The United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) is supporting a new almost $40 million project in Sri Lanka that has the dual aims of bolstering incomes of 40,000 poor tea and rubber farmers and increasing their bargaining power.“The people targeted by the programme are among the very poorest in Sri Lanka,” said Sana Jatta, the agency’s programme manager for Sri Lanka.The Smallholder Plantations Entrepreneurship Development Programme will target small tea farmers in the Kandy, Kegalle and Matale districts, as well as food crop farmers in the Moneragala district who also wish to grow rubber.The project “will not only give poor people the tools to pull themselves out of poverty, it will also empower them through strengthened grassroots institutions that will eventually transform into farmers’ companies. This will give farmers increased bargaining power with private tea and rubber companies and private institutions,” Mr. Jatta noted.Under the scheme, the poor’s access to land will be improved, with the implementation of a mutually beneficial arrangement where small farmers will be directly linked to factories that will process their crops, allowing both producers and processors to benefit. Additionally, crop diversification and better access to markets for crops, including tea, rubber and spices, will be included.Financial services will also be provided to the project’s participants. Farmers will form small self-help groups to accumulate and manage their savings, supply credit and make collective decisions about such matters as investment. These groups will act collectively to increase their bargaining power with private companies, banks and public services, and ultimately function as their own private companies in accrue assets.More than two decades of conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have impeded rural development, particularly in the districts covered by the Programme.“By increasing equitable access to resources, services, technologies and markets, IFAD hopes the programme will contribute to conflict prevention and peace building in Sri Lanka,” said Matthew Wyatt, the agency’s Assistant President for External Affairs.The agreement was signed today in Rome by Mr. Wyatt and E. Rodney M. Perera, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Italy, where IFAD is headquartered.IFAD will furnish a loan of $22.5 million for the Programme, while the Sri Lankan Government will provide $3.8 million, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will contribute $5.5 million and the Sri Lankan Wellassa Rubber Company will donate $5.2 million. 9 May 2007The United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) is supporting a new almost $40 million project in Sri Lanka that has the dual aims of bolstering incomes of 40,000 poor tea and rubber farmers and increasing their bargaining power.