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Banning fertilisers to bring it through black market?

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By Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

Food and land for growing food are THE basic foundation of life. Whether it be early marauding tribes or colonial invaders, their expeditions were propelled by their needs of nourishment and raw materials. However, scientific advances have now shown how to feed the whole world with very little land and water, freeing vast areas of farmland back to nature if technologies going beyond the green revolution are adopted.

Unfortunately, it is a myth that ‘life was better in the past’. The lost Garden of Eden, the reign of the Maha-Sammatha dynasties, the Golden Age of ancient Greece, Rousseau’s Noble Savage of Enlightenment philosophy or Marx and Engels’ nostalgic but false descriptions of early farming communities, all paint pictures of healthy idyll prior to the “corruption wrought by industrialisation”.

This has even morphed into public fear-mongering by individuals who believe that the food we eat is poisoned. Modern advances in agriculture have greatly reduced the impact of famines even in Africa. Advances in public health has removed infectious diseases. A life expectancy below 50 years in the 1940s when people eat traditional food has become almost 80 in Sri Lanka today. Infant mortality has dropped from 10% to less than 2%.

However, sedentary lifestyles have become the norm, especially among the “elites” whose refrigerators are full of sugary fatty food. “takeout” foods, e.g., Biriyani, Pizza, or “kothtu”, may contain unhealthy ingredients and used compromised cooking oils. That is how Lankans eat some poison in their food. But take-outs, or even the soil and water DO NOT contain significant amounts of bioavailable toxins originating in fertilisers used to grow crops. Where is the data to implicate fertilisers?

Nevertheless, these elites are CERTAIN that fertilisers are a danger to human health! The President has stated that governments must not hesitate to adopt bold policies to protect human health. Others dispute the rapidity of the ban, but erroneously claim that a gradual move to ‘organic’ is ESSENTIAL for health and ‘sustainability’!

Some media publicise ‘opinion makers’ who sell the idea that the food eaten by the consumer IS POISONED. The Department of Agriculture with its world-renowned track record has been sidelined! These media feature ‘scientists’ who say that their grandparents ate wholesome food, and unlike today, DID NOT have cancers, dementias and obesities. Discarding all available statistics, the ancients are said to have lived to 148 years by a GMOA medical specialist” (see https://dh-web.org/green/padeniyamay21Sinhala.html) .

The ancients are said to have had plenty of food. Egypt was called the ‘granary of the ancient world’. Lanka was said to be the ‘granary of the orient’, while Panchananda’ (modern Panjab) was claimed to be the granary of the whole world by ancient writers. These are all half-truths that hide the monstrous malnourishment and periodic famines integral to life prior to the rise of modern agriculture.

Malnourishment is THE MOTHER OF ALL ILLNESSES, and sapped the health of ancients who fell easy prey to infections that had no cures in traditional herbal medicine. But all these well-established facts are thrown aside. A former Speaker of Parliament, minsters and public figures including medical doctors have made the claim that Sri Lankans have been eating poison in their food. Not surprisingly, there are academics ready to support the canard for political gain, or they are so uncritical as to believe the half truths. One wonders if ‘agriculturalists’ who claim that imported oranges have no vitamin C, while the ‘Bibile’ oranges (‘paeni dodan’) alone have Vitamin C, or misidentify a sorghum plant, are wittingly exploiting the credulity of the public?

The proposed ban suggests using the local ‘Eppawala’ Rock phosphate (ERP). This contains similar amounts of toxins as in imported mineral fertilisers. Although low in cadmium impurities, Gunawardena et al report in the National Science Foundation journal that ERP has 23-27 mg of arsenic per kg of ERP. Mining and converting ERP to triphosphate has a high cost and environmental impact. It is cheaper and cleaner to import it. A lot of false propaganda claim that mineral fertilisers contain metal toxins, but the fact remains that even the worst of them, say the Nauri phosphate from New Zealand, adds only virtually UNDETECTABLE amounts of, say, As or Cd to the soil even if 10 times the recommended amount of fertiliser are ploughed into a hectare of soil, to a depth of the plough blade (see: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-018-0140-x). The danger of excess use is NOT from the traces of metal toxins, but from the phosphate itself, as its runoff leads to the pollution of aquatic bodies. That is not poison in your plate.

