Dole Food Company Encroachment of Somawathiya National Park
Somawathiya National Park
In early June 2011 the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) was reliably informed of large scale land clearing carried out inside one of Sri Lanka’s National Parks, well known for being a prime habitat for elephants. The land clearance which was situated within the Somawathiya National Park (SNP) was investigated by EFL towards the end of June 2011. In order to verify the on-the-ground findings, EFL was supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to obtain past and current satellite images of the locality to identify the changes to the landscape and analysed them to confirm that the clearings were located within the SNP boundary. The foundations investigations also revealed that no permission or approval was granted for this activity from the relevant mandatory authority, in this instance the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). Any type of development activity inside a national park is prohibited under the provisions of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) and the mandatory authority. The DWC as well as the Subject Ministers had not allowed any development activity inside the SNP.
Therefore EFL concluded that;
- Illegal large scale land clearing had or was taking place within the boundaries of the SNP.
- The illegal cultivation of banana was taking place within the boundaries of the national park.
- Water was being drawn illegally from the Mahaweli River for illegal agriculture activities.
Further investigations revealed that the agriculture expansions within the SNP was driven by the Dole Food Company who had funded its local agent Letsgrow (Pvt) Ltd. to clear large extents of land inside the SNP for cultivation of banana.
The clearing of land for cultivation projects cannot be carried out within a national park under Sections 5 and 6 of the amended Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No. 22 of 2009. Furthermore, clearing of land for cultivation projects cannot be conducted within a Forest Reserve under the section 7 (K) of the Forest Conservation Ordinance No 16 of 1907 (as amended), which prohibits the clearing or breaking up of soil for cultivation of any land already cleared in a Forest Reserve.
In the aforementioned circumstances, EFL was forced to explore possible legal actions to halt these illegal activities which were causing irreversible damage to the SNP. As a result, EFL affiliated with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), Wilderness Area Protection Foundation (WAPF) and other concerned conservationists to initiate legal action against the unauthorised clearing of forests within the national park.
While EFL was preparing legal documents to jointly file action asking for the relevant government institutions to take immediate steps to halt the clearings inside the SNP, the Dole Food Company representatives arrived in Sri Lanka in order to have discussions with the relevant persons to verify the legal aspects of their operations in Sri Lanka. EFL and other conservationists met Dole Asia representative on the 25th of September 2011. EFL representatives made a presentation on the status of the illegal clearances within the protected area through its field investigations and satellite image analysis and requested the immediate withdrawal of Dole’s agriculture operations within the national park. Dole representative requested one month to investigate the matter and to implement the road map for withdrawal.
EFL then sent a detailed letter to the CEO of Dole Food Inc. on the 25th of October 2011 stating various concerns on the matter at hand and seeking immediate actions to the issue. Although EFL did not receive any written reply to the letter of concerns, the Dole Asia representative at the meeting held on the 28th of October 2011 acknowledged that their new investigations and survey of the cultivated area showed that part of their banana cultivation was in fact within the SNP and that they were taking actions for immediate withdrawal from the park. Dole requested at least two additional weeks for complete withdrawal and asked for independent verification on their withdrawal.
At a subsequent meeting on the 16th of November 2011, the Dole Asia representative confirmed that the company had withdrawn all operations from within the SNP and had cleared all equipment and fixtures, and removed all young banana plants. In December 2011, together with the reports received from third party sources, EFL carried out an independent verification, which confirmed Dole Food Company’s withdrawal from the national park.
We are extremely pleased with the turn of events and the prompt manner in which Dole Food Company has acted in this instance which we trust will serve as an example to other organisations that are presented with evidence of infringements in law governing public assets.
We attribute the success of this campaign to the vigilance of the public, the press for highlighting the issue and the positive activism of environmental organisations, as well as the individuals who worked together as one group and used scientific and investigative methods that when presented conclusively established the facts. The consultative dialogue also enabled public interest organisations to avoid costly litigation, which would have created negative publicity for Dole Food Company.
EFL, WNPS and WPAF together with the conservation community of Sri Lanka encourage all investors and companies who operate in Sri Lanka to adhere to the environmental guidelines and legislation, espouse environment stewardship in all ventures in the spirit of conscientious corporate citizenship. We request all future investors to conduct comprehensives studies on the environmental sustainability and legality of their potential business investments in order to avoid unnecessary issues in future.