we to tell our children tales of what it all used to be like once
upon a time and not let them see for themselves the wonder of our
unique wildlife and nature, asks Rohan Wijesinha
The Asian Development
Bank, in their questionable project for wildlife, has sought an
assurance from the Government of Sri Lanka to the effect that its
National Policy on Wildlife (2000) be implemented without delay.
Read the policy. It does not take one long to work out why this
is so important to them. For surely, never before in the history
of this, or perhaps any other nation, has a National Policy, a document
that portends to have the best interests of the country's natural
heritage at heart, been formulated to cater solely to a six year,
experimental, foreign donor-driven project of uncertain content
- and intent!
From the very first (Objective 1.1), the formulators of this
policy introduce the concepts of sustainable use and benefit sharing
as being of prime importance in conserving wildlife resources. The
assumption being made here is that Sri Lanka has unlimited natural
resources on tap for exploitation. In fact, Sri Lanka's wildlife
and wild places are under threat and diminishing in number and extent.
The press gives almost daily report of the losses, to man and beast,
of the human/elephant conflict. Not one of the National Parks enjoys
immunity from the ravages of poaching. The reality is that they
are both on the increase. How does one "use" and "share"
something that is fast disappearing?
with the prime stated objectives of India's National Wildlife Action
Plan 2002 - 2016 which is that "...the national development
agenda must recognise the imperative of identifying and protecting
natural ecosystems from over-exploitation, contamination and degradation.
Short term economic gains must not be permitted to undermine ecological
President Hugo Chavez, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development,
has gone a step further. If he has his way, developing nations will
create an OPEC-like cartel to protect plants and animals from exploitation
by the industrialized world. By joining forces, he hopes that these
countries will be able to set both standard practices and higher
prices for pharmaceutical companies and other industries hoping
to exploit their biodiversity. India, aware of the dangers, has
joined this group. In this atmosphere, one wonders whose definitions
have been used to formulate Sri Lanka's effort!
A clue to this might be had from the Objective 1.3 which states
"To manage all components of genetic diversity... to develop...
new products and processes through bioprospecting."! One can't
get any bolder than this. (The attached 'explanation of technical
terms' explains 'bioprospecting' as 'The search for commercial products
and processes using biodiversity as a source...').
National Wildlife Policy is, or should be, about ensuring the survival
and wellbeing of its people and future generations by protecting
and conserving existing natural habitats, fauna and flora and fragile
ecosystems; not about resource-use and the search for commercial
products and processes, which is in the realm of industrialisation.
So with this Policy in place, all genetic material from plants and
animals in our Protected Areas will go under foreign microscopes
to determine their potential for use as a 'resource'.
What is left
unsaid is that if found to be a 'resource', the research findings
will be patented as a prelude to imminent commercial exploitation
by, and ruthless competition among, the many multinational cartels.
A further assurance obtained by the ADB is that 51% of their loan
is to be used to pay foreign consultants to work within the Protected
Areas now under their control. They have already chosen these consultants
in Manila without any technical analysis from Sri Lanka!
One of these
consultants is to conduct a "Biodiversity Inventory"!
This all fits in very nicely with the ADB's project for wildlife
that states, "...The ongoing Conservation and Sustainable Use
of Medicinal Plants Project financed by GEF and implemented by the
World Bank is another important undertaking in the sector, as close
coordination of activities is envisaged at Ritigala Strict Nature
Reserve, which has been included as a pilot PA under the proposed
Project..." (Report and Recommendation, Sept. 2000, Page 8
- the final agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the
In the May
2000 Memorandum of Understanding which preceded the above report,
the ADB, in place of Ritigala, referred broadly to the "...pharmaceutical
potential of the protected areas..."!
interests, in their greed, have been quick off the mark, attempting
to exploit this clause. Lobbyists have already persuaded the Department
of Trade to request a lifting of a ban on nine species of endangered
water plants and according to press reports, have even been successful
in smuggling such plants out of the country with political patronage.