Compost is NOT a fertiliser but a soil remedying agent. It is made by composting farm refuse, animal droppings and such ‘natural’ or leafy products. Fertilisers are supposed to provide essential elements for plant growth. The principal elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) while tiny amounts of other nutrients are also needed. As compost does NOT have significant amounts of N, P, and K, substantial amounts of bone meal (‘gerikatu’) were also used. The cultivation was done in newly burnt forest lands, i.e., ‘Chenas’ where the ash provided some N, P and K. After a few years the spent Chena was abandoned and a newly burnt forest, i.e., a new Chena was used. The compost provided ‘humus’ (carbon material, ‘black earth’) to the soil, making a sandy or clay soil habitable to soil organisms. So, compost is NOT A FERTILIZER. It is mainly a soil REMEDYING agent, adding carbon and microorganisms to soils. Extremely polluted industrial soils are more efficiently remedied using microbe-enhanced biochar (a form of activated carbon) rather than compost. Compost is not the only soil remedying substance used. Dolomite, limestone or wood ash may be used to remedy acidic soils.

Lanka spends close to 40 billion and imports some 1.3 million metric tons of fertiliser per year (http://www.agrimin.gov.lk/web/index.php/en/news-and-events/1492-2021-02-02). One tonne of compost made in the tropics may contain 1-2% N or P while the imported mineral fertiliser contains 40-50% of P. So, replacing mineral fertiliser with compost will require trucks to move some 130 million metric tons of it within the country, burning fossil fuel. Since about ten tonnes of waste material are needed per ton of product, the industry must transport and process 1.3 billion tonnes of farm waste and urban garbage. The local compost will exceed the cost of imported fertilisers by over 100 times.

However, all this is based on the ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTION that compost is a fertiliser. Compost, with a mere 1-2% of the macro-nutrients is only a SOIL REMEDYING AGENT. If compost is given back its proper job, then the amount of compost needed falls back to manageable amounts as indicated in, say, the booklets issued by the Department of Agriculture for the 25 districts.

Politicians and emperors driven by mistaken ideologies have caused starvation and misery in the past. Given the certainty of government spokesmen that Lankans ‘must be rescued from eating poison’ by converting agriculture to ‘organic fertilisers’, what chance has the country to save itself? When unworkable polices are imposed on a populace, although there will be much misery, an unseen underground economy will provide the populace with its needs, but at a price. Well-connected crooks will make money! Although a benign herbicide was banned by the Sirisena government, one of its own minsters who appeared on TV openly admitted that he too used black-market glyphosate for his 30 hectares of tea!

The news of a ban has already caused fertilisers to disappear from the market. A well-connected ‘mafia’ will move in to make the urea and mineral fertilisers available in the black market, miraculously! They may appear under the label of ‘organic’ fertilisers, but having incredibly high levels of N, P, and K, perhaps ‘made by a traditional method used by King Raaavana’, or revealed by ‘Natha Deviyo’ himself. The GMOA doctor who claimed that ancient Lankans lived to 148 years (quoting Pliny the Elder) may claim that Lankans no longer eat poison as they eat ‘organic food’ (and drink bottled spring-water straight from Lake Anothaptha?). Will they live to 148 years?



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Opinion

An appeal to President

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This is to request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to allow burial of COVID -19 infected corpses of Muslims in the burial ground close to the residence of the diseased instead of sending them to Otamaavadi. It goes without saying that all Health protocols and regulations will have to be stringently adhered to for the burial at the existing burial grounds.

I hope that this request will be granted as the experts in Virology have confirmed that there is no ground water contamination with the burial of those dying of Covid-19.

This will reduce considerably logistic issues and cost to both the State and the family members of the deceased and at the same time expedite burial.

Mohamed Zahran

Colombo

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Opinion

Talk Shows

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COVID-19 has opened up the doors for an umpteen number of “talk shows”: of various types, conveying different TV messages to our people on how to cope with the many daily problems faced by them, including the now prevailing pandemic.

At a time the public are very effectively advised by the relevant health authorities delegated with that task, and highly competent to educate the masses how to cope with this pandemic, what purpose these “shows” give our people hungry for news is left for anyone to guess.

Recently. I happened to watch two such talk shows telecast one after the other, where the same person was interviewed by two different interviewers on the same subject, as if competing with each other. More amusing was the pose shown to the camera by one of the interviewers at the end of the show, as if asking the viewers “how do you like my ‘show’?

These Talk Shows, similar to the virus, seem to be able to develop variants with time to cover other fields, too, such as economy, Port City, reforestation and lesser known local small industry entrepreneurs, diplomats and academics; and how to make Colombo a green city by a programme to plant thousands of trees to get off the ground immediately. Everyone knows that what is being planted are not trees but young plants, only a few weeks old, and no one knows when they will ever grow into a tree as imagined, if they survive the test of time and we are lucky to live till then. But repeating these shows as happening at the moment is a waste of time.

