by Jehan Perera
The presidential proclamation declaring a state of emergency did not immediately provoke a negative reaction. In his proclamation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that he was of the opinion this was necessary to ensure public security and maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community in view of the prevailing emergency situation in Sri Lanka in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public reaction may well have been positive to this announcement because the declaration of a state of emergency would be seen as for the purpose of taking care of the people’s needs. The media has been showing images of hoarded sugar stocks being unearthed and taken away by the security forces to be distributed to the public. The immediate coverage of the declaration of emergency by the international media also gave a benign explanation of dealing with food and cooking fuel shortages.
However, there are wider implications to the declaration of emergency that have been identified by the opposition political parties. They have pointed out the importance of ensuring that the extraordinary powers given to the executive through these emergency regulations need to be used for the specific purposes recognised by the regulations which pertain to health and food security. Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa said that the real objective of the government imposing an emergency was to form a dictatorial administration leading to the burial of democracy. He called on the government to reverse the gazette notification under which emergency was imposed and to activate a Consumer Security Bill. He was quoted as saying, “Emergency will not bring in COVID vaccines, and it will not contain the pandemic. It will not bring down the prices of essential goods either.”
As a country that has spent a substantial portion of its post-independence history under emergency law, there is much negative experience to draw from in anticipating the future course of events. The legal significance of a state of emergency is spelled out in Article 155 (2) of the Constitution. It states that “The power to make emergency regulations under the Public Security Ordinance or the law for the time being in force relating to public security shall include the power to make regulations having the legal effect of over-riding, amending or suspending the operation of the provisions of any law, except the provisions of the Constitution.” Laws that give more powers to the rulers are seldom withdrawn in a gracious manner. An example would be the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was brought in as a temporary law in 1979, draconian even then, but which has grown so much in scope that no government that followed has wished to withdraw it, preferring to make use of it instead to control those in opposition to them.
The repeal of the PTA has been set by the EU Parliament as a lead condition for the continuation of the European Union’s GSP Plus tariff privileges in view of its historical role in facilitating human rights violations. This law permits the security forces to arrest people on suspicion and then keep them incarcerated while they may take their own time to find the evidence that would enable the case to be taken to the judicial process. But so far the best that the government has been able to do with regard to either amending or replacing the law is to set up yet another committee to study it and make recommendations. It has also released 16 of the LTTE suspects incarcerated for a long period of time but In the meantime, other people continue to be arrested under it and detained without trial.
The willingness of the government to release the LTTE suspects and the appointment of committees to look into the reform of the PTA and to see if more LTTE prisoners can be released are indications that the government is taking the forthcoming UNHRC meeting seriously. However, the implications of emergency law as spelled out by the Opposition and by civil society organisations are likely to lead to greater skepticism in the human rights community, both local and international, about the government’s good intentions. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has stated that emergency regulations “should not be considered as a substitute for the normal legal regime. As such the State of Emergency should be in force only for a limited period of time.”
In recent weeks, the newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris has been meeting with foreign embassies in the country to explain the government’s position on issues of interest and to indicate the government’s plan for the way forward. As an expert in international and constitutional law he will be able to present the best possible case from the government’s point of view. However, he needs to be supported by positive changes on the ground. If this base support is not forthcoming, it will seem to be as if the Sri Lankan batsman will be batting on a bad wicket and bowled out in quick order. The declaration of emergency law, the appointment of military officers to oversee food and fuel distribution, and the continuing detentions without trial under the PTA will queer the pitch for champions of Sri Lanka’s democracy and human rights.
The UN Human Rights Council session will commence in Geneva next week. Sri Lanka will be in the embarrassing position of being one of a handful of countries that will be considered in depth at that session. The government is reported to have handed over a report of its significant achievements in the areas of concerns to the UNHRC. This includes the meetings that members of the government, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, have had with a section of civil society. This civil society group, most of them drawn from peacebuilding backgrounds, presented many issues for addressing by the government. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The ideas shared and good intentions need to be actualised on the ground or else they remain mirages of things hoped for.
