Welcome to Sri Lanka: The Paradise Island

Sri Lanka is a small tropical Island situated in the Indian Ocean. The total area of the country is 65,610 km² (Excluding the newly added area of Port City).

Sri Lanka is the richest country in Asia, in terms of species concentration. Ecological, climatic, soil and topographical variability across the country has contributed to a diversified spread of many varieties of flora and fauna.

The country has a favourable climate for any environmental project. Optimum temperature, healthy rainfalls and the sun shining 12 hours a day throughout the year make Sri Lanka an ideal location for viable afforestation and reforestation projects.

Sri Lanka is one of the first countries to have a conservation strategy, in 1988. The Government of Sri Lanka has given a high priority to developing sustainable projects and hence developed the “National Environmental Action Plan 2022-2030” to achieve this target.

Sri Lanka: An Overview of Deforestation and Afforestation

The current forest cover of the country is 24% and is planned to increase up to 40% by the year 2025. Accordingly, 16,000 hectares of new lands need to be afforested. The government of Sri Lanka and many other organizations are supporting afforestation and reforestation programs to reach this target.

Currently, 14,700 km² (22.4%) are covered with dense forests which are over 75% of canopy cover.4,700km² of open forests have 40-75% of canopy cover. Forest plantations of 900km² consist of species such as Mahogany, Teak, Pine, and other native plants.

The country has suffered largely due to deforestation in the past. At the beginning of the 19th century, approximately 70% of the land was covered with forests. As per Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), forest cover was reduced to 24% which was equivalent to 1.86 million hectares. Primary forest cover in 1999 was 257,000 hectares and it has reduced to 167,000 hectares in 2020.

A drastic decline in Forest cover has taken place in the 19th century during the British Colonial era. Most of the forests in hill country were cleared and used for the plantation of commercial crops such as Coffee and Tea.

Government policies were strengthened to protect forests in Sri Lanka during the 80s. More focus was given to reforestation and Afforestation programs.

This chart clearly shows how natural forest covers were declining while plantation forests and other planted forests had no significant increase either. Overall forest cover has been declining over time. Some of the damages are irreversible. Damages done to the only remaining primary Forest in the country- “Singharaja “cannot be reversed. This area is home to many endemic flora and fauna hence the impact is huge.

Land Utilization in Sri Lanka

Land utilization has increased correlating to the increased population. This trend could be observed all over the country while some of the areas were more damage prone due to various reasons.

Some areas were cleared due to development projects that occurred in the recent past while some of the areas were damaged due to illegal logging activities.

The below map indicates land use and land cover in Sri Lanka by 2018. Many government projects demanded high utilization of lands and destruction of forests. The areas marked as “Forestry” are protected and reserved for forestry. However, these areas are not monitored strictly hence illegal logging activities are continued within these forest reserves despite government regulations.

Policy Decisions on Afforestation & Reforestation

In 1986, “A Forestry Master plan” was formulated for the first time with a focus on investment-based development. The Master plan was revised in 1995 which was a policy strategy and a program-oriented plan for the period 1995-2020.

The main objectives of the policy are stated below.

  • Conserve forests for posterity,

    • Biodiversity

    • Soils

    • Water

    • Historical/cultural/religious and aesthetic values

  • Increase the tree cover and productivity of forests.

  • To enhance the contribution of forestry. (For Welfare of rural population)

  • Strengthen the National Economy (Equity in economic development)

It also focused on,

  • Forest Conservation

  • Multiple uses of natural forest for land

  • Common goods in rural areas

  • Forest plantation

  • Watershed management

  • Forest recreation

  • Forest trees on home gardens and common lands (As a source of income)

  • Wildlife conservation

  • Timber harvesting

  • Creation of “State Timber Corporation”

Other policies that strengthen forest conservation activities in Sri Lanka, that have cross-references to biodiversity conservation, soil conservation, and land degradation are stated below.

  • Wildlife policy 2000

  • National Environmental Policy 2000

  • Watershed management policy 2002

  • Wetland management policy 2004

Declining of Forest Cover with Increased Population

Common reasons for deforestation were socio-economic drivers such as encroachment, development projects and private agricultural ventures. With the rise of population, demands of the people also increase and scarcity of lands drives people to encroach into protected areas. Rapid development projects such as highways and airports, voltage transmission lines, urban development projects, tourism, and resettlements. All these drivers have a direct link with the rising population.

