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Banning fertiliser imports and agricultural productivity

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Prof. Weeraratna’s letter (The Island, April 27), on “Banning fertilizer imports”, should be an eye-opener to the Government to reconsider the ban on importing fertilisers, which will have a devastating impact on our economy. His assessment that to supply the same amount of nitrogen provided by 100 kg of urea, two tons of compost have to be used is particularly a valid argument against the use of compost, alone, to supply the macronutrients for the healthy growth of crops. Furthermore, compost is a slow-release fertiliser and low in phosphorus and even the available phosphorus in compost is not released in a short time required for short term crops, such as rice and vegetables. Compost contains about 1-2% nitrogen, depending on the raw materials used to make it, and out of this only about 3% is immediately available for absorption by plants, and the rest of the nitrogen is released only during a period of 3-5 years. Similarly, phosphorus content of compost is around 1% which is also a slow-release fertiliser and not suitable for short term crops.

We have achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Department of Agriculture and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. While adding compost has some positive effects, such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot entirely substitute the fertiliser requirements for high yielding varieties of rice which we use now. This will not only lower the income of farmers but will also require importing rice. Rice from other countries, particularly Bangladesh, is laden with arsenic, an extremely toxic element. It is worthwhile to note that compost, too, has some toxic metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel in its composition.

One of the reasons given for banning fertiliser imports is that it causes the chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in Sri Lanka. This is absolutely a fallacious argument since only certain specific locations are affected by this disease. Jaffna and Puttalam districts, with intensive agriculture, where imported fertilisers are extensively used, are free from this disease. There are many other agricultural areas, where the same inorganic fertilisers are used, are free from the disease. This writer, who has worked on this disease, since 2003, showed that it is the groundwater fluoride that is responsible for the disease and this has been later confirmed by independent researchers. Meanwhile, a group of scientists, led by some scientists, who were apparently shown the reason by God Natha, were able to put forward an alternative cause, which is agrochemicals. However, there is no independent confirmation of the involvement of fertilisers, or pesticides, and this hypothesis remains unproven.

Inorganic fertilisers, we import, at the moment, are urea, superphosphate and potash. Out of these, phosphate fertilisers can be manufactured in Sri Lanka, using our own Eppawela rock phosphate. Government can save a considerable sum of money if we undertake to manufacture superphosphate fertilisers in the country. I have written many articles, in the past, and published in “The Island” on how to achieve this but no action has been taken by any of the Governments in the last two decades. Even more recently I was in a committee of experts where a comprehensive proposal was submitted, in 2018, to the Minister of Agriculture and again a similar proposal was submitted to the present Minister Chamal Rajapakse, in 2020. Cabinet has approved the manufacture of single superphosphate by Lanka Phosphate (Ltd.) at least on three times in the recent past. It was the previous Government of Chandrika Kumaratunga which tried to sell the Eppawela deposit to the McMoran company. Luckily for the country, supreme court intervened and in a landmark decision ruled to halt its sale to any foreign or a local company. According to this decision, only Lanka Phosphate Ltd has the sole right for the development of this resource. It appears that there is a stumbling block to implement this proposal and powerful politicians have always discouraged this venture because unlike selling the deposit they cannot demand any commissions from a government owned entity. When a former chairman of Lanka Phosphate tried to commence this superphosphate factory, he was unceremoniously removed from his post. At that time, a state bank was willing to fund the entire cost of the project as a bank loan. However, politics and petty greediness of politicians predominated and we import superphosphate fertiliser annually to the tune of around 10 billion rupees.

Construction of a super phosphate plant requires only around Rs. 5 billion. If the Government can instruct a major state bank to provide a loan for this amount, the pay-back period is only about 5 years since this is an extremely profitable venture.

Implementing crucial decisions such as abruptly banning fertiliser imports should be carefully considered including field trials where a comparison can be made regarding the application of compost versus synthetic fertiliser. Depending on such results a judicious choice can be made on banning future fertiliser imports.

 

Prof. O. A. Ileperuma

 

 



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Opinion

Mrs Paripooranam Rajasundaram- A Gracious Lady

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I first came to know Mrs Pariapooranam Rajasundaram, who was born in Singapore on October 25, 1935 while serving a short stint in Jaffna with police intelligence. Her late husband who called her “Pari” was my very close friend, Mr. Vaithilingam Rajasunderam, the former principal of Victoria College, Chullipuram who was introduced to me by my friend and police batch mate, late Tissa Satharasinghe, who was the Personal Security Officer, to the late Mr T.B. Ilangaratne in 1971.

Mrs Rajasundaram was blessed with three sons and a daughter and several grandchildren and can be truly described as a very faithful spouse and dedicated mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and a great grandmother to the family of which she was matriarch.

My short spell in Jaffna in 1973 brought me closer to the Rajasunderams who celebration their 25th wedding anniversary in 1974. Theirs was an open house and my wife and sisters too came to know them well.

Mrs Rajasundram and her husband were good hosts and his assassination was a shock to all of us. It was then she became part of our family as she lived with us briefly till she obtained a UK visa to join her daughter and son-in-law there.

