by IRIN News
COLOMBO, 4 January 2011 (IRIN) - Returnees to the north of Sri Lanka are struggling to deal with up to 40,000 stray cattle that are damaging their crops, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.
"Stray cattle were always involved in damaging cultivations in the past. This time it [the damage] is high, as farmers do not have enough fencing around their lands," Ravi Dissanayake, a national veterinary specialist with the FAO, told IRIN.
Stray cattle in the north ~ Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
About 80 percent of recently resettled households in the northern districts were involved in farming before being displaced, according to the UN.
The animals were left behind when their owners fled fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.
Despite ongoing efforts by FAO and authorities to round up the animals, vaccinate them and return them to their rightful owners, large numbers continue to roam freely, leaving many farmers unsure what to do.
Much of the damage is caused at night and by large numbers of meandering herds that cannot be chased away easily, farmers complain.
"It's not until the morning that we see the damage," Christine Gurukularajah, 57, who cultivates 45 hectares of paddy and vegetables in Tharmapuram village in Kilinochchi District, told IRIN.
According to FAO, free-grazing cattle herds in northern Sri Lanka are nothing new, with normal herds averaging between 20 and 100 animals and sometimes as many as 300.
"It is a highly intensive farming system based on free grazing on abandoned lands and roadsides," Dissanayake said.
To date, the FAO programme to round up the stray herds has delivered about 20,000 animals to their former owners or new ones.
Sixteen corrals (10 in Kilinochchi District and six in Mullaithivu District) and 15 paddocks (10 in Kilinochchi and five in Mullaithivu) have been set up in the two districts. The rounding-up is carried out by 12 farmer organizations.
Animals not claimed or whose owners cannot be traced have been given to female-headed households.
Livestock management and dairy farming are slowly resuming in Kilinochchi where a private company has set up a milk-collecting centre. The FAO estimates that about 1,200 litres of milk are collected daily in the district.
The agency is also providing medical supplies to start a veterinary clinic in the district.
According to the UN, more than 50 percent of residents living in the Northern Province were involved in livestock rearing before the onset of the conflict, which officially ended on 18 May 2010.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]