Sanjana Silva: Growing Biodiversity in Sri Lanka

Here at MESA, we love to hear from our alumni, who work with farms, gardens and programs across the world to better the health and resiliency of their home communities.

After a Steward year with Ecology Action in Willits, CA, alumni Sanjana Silva returned home to Sri Lanka to continue seeding change. Sanjana shared how the tools learned through MESA can be combined with traditional agricultural practices:

First, tell us about home.

My home is Sri Lanka, a tropical Island in South Asia. We have more than 2000 years of written history. We are influenced by Buddhism. We are a biodiversity hot spot, and the large flora and fauna are endemic to our country. We have many natural resources for our native agriculture, which is influenced by Buddhism and Astrological aspects.

According to our astrological beliefs, there is a specific day for a thanksgiving ceremony for sun, which is the main energy resource of the world. Since a long time ago we have celebrated an important occasion, Sinhala and Hindu New year in April. This is a fabulous time in Sri Lanka! It is the harvesting and main blooming season. Most tropical fruits you can see everywhere at this time.


What are the ancestral and traditional food practices you wish to protect?

Our Native Agriculture system can be separated into two groups: rice and chena. Our stable food is rice. Chena is one of the sustainable farming systems. In it, our ancestors grew all the vegetables, yams, nuts and other cereals they needed. It is a mixed cropping system with intensive spacing. Specific fertilization practices are not seen in this system, because they would shift their farm land every year.

Another sustainable farming system is the Kandyan Forest Garden. It originated from the Kandy area, the upcountry capitol of Sri Lanka. It includes a variety of food crops such as vegetables, fruits, root crops, herbs, flowers, spices and condiments. It is similar to permaculture but I would proudly say we have practiced this concept for hundreds of years, and we still have these gardens. Most of the people have a self sufficient view of the food. They only get salt from the outside. Their recipes and local dishes are so delicious and have high nutritional values.


How are you using your experience with MESA? 

Here I’m trying make a new aspect of sustainable farming systems through both GROWBIOINTENSIVE (the growing model of Ecology Action) and Kandyan Forest Gardening, which I think make a good combination. I’m sharing my sustainable agriculture knowledge, especially the GROBIOINTENSIVE method, to empower the local women and improve their livelihood through a value added food processing program. Most products are pickles, chutneys, dried fruits and vegetables. My school garden program also going pretty well. A big project I initiated, ‘Tools from Garbage,’ was based on the special project proposal I presented to Ecology Action last year. I hope to make some agricultural tools using this model before the end of this year.

I learned this knowledge and strength from last year’s MESA program. And I would like to say that I have given added value to MESA through my agricultural social work with my community. I’m so glad to say that I was an Alumni of MESA!