Cultivating resilience
: an investigation of agricultural rehabilitation after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka

  • Melissa Harvey

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


    Disasters have a significant impact on agriculture, particularly in lower income countries where agriculture is a primary livelihood and important source of food for many people. This thesis is based on research which set out to identify factors that contribute to the resilience of homestead garden systems – their capacity to withstand or recover from a disturbance. The study was carried out in three districts of Sri Lanka following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    The field research focussed on homestead garden cultivation in Matara, Hambantota and Ampara districts. The approach included interviews with growers, a plot walk where possible, and interviews and discussion with organisations working on post-tsunami agricultural rehabilitation. Although the original aim of the research was to focus on the impact of agronomic practices on resilience, many of the results indicated the importance of wider livelihood, social and political issues.

    Four key themes were identified. Firstly agro-ecological practices, such as integrated crops and living fences, were important to the resistance of the homestead gardens to the impact of the wave. Secondly, a diversity of livelihood options contributed to the resilience of whole household systems by providing a back-up income. Human capacities, on both individual and community levels, were also fundamental to households’ ability to recover following the disaster. Finally, processes of policy and development bore an overarching impact on many different aspects of the resilience of households surveyed.

    The research approach was found to have a significant impact on the results and their emphasis on the impact of broader social and political aspects on the resilience of homestead garden systems. The findings and research experience highlight both the challenges of carrying out crossdisciplinary research, and the importance of such approaches to explore the wider contexts of resilience.

    The research found that agroecological approaches did enhance the resilience of homestead growers, although there was a level of impact above which recovery was not helped by the approach to cultivation. Tree and shrub cover stabilised the soil and broke the force of the water, reducing the impact on the cultivated area and infrastructure. Many trees also survived the Tsunami and enabled growers to gain an income. Diverse livelihoods, with income options such as agro-processing or non-farm work were also found to contribute to the resilience of homestead garden households, providing an alternative income when cultivation was not possible. Community support through family and community networks was also found to be central to the recovery of many households. National and international approaches to development were found to have a significant impact on the resilience of households, in terms of its influence on agronomic practices, natural resource management, and the economic viability of homestead cultivation.
    Date of Award2008
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University


    • natural disasters
    • agriculture
    • tsunamis
    • Sri Lanka

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