The way to our own ‘Green Revolution’


Governor of the Eastern Province

It was the ‘Green Revolution’ that came to our rescue immediately after World War II to increase global food production, when famine was looming across the world. The global powers or winners of World War II knew another great depression may cause another world conflict. Therefore, it was important to take every step to overcome the food scarcity. Increasing the crop yields to feed the population surge, after the end of the war, was a challenge.

There was another important reason for the Green Revolution of the late 1940s, as the two main global powers during the cold war, the USA and the USSR, were ideologically different, and their competition, to establish individual influence in the world, was becoming aggressive. It was during this time that President Truman, of the USA, came up with the plan of expending American foreign aid and transferring technology, especially in the agriculture sector. This was also an important opportunity for the USA to spread capitalism in the world, while the USA could also contain USSR’s communist ideology. Most countries, in the developing world, and the third world, welcomed the idea of implementing science and technology in agriculture. The ‘Green Revolution’ soon established itself throughout the world.

Mexico became the birth of the ‘Green Revolution’, which was more an experimental ground for the United States, using new technologies in seeds, irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides. This programme was backed by the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. By the 1960s, the ‘Green Revolution’ started to transform traditional agriculture practices of Asia into high technological and scientific practices. New high yielding rice, and other crop varieties, were introduced, doubling the agriculture production; but after many decades of such practices, the effects of continuous use of agrochemicals on Earth has posed a threat to the very survival of humans, all other living species, and the environment itself.

Human beings have responded, and recovered, from crises throughout history, sometimes with a long-term vision, sometimes not. Currently, countries are fast adjusting their policies and trying hard to respond to the COVID-19 threat. Out of many lessons that could be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, the most critical is the evidence of the extent of pollution caused by humans; especially anthropogenic pollution in agriculture to air, water and land. Though this is already at a threatening level, very few actions are being taken by most countries. But, during this pandemic, when the whole world was under quarantine, planet Earth gave us hope by quickly recovering some of its natural splendour.

Post Covid-19 era

Policy makers, from all over the world, have recognised the present era as a turning point in world affairs, and started planning a post-COVID-19 era. Environmental issues are taken into consideration more than ever. Interconnectedness between countries, in international trade, or travel, is becoming limited; therefore, many countries including the European Commission, are changing their existing plans, and policies, accordingly. These changes are bringing new phenomena to the liberal world.

Connectivity has been the key in the world’s agricultural industry for centuries. Last year, around four-fifths of food was imported world-wide spending 1.5 trillion dollars. The food industry has been global. Even in Sri Lanka, only the farmer, the land and the water may be local; but seeds, fertilisers, machinery and fuel required to run them are imported. In addition, Sri Lanka is still dependent on the importation of many staple food items.

The current situation has shown how vital it is for countries to be self- sufficient in food. This is not an easy task. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that can accomplish not only food self-sufficiency but also become an exporter of agricultural produce, if it uses its resources wisely. It has to be understood that food self-sufficiency, at any point, does not work in countries with a closed economy. Sri Lanka had the experience of working towards self-sufficiency, in the ‘70s, but the closed economic policies failed the administration of that time. Options need to be open for imports, as well, if any food shortage arises due to climatic conditions or for food that does not grow in Sri Lanka. Of course, there will always be a niche market for luxury foods which, too, can be imported.

Green Agriculture

Food self-sufficiency is also the availability of food of nutritional value, to all. With the support of policy decisions, the country’s agriculture, fisheries and milk production can be improved to achieve this. Importance of food self-sufficiency is that it will not only bring economic advancement to the country, but will also establish political sovereignty and national security. This is crucial for a sovereign country in this day and era.

Sri Lanka has a long history of "Green Agriculture," unfortunately forgotten by many, in recent years. The concept ‘Wevai Dagabai’ of Sri Lanka, which is the foundation of a 2,500-year-old civilisation, where the agriculture practices, based on an intricate irrigation system, is not only an economic practice but also a practice of sustainable livelihood, which protect the environment and all beings living in that environment. The concepts of ‘do no harm’ or ‘live and let live’ or ‘every life matters’ are being familiarised by environmentalists as the basis of such practices.