There seems to be a perception gap in which the government leadership does not seem to be aware of how others perceive them and their actions. A recent example would be the event that the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) organised and in which government leaders set out their thinking on the issue. This was a positive initiative on the part of the government. However, there is a need to do more and go beyond the discussion that took place that day. The issue of missing persons is an extremely sensitive and emotive one, for it concerns the loved ones of families that they will never abandon. They wish to know if their loved ones are still alive, other words the truth. It will not suffice to pay compensation and to promise non-recurrence which is what the government is placing on offer at the present time. Paying compensation is not a substitute for those who seek closure on how the family members can deal with their grief, which has lasted for over three decades in some instances.
The issue of emergency law is another example. It was proclaimed just two weeks before the government will face its keenest detractors in the UN Human Rights Council. It is important to have good intentions. But it is also important to see the optics of the situation, and how others might perceive it. The promulgation of emergency law needs to be withdrawn as soon as possible and other laws to deal with food and other crises in this time of Covid health crisis need to be passed instead. The greater sharing of power with the parliamentary opposition and holding elections to the provincial councils to share power is the way to solve problems together and break out of the vicious cycle in a way which one single institution cannot. Democratic governance is a system of government and not rule by one person or one institution. The government’s commitment to democracy and human rights will be judged in UN and EU accordingly.
Confessions of a global gypsy – Part 20
A winning streak
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Learning from the Past to Create a Bright Future
Last week, I was pleased to be invited by a newly established International Hotel School (IHS) Guild to talk on the above topic. IHS Guild organized their first webinar of a series on the day I celebrated my 50 years in the field of hospitality – on October 10, 2021. As their keynote speaker, I spoke about the vision, the mission and the passion needed. It was in relation to the how the IHS – the second oldest hotel school in Sri Lanka, was created within Mount Lavinia Hotel 30 years ago. As the hotel industry in Sri Lanka is planning to re-bounce and rebuild after the global pandemic, it is vital for industry leaders to learn from the past in becoming innovative leaders for the future.
Managing an Inn at age twenty
In 1974, my first management position fell on my lap when I was still a 24-year old third-year student at the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). The company making the offer was very impressed with my experience in eight part-time positions within a short two and half years at CHS. Most of my peers interested in this position had only two or three part-time positions on their resumes. My focus on being ‘street smart’ by action learning at any job I could find rather than being ‘book smart’, finally paid dividends.
This company, with five boutique hotels (in Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya) – Yahala Group, offered me the post of the Resident Secretary of the Tropical Gardens Club & Inn in the most expensive location in Sri Lanka (Colombo Seven). I accepted the offer immediately. Every afternoon, soon after I finished my classes at CHS, I wore a tie and rushed to the this small 10-bedroom inn with a busy restaurant, bar and a club. Around 4:00 pm every weekday, I took over the keys and the entire operation from Mrs. S. Wijesinghe, the manageress.
I was paid only Rs. 200 a month. However, to the amazement of my batchmates I was provided with à la carte restaurant dining facilities and an air-conditioned room for overnight stay, on complimentary basis. Air-conditioning was a luxury in mid-1970s in Sri Lanka. Around midnight, I managed to do a little bit of studying for the forthcoming final examinations at CHS in my luxurious hotel bedroom, rather than in a crowded dormitory at the CHS hostel.
The manageress was an early bird. Every morning, I handed over the inn back to her and rushed to CHS. During the weekends I worked longer hours. I did not get many opportunities to practice my newly improved culinary skills but enjoyed being in charge of the inn during its busiest time of the day. I was the number two of the inn combined with duties of the duty manager and night manager. The employees respected me after I commenced mini sessions of service training. In my ninth part-time job I learnt how to lead a small team and keep them motivated.
Winning Big at Sports
In spite of my hectic schedule, I found time to continue practising Judo and Rugby Football. I was chosen to the five-member team of Colombo YMCA Judo club. After a hectic five-bout team event, we won the 1974 national Judo Championship in Sri Lanka.
For the third time, as the Tournament Secretary of the Nationalised Services Rugby Football Club I led the organizing of a 16-team seven-a-side tournament. CHS competed once again and won the championship for the first time. We played against strong teams with several top Sri Lanka national team players, such as Dan Ratnam (Captain of the Havelock Sports Club, fondly known as Havies Rugger team). Our hard work at early morning practices at the Galle Face Green and our youthful fitness were the key winning factors in our favour.
