NEW YORK (Jun. 10)
The American Jewish World Service, a Boston-based international development group, will launch a large scale agricultural development program in Sri Lanka next month which will include testing of a revolutionary grain silo developed in Israel, AJWS president Larry Simon said here.
“The aim of all this is self-reliance,” Simon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week in describing the $160,000 project to develop the long term infrastructure for that country. The goals of the Sri Lanka project include laying the groundwork for new types of agricultural methods, establishment of a local credit union for small farmers and improvement of basic health care.
At the center of the agricultural development is a newly-designed grain silo developed in Israel’s Vulcani Institute for Agricultural Research. In preliminary tests in the Negev, the plastic silos have cut grain losses down to less than one percent. The new silos have virtually eliminated losses to rot, insects and rodents, Simon said.
FIRST SILO TEST SITE
The AJWS will finance the testing of five to ten of the new silos in underdeveloped African and Asian countries. Sri Lanka, one of the world’s poorest countries, will be the site of the first test, Simon said.
“Almost every African country is losing more than 40 percent of its grain harvest to rot, insects and rodents,” Simon said. If the new silos can cut those losses significantly, he said, “it would be one of the greatest contributions to African agriculture ever and it’s a lot easier than doubling production.”
Some African and Asian countries have no grain silos so the farmers are forced to sell their grain at harvest time when demand is low and supply is high. “It’s really an appropriate technology — it’s not a high-tech facility,” Simon said. “The Israeli silos are low cost and relatively easy to maintain.”
Simon stressed that AJWS does not want to create dependencies on foreign experts but wants to help the native people organize on their own behalf. The AJWS plans to develop self reliance through a Sri Lankan, non-governmental development group, Sarvodaya, which means gift of labor.
Sarvodaya, a Ghandian Buddhist movement, has already set up self-help projects in 7,000 of Sri Lanka’s 23,000 villages. Sarvodaya will be responsible for executing all the projects set up by AJWS.
One of these projects Simon said AJWS hopes to channel through Sarvodaya is a credit union for small farmers. Under the existing system, the small farmers get loans from exploitative middlemen who take large parts of the year’s harvest for interest.
The middlemen also market the produce and hold tremendous power over the farmers, Simon said. “The middlemen control the credit and marketing so that the farmer is perpetually in debt to a middleman,” Simon said. “There is virtually no way to climb out of poverty.”
Part of the AJWS funds will go to providing capital for a credit union through Sarvodaya, which will also help farmers market their crops. The agricultural projects include some small-scale irrigation and testing of new varieties of crops.
Although the project will bring in technical experts from Israel to offer advice and guidance, their main goal will be to train and teach others, Simon said. The Israeli experts in dry zone agriculture will help assess the most profitable uses of different farming techniques.
“The major contribution that Israel has to make is not a specific technology but that they have been dealing successfully for a number of years with desert agriculture,” Simon said.
The AJWS will also bring a doctor to Sri Lanka for one year to train several hundred Sri Lankans in fundamental health care, Simon said. The doctor will try to develop a small corp of health care workers to monitor malnutrition in schools and educate women in prenatal care. These “paramedics” will be able to identify more serious health problems and refer the sick to professionals, Simon said.