Their cargo is so precious that the Customs Officers who intercepted
this haul have been subject to threats and intimidation! Bioprospecting
is a lucrative business - and perhaps reptiles, amphibians, insects
and freshwater fish will be next on the list, if not already on
The preamble to the new Wildlife Policy refers to the Convention
on Biological Diversity which Sri Lanka ratified in 1994. The authors
state that the Convention is important as it emphasises a new theme
for managing wildlife resources - "...conservation, sustainable
development and benefit sharing".
It has now
been recognised, and confirmed by the recent Earth Summit, that
the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity, designed
and orchestrated by "Developed Nations", have dubious
relevance to small, developing nations such as Sri Lanka, who already
have a successful programme of conservation in place.
flaws are that it assumes developing nations do not have the intellectual
abilities or skills to successfully determine their own course of
conservation development. Thus the principles of the Convention
are based on prescriptive models, using the large conservation areas
of Africa and the Americas as example. This has little relevance
for small nations with fragile eco-systems. Ideas of sustainable
development, benefit sharing and eco-tourism expansion could cause
serious damage to eco-systems finely balanced in hitherto strictly
protected areas of conservation.
patronising attitude is further extended in the Convention's encouragement
of the transfer of genetic resources for "safekeeping"
to agents outside of the parent country - thus legitimising bio-piracy.
With the West
putting the accent on "globalisation", the major focus
of its Convention on Biological Diversity is to ensure that the
West's multinational drug cartels get their hands on every available
genetic resource in the Third World. It is imperative that Sri Lanka
ensures that its precious biodiversity is used, first and foremost,
in the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka, and does not permit
the drug cartels to amass fortunes while our people continue to
live below the poverty line.
"Conservation" to "Sustainable Development"
of the National Wildlife Policy summarise by urging the Government
"...to implement this policy as soon as possible... supported
by such legislative measures as may be necessary to achieve ...success
among all those who seek to promote conservation and sustainable
development in Sri Lanka".
It is clear
that there is to be a shift away from 'conservation' to 'sustainable
development' and the use of protected areas for commercial use.
The one stumbling block to this is the Fauna and Flora Protection
Ordinance (FFPO) which the Policy now canvasses should be changed
and replaced with altogether NEW legislation in Year 5 of the Project.
The FFPO is much-maligned by the ADB in their documentation.
that it is archaic, having been initially drawn up in 1937. What
they conveniently ignore is that this Ordinance was revised and
strengthened by the then Government in 1993.
for the ADB and its supporters is that it categorically prohibits
any form of private sector participation in its sphere of command
and control, which was, as its title made amply and unambiguously
clear, the protection of the country's fauna and flora.
perhaps with a topsy-turvy world, Sri Lanka's new National Wildlife
Policy 2000 does a wild somersault, for it now unashamedly sets
out "To encourage the private sector and communities...",
once more with added emphasis for effect, "...to join as full
partners in all aspects of the wildlife-conservation process".
of 'communities' was, to be sure, an afterthought. After all, the
ADB has a less than admirable record of working with communities
in Sri Lanka. At Lunugamvehera, for instance, their Project involved
the "...obliteration of 32 small 'tanks' - artificial lakes,
many constructed over a thousand years ago - in the construction
of the Lunugamvehera dam..." Tanks that were always full after
the rains! (Oxfam Report - The High Cost of Learning from Past Mistakes).
of Lunugamvehera, as readers are aware, have year after year suffered
hardship as a direct consequence of this disastrous ADB Project.
In this instance
the selected communities are strategically placed in the buffer
zones, and will be required to "harvest" genetic resources
for the real profiteers from this venture. Who will tell from which
side of the fence - the buffer zone or the protected area - the
resource was taken?
force behind the private sector cannot be anything other than profit.
The importance of this can be seen in that the very first assurance
sought by the ADB in its agreement with the Government is that "...the
FFPO be amended and then superceded". (RRP, September 2000,
Pg. 31, Specific Assurance 1)
Areas of Sri Lanka are the property of present and future generations
of the people of this nation. This is enshrined in the Constitution,
in legislation and in the creation of the DWLC and Department of
Forestry, the agents of Government in its duty of guardianship.
