio-piracy is already a concern to Sri Lanka, where some countries patented genetic resources extracted from plants taken from Sri Lanka. The proposed ABS protocol aims at addressing this issue by setting up an international regime to give transparency to the process and give back the benefits to the countries of origin. But Environmentalists in Sri Lanka are sceptic of how the indigenous right will be protected through the proposed regime, the outcome of which will be decided during the talks next week.  Published on SundayTimes on 24.10.2010

Our local ‘roots’ that has gone to COP10

October 19, 2010
Back to roots: Quest for our local Ala – bathala  

October 16 was World Food Day. From Aranayake, Malaka Rodrigo follows an award-winning project which will be presented as a global success story at the UN Summit on Biodiversity (COP10) to be held in Nagoya, Japan this week Jumping over a bamboo gate in Aranayake one day, Damayanthi Godamulla, then a member of a social mobilization project made her way to the home of villager Punchi Appuhami. She was visiting households in Aranayake to promote broiler chicken farms among village folk as a means of livelihood.Damayanthi tried to convince the elderly villager who was in his 90’s of the importance of rearing chicken as a source of nutrition. But Punchi Appuhami was not so keen. “Owa Pawkara weda, Api kapu beepu de enna pennanna” (‘raising chicken for meat is sin, come I’ll show you what we eat’), he said. Leading Damayanthi to his backyard, he showed her the different kinds of ‘wel ala’ – tuber varieties known as yams – that were flourishing there with little attention. There were 17 different varieties of yams in his garden and Punchi Appuhami described their nutritional and medicinal values, surprising Damayanthi with his knowledge. 

Coming from the similar community, Damayanthi immediately realized the potential of these yams to address the nutritional deficiencies of the village folk. During the rest of her social mobilization project she identified other senior villagers like Punchi Appuhami who were still engaged in cultivating traditional roots and tubers. She noticed that among the younger generation, there was little attention paid to these and some varieties were becoming rarer to find. The diversity of the yam varieties was clearly diminishing.

It was against this backdrop, that Damayanthi had later come across a notice on funding opportunities for Biodiversity Projects by the Small Grants programme under UNDP’s Global Environment Facility (GEF). She made a quick project proposal through the Community Development Centre (CDC) she had set up in 1996 to support her own community.

Sri Lanka is a country rich in plant diversity, with a considerable number of edible and non-edible roots and tuber varieties commonly known as ‘yams’ with both indigenous and introduced roots and tuber varieties. The traditional knowledge of the value of these yams is passed on from generation to generation. But with urbanization, this is increasingly being lost and CDC’s project proposal had practical ways to promote the cultivation of yams and hence ensure their conservation. Seeing the potential of the project the UNDP decided to fund it.

This small idea by villagers in Aranayaka has been hailed as an inspiration globally. The roots and tubers conservation programme of the CDC was selected as one of the 25 outstanding winners of the ‘Equator Prize 2008’, bagging its top award. The Sri Lankan project beat other biodiversity programmes in the world demonstrating outstanding work in poverty reduction through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Damayanthi and her colleague Nimal Hewanila, will now present this project as a world success story in preserving biodiversity at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya this week. “We are happy that we get a chance to make Sri Lanka’s name heard in the international conservation arena,” said Damayanthi.

“It wasn’t easy in the initial stages,” recalls Damayanthi, a CDC directress. Information about yams was traditional knowledge which was communicated from generation to generation by word of mouth and there were no written sources to draw from. The project team started gathering knowledge about the yam varieties from older villagers. “We were amazed by their knowledge. They knew the benefits of different yam varieties which were passed to them by their elders.” For example, the yam known as ‘Hulankeeriya’ is good for stomach ailments; ‘Sewala ala’ is given for pregnant mothers; ‘Kidaram ala’ is good for haemorrhoids; and many other varieties are famous for their high nutritional values.

After collecting the traditional knowledge, the team looked at how to promote cultivation in village gardens. A common problem was the wild boar that has a big appetite for yams. The solution came from the community – to fence off the cultivation areas. Astrological practices were used in setting up these protective fences around the cultivated areas. Villagers believed that would help discourage pest attacks and the CDC too had promoted these traditional customs which built the confidence of the village folk.

One hundred households from ten villages in the Aranayake area were selected for the initial stage of the project. Yams require little attention after planting. The project started with 30 varieties. Some varieties were not commercially viable, but after they heard of their qualities, villagers happily started giving them space in their gardens. The yam project became a success and has now expanded to some 18 villages with the benefits reaching more than 2,000 people. CDC also works in five villages in Dikwella DS division in the Matara district. The villagers are selling the yams, earning a considerable income now.

The team that has identified about 60 varieties of traditional yams are taking measures to conserve them. All these root and tuber plants have unique characteristics including disease resistance and the ability to flourish in less fertile soils. Most of these roots and tubers also have medicinal values and qualities which were identified from time immemorial and passed from generation to generation. “So these indigenous yams should be considered a huge genetic treasure trove,” Nimal Hewanila, a board member of CDC commented.

Traditional knowledge of these varieties also would help in research, and protecting the indigenous yam varieties would help to protect genetic diversity.

The Aranayake community network has also diversified into other traditional food varieties. The Green Leaves project is another such initiative they have begun. “There are about 125 edible green leaves in the country which have different qualities,” Hewanila said.

We worry about the price of bread, but yams are a good alternative. “Yam is the bread of our ancestors, so why not return to it?” asks Damayanthi. Although these traditional roots and tubers were consumed in the past, their role has declined in the recent times. This was a result of the increased cultivation of modern ‘developed’ crop varieties; increased consumption of potatoes and bread consumption, the CDC report states.

Yams can be grown even in small gardens. Different varieties can be harvested at different time durations, so you can plant varieties to get food throughout the year, says Damayanthi. “You can cultivate different varieties getting harvests spread across 12 months,” she says. They don’t need any special attention and at least 10 varieties can be planted in a mere 5 perch plot, she says, urging that they be grown in your backyard.

Quality in 100 g of root/ tuber Type of root/ tuber
Thunmas ala Hingurala Innala Desala Manioc Sweet Potato
Water (g) 73.1 7.6 74.4 7.0
Calories 97.0 97.9 97.0 13.0 145 120
Proteins (g) 3.1 1.3 1.6 2.0 1.2 1.3
Fat (g) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3
Carbohydrates (mg) 21.1 18.1 22.6 26.0 38.1 28.2
Calcium (mg) 40.0 16.0 10.0 25.0 33 34
Phosphorous (mg) 140.0 31.1 40.0 40 50
Iron (mg) 1.7 0.5 0.7 1.0 0.7 1.0
Carotene (mcg) 12.0 12.0 400
Thiamine (mg) 90.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 0.06 0.10
Ribo (pg) 30.0 30.0 10.0 30.0 03.0 0.05
Thiacene (mg) 0.4 0.4 0.2 1.0 0.03 0.05
Vitamin (mg) 1.00 17.0 5.0 360 200 published on SundayTimes on 17.10.2010