United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Empowering small-scale women farmers in Sri Lanka through nuclear technology


    Dairy production is key to improving livelihoods and ending poverty in Sri Lanka and women are the primary caretakers of dairy cattle in small-scale farms. Several initiatives to empower women dairy farmers were hindered by less productive dairy heifers. This gap was recognized as the dairy sector’s top development priority. Between 2016 and 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) implemented a project introducing nuclear technology to develop stronger female calves with the capacity to produce large amounts of milk as adults for distribution to women farmers in Sri Lanka.


    The project aimed to help improve the livelihoods of rural Sri Lankan communities by engaging farmers directly, particularly smallholder female farmers. Empowering women to participate fully in economic life is essential to build strong prosperous economies, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and to improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities. The nuclear-derived genomic technique, used for this project, allows for the assessment of the genetic quality of cattle with high dairy production phenotype and for the selection of breeding stocks having those genetics characteristics. This aims to improve the overall breeding efficiency and generate high producing dairy calves within a shorter time as compared to conventional breeding selection techniques.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    The project was tailored to respond to the development of rural economies, as outlined in Sri Lanka’s economic development strategies and nationally identified SDGs. Analysis and consultations with the country recognised the comparative advantage of nuclear science and technology, in terms of quality of results and cost-effectiveness. The initiative invested in women’s economic empowerment, income and decision-making power and related to several SDGs, from ending poverty (SDG1) to food security (SDG2), gender equality (SDG5), and promoting more inclusive economic growth (SDG 8).

    Implementation methodologies

    The University of Peradeniya’s Department of Farm Animal Production & Health was identified as a local counterpart and service provider in support of the introduction of nuclear techniques to bridge the gap and help empower women dairy farmers with a larger amount of high producing dairy calves. The IAEA procured the equipment, provided expert services and professional training through fellowships, scientific visits, and workshops to strengthen the capacities of the embryo transfer laboratory for increasing the production of high producing heifers and the molecular laboratory for animal genetic characterisations. Training has been provided at the IAEA’s Animal Production and Health Laboratory in Austria and by the University of Sydney Bovine Clinical Services and Total Livestock Genetics in Australia. In addition, services on animal nutrition and herd health management were provided to dairy farms. The national counterparts, including Ministry of Livestock and Rural Economy in cooperation with the IAEA supported the project’s implementation. Review missions and regular project reporting enabled monitoring of the project progress along with analytical records of the embryo laboratory, and mission reports. The success of the project is reflected on the number of embryos produced and transferred, number of pregnancies and calves born, number of high producing heifers distributed and number of animals with phenotypic data. The impact of capacity building was monitored through the number of professional personnel and farmers involved, the beneficiaries of the undertaking as well as income generated from the dairy farming.


    Sri Lanka can now genetically select highly productive dairy heifers for small-scale women farmers, ensuring they can continue to play a prominent role in the national dairy industry. As a result of technical cooperation with the IAEA, 50 farmers were trained, and 10 women dairy farmers received superior quality female calves. A genetic database of local cattle resources has also been set up for the public to share information. The initiative has potential to turn into a national service offered across the country. The IAEA’s counterpart team in Sri Lanka has the necessary capacities to continue helping the genetic identification and selection of quality calves and will provide an additional 500 quality calves to allow for distribution to wider rural areas. The practice shortens the distance from science to application, addressing the needs of more vulnerable members of society, and economically empowering women dairy farmers, who are now expected to see their income to rise by 150%.

    Factors and Constraints

    The local project team has built a close partnership with the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Economy in Sri Lanka to facilitate practical implementation with the farmers, the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board for interfacing with IAEA, and the Total Livestock Genetics (Australia) for embryo transfer knowledge sharing. The IAEA’s Animal and Production and Health Laboratory (APHL) in Austria supported Sri Lanka in the use of nuclear-derived genomic techniques for the genetic improvement of livestock.

    Sustainability and replicability

    The project not only improved the conditions of small-scale women farmers, but built national capacities in the selection, breeding and distribution of stronger calves, as well as in the effective management of dairy herds. The capacity building component of the project ensures its sustainability, potentially allowing for the propagation of benefits from families to communities and society, from one generation to the next. The project and its results can be replicated with IAEA support in countries facing similar conditions and development needs. Sri Lanka itself will expand the practice to cover more rural areas and meet the needs of small-scale farmers using the established capacity] producing high-quality embryos. The support of the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Economy at the pilot stage was key to ensuring the sustainability of results and scalability.

    COVID-19 Impact

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    Contact Name
    1 2 5 8
    Geographical coverage
    01 January 2016 (start date)
    31 December 2019 (date of completion)
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    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
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