I was angered when the team captain and my friend, Neil Maurice nearly dropped me from the team for not attending some of the practice sessions. However, he was particularly pleased with my performance during our final match. After a 60-meter sprint, I scored an early try within minutes of the opening whistle. After we won the trophy, Neil gave me a big hug and said, “Machang, no hard feelings. We won mainly because of that first minute try by you.”
Getting Promoted to Havelock Tourinn
During my third month at Tropical Gardens Club & Inn, the company appointed a Group General Manager in charge of all five boutique hotels. Mr C. Nagendra was a Chartered Accountant returning to Sri Lanka after spending a long time in the UK. He immediately interviewed me and offered me a transfer and promotion. He transferred me to the company’s flagship hotel – Havelock Tourinn on Dickman’s Road, Colombo-4 as one of his two deputies. Mr. Nagendra made my job a full-time job and doubled my salary, to Rs. 400 a month. At that time, that was a very good salary for a 20-year old.
One of my batchmates, Hiran Seneviratne and I were both appointed Assistant Managers. Hiran was a smooth operator and was a friendly roommate at the CHS hostel. Hiran and I shared one office with Mr. Nagendra, who was familiarizing himself with hotel operations. He was a good administrator, but did not have experience in hotel operations. He kept on asking us operational questions and we learnt hotel accounting from him.
I looked after the kitchen, bar and the Flame Room Restaurant then famous for flambé dishes. I had a team of young, smart and English-fluent waiters who came from Colombo schools. I did some training sessions for them. In later years, most of them became good restaurant managers and food and beverage managers of top hotels in Sri Lanka and the Middle East. Hiran looked after the rest of the operations. In my tenth job at times, I also acted for the General Manager.
I did well at the final examinations. CHS arranged a grand graduation ceremony at Hotel Samudra with Dr. N. M. Perera, the Minister of Finance, as the chief guest. Although it was a happy moment, I was saddened to leave the hostel and many friends at CHS. We were also getting ready to bid farewell to three of my batchmates who were awarded Carl Duisberg Society scholarships to undergo two years of postgraduate industrial training in West Germany. In addition, my friend, Neil Maurice decided to migrate to Australia soon after the graduation.
Our two junior batches at CHS organized a grand graduation ball event at the Colombo Holiday Inn. They followed the traditions we set during our time at CHS. Our memorable three years at CHS ended on a high note.
Career Planning – The Next Move?
Early hours of that morning, after the graduation ball, I went to my bedroom at Havelock Tourinn instead of my home which was a just a five-minute walk from the hotel. I did not fall asleep as I had a long thought about my next career move. I thought about the ten part-time jobs I held during my student years at CHS, and identified key lessons I learnt by doing or observing in each of those jobs:
1. Hotel Samdura – Following rules to avoid getting fired
2. Pegasus Reef Hotel – Win-win formula for successful buffet products
3. Mount Lavina Hyatt Hotel – Restaurant service and fair dealing with trade unions
4. Barberyn Reef Hotel – Analysing personalities of superiors and customers
5. Windmill Restaurant – Fast food operations
6. Hotel Ceylon InterContinental – Five-star banquet service
7. Lever Brothers – Staff canteen mass food production
8. Bentota Beach Hotel – Bar controls and kitchen operations
9. Tropical Gardens Club & Inn – Club management and staff training
10. Havelock Tourinn – Kitchen, food and beverage and general management.
At age 20, I was working as the Assistant Manager of a reputed hotel in Colombo with free board and lodging, and walking distance to my family home. It was also not far from my club (YMCA Judo Club) and many key venues for social activities in Colombo. This was somewhat a dream job for most young graduates of CHS. I was very comfortable at my current job, but settling in a comfort zone was short-sighted. There were many other key aspects of hotel operations I needed to get practical experience of. Therefore, I concluded that I needed to move.
In my opinion, kitchen operations is a weak aspect of most hotel managers/general managers. As a result, some executive chefs behaved with attitudes which undermined the hotels manager’s authority. At Havelock Tourinn I had three experienced chefs (including Mrs. Marie Nugapitiya who later became a Culinary Lecturer at CHS) reporting to me. I was not experienced enough in kitchen operations to supervise such qualified and experienced chefs who were also much senior to me in age.