The environmental harm by age-old, traditional agricultural practices is minimal. The sustainable practices of precision irrigation and water management, precision agriculture and organic farming need to be the global standard for sustainability in the post-COVID-19 world. If Sri Lanka uses its inherited knowledge with Science and Technology that ‘do no harm’, Sri Lanka can be one of the pioneers of the next ‘Green Revolution’; but this revolution should be green; in the true sense and not only for its name.

Food production in the world, using the technology which was introduced after World War II, has resulted in air, water and soil pollution causing global warming. This has caused climate change which results in devastating floods and droughts in every continent. The agriculture industry, that came to light as the ‘Green Revolution’, has contributed drastically to climate change by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, by its continuous use of chemicals as fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides. Also, loss of biodiversity is a result of excessive land clearing. Therefore, the limited arable land needs to be managed by precision agriculture with good practices.

Reaching food self-sufficiency using, ‘Green Agriculture’, will require identifying opportunities for sustainable energy efficient investments in agriculture, working hand-in-hand with traditional precision agriculture and a revival of the ancient irrigation system. It also requires the fostering of ‘agro-ecology’ the integration of agricultural practices with ecological, environmentally friendly processes. Our traditional home garden (or what we had seen generations ago in most of our grandmother’s home gardens), is the best example where food required is produced in a balanced ecological environment.

Good agricultural practices

This is a marvellous opportunity for Sri Lanka to embrace good agricultural practices, which rely on natural fertilisers and native strains of crops, rather than genetically modified ones in its farming. This would ensure that people have healthy food to eat and make our agricultural products attractive to foreign countries, which are desperately looking for such alternatives.

The ‘Green Recovery Package’, introduced by the European Commission for the recovery of COVID-19 ravaged economies, emphasises countries to adhere by the green oath ‘Do No Harm’ when investing in economic recovery projects. The European Commission is investing in plans that lead to the use of sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, organic farming, agro-ecology, agro-forestry and stricter animal welfare standards. This is very much in line with traditional agricultural practices of Sri Lanka. For example, we speak of a "Amba Wanaya" (mango forest) during the rule of the Kings, where mango orchards were integrated into the existing natural forest. Thus protecting the existing ecology whilst fulfilling the agricultural requirement.

Furthermore, the European Commission by its ‘Green Recovery Package’, is taking steps to make consumers better informed about the quality of food they purchase, its nutritional value, and its environmental footprint. This is an important step to provide safer food to the consumer. Food security also means safe food consumption which, in Sri Lanka, most unfortunately, has been the given least priority. Some of the chemicals, which are used by the agriculture industry, have proven to have resulted in long term health-related issues.

Sustainable food consumption, and affordable healthy food for all, has to be the normal practice in this forthcoming ‘Green Revolution’. Traditional varieties of agricultural products, which are available in Sri Lanka, with high nutritional value have to be presented to the consumer as new innovative products. Virgin coconut oil and jackfruit are good examples. Whilst encouraging such innovations, the environmental impact of food processing, transport, storage, packaging, etc., have to be considered. The relationship between the farmer and the end consumer needs to be closer, and of more understanding, to gain more confidence between the two.

In Sri Lanka it is possible to achieve the energy required for the food Industry by renewable energy, which has not yet been harvested fully. Identifying opportunities for sustainable, energy efficient investments in agriculture, hand-in-hand with traditional precision agriculture and irrigation systems, is the new ‘Green Revolution’. This will ensure safe, healthy and affordable food to every person, whilst reducing environmental impacts of the overall food industry; which will bring Sri Lanka back to the golden era of the "Parakum Yugaya".

Sri Lanka has the knowledge and the resources to become the pioneers of the new ‘Green Revolution’ and make it greener.

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