The Grama Shakthi Programme – Ideas To Make It A Success

Dr. Garvin Karunaratne

Sri Lanka has not had a real development programme since 1977. The last major development programme where a concerned attempt was made to create employment was the Divisional Development Councils Programme(DDCP) of the Premier Sirimavo days. The Grama Shakthi Programme is therefore an initiative to be hailed.

It is also the responsibility of everyone who know and have first hand experience in poverty alleviation through employment creation – be they administrators or engineers or scientists or savants in the Private Sector to offer their expertise for the success of this programme. This Paper is my contribution to that programme

The DDCP was the last employment creation programme we had. That Programme created employment for 32,000 youths. I was one of the lieutenants of that programme- in charge of the Matara District, and contributed heavily with a Cooperative Mechanized Boatyard at Matara, turning out around 40 seaworthy fishing boats a year, established within three months and with a Crayon Factory which made crayons of high quality easily comparable to the world famous Crayola Crayons. These were in addition to many agricultural farms and other small industrial projects. In other districts too there were many projects implemented successfully. However it has to be admitted that creating employment to only 32,000 youths in seven years is no worthwhile achievement. This was due to the folly of the Ministry of Plan Implementation which directed the programme. In my words, “instead of import substitution type of projects the Ministry was advising us to concentrate on brick making, tile making and crafts- the areas where the Small industries Department had made inroads. In the Private Sector there were enough of tile and  brick making factories. The Ministry was not interested in establishing any import substitution type of industries. The Ministry comprised officials who had a scanty knowledge of industries.”(From:Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka). The Crayon Factory was established by me to prove that we can establish import substitution industries and the mediocre achievement of the DDCP should not deter our Government from suitable action to attempt at the creation of employment and poverty alleviation. This is all the more reason why the Grama Shakthi Programme should be hailed.

The Mahaweli Development Programme was a continuation of the Land Settlement cum Irrigation Tank Building Programme of the Fifties. Though we have achieved a great deal, we could have done better. My comments  reveal what we lost:

“There is room to think  that the Kotmale part of the project was a ploy to ethnically cleanse the area.. Many do not yet realize that the Mahaweli Project at Kotmale ethnically cleansed a section of the Nuwara Eliya District- the Sinhala Kotmale Valley for good…This project creates 201 mega watts of electricity. I could have done that with the erection of  40 wind turbines on any one of the Kotmale mountains. I have in my travels passed though many hills in Spain, Scotland and the US where the sight of 50 wind turbines on a hill is a common sight. These are on hills not on mountains like ours. On the Mahaweli Programme  where we have an entire Ministry at work the original plan was to provide water to almost a million acres on the basis that an acre required only 5  acre feet of water. This was in a situation where on Government farms the water used was as low as 1.6 acre feet. However when the programme got under way it was found that the farmers used as much as 10 acre feet which reduced the possible acreage  by half to around 500,000 acres.”(From:How the IMF Ruined Sri lanka…(Godages). We failed because we did not educate the farmers in water management.

We have had several other programmes but none lived long enough to have an impact. The Janasaviya Programme of President Premadasa was a promising programme that was aborted due to the assasination of the President. It contained elements that could have flowered to be a major programme. In my words, “ The Janasaviya  as well as the Samurdhi are both hand outs that have not served to rejuvenate the rural economy. Janasaviya had grand plans to provide vocational training to the receipients, but this did not take off the ground. Samurdhi has degenerated to be a welfare programme. It will be good to increase the grant under Samurdhi to a worthwhile amount insisting on the receipients being systematically trained in a vocation.  This has to be coupled with a self employment programme where the Government will map out and guide the people to become commercially viable entrepreneurs.(From How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka)