I decided that before I became a hotel general manager, I must master kitchen management initially as a junior chef and then after a couple of years, as an executive chef. Although I loved Bentota Beach hotel, it did not have an opening there. Meanwhile, the largest hotel in Sri Lanka – Hotel Lanka Oberoi, in preparation to open in a few months’ time, had advertised many middle management operational job positions. A newspaper advertisement seeking suitably qualified applicants for the posts of chef de partie (station chef) caught my eye. That morning I posted my application to Hotel Lanka Oberoi. That was the first time I applied to a hotel position in writing.
Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena
has been an Executive Chef, Food & Beverage Director, Hotel GM, MD, VP, President, Chairman, Professor, Dean, Leadership Coach and Consultant. He has published 21 text books. This weekly column narrates ‘fun’ stories from his 50-year career in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and North America, and his travels to 98 countries and assignments in 44 countries.
CBK had an impulsive streak but was gracious in admitting mistakes
Personality that was a unique amalgam of pride, humility, grace & inner toughness
From the memoirs of Chandra Wickremasinghe Retired Additional Secretary to the President
With President Chandrika Kumaratunge assuming office, there was once again a flurry of activity in the Presidential Secretariat and in the Ministries, as she was anxious to expeditiously push through various development programmes she had in mind. Although she did not believe in an overly centralized system of Presidential rule, she kept a close tab particularly on the major development projects and programmes of Ministries by having regular review meetings with them.
She was very sincere in her efforts to find an abiding solution to the ethnic problem. Her many overtures to Prabhakaran towards this end, proved futile and abortive as the latter continued playing his little games with her as he had done with her predecessors. With the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, the suave diplomat par excellence, at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, she pursued a highly urbane foreign policy aimed at winning over the neighbouring countries in Asia as well as the major powers in the West, and getting them to align with Sri Lanka in the bitter on-going battle with the LTTE terrorists. These sophisticated approaches in foreign relations enabled Sri Lanka to get the LTTE banned as a terrorist organization in many countries across the globe.
President Kumaratunge possessed a personality which reflected a rather unique amalgam of pride, humility, grace and inner toughness. Kusum Balapatambendi who succeeded Wijedasa as Secretary/President, was basically a clever political firefighter. Being a senior public servant and a smart lawyer to boot, he was able to hold the fort successfully assisting the President in her administrative duties as well as in the many political wrangles she had to settle.
President Kumaratunge had an excellent rapport with the officers who worked for her. There were times when she was needlessly and harshly critical of certain actions of her officials but she was quick to graciously relent when she realized that the concerned officials had acted only in her larger interests. I recall an incident which brings out in good measure the impulsive streak in her personality as well as her magnanimity in graciously admitting her mistakes. Those wielding power, are often inebriated by it and think they are infallible. She was, I must say, an exception in this regard.
It was an interesting little episode where she had dashed off a rather rude minute to me in Sinhala in a file (she had this habit of writing abrasive minutes to officers in Sinhala when she was angry) faulting me for some action I had allegedly not taken. It was a case where I had refrained from taking action as directed by her, for certain very valid reasons which I had pointed out to her in an earlier minute. Without looking at my earlier minute, she had impetuously dashed off this minute of her’s to me; I was naturally very angry, as the office staff too had seen her minute.
I telephoned Sarath Gonagala who had functioned as my Asst. Secy., before I, on my own initiative, sent him to the President to help her maintain her diary of appointments and to ensure that Ambassadors and other VIPs were not kept waiting unduly; (I must say that this attempt of mine proved an unmitigated failure as punctuality and the Lady President continued to remain enemies!) and conveyed to him what she had written on the minute sheet. I also told him that I would be sending a sharp rejoinder on a loose minute sheet which I wanted him to show the President and tear up before sending the file back to me.
Within two days Sarath G telephoned to say the Lady wanted to see me. When I entered her room, she was seated at the desk alone and asked me to take a seat. After a couple of minutes, she looked up and said quietly that she should not have written that minute to me, in reply to which I immediately said ‘of course you shouldn’t have as you had done so without seeing my earlier minute to you on the matter advising against your proposed action, pointing out that it was imprudent to do so as the media would have gone to town on the matter the next day’.
She then asked me “What shall I do?” I was so touched by her show of remorse and the disarming way she readily admitted her mistake that all the anger in me evaporated and I could only request her to send the file back to me. The particular file however, never came back. When I enquired from her about the file much later, she would only smile! I thought of referring to this incident as she was one President you could speak to candidly, on any matter- one to one, without running the grave risk of being misunderstood, with whatever other untoward consequences that may have followed.
