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RIEL alumna

Dr Kamal Melvani

Kamal Melvani head and shoulders

Research project title

Valuing forest gardens in Sri Lanka


Tree-dominant forest gardens (FGs) are found widely in the Tropics. Although numbers are dwindling globally, FGs are increasing in Sri Lanka suggesting that farmers value them. Why farmers value FGs warrants investigation given the current global quest to find resilient farming systems that provide food security and conserve biodiversity. This study assessed the social, ecological, financial, utility, and nutritional values of FGs to answer the overarching research question “what is the value of FGs, and how and why are they worthwhile for farmers in Sri Lanka?”. Research focused on: farmers values, stressors and response strategies; water availability and floristic diversity; financial performance, food and nutritional security. Using mixed methods, data were collected from 85 farmers in nine locations of the Intermediate zone. The Total Economic Value Framework was applied to guide the investigation of farmers’ values for land and crops. As a land use FGs were compared with On farm (other land uses), Off farm (eg. employment), and household (farmer’s family) components of farming enterprises in the reference year (2012-2013) and the future. As long-term crops, FGs were compared with other short- and long-term crops categorised by investment and return times. Research revealed that farmers had 24 values for land and crops of which floristic diversity, income and food were highly ranked. Despite climatic variability and animal pest stressors, FGs had the highest floristic diversity, largest area, and greatest: utility benefits, income, profitability and financial efficiency of all land uses. Household budgets were stabilised because FG profit was greater than farming enterprise profit. Current and Non-Current FG assets collectively accounted for 79% of farmers’ equities, ensuring financial security. While all crops provided macro and micronutrients, long and very short-term crops were micronutrient-rich and enhanced nutritional security. Diverse crop phenologies assured household food security throughout the year and in the future.  Sri Lankan farmers value tree-dominant farming enterprises because they are climate-smart, resilient, provide food, nutritional and financial security. This study contributes knowledge of a resilient, food secure farming system that conserves biodiversity and enriches farming households and may be used to guide development planning in the tropics.

Resesarch interests

Dr Kamal Melvani has engaged in 5 long-term research studies including a multidisciplinary Ph.D. on the social, ecological, financial and nutrition values of forest gardens (awarded in 2019) and an interdisciplinary M.Sc. on the bioremediation of nitrates in groundwater. She is knowledgeable and skilled in multiple restoration techniques such as regenerative agriculture including organic farming, analog forestry, riparian forestry and bioremediation, and conservation forestry. Kamal has designed and led the implementation of 27 forest rehabilitation projects in Sri Lanka that developed alternative livelihood initiatives and enhanced skills and capacities of local communities, restored watersheds, provided access to clean drinking water, and developed multi sectoral partnerships which increased ecosystem goods and services in a climate variable scenario. In addition, she has conducted 5 consultancies for national and international development agencies, presented research outputs presented at 38 national and international conferences, published 2 books/book chapters, three conference papers, six peer-reviewed journal articles. Kamal has led the Neo Synthesis Research Centre (Sri Lankan Non-Government Organization), managed projects and staff while also training school children, farmers, extension officers, and administrators in regenerative agriculture in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Mongolia. The combination of engaging in cutting-edge research, an on-the-ground understanding of water, land, and ecosystems, and business management skills has increased her capacity to manage people and the environment with positive outcomes. 

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