Many years later when she was living in England, I had joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and my family used to spend vacations with them in Cockfosters in North London. Mrs Rajasundaram treated us to sumptuous meals lavishing attention on us. She was very fond of my wife and two children and had a heart of gold. A devout Hindu she never failed in her religious obligations, lived within her means and was never greedy for what she could not afford. She firmly believed in being patient and willingly gave to those in need.

She was a lady who was selfless, full of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, very virtuous, and full of love and character. I can say of her: “People may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!”

My prayer as a Christian is that God grants you eternal rest.

NIHAL DE ALWIS

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Opinion

Independence celebrations for whose benefit?

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Celebrating what? Bankruptcy, corruption and nepotism to name a few. Surely isn’t there one MP among 225 who feel we have nothing to celebrate. We say we cannot pay govt. servants’ salaries in time, the pensioners’ their entitlements. A thousand more failures confront us.

In our whole post-independence history such a situation has never arisen. We should be mourning our lost prestige, our lost prosperity our depleting manpower. Our youth in vast numbers are leaving the country for greener pastures. We should be conserving every cent to live, not to celebrate a non-existent independence. We should be mourning, walking the streets in sack cloth and ashes in protest at this wanton waste of money by an irresponsible government.

I can’t understand this mentality. The forces are also our young men who feel for their fellow men and women. Maybe their lot is a little better than the rest of us. But how can you order them to go parade? They cannot refuse. It is an unwritten or written code that they have to obey orders without question. I feel sorry for them. All that spit and polish – for whose benefit? Definitely not ours. We will be mourning in silence in our homes.

Padmini Nanayakkara.

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Opinion

Aftermath Of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne’s Assassination

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It was on Saturday March 2, 1991 when that fateful LTTE bomb blast shattered the life out of Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, Minister of Plantations and Deputy Minister of Defence, in front of the Havelock Road University Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha.

Mr. Wijeratne used to take the same route from home to office every day. The LTTE had monitored his movements and found that it would be easy to target him on his way to office from a strategic point after receiving the information of his departure from home.

The LTTE targeted his vehicle right in front of the University of Colombo Women’s Hostel opposite Keppetipola Mawatha. The suicide bomber crashed into the Deputy Minister’s vehicle and killed the Minister instantaneously.

I had dropped our elder son at Royal College for scouting and then went to the public library to return some books and borrow new ones. After having done that, I was returning home when I saw a large cloud of black smoke going up from somewhere on Havelock Road. As I neared Thummulla junction, a university vehicle (I was Registrar of the Colombo University) was going in the opposite direction.

I stopped it and asked the driver what had happened. He said the Shanthi Vihar restaurant at the Thummulla had been set on fire. The police did not allow vehicles into Havelock Road from Thummulla. I parked the car on Reid Avenue between Thummulla and Lauries Road and walked down the Havleock Road to see what exactly had happened.

As I got onto Havelock Road, a policeman accosted me and told me that I cannot be allowed to proceed. Fortunately, at that moment the OIC of the Bamabalapitiya Police station, Mr. Angunawela, came to that spot and recognizing me told the police constable to allow me to proceed.

As I walked down I saw the damage caused. But there were no signs of any vehicle or any dead bodies as the police had got everything removed. There was a large gaping hole on the road where the blast had occurred. But immediately this was filled up and that section of the road carpeted.

I do not know who had ordered it and why it was done in such a hurry. There were pieces of human flesh hanging from the overhead telephone wires. The blast had also affected the house in front where there was a P& S outlet and a lady who had come to buy something had got her eyes blinded by the shrapnel thrown by the blast.

The parapet wall and the Temple flower (araliya) trees that had been grown just behind the wall were all gone. As I went into the hostel, I saw that the front wall of the hostel building badly damaged. When I went in the girls in the hostel were looking terrified and shivering with fright.

Two of the undergraduates who had gone out of the hostel as they had to sit an examination in the university had got very badly injured and they been rushed to the national hospital. Later one girl who was from Kobeigane, a remote village in the Kurunegala area, succumbed to her injuries. The university paid for her funeral. The security guard who had been close to the gate was thrown up and landed back on the ground. Fortunately, he had no injuries other than feeling groggy.

The next job was to evacuate the hostelers from the building. I telephoned the university office and found the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of examinations was in office. I told her what had happened and to come to the hostel in a van. Thereafter both she and I packed all the hostelers in the van and sent them to the Bullers Lane Women’s hostel. This was done in three trips.

On inspecting the damage done to the hostel I thought the building would have to be demolished and a new building constructed to replace it. However, I contacted an Engineer, Mr. Upasena, at the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB,) who came, inspected the damage to the building and stated that he will get it repaired to be stronger than what it was.

He stated that it might cost around Rs, 20,000/- to get the repair done. I contacted NORAD and they agreed to give the funds required for the repair and renovation. Mr. Manickam from NORAD came and inspected the building and agreed to get much more done than what we wanted repaired and renovated. The repair and renovation were done very quickly and the hostelers were able to move in again.

The reopening ceremony was attended by the then Ambassador to Norway, Mr. Manickam and the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice- Chancellor thanked the Ambassador, Mr. Manickam and the CECB for getting the hostel repaired and renovated to be used again. He never mentioned what I had done to get this hostel repaired and habitable again. That is gratitude!

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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