Dhammika Amarasinghe and I who continued to function as Additional Secretaries to the President (as Neville Piyadigama had by then left the Presidential Secretariat to take charge of a Ministry), worked very conscientiously for her, with each of us overseeing about six Ministries from the Presidential Secretariat. She was quick and perceptive, sitting with us for long hours, going through our recommendations in detail and making her own additions and subtractions. It was indeed a pleasure working for her as she appreciated the work officers did for her.
The President who was acutely conscious of the need to plan to meet the energy shortages that were likely to occur in the future, was keen on expanding hydro power generation and exploring alternative source of energy like wind and solar power. I headed a delegation comprising senior CEB engineers to study BOT projects etc. in Pakistan and the Philippines in March 1995. One of the recommendation made by the delegation was to obtain the services of Dr. Tariq, the engineer in charge of the Tarbela Dam Project, to advice on the huge leakage of water at the Samanalawewa reservoir. Dr. Tariq visited S.L and made certain recommendations to the govt. which helped in reducing the leakage substantially.
In September 1996 Secretary President and I visited Islamabad to study that country’s success in the implementation of their BOO/BOT projects.
Presidential Committee on the alienation of State Land
Soon after President Kumarathunge assumed office, she appointed me to Chair a Presidential Committee to examine and recommend policies relating to the alienation of State Land. The Committee comprised seven Ministry Secretaries, the Chief Valuer, a representative of the Attorney General etc. When I showed her the names of the Secretaries who were to be members of the Committee, she picked out one name saying she did not want him to be on the Committee as she did not trust him. When I protested and said that the particular Secretary had to be on the Committee as land was a subject that came very much within his purview, she agreed after cautioning me to be careful with any proposals that would be made by him. The recommendations of this Committee were accepted by Govt. and were issued as circular instructions which are, I am happy to note, operative even today, apart from a few amendments made to adjust to changing times and circumstances.
The President’s Fund
President Kumaratunge further appointed me to manage the President’s Fund as Secretary to the Fund. I enjoyed this assignment which I did in addition to my work as Addnl. Secy. to the President. Personally, I found this work most satisfying as I was able to help poor patients suffering particularly from heart and kidney disease with money given from the Fund to undergo cardiac by-pass surgery/kidney transplantation, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. There were many other programmes initiated by President Kumaratunge viz. Presidential Scholarships awarded to promising poor students to pursue higher studies as well as scholarships awarded to public officers to pursue post graduate studies in fields which were considered to be of special relevance to the development needs of the country.
The allocations were generous, and often covered the full cost of by-pass surgery and kidney transplantation and the full cost of the scholarship awards, as the Fund at that stage was well endowed with regular income from the Development Lottery as well as from it’s other investments.
Distinct advantages in working for a President
There are distinct advantages working directly under the President of the country. One privilege I valued very much was that politicians, including Ministers did not interfere with your work and it was also easy to obtain the co-operation of Ministers and officials in the Ministries one oversaw from the President’s office. They were extremely wary in their dealings with you particularly during President Premadasa’s time. But all this came with the heavy responsibility of keeping a tab on anything untoward happening in the Ministries concerned which had to be reported fully to the President along with the detailed explanation given by the Secretary concerned.
President Premadasa in particular, was always watchful of any misdemeanors occurring in Ministries and would follow up on matters till they were rectified. President Kumaratunge did not interfere with the work of Ministers to that extent, but kept herself informed of progress made on development projects etc. at the regular meetings she had with particular Ministries.
When a President realizes that you are a conscientious worker who will work with dedication and integrity, you will be given numerous assignments to study problems and report on them, despite their being subjects falling at times, outside your officially assigned legitimate functions.
Rice Genetic Improvement Odyssey of Past Centuries
by M. P. Dhanapala
Former Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, Batalagoda
History is important. It keeps you away from reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes already committed in the past. In history, there should not be hidden expressions to read between lines as “the ten giants of King Dutugamunu were fed with traditional rice,”concealing the details of what the others were eating and why they were not giants or that “we have been exporting rice during the past in such and such era” without disclosing the quantities and the recipient countries. For that matter if you go through the export details, we do export rice even now.