Mr P.C.Imbulana, when he was the Governor of the Central Province  attempted to implement a Pilot  Programme for Self Employment Creation and Poverty Alleviation  in August 1993. This was a Programme drafted by me in July 1993. This  envisaged “the Grama Niladhari summoning the people  through any viable village level society that is actively functioning in the area and deliberate with the people about obtaining the maximum production from the land. This will also activize the society and enable it to function in a developmental role. The society.. will draw up a plan where each farmer will detail the crops he proposes to plant on his land and also discuss the supplies and the assistance he requires and the difficulties he will encounter in marketing. The Agricultural Officer will look at the necessary inputs, study the relevance of the development to district and national goals and finalise the plan. The total of these per plot plans  will build up the village level plan… The Agricultural Officer will map out the training requirements of the farmers in each area. Generally the training will take the form of a day’s training in each aspect, viz. agriculture, livestock or other crops. Training in Bee Keeping, making jam etc will be attended to later. More training will be done later.” The Grama Niladharis and the KVS of two selected pilot project areas were provided with training at the Mahaberitenna Livestock Development Center. I participated at the inauguration meetings held in Hasalaka and Gampola and the pilot project commenced. No funds were allocated by the Centre and the project was starved of expertise. My Superintendent of Development Work, P.B. Ratnayake, a retired officer and a few others slaved in a voluntary capacity. When the UNP Government was defeated at the polls, the programme was aborted.(Details given in my book: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka). The Divi Neguma Programme also never got off the ground in alleviating poverty.

In nostalgia, my mind travels back to the Government Agent’s Conference of 1972, which I attended. All the programmes of work in the Districts were looked into and the Premier Sirimavo and the Hon Minister of Agriculture were highly elated. The Premier looked at the Government Agents, the chief lieutenants that spearheaded development who were seated- that included stalwarts Bradman, Tissa, Wijedasa, and said that she would like to hear any new ideas as to how we could take the programme of agricultural development further. No one spoke and the Premier was gazing at all of us for some five minutes. No suggestions and it looked odd. Finally I darted out. I said that all our development programmes in agriculture commence at the level of the agricultural overseer, who is expected to keep a record of the cultivation in progress. This was more a guess estimate based on the few farmers he has met on his rounds. I suggested that we should have a per plot plan for every farmer, which will detail the areas being cultivated and include the inputs, whether available , the finance that is required and work out a definite plan of production, which when totalled will make a programme for each overseer’s area on a definite basis.  My ideas were misunderstood and the Premier said,  “So, it means that in your district our programmes are ineffective and do not work properly.”. I was extremely offended and stood up to answer, when some one from behind me held my shoulders firmly and pushed me back to my chair, He said that he was the Director of Agriculture and had gone through all the reports of progress submitted by the Government Agents and can state that Matara District was one of the best. He saved me that day. I think it was Jinendradasa. I was certain that no one understood my idea of furthering the guess estimate reached at the overseer’s level to be a factual one done on a per plot basis and stood up to explain my suggestion, but I was signalled to stop.

In today’s set up in agriculture, the guess estimate at the overseer’s level is more exaggerated because President Premadasa in one of his unguarded moments promoted all agricultural overseers to be Grama Niladharis and since then the village level does not have any qualified agricultural officer. Some Agricultural Instructors at the Divisional level, the closest to the farmer,  cover over 10,000 acres.  In the days of President Chandrika, Niyamakas were appointed- but they were never given any agricultural training. I have happened to meet many of them. They are a keen and enthusiastic lot but have become the laughing stock of farmers because they know little of paddy cultivation..  It is necessary that in the key areas where the Grama Shakthi Programme is implemented the Niyamakas should be give a training in the cultivation of paddy and other crops. It will be ideal to have a per plot production plan.

It is actually a difficult task to design and implement a new programme. The failings and mediocre achievement of earlier programmes have been highlighted not to put off the administrators who are working on the new Grama Shakthi Programme. Instead it is to make them aware of difficulties so that they can be forewarned of the  problems that will be encountered.

