Shanaka - A year in Sri Lanka

Shanaka Fernando, the founder of Lentil as Anything, has spent the last few months tackling some big issues in Sri Lanka.


"I'm currently serving as director of development at Rainforest Rescue International." says Shanaka.

"This is a volunteer position. The projects that I am driving are..

The BMZ climate change project;

This is primarily the creation of a corridor between the last remaining rainforest pockets in the south of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot. The preservation of its species is vital in the battle against climate change.

We are guided by analog forestry -

A system that supports organic agriculture and forestry to coexist. We have drawn up contracts with 750 farmers living around the rainforests to convert their farms into organic agriculture. The farmers also devote a portion of their land to re-forestry

400,000 forest trees are being planted towards creating the corridor. We have created 20 community nurseries to propagate seeds. We are also engaged in a school education program for kids in the rainforest areas. The program includes tree planting, talks and art competitions.

This project is in its halfway stage and its scheduled to finish at the end of next year.

We employ 15 community extension officers to oversee and guide 50 farmers each towards organic certification. The program has encountered substantial hurdles due to drought , floods and landslides. We have created a subsidiary called rainforest foods to enhance market and income opportunities for the farmers.

We currently export to France and Australia.


The war widows program in Vavuniya

Australia is hell bent on "stopping the boats" , yet there isn't enough being done on the ground to build livelihoods after the war and to address human rights issues in a practical way.

The war widows program in Vavuniya sees us assisting 150 war widows to convert their home Gardens into organic market gardens. We have also assisted them to have a well in their gardens to ensure water supply, as Vavuniya is in a dry zone. The women are incredibly resilient , strong and motivated. They grow enough for personal consumption and to sell at the market and earn an income to live. The women are organized into community hubs of upto 20 women each. These hubs are used to gather produce and also to value add. Lentil patties ( wadeis) and lime pickles are some of the products that are made and distributed. Their stories inspire me to be grateful for what I have.

The Belipola analog training centre

Nestled in the mountains of Bandarawela - the belipola training centre is set in 16 acres of rainforest.

The centre has mud brick accommodation for 20 people at a time. We currently host European (mainly French) academics each month who use the centre to learn about the unique qualities of Sri Lanka's flora and fauna.

We also manage two more forest nurseries in baddegama and hiniduma of about 15 acres each

We also work closely with the rainforest trust to buy degraded land adjacent to forest land and to reforest and secure these properties from logging or clearing.

The corporate sector too has joined forces with us. With Sri Lanka's second largest employer MAS holdings partnering with us to secure and plant 20 acres of land in the corridor. We are also in the process of setting up the first organic mini supermarket in galle


Apart from the work with RRI

I have just set up another not for profit company called THE EARTH TALKS (TET). The primary objective of this company is to bring together the environmental sector, the corporate sector,  the grass roots sector , civil society groups and the government to work more cohesively towards environmental sustainability and conservation outcomes. TET held its first conference in August, bringing together the leaders in the environmental sector to identify and prioritize objectives.

Water security emerged as the theme of our vision. To this end, we are currently engaged in several activities

Maduru Oya project.

The government has earmarked 18,000 hectares of land in the north east , surrounding the maduru oya reservoir. Their aim is to create 10,000 jobs through a sugar cane plantation. Sugar cane is a monoculture that will destroy the bio diversity of the area. The plantation will also strip the local villages of their land and destroy their identity. The pesticides will also bring decease to animals and humans. This area is also a crucial elephant habitat and has many threatened species. Using a case study of a disastrous sugar cane plantation called Palwatta we have a clear example of the social and environmental degradation that sugar cane brings, not to mention the diminishing returns from degraded soil. We have called upon the government to postpone the tender process in order for us to present an alternative proposal for a green environmental park that has organic , small scale agriculture to be coupled with eco tourism. We currently have a team of 5 spending most of this week in maduru oya, including drones , doing a bio diversity survey and impact assessment. We have an audience with the President of Sri Lanka, who heads the environment ministry next week to alert him to the environmental consequences of the sugar cane plantation.

We are also designing a program to educate the Judiciary on the current state of the environment and the challenges that water security will face

We are also designing a schools program call the TET talks that will be a platform for school kids to voice their ideas on environmental sustainability. The pilot is scheduled for November.

The TET team is also planning a clean up Sri Lanka day and an improved system for waste management. This will be done with Sarvodaya and Army support.

The first TET office is scheduled to open this Monday at the Arq house, a design studio owned by my friend , fashion designer Andre Estefan

I'm actually paying the First Employee - a program manager named Kanchana Pathirana - out of my lentil wage. Kanchana will have a team of interns and volunteers from the UNDP.

There were 56 applicants for Kanchana's role and we interviewed 29 in 1 day !

Apart from this, I'm working closely with the Monk among the veddas - Buddhist monk Watawana Dhamitha"