The green revolution was criticized as the contributing factor for the so called unidentified Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu) which was reported primarily from the North Central Province. Whatever the causal factor of CKDu is, Norman Borlaug or his green revolution has nothing to do with the kidney disease or rice in Sri Lanka. It is true that his innovative ideology in wheat breeding induced the rice breeders worldwide to develop a physiologically efficient rice plant type by changing the plant stature and canopy characteristics. The Sri Lankan rice varieties were developed within the country, by the Sri Lankan scientists. It was an extension of the breeding process initiated by the British scientists during the colonial era. The progress of rice breeding from its inception by different generations will be unfolded in this write-up to judge the calculated decisions taken by the ancestral breeders to improve rice productivity in the country.
I would like to lay the baseline from a report published by Edward Elliott, a British Civil Servant in 1913. (Tropical Agriculturist, Vol. XLI, No. 6, Dec. 1913). He states that the forced labor (Rajakariya) that existed then was abolished in 1832. Subsequently, the communal cooperation system (Atththam) also ceased to exist gradually. These two incidents were cited as the major reasons for the neglect of irrigation structures and subsequent decline of rice production in the mid 19th Century. The annual rice production estimated for the period of 10 years ending in 1856 was 5.5 million bushels, the lowest in the recorded history.
Enacting the Paddy Ordinance in 1857 allowed voluntary restoration of old irrigation structures which eventually led to the gradual increase in the cultivated extent and the annual rice production. Estimated rice production data during this era and at the turn of the century are summarized in Table 1. The original data were in acres and bushels. The data were transformed into hectares and kilograms and tonnes assuming 20 kg as the bushel weight. The transformed data in Table 1 appear within parentheses.
See table 1.
Annual rice production statistics from the latter half of the 19th and early 20th Century (Elliot, 1913)
The rice production data above are estimates based on returns from paddy, probably grain tax, in the Government Blue Books. You may realize that these estimates are sometimes too high when actual data appear towards 1940s. However, at the turn of the 19th Century, the rice varieties were exclusively traditional types maintained by farmers and the Department of Agriculture was not established.
Many critics maintain that we had innumerable different varieties of rice in the past. The earliest recorded in the history was a collection of 300 rice varieties displayed by Nugawela Dissawe for the agri-horticultural exhibition held in 1902 (Molegoda, 1924) (Trop. Agric. XLII (4): 218-224.). This probably represented almost all the cultivars in the field during this period. This was the largest collection of rice varieties in the recorded history in Ceylon, leaving out the recent collections performed in the latter half of the 20th century. Molegoda explains very comprehensively the status of rice varieties and the procedure followed in naming them.
The rice cultivation at the beginning of 20th century was entirely organic manure dependent. The farmers then were apparently more competent in traditional methods of rice cultivation. The most striking feature during this era was that the average yields were below one ton/ha (<20 bu/ac) even in the best productive year, 1903 (Table 1).
In 1914, an encouraging note on Extension of Paddy Cultivation by A. W. Beven (Trop. Agric. XLIII (6): 421-424.) appears with the suggestion of seed selection to improve rice yields. He states that in the year 1913 the yield estimate of 9,622,320 bushels was too high a target, i.e.14.2 bu/ac (0.71 t/ha), for the cultivated extent of 671,711ac (271,827ha), but suggests that with seed selection accompanied by proper land preparation, manuring and transplanting, the yields could be increased up to 25 bu/ac (1.25t/ha). This suggestion was at the inception of the Department of Agriculture which was established in 1912.
The earliest record on rice varietal improvement dates back to seed selection in 1914 by Dr. Lock at Peradeniya. This was done more or less parallel with the establishment of Johannsen’s pure line theory (1903). In the literature, Dr. Lock’s improved Hatial (a seven month variety) appears from time to time as a standard variety in yield tests.
The next most important step was the pure-line selection. Initially, three Economic Botanists, F. Summers (1921), R.O. Iliffe (1922), L. Lord (1927) and at latter stages Paddy Officer G.V. Wickremasekera were involved in the selection of pure- lines (Trop. Agric. LVIII (2): 67-70; Trop. Agric. LXVIII (5): 309-318). Pure-line selection exploited heterogeneity within the farmer maintained traditional rice cultivars. Each cultivar composed of different types within it. As a result, individual plant selection within cultivars produced progenies with better genetic potential, but resembling the mother plant selected; they bred true to type as rice is an obligate inbreeder. This was the essence of pure-line theory established by Johannsen (1903).