The largest development programme ever attempted in the democratic world was the Community Development Programme of India.  In my words, “ Community Development is essentially an educational process, but in implementation it was identified as a physical programme. In many countries Community Development became a rural programme of welfare work or rural infrastructure work. In the CD Programme in India, the people were not active participants. The people were never actively involved. The Rural Work Programme became in the words of the Balawantra  Mehta Report, ‘an officially controlled bricks and mortar programme devoid of almost any popular dynamic’. This Programme  actually dwindled to be  a compulsory labour programme which failed to involve the people in any educational process that would  enhance their abilities. Further in the accelerated  expansion of the programme the bureaucracy lost sight of the essential educational value of community development. Insufficient emphasis was devoted  to the processes of  Community Development and to incorporating the processes involving people.”(Non Formal Education: Theory and Practice at Comilla)

The Integrated Rural Development Programme(IRDP) and Training of Rural Youth for Self Employment(TRYSEM)of India are gigantic programmes that are being implemented over two decades.  However they have not ushered in poverty alleviation as desired due to various reasons. They are “aimed at employment creation, income generation and poverty alleviation. Though TRYSEM  provides skills and training it does not include any training in basic economics and both TRYSEM and IRDP do not include even a modicum of guidance to enable the entrepreneurs to become commercially viable. It is seen that the Guidelines issued to the IRDP for block level planning should include resource survey, resource analysis, family plans, annual plans, perspective plans, credit plans’(From Kurian..) It is clear that  there has been a great deal of effort to detail the type of planning that had to be attended to plan from the bottom up and at resource development at the local level. However in actual practice planning has been neglected, relegated to the background and finally ignored. It was found that ‘preparation of viable schemes or packages of such schemes for individual members is a time consuming process and the programme implementers do not have the time, the patience or the motivation to do such exercises’ (Kurian) In any development programme planning is essential for success… In the IRDP the planners had the brains to lay down the procedures.. but the implementors failed.  TRYSEM was the training component for the IRDP. … In the absence of development planning and project formulation the IRDP could not flower to success. It would be correct to conclude with Professor Nikanta Rath that ‘the IRDP experience of giving cattle and other assets has come to little. The subsidy appears to be its center of attraction.’(Rath:)… Further the lack of planning led to a situation where  the same asset changed hands. One household that purchased the cattle under the subsidy sold it to another household that also claimed the subsidy and the loan from the IRDP. ‘In this way the same cattle moved from household to household satisfying aggregate demand in the absence of matching supply’(Kuiryan) Nilkanta Rath calls this phenomenon ‘circulating capital’ The loans and the subsidy granted  did not create an increase in production. What the IDRP did and does even now  is creating trading and the sale of the asset from one person to another  at a higher price. A cow worth Rs 1000 was resold at Rs 1,500… the inflow of loans and grants  only led to an increase in money flows with the prices being bid upwards, causing inflation.”(From : How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka). The IRDP and TRYSEM yet continue to be implemented with a mediocre achievement due to failures in planning and guidance to bring about definite results in poverty alleviation. This was a frank admission in the Tenth Five Year Plan of the Government of India: ‘The Programme was basically subsidy driven and ignored the processes of  social intermediation necessary for the success of self employment programmes. A one time provision of credit without follow up action and lack of continuing relationship between borrowers and lenders also undermined  the programme objectives’.

The Rural Works Programmes of India offer a guarantee of work for people in rural areas… In my words, “The best Rural Work Scheme  was the Maharashtra  Employment Guaranty Scheme(MEGS). This Programme provides a guarantee to all adults over 18 to  unskilled manual work on a piece rate basis. That is a right to get employment… the expenditure amounted to  14% of the total development budget of the State. There is no training element in the MEGS. The work created is hard labour  and there is no opportunity for the workers to find  or be guided towards becoming employed. Neither are there any elements that would develop the abilities and initiatives of the workers. It was a task oriented  work like tilling land or earth work which do not contain any element of training. Though the MEGS is implemented with much fanfare and rapidly expanded, this Programme does not include the elements of training, placing the workers in an  income generating situation, ending in the trainee being guided to a situation of commercial viability,”(Karunaratne: Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka)

May I now quote details of two world acclaimed development programmes that have stood the sands of time to encourage those in charge of Grama Shakthi.