The above chart clearly shows that the country has been losing its forest cover at an alarming rate over the recent past. Increased demand for housing and food has made utilization of lands more. In addition, increased development projects including highways and other infrastructural developments over the past 12 years after ending 30 years of war in the year 2009 has been one of the main reasons for the reduction in forest cover.

Demand for timber products as a result of elevated life quality is also contributing largely to deforestation. Furniture requirements for large housing and condominium projects are fulfilled by timber sourced out from natural and planted forests.

Afforestation and Reforestation Programs in Sri Lanka

The government of Sri Lanka is planning to increase its forest cover up to 40% by the year 2030. Private and public sector organizations are encouraged to engage in tree planting activities. “Forest department of Sri Lanka” has initiated many programs to promote tree planting and, the public is encouraged to plant trees in their house gardens. Some of the reputed corporations in the country also carry out tree planting programs as a part of their CSR activities occasionally. However, most of these programs have not been monitored by these organizations afterwards hence not being able to achieve their objective.

Government Institutions Responsible for Lands and Forests in Sri Lanka

Government institutions such as the Forest Department of Sri Lanka, Central Environmental Authority, Wildlife and Nature Protection Authority, Department of wildlife conservation and State Timber Corporation are engaged in afforestation and reforestation programs of their own.

65% of the natural forests of the country are managed by the Forest Department of Sri Lanka. The production and protection of forests, management of forest areas and development and implementation of forest policy are under the purview of the Forest Department of Sri Lanka. Its operational divisions look after the following areas,

  • Forest Management

  • Conservation

  • Extension and Education

  • Forest Protection

  • Law enforcement

30% of the country’s natural forests consisting of natural reserves and sanctuaries are under the jurisdiction of “The Department of Wildlife Conservation”. Balance 5% is mainly managed by local authorities.

Harvesting, processing, and sale of wood products from the state forests are managed by “The State Timber Corporation”.

SPE has officially approached all these government institutions and have their fullest cooperation for SPE activities in Sri Lanka.

Types of Forest and Climate Zones of Sri Lanka

The main factor deciding the climate of Sri Lanka is the annual rainfall. Elevation of the land also plays a vital role in reducing atmospheric temperature and hence has a big impact on types of vegetation in relevant areas.

The “Monsoons of the southwest” (Active from May- September) and the “Monsoons of the northeast” (Active from November to February) play a vital role in the climate patterns of the country and decide the zonal division of the climate. The Main 3 zones are the Wet zone (Over 2500 mm per annum), the Intermediate zone (1750- 2500 mm per annum), and the Dry zone (Less than 1750 mm per annum). The semi-arid zone has a rainfall of less than 1250 mm.

Main Forest Types of Sri Lanka Based on Climate and Rainfall

No.Forest TypeClimate ZoneTemperature (°C)AltitudeAnnual Rainfall


Tropical Thorn Scrub

Semi-arid Zone





Tropical Dry Mixed


Dry Zone







Tropical Moist Evergreen

Intermediate Zone





1500- 2000



Tropical Lowland Wet


Wet Zone




>2000 mm


Tropical Sub Montane

Wet Zone




>2000 mm


Tropical Upper Montane

Wet Zone


> 1500 m

>2000 mm

Sri Lanka’s forests and related ecosystems are varied according to altitude, annual rainfall and soil type. Each type of forest is spread over the following districts.

Montane Forest: Nuwera Eliya, Kandy, Badulla, Matale, Ratnapura.

Sub-Montane Forest: Nuwera Eliya, Ratnapura, Kandy, Matale, Badulla, Kegalle, Matara, Anuradhapura, Monaragala.

Lowland Rain Forest - Ratnapura, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Kandy, Matale, Kegalle, Nuwera Eliya, Colombo, Badulla, Monaragala, Gampaha.

Moist Monsoon Forest - Monaragala, Polonnaruwa, Ampara, Matale, Badulla, Batticaloa, Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwera Eliya, Matara, Kurunagala, Hambantota, Gampaha, Trincomalee.

