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          I TA

The John Ray Initiative would like to introduce to you a remarkable
project which is saving rare plants in Sri Lanka. It is of particular
interest to us because it combines:
        Saving medicinal, wild food and timber species from
        Teaching Creation Care to children
        Helping families live healthily and sustainably
        Preserving traditional knowledge of plants
        Making church gardens to propagate plants

Sri Lanka Biodiversity Project: the            For the last few years, Mr Damitha Ra-
story                                          japakse, a devout Christian, who himself
Sri Lanka is a country with a huge rich-       works for a pharmaceutical company,
ness of plants, many of which have been        has been collecting rare plants and inter-
used for traditional healing treatment         viewing elderly members of remote
(ayurvedic medicine). The knowledge            communities in order to understand their
of such plant remedies used to be sus-         uses. Previously he worked with a
tained in rural families, among tradition-     Dutch Christian to found the Integrated
al healers, and in Buddhist monasteries        Livestock Development Association,
where plants were grown. Under the             which imported goats from Holland to
pressures of modern life, the local            created a means of livelihood for poor
knowledge is fast disappearing, often          families. ILDA remains the name of his
leading to the dependence of poor peo-         charity, which will soon be
ple on expensive pharmaceutical prod-          ‘Biodiversity Lifeskills Foundation’.
ucts for simple remedies. The plants
themselves are also threatened with ex-
tinction. Similarly, as forest cover is
cleared on the island, a wide range of
lesser-known fruit varieties is disappear-
ing rapidly. Many of these plants are
suitable for food and can be grown at
home for a balanced diet.

Numerous studies have been done at a
scientific level of such medicinal and
fruit species, but little practical has been   The arboretum:
done to conserve them, or to keep the          Taking advice from the elderly on
knowledge of their uses alive in the           organic manuring
The Project                                        for the health of everyone, and every
The concept is quite simple, but could             being. Loss of biodiversity is as poten-
have enormous consequences. Having                 tially dangerous for our future as, say,
developed his ‘arboretum’, a plant nurs-           climate change.
ery with about 75 rare species in it, the
plan is to make church gardens in some             We learnt about Damitha’s project
25 parishes in which 25 key species will           shortly afterwards, and met up with him
be planted. These gardens will be given            in London, and also introduced him to
to the care of the Sunday School chil-             Professor Peter Houghton, of King’s
dren and the adults who teach them, and            College, a medicinal plant specialist.
materials will be provided that teach the          One thing became clear: preserving bio-
Biblical basis for creation care, as well          diversity - though we might imagine it is
as the practical uses of the plants and            achieved by committee decisions and
the skills to grow them. Damitha al-               phone calls - depends significantly on a
ready has the support of                                            man, children, and a wa-
local clergy, and a                                                 tering can (See the front
wealth of volunteer help,                                           cover)!
from children and adults.
The final phase of the                                              We were also struck by
project will be when                                                the amazing provision
families take up plant                                              that God has made in Sri
growing at home, for                                                Lanka for food and for
their own use and also                                              healing in the endemic
                               Children curious about food plants
for the growing urban                                               species, and yet how the
market for organic and health products.            knowledge and the plants themselves
                                                   are disappearing in the race to
The project is expected to have a social           ‘modernise’. Spiritual, physical and ma-
impact, in convincing communities                  terial impoverishment are the inevitable
about creation care, an economic                   consequence. But this project has the
impact, in providing future income, an             prospect of reversing this trend in a
environmental impact, with a field                 small area, and for being a model for
gene bank, utilisation of neglected                similar activities, perhaps world-wide.
churchyards, and wildlife habitats, and a
policy impact at national level, in                The John Ray Initiative is giving sup-
demonstrating the successful                       port through encouragement, prayer and
reintroduction of native species.                  publicity, and also hopes to give expert
                                                   help if and when needed. We also want
How JRI is involved                                to encourage individuals to give materi-
In 2004-5, JRI’s conferences featured              al support to help get the project off the
talks on biodiversity from Sir Ghillean            ground. Only a small amount of money
Prance, Rocio Alarcon, and Dr John                 is needed, principally for watering
Sale. A major lesson of these presenta-            equipment (tank, pump and well rein-
tions was that biodiversity is not a luxu-         forcement) and fencing, costing a total
ry, nor a tourist interest, but it is the way      of £3865. Much of this has now been
our world was designed by God to work              raised and equipment bought.
      Sri Lanka Biodiversity Project:
             How we can help
1. Encourage
Mr Rajapakse has some support within Sri Lanka (see below) but Christian encourage-
ment is vital, and he would welcome visits from JRI supporters who are visiting Sri
Lanka. He is based about 20 km east of Colombo.
2. Pray
This is, of course, far more than a horticultural project. It involves a change of heart in
churches, children and families, and ultimately policy makers, as Bible truths are
taught and lead to practical action. We anticipate that Damitha’s work will need cover-
ing in prayer. Please pray that he will continue to have support from local clergy and
in the community, for health and for his family, for provision, and that the thinking of
children, families and communities will be changed.
3. Provide
The budget for the project is £5765, of which £1900 is to be raised locally. That leaves
£3865 for us to find (as of early 2007, much of this sum has been given. Pump and wa-
tering equipment are installed, but not fencing as yet). A list of budget items is availa-
ble from the JRI office, with lists of plants and full details. Cheques can be made out
to ‘The John Ray Initiative’ and sent to the office, clearly marked for ‘Biodiversity’.

The John Ray Initiative, QW212, Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire,
Swindon Rd, Cheltenham GL50 4AZ, Tel 01242 714821. Reg Charity 1067614, Co. Reg. 3420063
                            www.jri.org.uk, admin@jri.org.uk

Damitha Rajapakse
Aged 44, married with two children, a Catholic living in the Catholic
area east of Colombo, Damitha has trained in sustainable agriculture
in India and Australia. In his Livestock Development project 1993-
2000 he worked with families, and he is now teaching children, to
‘Live like a shepherd, not a wolf’ in creation care. His new project,
inspired by his first Dutch Christian mentor, aims to be low-tech,
low-cost and strategic.                                                     Damitha in London 2005

From The World Conservation Union (ICUN), Sri Lanka, Dr Channa Bambaradeniya (Co-ordinator,
Regional Species Programme, Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group 2) writes: ‘Over the last three years,
Damitha has managed to compile valuable information on the medicinal plants, and lesser-known wild fruit
plants in the island, including a wealth of ethnobotanical information, which he has gathered through visits
to remote areas in Sri Lanka. He has also been able to develop his 1 acre home garden...a unique plant
arboretum, ...including many rare/nationally threatened species...I am really satisfied with what Damitha has
done over the past 3 years...I can recommend Damitha’s work highly.’(October 2005).

             JRI’s project advisers: Sir Ghillean Prance FRS,
               Professor Peter Houghton, King’s College

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