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A divine intervention needed to save rubber industry

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J. A. A. S. Ranasinghe

Productivity Specialist/Management Consultant

Former Director of Rubber Research Institute (RRI), Dr. L. M. K. Tillekeratne’s article in The Island of 26 October, has dealt with several core issues that have contributed to the near collapse of the rubber industry in the country. The importance of clone balancing appears to have escaped the attention of the stakeholders. His piece has not only aroused much public interest but also served as an indictment of the Rubber Development Department (RDD) and the Ministry of Plantation Industries (MPI).

Rationale for clone balancing

Clone balancing means that a country at any given time should have a basket of different clones more than five for the survival of the rubber plantations.

The RRI has asked all stakeholders (Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), large plantations and smallholders) to abide by the recommended composition of different varieties of clones without depending on one or two clones countrywide as an insurance against possible losses on account of plant diseases. History shows the enormous losses countries have suffered due to their dependence on a few clones. In 1977, clone RRIC 100 was withdrawn as it accounted for more than 40% of the rubber cultivation. Similarly, clone PB 86 was withdrawn twice in 1983 and 1989. With this aim in mind, the RRI periodically prescrib

es the healthy and proper balance of clones to be maintained for the survival of the rubber plantations.

The former RRI Director has stressed the advisability of having a series of recommended clones so that rubber plantations could be commercially run on a profitable basis.

An analysis of the above three scenarios would show a startling deterioration trend. Had a pathogen attacked the rubber plantations in 2002 approximately 68.4% (PB 86 – 43.6%) and RRIC 100 (24.8%) of the Sri Lankan rubber plantations would have been wiped out, leaving a meagre hectarage of 42.6% of the plantations. This disastrous situation had been more or less the same if a pathogen attacked RRIC 100 and RRIC 121 clones, thus destroying 65.9% of the entire rubber plantations. However, the current scenario in 2020 is much graver in that 73% of the rubber plantations with the same clone (RRIC 121) will face a calamitous situation. In the case of RRIC 121, smallholders will be the worst affect as they have cultivated 55,635 hectares with RRIC 121 and as a percentage it would be around 54.20% as per the following table.

The inevitable result of this situation would be that approximately 450,000 employees would lose their employment, and such an eventuality will lead to social unrest amidst a pandemic. It behoves the main stakeholders namely Ministry of Plantation Industries

, Rubber Development Department, Regional Plantations Companies, Rubber Research Board, Rubber smallholders to be fully awake to this situation and comply with the guidelines on clone balancing criteria as well as other best agricultural practices stipulated by the RRI.

All nurseries managed by the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), Rubber Development Department (RDD) and Private sector Nursery Owners are periodically inspected by the RRI to ensure that they meet the quality standards and also to ensure that such nurseries abide by the clone balancing stipulated by the RRI.

The fact remains that RPCs, RDD and private sector nursery owners have not strictly adhered to the basket of specific clones advocated by the RRI. Both RDD and private nurseries are primarily responsible for the issue of plants to the smallholders and they are duty bound to issue plants in keeping with the RRI specifications. It is abundantly clear that this requirement has not been complied with. How come the rubber smallholders have cultivated an excessive hectarage of 55,635 with a single clone of RRIC 121, covering an extent of almost 84.20% of the cultivation as seen above. If a leaf disease attacks this clone, total extent of rubber of 46,355 ha will have to be destroyed. It is unfortunate that our stakeholders have not realised this situation.

As Dr. C. S. Weeraratna, former Director of the Advisory Services of the Rubber Research Board has pointed out the country will have to forego an annual foreign exchange loss of Rs. 4.920 million. Can the country afford a loss of this magnitude at this juncture?

The blame for this sorry state of affairs should be placed at the doorstep of the RDD, which is responsible for the issue of plants to the smallholder sector. The Director General (DG) of the RDD is an Ex-Officio of the Rubber Research Board and he interacts with the RRI on clone balancing amongst any other matters and why he had ignored an important requirement involving the life and death of the rubber plantation is a moot point.

Although the RRI is responsible for supervising the nurseries managed by the RDD, it has limited access to the private rubber nurseries managed by the RDD. The private rubber nursery owners have a system of sub-con

tracting nurseries with hardly supervision. If one visits Ruwanwella, Dehiowta, Yatiyantota in the Kegalle District, one can see more than 1,000 individual nurseries sub-contracted by the RDD. It is a mere business for them. They are completely unaware of the clone balancing aspects to be maintained. The clone balancing has already gone out of control of the RRI.

The writer is of the view that the responsibility for managing all nurseries should be taken over by the RRI. The scientists of the RRI are quite capable of handling this task more scientifically. It is relevant to place on record that RRI was given the task of managing the nurseries that were managed by RDD in 2002, when the government decided to close down the RDD. With the change of the government in 2004, this decision was reversed and the task of managing the nurseries was entrusted to RDD at the behest of the bureaucracy, disregarding all the scientific advice. We are 

where we are today, as a result.

Both Ministry of Plantation and Rubber Development Department have been in a deep slumber for many years without taking proactive measures to overcome this situation. Many articles that have appeared in The Island during the recent years should have galvanised the authorities concerned into action. All smallholders of the rubber growing districts sent more than 60 representatives to Parliament at the last general election, believing in assurances given in election manifestos, but these MPs done precious little to protect the rubber industry. Rubber smallholders are of the view that at this rate it will be impossible to save the industry without a divine intervention.

 

Publication of Bulletin on Rubber

The non-publication of the RRI bulletin containing the research findings since 2018 has been a serious lapse on the part of the RRI. My inquiries have revealed that the majority of the scientists have left the institute to join our national universities due to better prospects.

2. From this year onwards RRISL will pay more attention on clone balance while nursery inspection for plant quality improvement. 

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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Features

LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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