The first is the celebrated Comilla Programme of Rural Development in Bangladesh. This was an attempt by the Government of Pakistan(then Bangladesh was in Pakistan) to find the quickest method of bringing about poverty alleviation. Michigan State University, one of the foremost Universities in the USA that brought about development in the USA under the Land Grant University Programme was entrusted with that task.  This included action on all aspects of development- agriculture, animal husbandry, irrigation industries etc. It was an all encompassing policy including production,  manufacturing, processing, and marketing. All this was done through cooperatives, where the cooperators had to meet every week and experts from Michigan State University and local administrators led by legendary Akhter Hameed Khan met them and worked together in participation. This was implemented in the Kotwali Thana of the Comilla District. A research cum extension unit – an Academy was established and the individual cooperatives had a Union of Cooperatives at the Thana level. Village Level workers were done away with and instead a farmer was selected by the farmers to act as their leader. Planning in detail was done at the cooperatives with the full participation of every farmer. The achievement was tremendous- doubling the production of paddy, the staple crop and the achievement of full employment through all methods- individual self employment as well as through cooperative industries. The development  spilled over to adjoining Thanas and even today, Kotwali Thana is an oasis of full employment and high production within a sea of poverty so characteristic of Bangladesh.

The second was the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh. Though I did not get the opportunity to even make suggestions to the bigwigs in our Ministry of Agriculture once at the GA’s Conference, I got an opportunity to speak when I worked for the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh as an Expert. After the Military Government took over Bangladesh in 1982, “a meeting was held  for scaling down or abolishing  the youth training and youth development activities. It was a highly charged meeting where all the youth development programmes were closely reviewed….The Hon Minister of Labour and Manpower who presided said  that he was not fully satisfied with the work done  and ordered me to indicate the contribution that I could make for Bangladesh. I recommended that the Ministry should get down to a programme of employment creation in order to create employment for the 40,000 youths that got trained every year. I was blankly told by the Secretary to the Treasury, that  in the earlier three years the ILO with all their expertise and unlimited resources  had tried hard to establish an employment creation programme which had ended in miserable failure after incurring a massive expenditure. I was told that the Government did not have funds to waste because the failure by the ILO meant that employment creation was something that could not be achieved. I replied that I had successfully established many self employment projects in small industry and agriculture and that there was no problem in my establishing an employment creation programme in Bangladesh in a design that would be suitable for the country, developing its resources, which would not be giving out hand outs and subsidies- in short bribing the  unemployed … but instead will buckle down to the task of involving the trained youths in productive endeavour, increasing national production and simultaneously  create gainful income for the youths…. I had paved the path for a serious discussion. I pointed out that the expenditure on youth development  has to be made to pay in terms of a definite contribution to the national economy for meeting goals of production. My arguments with the Secretary to the Treasury and other Secretaries of Line Ministries who objected to my ideas  went on for over two hours. The Hon Minister for Labour and Manpower was a patient listener… He finally stopped us and asked the Ministry Secretaries whether the Government had any programmes that aimed at not only training but where the trained will be guided to be self employed. The answer was that there was not a single programme other than the ILO Programme that had miserably failed…. The Hon Minister immediately ruled that I should establish  an self employment programme. The Secretary to the Treasury aborted it by saying that he had no funds to waste. I immediately replied that I  needed no new funds but required authority to re deploy officers and to find savings within our training budgets to establish the new self employment programme. The Hon Minister immediately approved my request.” (From:How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka & Alternative Programmes of Success( Godages)

I got cracking with the entire staff of the Ministry of Youth Development involving Youth Directors, youth officers, training staff, teaching them basic concepts of economics, economic analysis, how to conduct research to find areas where there was scope to create employment and how to use non formal education concepts like participation , community development etc to guide youths to establish self employment projects. The entire staff was trained by me and we- hundreds of youth workers and vocational training staff worked endlessly day in and day out to guide youths in training. A countrywide special extension service was established overnight to help any youth in distress.  I guided 2000 youths within my two years and there was outstanding progress. After my two year assignment was over the staff carried on the programme and by 2011 reported to the IFAD(FAO) one of the funders that the programme had created employment for over two million youths. It is today an ongoing programme guiding 160,000 youths a year, easily the largest employment creation attempt the world has known.

The phenomenal success of these two programmes has been detailed by me purely to prove  that the Grama Shakthi Programme can be a success.

