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Documenting the saga of war-time farmers

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Book Review -Vanni farmers in Wartimes 

Dr Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan, Senior Lecturer, attached to the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna, published a book titled ‘Vanni Farmers in Wartimes- A Saga of Human Security in Sri Lanka’ recently. 


Dr Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan, is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna.
Due to the prevailing corona situation from January 2020 afterwards, there has been a delay in reviewing this book. However, as a fellow academic, I feel honoured in reviewing his book to better inform the general public, fellow academics, social science researchers, and the historians of agriculture in conflict situations.   
The cover page is attractive, informative, and reflective of the title of the book. It is appropriate to state that the author is prepared to revise this edition in the future after getting comments from the readers.   


He has dedicated this book to all marginalized communities suffering from losing lives and limbs in the wartimes, living in the conflict-affected areas, and for his beloved parents. They lived and died due to the consequences of the conflict. His late father was an Agricultural Instructor who had done an excellent service to the Vanni farmers for nearly three decades. His father’s dedication towards Vanni farmers made the author take an effort to write this book.   
The one who looks at the title may think of purely a wartime story between the Sri Lanka Armed Forces and the LTTE, but it is not so. 

"Agriculture inputs were inadequate for the cultivation of crops. Farmers used viable irrigation methods with conserving water, appropriate cultivation methods, the use of alternative organic manure, and pesticides using locally available sources"

It is only about ‘the survivors of the war – the real heroes of the war, i.e., Vanni’s people. Nearly 70 per cent of the people in Vanni are farmers. Therefore, it is challenging to differentiate farmers from people. The terms, farmers, and people, can interchangeably be used in the Vanni region.
The author’s focus is about the prevalent survival livelihood systems such as housing trends and residential patterns, cultivated land ownership and utilization both paddy and highland, livestock rearing, use of agricultural implements and inputs, irrigation, credit and saving facilities and systems, owning and using durables, farming activities during Maha and Yala.   


He further touches on highland cultivation and home gardening, other income generation sources, drinking water, food security, nutrition, and health care.   
The author tries to describe how this farming society existed before and after 1990, with the survival strategies and techniques against the conflict constraints. The conflict caused vulnerability, marginalization, dispossession, accumulation, in addition to unsustainability.   


The author uses some Tamil terms and listed them with explanations in the content of the book. It can be considered as an appreciable effort to preserve the native names or the Tamil technical words.   
The book has eleven chapters engulfing significant farming, livelihood, and survival issues under the broad umbrella term, Human Security. It is a book of multi-disciplinary nature in social science. The primary information and the methodologies were academically sanctioned.


The author discusses the historical and conceptual background of the farmers’ economic or livelihood security in a conflict situation and their coping strategies and techniques. The imminent threats were the economic and transport ban, inaccessibility to water for irrigation, fertilizers, fuel, and other inputs to agriculture and the market, and artificially induced wartime exorbitant prices for everything under the sun.   
However, they adopted some mechanisms to survive such as diet changes, limited economic, and organic cultivation to fulfil their needs. 

"The book has eleven chapters engulfing significant farming, livelihood, and survival issues under the broad umbrella term, Human Security. It is a book of multi-disciplinary nature in social science. The primary information and the methodologies were academically sanctioned"

Moreover, he touches upon the impacts of displacement within the Vanni region and outside of Vanni.   
There is hardly any study on survival strategies and coping mechanisms to overcome these tragic situations. In that sense, this book is unique and valuable. The author did a thorough literature survey and quoted them appropriately. It enhances the value of this book.   


Next, there is factual information about the population in ‘the cleared and un-cleared areas’ declared by the Government based on then Government Agent’s reports published from time to time. It includes the overall picture of Vanni villages including the details of the two villages, namely, Poovarasankulam and Kovilkunchukulam.   
The narrative approach visualises farming particularly, the conflict and displacement, socio-economic, cultural, and political backgrounds. He has documented the interventions of all the government, non-government, business, charity organizations, the military and the militants.   


The author developed and presented a conceptual framework for the farmers’ survival strategies. The farmers’ problems ranking is another attractive way. The severity of the impact of problems was different in both ‘the cleared’ and in ‘the un-cleared’ areas.   
The coping strategies and techniques used are interesting to read and reflect. The farmers innovatively used the available raw materials wisely and built the houses with similar strength as before the wartime. They are rare information to be accessible. 


The land-use issues are critically compared with contemporary situations. Agriculture inputs were inadequate for the cultivation of crops. Farmers used viable irrigation methods with conserving water, appropriate cultivation methods, the use of alternative organic manure, and pesticides using locally available sources. The pest and disease attacks in major crop cultivation and their management using bio-pesticides in detail would be a perfect piece of information for those who want to practice environmental-friendly agricultural practices in any part of this country.   


There is a reflection on internalizing and intervening all the coping strategies and techniques with a comparison of the adoption percentage in the cleared and un-cleared area. The internalization would not only be useful for the wartime but also be helpful to overcome many other situations like resource scarcity, food insecurity, and malnutrition.   
There is a description of the process of surveying the study area in the post-script.   
Finally, my appreciation goes to the author. His achievement is visible in collecting useful information and documentation in the form of a book. There need to be more publications on this line. 

 
Vanni farmers in wartimes, Dr. Gnanaseelan,Jeyaseelan, LKR 600, 1st Edition, Pp 235 Email: jeya86@vau.jfn.ac.lk. 
Phone: 0717477503.   


Dr Nanthakumaran is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sciences and the Dean of Faculty of Applied Sciences, Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna. She carried out the PhD research in Management of Tank Irrigation with Groundwater use and obtained best research award for the PhD research work by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India. 

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