Dry Monsoon Forest - Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Monaragala, Mannar, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Puttalam, Ampara, Polonnaruwa, Killinochchi, Battocaloa, Hambantota, Matale, Kurunagala, Ratnapura, Badulla, Jaffna, Matara.

Riverine Dry Forest - Ampara, Monaragala, Hambantota, Trincomalee, Puttalam, Mannar, Polonnaruwa.

Mangrove Forest - Puttalam, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mannar, Hambantota, Mullaitivu, Killinochchi, Ampara, Jaffna, Galle, Gampaha, Kalutara, Matara.

Rivers of Sri Lanka

The country is blessed with over one hundred rivers (103) that branch out from the central highlands and flow in all directions, including 16 major rivers that are longer than 100 km

These rivers supply water for agriculture throughout the year. In Ancient times, people settled mainly near these rivers for the convenience of water. Later, they built inland streams and reservoirs to store water in other areas.

Reservoirs and Water Tanks of Sri Lanka

Ancient kings believed that not even a single drop of water comes from rain must run to the ocean without being used. They built many reservoirs to store water that can be used during the dry season.

Over 10,000 ancient tanks and newly built reservoirs with an area of over 169,000 hectares store water for the dry season.

Type of ReservoirNumberArea (ha)Percentage (%)

Major Irrigation Reservoirs (ancient)




Medium Scale Reservoirs (ancient)




Minor Scale Reservoirs (ancient)




Flood Plain Lakes

Not available



Upland Hydroelectric Reservoirs (recent)




Mahaweli Multipurpose System Reservoirs






Total Area



(Source: MENR and UNEP 2009)

These reservoirs are mainly used for agricultural purposes. Many reservoirs built in the recent past are used for the generation of hydropower as well as for irrigation of farmlands.

Nature and Types of Soil in Sri Lanka

14-17 types of soils identified in the country are generally low in minerals, nutrients, and humus. Various soil types reflect the effects of climate conditions, lithology and terrain of the soil forming process. Different soil types are found in different locations. Soil characteristics have a huge impact on the crops hence it should be considered when selecting crops.

Following are some of the main types of soils that are found in Sri Lanka.

  1. Reddish Brown Earth Soils: Mainly found in the dry zone on upper and mid slopes of the landscapes. The depth is approximately 1-1.2 m. Water holding capacity – 100-140 mm/meter. The upper layer is sandy and porous. The lower area is dark in colour and very fertile. Suitable crops are Pulses, oil seeds, rice, millet, potatoes, and fruits.

  2. Non-Calcic Brown Soils: Color ranges from dark brown to ash brown. Found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscapes. High potential for crop diversification during the dry season. Low productivity. It is found in the eastern part of the country, Kurunegala and Puttalam districts. Suitable crops are Legumes, peanuts, sugar canes, Chilies, vegetables, and onions.

  3. Old Alluvial Soils: This type of soil occurs in old river terraces. Water holding capacity is low. (40- 80 mm/meter). Suitable crops are pulses, sugar cane, rice, oilseeds, corn, vegetables, and fruits.

  4. Alluvial Soils: These types of soils occur in flood plains and are moderately fine textured. The colour is reddish to brownish. Poorly drained and most suitable for cultivation of rice, sugar cane, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, and corn.

  5. Red, Yellow Podzolic Soils: They occur in diverse landforms. This type is normally deep. It is the most widespread great soil group in the wet zone. Contains clay and oxides of aluminium and iron. Acidic type of soil. The Colour ranges from strong brown to yellowish brown. These types of soils are found in western and central provinces. Plantains and rice grow well in this type of soil.

  6. Reddish Brown Latosolic Soils: These soils are relatively young and occur on terrains that have been incised by ecological erosion. The structure is `strong crumb to granular. The texture is similar to a sandy clay loam.

  7. Immature Brown Loams: Young soils occurring in close association with reddish brown latosolic soils. The Colour varies from dark brown to dark ash. This type of soil contains a low number of organic materials and nitrogen content. Slightly low in pH value.

However, in most areas, trees are grown naturally with minimum maintenance. Fertilizers are needed when commercial cultivation is considered.

SPE uses organic fertilizers/compost for their projects to enrich the soil without using any chemical fertilizers. In addition, SPE uses special techniques to improve soil quality.

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