To encourage the private sector and local communities to act as
"full partners" in this not only erodes the rights of
the people, but introduces the concept of commercial expediency
directing the process of conservation. The asset stripping of a
non-renewable resource gives immediate profit to an opportunist
few. However, in the long-term, it spells economic, and in this
case, cultural and environmental, disaster to the owner of the resource
- the Government, and the present and future generations of Sri
The FFPO requires
even more strengthening rather than destruction. After all, it has
ensured the survival of almost 20% of the land mass of this country
as protected areas, over 80% of which is under the management of
Government of Sri Lanka be tempted to implement this policy recommendation,
it would prove a usurpation of its role as guardian of the Protected
Areas of this country.
will have nothing but contempt for a Government of Sri Lanka if
all they are left to rely on are pictures and tales, and the memories
of their fathers and forefathers, of what the jungles of Sri Lanka
were once like. They will curse the policies, and the policy makers,
should they be unable to enjoy the beauty and splendour that were
a national treasure for millennia and then sold in less than a decade.
In the meantime,
the project continues, and several of the supporters of the project,
executives of NGOs, now hold prominent posts in conservation. Others,
also executives of the same NGOs, who were in opposition, now hold
prominent posts within the project.
of the Forest Department who faithfully pursued ADB Policy, including
that of de-regulating one hundred and twenty (120) species of previously
protected trees, on retirement, have been rewarded with positions
on other ADB Projects.
for co-operation are already being offered to the present employees
of the DWLC - trips to Manila and Nepal! All paid for from a loan
that has to be re-paid by future generations... and at what cost!
Rather than a National Wildlife Policy, this present effort
has purely been drafted to enable the implementation of the ADB
Project for Wildlife. Rather than being in the best interests of
conservation, it seeks to weaken legislation, and open the protected
areas to exploitation and destruction.
has any interest or knowledge of wildlife in Sri Lanka knows that
the protected areas are already under siege from poachers, timber-fellers
and encroachers, and that what is needed is the strict implementation
of the laws that have saved and protected so much of them for so
There is no
mention of this in the policy, in fact its greatest omission, that
proves its true purpose. There is no clause that encourages the
prevention of the biodiversity of this country being illegally taken
out! A flavour of things to come has been amply demonstrated by
the recent, possible illegal export of endangered "kekatiya"
- two tons of it! This matter is currently under judicial review.
is clear proof that the previous Government was calculatedly misguided
by "bioprospectors", "benefit sharers" and a
few local NGOs who stand to make much profit from such policy. How
else could its Cabinet have ratified such a document? These interested
parties have even been able to deceive the true representatives
of the people of Sri Lanka - the Members of Parliament! The previous
Prime Minister was misled into presenting the wrong document, the
MOU of May 2000 (rather than the RRP of September 2000), before
Parliament as the final agreement on this Project in October 2001
(Hansard Vol. 138 No. 3, Wednesday, 10 October 2001, Pg. 391 - 2).
For in Sri
Lanka we have a National Wildlife Policy that is over 2500 years
old, a policy that enshrines the ultimate principles of conservation,
and has determined a philosophy that has resulted in so much being
conserved for so long. The Buddhist missionary Arahant Mahinda when
he met King Devanampiya Tissa at Mihintale is believed to have told
the land belongs not only to humans but also to animals and birds.
You are only the custodian of the land.'
were enshrined in Sections 28 and 28 [f] of the Constitution of
the Republic of Sri Lanka which states that "...the exercise
of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties
and obligations and accordingly it is the duty of every person in
Sri Lanka...[f] to protect Nature and conserve its riches".
It has to be
left to history to record if the rulers of today will be acclaimed
as the great protectors of the natural blessings bequeathed to this
nation, as were our leaders of old. Or whether they are to be cursed
as fools who sold the birthrights of generations yet unborn, and
let this nation's natural treasures and wealth be ravaged for short-term
gain by a few unscrupulous persons, all for a mess of pottage!