Bandula Barb

SRI LANKA WINS FIRST RUNNER UP AWARD AT YALE INNOVATION PRIZE.

SRI LANKA WINS FIRST RUNNER UP AWARD AT YALE INNOVATION PRIZE.

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The Human and Environment Development Organization (HEDO) was selected as runner up for the Yale Chapter of the International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) Innovation Prize. The 23rd Annual ISTF Conference was held at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (New Haven, USA) from 27th – 28th of January 2017.

The Yale Chapter of the International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) offers the Innovation Prize annually to honor outstanding interdisciplinary projects that address sustainable tropical forest use, conservation and the well-being of those living in or dependent on them.

The 23rd Annual ISTF Conference brought together individuals of various disciplines, multiple stakeholders, researchers and practitioners to discuss the much needed coming together of disciplines to achieve sustainable resource use in tropical forests. This conference provided an opportunity for participants to cross-pollinate ideas, exchange experiences, and pave the way for collaboration across sectors.

Sri Lanka Environment Exploration Society (SLEES), under the guidance of GEF Small Grants Programme of the UNDP, nominated HEDO for Yale University’s International Society of Tropical Foresters Innovation Prize.  Out of 25 organizations from Latin America, Africa and Asia, HEDO was selected as one of the top two finalists and invited to present their work at the ISTF Conference for the Innovation Prize.

HEDO implemented a project titled “Promotion of Bio Gas Technology & Efficient Rubber Drying Houses to Reduce Green House Gas Emissions Associated with the Rubber Industry in the Midland Forests of Kegalle District” in Sri Lanka which was awarded as first runner up at the ISTF Conference. HEDO, with the assistance of the officers of the Rubber Research Institute and UNDP GEF SGP funding established five energy efficient rubber drying houses fueled by waste sawdust which drastically reduced the vast amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the production process and enabled the beneficiaries to reach highest quality in rubber sheets which resulted in higher profits. The NGO also introduced biogas technology using the rubber wastewater, converting this environment hazard into profits. Two biogas plants were built as models which generate biogas from effluents discharged in the processing of rubber sheets as well as household waste.

Dr. Keerthi Mohotti, Chairman of National Steering Committee of GEF/SGP presented at the 23rd Annual ISTF Conference on behalf of HEDO as its Director, Mr. Anura Premathilaka, could not attend the event. In his presentation, Dr. Mohotti explained the importance of rubber plantations as an agro-forest and some of the environmental issues caused in the smallholder rubber plantations and conventional rubber processing. Dr. Mohotti elaborately highlighted the innovative nature of components executed in this GEF SGP funded project with special emphasis on conversion of the conventional smoke houses consuming large amounts of firewood sources to energy efficient drying houses using saw dust, an industrial waste which would have otherwise been disposed along river banks or open burned, resulting in environmental degradation. Further harnessing of rubber effluent released from the rubber latex cleaning and coagulation process (Serum) in smoke houses (which are otherwise directly discharged without any cleaning and which accumulates in the open land or in nearby streams producing gases with extreme odors) and conversion to bio gas to reduce environment pollution was also presented.  The winner was selected by a vote at the end of the presentations.

The rubber industry is often associated with a number of environmental problems, mainly GHG emissions, logging for firewood, and water pollution from effluents etc. Smallholders do not consider the environmental factors important in the plantation maintenance or during the production process, mainly due to financial constraints and lack of technical knowledge. For example, in the Warakapola Local Authority area of Kegalle district, where the project activities were undertaken, around 97% of the smallholders use small centralized low energy efficient smoke houses for producing the ribbed smoked sheets (RSS), which are darker and graded as grade 4 and 5. Roughly four to five kilogrammes of firewood are consumed per rubber sheet. This is a great threat to the biodiversity in the area especially for Bandula Barb (Puntius bandula), which is a critically endangered and point endemic species threatened by water pollution due to rubber effluent.

According to Mr. Anura Premathilaka, rubber plantations face a severe threat due to the continuous rubber price drop over the years. As a countermeasure, several activities were implemented under this project. The community was trained to produce RSS grade 1 rubber sheets at a lower cost. Rain guards were distributed to make latex tapping viable during the rainy season. Modern drying houses which are easier to operate have removed health problems arising due to inhaling smoke while working inside the conventional smoke houses. Mushroom cultivation was introduced as an optional livelihood when the income from rubber is low. A market chain was also established with the support of a private company and funding from Sampath Bank. HEDO expects that the communities will remain in the rubber industry and hopes to upscale the project to a national level.

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