Pure-line selection was initiated with a representative collection of traditional varieties. The most popular varieties were included in the process. Pure-line selection was done at two major locations, Mahailluppallama and Peradeniya. Subsequently, selection was regionalized to accommodate regionally adapted varieties in the process. The best isolated progenies were tested at 19 test locations in different agro-ecological regions for adaptability, prior to recommendation. The best adapted pure-lines (21 lines – Table 2) were identified for purity maintenance at four different paddy stations – Ambalantota (nine lines), Mahailluppallama (eight lines), Madampe (two lines) and Batalagoda (two lines). Further multiplication of seeds was done in government farms under the supervision of Agricultural Officers and distributed as seed paddy for cultivation (Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.).
See table 2.
Pure-line varieties identified for cultivation (Extract from Amended Departmental Circular No. 156 – Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.)
While the pure-line selection process was on, Joachim (1927) (Trop. Agric. LXIX 137) warned that the sustenance of increased yields by cultivation of high yielding pure-lines has to be met with liberal manuring. However, despite of all these attempts during the two decades from 1920s, the paddy yields were not substantially increased (Table 3). Rice yield data presented in Table 3 shows lower values compared to yield estimates from Government Blue Books presented in Table 1. The data in Table 3 being more reliable, the Table 1 data could be overestimates.
However, the majority of the harvested rice crop in the 1940s could be from potentially better pure-line selections, but the yields were much below the anticipated levels. The total production was around 15 million bushels (0.3 m tons) and yields stagnated at around 14 bu/ac (0.7 t/ha).
The Draft Scheme for Development of the Paddy Industry in Ceylon drawn in 1945 (Trop. Agric. CI (3) 191-195) begins with the statement that only a third of the annual requirement is met by the local rice production.
The balance was imported; the population was less than seven million during that period and the paddy cultivation was done organically with the best adapted pure-lines of traditional cultivars, though it failed to deliver what was intended.
The importance of inorganic (chemical) fertilizer was felt during this period as the only option to improve paddy yields further. Use of sodium nitrate (Na NO3) as the source of nitrogen (N) was attempted in rice prior to 1905 based on American experience in soybean cultivation, but nitrite (NO2–) toxicity under reduced conditions in submerged paddy soils prohibited its use. Superiority of NH4 form of N was demonstrated by Nagaoka (1905) and Daikuhara and Imaseki (1907). However, the application of N promoted vegetative growth in pure-lines derived from traditional rice varieties causing premature lodging. Furthermore, two fungal diseases, blast and brown spot, became prominent. Around this period some introduced varieties were tested without much success. Among them, Ptb 16 from Pathambi, India, popularly called Riyan wee, with long panicles and slender grains (Buriyani rice) became popular, but self sufficiency in rice appeared to be far away.
Transition to another phase in rice breeding began as the rice breeders over the world employed cross-bred populations to create genetic variability to bring together desirable characteristics of different rice cultivars to develop better varieties. Rice hybridization techniques were developed around early 1920s and a major break through in changing the plant-type was accomplished in Japan with the use of Jikkoku, a dwarf natural mutant of Japonica rice. The performance of Japonica varieties exhibited substantial improvement with this transition. Influenced by the Japanese experience, the Food and Agriculture Organization sponsored a cross breeding program of Japonica with Indica rices in Cuttak, India to change the Indica plant type too in this direction, but without success due to incompatibility between the two groups (Japonica and Indica) leading to grain sterility in subsequent generations.
In Sri Lanka, the first paper on rice hybridization techniques was published in 1951 by J.J. Niles, an assistant in Economic Botany, guided by Prof. M. F. Chandraratne, the Economic Botanist (Trop. Agric. CVII (1):25-29.). Prof. Chandraratne was instrumental in initiation of rice hybridization. Simultaneously rice hybridization work began at the Dry Zone Agricultural Research Station at Mahailluppallama under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Abeyratne. The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda was established in 1952 and Dr. H. Weeraratne was transferred from Mahailluppallama to Batalagoda as the rice breeder with the hybrid populations already developed at Mahailluppallama.