To achieve poverty alleviation it is necessary to identify areas where there is a scope for employment  and provide guidance to enterprising people. This would take the form of a self employment programme and in our village habitat has to be in the cultivation of paddy and other crops. It has also to include making food preparations. The services of Central Schools could be utilized for this purpose. Under the DDCP Programme there were agricultural farms where we had success in producing ginger and other crops. However we never had a cannery to make food preparations and had no mechanisation for  marketing. Any programme must be complete to be a success.

An area that has to be concentrated on is guiding the people, specially the youths to become self employed. They have to get training in the vocation of their choice, in keeping with the resources available in their habitat. Today in every country there are vocational training centres where youths are trained and after their training they are left to find employment, which is a very difficult  task in today’s set up in Sri Lanka where we have an “import and sell” economy since 1977. Till 1977 we had instead a “produce and sell” type of economy. It will be ideal to get the vocational  training institutes to guide the youths either after their training or while they are in training. This pays dividends as seen by me in Bangladesh where a viable self employment programme has been established on this basis.

The Marketing Department and its Canning Factory are no more. Marketing of produce is an essential area that has to be carefully looked into as otherwise with additional production there will be a glut of produce which cannot get sold. The Marketing Department had Purchasing Depots islandwide and also purchased at the Producer fairs and sold the vegetables and fruit at small sales depots in the cities at low prices. This production marketing process has to be re established as a Department or on a cooperative basis.Thus the Grama Shakthi Programme has to look into the area of having a few food processing centers where the crops of fruits can get processed in the producing areas.. Once this production is satisfactorily done imports should be curtailed.  I can remember how the Canning Factory made tomatoes sauce. We became self sufficient in tomato sauce and all jam and juice. Red Pumpkin was made into Golden Melon Jam and Ash Pumpkin was made into Silver Melon Jam. The success of any poverty alleviation programme will be judged by the incomes made by the people and for this purpose the training imparted has to lead to production, then to make food preparations with the produce and finally success in sales. Action is due on this total continuum for success.

The development of industries has to be concentrated on.. By 1977 Sri Lanka had a highly developed handloom and power loom industry and was self sufficient in textile manufacture. The Department of Small Industries imported yarn and distributed it to handlooms and power-looms. Our textile manufacture died down with the free import of textiles. Instead we created a garment industry by establishing factories to make garments for Developed Countries. Action is due to re-establish the handloom and power-loom industry and this could be an area that deserves attention.

Industries have to be developed. Sri Lanka had a developed brass industry and we had smiths that turned out an array of small iron and brass goods. By 1977 we had an industrialist Metalix that produced instrument boxes sufficient  for our island’s requirements. That industry was aborted due to unrestricted imports. When I was Deputy Director of Small Industries I gave allocations of foreign exchange to  small industrialists to get down machinery to make all sorts of metal products like staplers. We have  very enterprising youths, who given a hand will do wonders. I recall  Mr Kariyawasam, member of parliament for Elpitiya bringing a youth who wanted a foreign exchange allocation to import mirrors.  I went through the side mirrors he had made and found them satisfactory. I arranged one of my inspectors to inspect the industry and make a recommendation. The inspector had gone and reported that there was no such industry and that the youth was lying. I phoned the member of parliament who said that he could vouch for the sincerity of the youth. I went to Elpitiya to the appointed place and it happened to be a lorry garage belonging to the Cooperative Union. The youth was there with a old heavy  suitcase. I wanted to see his machinery  and he had only a few hand tools.. He had the side mirrors that he had made. He told me that he used the lorry jacks to shape his pieces of metal, which he had. I failed to understand what he did but I stayed till the lorries rolled in after work. The youth beseeched the drivers for their jacks and one oblidged. The youth sat in a corner and used the lorry jack to shape up the pieces of metal. It was sheer ingenuity to use various pieces of metal he had to get a particular shape of a side mirror. Then he sat on the verge of grass and shaped up the ends with a metal file. The product was really up to standard.  I gave him an allocation to import mirrors and it helped him to build up an industry. Recently the newspapers ran a story of students in a school in Gampaha where they repaired motor bikes and made motor bikes out of scrap motor bikes. That could be the nucleus to make an industry making motor bikes and cycles.  Isn’t it sad that Sri Lanka happens to be perhaps the only country in the world that does not make its own bicycles. One Sri Lankan Engineer working in the US visiting Sri Lanka  was surprised to hear that we do not make our own tuktuks. That is not a difficult task. It only requires the import of some bearings, the rest can be done locally. That task can be done within a year.

