The first of 150 "mini" garment factories has opened in a Sri Lankan village originally set up for displaced people, as part of a US$1.8m national apparel initiative implemented by the Government.

The first factory was opened last week by Sri Lanka's Minister for Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen, in Menik Farm Village, located south west of Vavuniya. It is one of 150 that will be set up across the country as part of the Government's employment programme.

The Sri Lanka Institute of Textile & Apparel (SLITA), under Minister Bathiudeen, is tasked with the project, which seeks to bring 3,000 women across the country into self-employment in the apparel and handloom sectors. In particular, the project is targeting women from conflict-affected families.

Menik Farm was once considered the world's largest refugee camp, sheltering close to 300,000 refugees who had been caught up in the violence of the final months of Sri Lanka's war in 2009, which left many war widows in the country's northern and eastern provinces.

The ultimate aim of the initiative is for the factories to produce and export high quality apparel. Each facility will be equipped with a range of high-end industry standard apparel machines such as single needle machines, cutting tables, and button-hole machines.

"73 centres of the 150 [factories] are dedicated to conflict affected families," the Ministry says. "Of the 73 mini factories in North and East, 38 will be in the Northern Province while 35 will be in East. Jaffna District will get three and Vavuniya 13 factories. So far 135 centres have commenced training and after six months, these centres will become mini apparel factories, each employing 22 persons. The trained women thereafter can form their own textile Cooperative or business partnerships with regional buyers through supply subcontracts."