Dr. Weeraratne, influenced by his superiors, Prof. Chandraratne and Dr. Abeyratne, continued rice hybridization to create genetic variability for selection. The hybridization techniques adopted by him were published in 1954 (Trop. Agric. CX (2) 93-97). Apparently, the labor intensive pedigree method was employed by Dr. Weeraratne to identify and fix desirable genotypes from segregating populations. And this was the beginning of the “H” series of varieties that revolutionized the rice sector in Sri Lanka. The letter “H” was used to imply that the varieties were of hybrid origin and were different from traditional varieties or pure-lines, but not to imply that they are hybrids.
The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Department of Agriculture
The first of the series, H4 (4.5 month, red bold), released in 1957, reached its peak popularity after a five year lapse of time and covered over 60% of the cultivated extent in Maha season, 62/63. The others in the series were H7 (3.5 month, white bold), H8 (4.5 month, white samba), H9 (5-6 month, white bold), H10 (3 month, red bold). Release of H varieties (1) minimized crop losses due to blast disease, (2) changed rice cropping pattern from single to double cropping, (3) use of N fertilizer increased by 350% due to their moderate response to fertilizer, (4) increased national yield level up to 3.5 t/ha (Senadhira et. al., Rice Symposium, Department of Agriculture, 1980). This effort, though appreciated widely, fell short of self sufficiency again.
The most controversial phase for the critics in rice breeding was initiated in mid 1960s, while “H” varieties were replacing the pure-lines and the traditional varieties from paddy fields. The International Rice Research Institute was established in 1960 and the plant physiologists conceptualized the plant type structure of rice to make it physiologically efficient. The development of “H” varieties (Old Improved Varieties) abruptly ended with these new innovations.
The breeders responsible for developing this new plant type in Sri Lanka, specifically the Bg varieties, were Dr. H. Weeraratne, Dr. N. Vignarajah, Dr. D. Senadhira and Mr. C.A. Sandanayake. None of them are among us any more. I joined the team in the late 1960s, at the tail end of H varieties and continued the process till the country reached the brim of self reliance in rice.
The Bg and other modern varieties are physiologically efficient. They are devoid of unproductive plant tissues and ineffective tillers. The plant structure is designed to reduce mutual shading of leaves and trap solar radiation effectively by every leaf in the canopy thus reducing the respiratory losses and promoting the net assimilation rate. They out yield traditional and H varieties at any level of soil fertility and show positive grain yield response to added fertilizer. They are lodging resistant and incorporated with resistance/tolerance to major pests and diseases prevalent in the country. More preciously, we have reversed the source-sink relationship of the rice plant to translocate photosynthates to produce more grains and less straw. The potential yield of improved varieties exceeds 6t/ha. All these traits listed above have been tested in controlled experiments in the field to confirm the superiority of new improved varieties. We reap around 4.5 tons/ha as our national average yield at present; the country is self sufficient in rice, the dream every political leader had since independence.
This in a nut shell is what the rice breeders have accomplished and for which they were given the title “Kumbandayas” in an article written apparently by a medical professional. The local rice scientists embark only on innovations backed by scientific facts. They do not have to exaggerate or lie. They know little more than those who seek cheap popularity by being critical about the accomplishments of rice scientists. This country needs people dedicated and confined to their respective professions allowing other professionals to play their own role. At any time rice breeders can take the country back to the traditional rice era if you want to begin all over again from the beginning. The traditional accessions are in long-term storage at the Plant Genetic Resource Center (PGRC), Gannoruwa, Department of Agriculture, and can be taken out for multiplication at any time as the seed samples are viable.
Now I repent why we produced rice with more grains and less straw. There appears to be unsatisfied demand for straw. I like to conclude this disclosure with a statement made by Dr. N. M. Perera at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in the mid 1960s. “Comrade, I can give you facts and figures, but I am sorry; I am unable to implant a brain in you”.
(The writer holds a Ph D, Genetics and Plant Breeding, North Dakota University, USA, 1990, M Sc., Plant Breeding, Saga University, Japan, 1978 and B sc. Agric. University of Ceylon, Sri-Lanka, 1968. He has served as Research Officer, Rice Breeding (1969 – 1995) Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, (1996 – 2000), Batalagoda, Affiliate Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (2000 – 2003), Philippines and Technical Advisor, JICA,, Tsukuba International Center, (2004 – 2012), Japan)
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