What I appreciated most in one special case was the liberal use of highly scientific jargon, even if the person to my imagination never studied science and more so the use of good English that was encouraging. But what worried me most was if someone else asked why these programmes are not conducted in Tamil?

Finally, the Telecom beats them all, where every call taken precedes a lengthy message on prevention of the Coronavirus pandemic, sometimes repeated twice. It all ends with the message only. But not the call.

 

Eng ANTON NANAYAKKARA

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Opinion

Protecting Sri Lanka’s maritime rights

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Your editorial, Poaching: Grasp the nettle (The Island of 09 June), provides a good analysis of the issue concerning the poaching of fishery resources in Sri Lanka waters, particularly in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

The maritime boundary between Sri Lanka and India was settled by two agreements entered into by the two countries in 1974 and 1976. Accordingly, fishing vessels and fishers of the two countries were debarred from fishing in the waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of each other.

Subsequently, the Maritimes Zones Law, No. 22 of 1976 was enacted with provisions for the President to declare the limits of the agreed maritime boundary between the two countries, and different maritime zones of Sri Lanka, such as the historic waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, pollution prevention zone and the continental shelf. This law prohibits unauthorised fishing in any of the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by any foreign vessel. The President did declare the maritime zones of Sri Lanka by a proclamation published in the Gazette 248/1 of 15-01-1977. Since then unauthorized fishing by Indian vessels on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar became illegal.

However, part of the agreement relating to fishing has never been honoured by India, whose fishers continued to fish on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay, and on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar, which jointly form the historic waters of Sri Lanka. According to the Presidential Proclamation, waters on the Sri Lanka side of the Palk Bay form part of the internal waters of Sri Lanka while those on the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar form part of the territorial sea (provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 relating to internal waters and territorial sea do not contradict such declarations provided they are made on the provisions of the customary international law). On the other hand, although prior to signing of the Maritime Boundary Agreement of 1976, Sri Lankan fishing vessels were fishing in the Wadge Bank, which fell in the EEZ of India since the Agreement came into effect, no Sri Lankan vessels has been found fishing in that area.

At present, three days a week more than 1,000 Indian trawlers fish on the Sri Lanka side of the maritime boundary in violation of the law relating to fisheries in Sri Lanka. Any Sri Lankan vessel, irrespective of the part of Sri Lanka where it is fishing, should have been registered as a fishing vessel of Sri Lanka and obtained a fishing licence. Further, no such vessel is allowed to engage in mechanised bottom trawling.

There have been many discussions between the two countries since the 1990s to stop this illegal practice by Indian trawlers. Such discussions only end up with agreed minutes, but no solution. Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, No 59 of 1979 provides for a High Court Judge to impose a penalty of a fine of Rs. 1.5 million on any foreign vessels engaged in unauthorised fishing in Sri Lanka waters. However, this provision was never used against any Indian trawler caught in Sri Lanka waters with unauthorised fishing, owing to practical difficulties. Subsequently, in 2017, the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Amendment) Act, No. 11 was enacted to impose a two-year jail term or a fine of at least Rs. 50,000 with a view to controlling this problem. Although the Sri Lanka Navy takes into custody Indian trawlers and hands them over with fishers to Fisheries authorities, the moment they get a letter from the Indian High Commission asking for their release, all are released. In this context, sinking unusable buses in the sea in this area appears to be a practical solution to the problem. For that also India has expressed objections. Sri Lanka has sovereign rights to take any decision in regard to its internal waters, and territorial sea (subject to the right of innocent passage of any foreign vessel) and historic waters (these form part of either internal waters or the territorial sea). Therefore, it is not necessary to stop this activity, just because India is objecting.

As regards the claim by India that Sri Lankan vessels also engage in unauthorised fishing in India waters, it should be noted that they are taken into custody rarely in very small numbers; that, too, mostly in the Indian EEZ, while they are returning after fishing in the Arabian sea. Any vessel has the right to navigation in the EEZ of any country. Even when innocent Sri Lankan fishers happen to be caught by the Indian authorities, they are made to suffer in Indian jails.

A few years earlier also, you expressed concern on this issue by an editorial, Saying it with fish, when Sri Lanka released all Indian fishers who were in jail in Sri Lanka pending trials, as a gesture of thanks for India’s vote at the UN in favour of Sri Lanka. Thank you for your concerns.

 

A. HETTIARACHCHI

hetti-a@sltnet.lk

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