Nanda returned to work in the scorching sun after her mid-day meal. Harvesting groundnuts was hard work but her bright smile dazzled against her dusky skin. It was obvious that Nanda was accustomed to hard work, but it was also visible that she was grateful for the work. After all, there was no one else to take care of Nanda and her two sons. Since her husband’s death in 2019, Nanda has taken it upon herself to provide for her sons to the best of her ability. She works as a daily-paid labourer in neighbouring fields and her earnings go directly towards feeding her family. As her family’s sole breadwinner, it is also her responsibility to provide for the educational needs of her children and therefore the purchase of exercise books and stationery for her sons can sometimes be difficult.

Nanda’s family is one among a considerable number of women-headed households in the Madukarai village in Mannar – a war-affected region   located   in   the   north   of   Sri   Lanka.   Poverty, limited access to financial  support, socio-cultural   barriers   and   the   dry   climatic   conditions severely affect these single parents and  breadwinners. They often rely on state  welfare  measures,  the  goodwill  of  relatives  or  work  they  secure  as  manual  labourers  to  feed  their  families  and  provide  for  their dependents.  When LEADS launched its pilot project in cultivating a 2-acre land in Mannar in 2019,  it ensured  that neighbouring  women-headed  households  would  be  among  those   who   benefit   from   this   new   social enterprise. With  guidance  from  the Department of  Agriculture,  LEADS  cultivated  a quick-yielding variant of groundnuts in a land in  Madukarai  as  part  of  its  model  eco-friendly  farm.    This    land    was    cultivated    for    seed    groundnuts    which    are purchased    by    the  Department  of   Agriculture  and  in  turn  resold  to  local  groundnut  farmers  at  an  affordable  price.   The   cultivation   aims   at   contributing   towards seed security      among  farmers  cultivating amidst harsh climatic conditions. As a model farm, knowledge and resource-sharing between   rural   farmers   are   also   encouraged   and   LEADS   cultivates   fodder   grass   to   be   distributed free of charge among dairy farmers in the neighbourhood.

This  model  farm  also  creates  employment  for  female breadwinners like Nanda who are hired for  the  preparation  of  the  land  for  cultivation  as    well    as    for    the    harvesting    season.    At    harvesting  season,  Nanda  can  earn  up  to  LKR  21,000 when there is 3 weeks of work at hand. “I am very happy to work here” says Nanda. “With the   money   I   earn,   I   can   buy   rice,   rations   and   exercise   books   for   my   children.”   Nanda’s   sole   purpose now in life is to educate her two young sons. “I  want  them  to  study  well  and  hope  that  they    will    become    teachers    someday”    shares    Nanda,  pausing  to  pick  up  the  groundnuts  she  had just gathered.

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