I have provided many new ideas and some may think that all this is impracticable. May I answer that charge. All what I have said can be achieved within a year. I speak from sheer experience. I have already detailed what I achieved in Bangladesh in designing and establishing the most successful self employment creation programme the world has ever known, designing the programme, implementing it and training the staff to carry it on, done in less than two years. Turning to Sri lanka, at Matara District I established under the DDC Programme a Mechanized Boatyard within three months. It made about 40 large sea going boats a year which were sold to fishery cooperatives. I also established a Crayon Factory. It was called Coop Crayon and the crayons were of high quality. In view of the fact that the then  Ministry of Plan Implementation  did not approve my establishing any import substitution type of programme, I decided to go it alone. I had a Planning Officer, a raw chemistry graduate and I directed him to experiment and find the art of making crayons. We commandeered the science lab of Rahula College and aided by the science teachers, conducted experiments for three months every evening from six to  midnight and finalised the art of making crayons. We fine tuned the experiments for a classy product, to stand comparison to world famous Crayola. Then I decided to establish this project as a cooperative  and entrusted the President of the Morawak Korale Cooperative Union  to produce it. Sumanapala Dahanayake the Member of Parliament was the President of this cooperative union. I usurped powers to order the Coop Union to purchase the raw materials and basic machinery. It was a handmade crayon, like most Chinese industries. Vetus, the Planning Officer accompanied by katcheri stalwarts Chandra Silva my District Land Officer and Paliakkara, Development Assistant swooped on Morawaka and worked to ensure  that the process of manufacture was meticulously followed and each and every crayon was twice thrice inspected to ensure a standard. Sumanapala was upto the task of ensuring a standard. I can remember we, Sumane, Gunam Thambypillai from the community, Vetus and other officers did not have a wink of sleep that night. We sipped black coffee. That was easily the happiest task I did in my eighteen year career in the Administrative Service. It was also the most dangerous as I was trying to teach the Ministry of Planning a lesson as they were pussyfooting. I was certain that ministers Dr NM and Subasinghe will speak for me if I got into a scrape. Once earlier it was Dr NM that had heard that I was reading novels  somewhere in the Ministry of Public Adminstration Pool, incarcerated for some two months, for what I do not yet know. He not only liberated me from the pool but also created a post of Deputy  Director of Small industries in three days to accomodate my wishes. We worked for three weeks on a 24 hour a day basis till we produced crayons to fill two large rooms. When the crayons were shown to the Minister for Industries he was surprised and readily agreed to officiate at the opening of sales. When the crayons were shown to the Minister Illangaratne he wanted me to establish a factory at Kolonnawa. The Crayon Factory ultimately became the flagship industry of the DDCP. Thus began Coop Crayon which had islandwide sales till 1978, when the Jayawardena Government crippled it with imports.

The importance of Coop Crayon lies in the fact that it proves that we can make everything that is imported, saving foreign exchange and creating incomes for our own people. That is the only path to the alleviation of poverty. It also is full proof that we can succeed.

We in the Administrative Service have always used our initiative in the interests of our country and so I shall contribute my mite in writing hoping that some of our leaders will get going before there is total chaos and a Pol Pot from somewhere will take charge.

Perhaps this preamble of my achievement is sufficient to provide credence to my suggestions.

Over to my colleagues in the Administrative Service who will be struggling to establish the Grama Shakti Programme. You have within each District able officers who can be relied upon. That was my experience at Matara. I opted to go abroad for further studies because the Ministries ignored us administrators – they wanted dons who had doctorates and the Ministries called for their opinions and followed their dictates which only resulted in a mediocre achievement as though they were adorned with doctorates they could not do anything practical. It was only Bangladesh that wanted my expertise and I have rewarded them with the Youth Self Employment Programme which is today the world’s premier employment creation programme.

Let me hope that the Grama Shakti Programme will be a great success and will someday be a poverty alleviation programme of world renown.

– Garvin Karunaratne

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