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?
Online education – an alternative
By Dr. Rasanjalee Abeywickrama
Education is a weapon that can improve one’s life. It is a most important tool that helps to spread knowledge in society, which is a most noteworthy benefit of Education. Furthermore, it acts as a medium that transfers knowledge from one generation to another.
Education helps to boost a country’s economy and society; therefore, it is a milestone of a nation’s development. It offers knowledge and skills to the populace, while shaping the personality of the youth of a nation. Education is generally considered the foundation of society which beckons economic wealth, social prosperity and political stability. Economic and social status depends on individual education, since it contributes to individual capability in managing the quality of life. The main purpose of education is to prepare and qualify them for work, to play their part in a country’s economy, as well as to integrate people into society by teaching them the values and morals of society.
Education, for a child, begins at home. It is a lifelong process and determines the quality of an individual’s life. Education improves one’s knowledge and skills, and develops personality and attitude. Students must be equipped with knowledge and skills which are necessary to participate effectively as members of society and contribute towards the development of shared values and common identity.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still haunting the human race and it will be completing its horrible journey of two years within another five months. It has changed the whole world and lives of each and everyone around the globe. There cannot be anyone who has not been affected by this virus at least once, economically, physically and psychologically. While man is busy planning to go to Mars, this microorganism is busy taking the lives of millions on earth and taking away all the freedom which man had on earth, including the freedom to breathe. While it has affected all the sectors and trades, education is one of the most affected sectors.
There are several ways this virus has affected education. The loss of livelihoods of thousands of parents has caused a financial crisis and education of their kids has been affected, dramatically. Schools remained closed for much of the time, since March 2020. Kids were unable to go to school continuously, at least for one to two months, for over 15 months now. Physical engagement with peer groups and teachers is completely hampered due to shifting to online education, where kids will only be able to talk to each other and to the teacher through a screen which looks so artificial. It does not provide the actual interaction, which is essential, especially for kids in primary grades and early childhood education.
Some kids are at least fortunate enough to gather some knowledge through online platforms as they have access to relevant electronic equipment and network connections. Sadly, kids in low income families are not fortunate enough to obtain such facilities. Some kids who were supposed to be in Grade 1, during the year 2021, have not yet been to school for at least one day, but applications are already called for year 2022 Grade 1 school admissions, which shows how much time, from their early childhood education, has been wasted. This would adversely affect all of them as early childhood education is not solely about developing learning and writing skills, but about social engagement and social development, via engaging in activities with peer groups.
Education should enhance cognitive, social-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning. It should also ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, wherein no one is left behind. This has become a challenging task with the ongoing pandemic situation. Though online education is not the best option, it is the only option available for kids of this generation. But there are many practical issues related to access to laptops, desktops, smartphones and internet connections. In many areas, kids have to climb trees to get internet connections. Huts have been constructed on tree tops to enable kids to follow online classes. Therefore, we need to look for better and more effective ways to continue the education of kids.
The most effective way to handle this issue of online learning, at the moment, is to telecast educational programmes, in the morning or afternoon hours instead of repeat telecasts of teledramas, TV shows or any other entertainment programmes. If all the national TV channels can work towards this, it will offer a practical solution to the problems associated with online education. Since all children are at home these days, it is an efficient way not only to educate them, but also to reduce the damage caused to their brain development due to watching unsuitable content on TV. Even radio stations can help in this regard.
The country they saved
Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.
Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.
Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket
The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’
Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.
1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.
2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.
3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.
4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.
5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.
6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.
7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.
8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]
9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.
10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.
11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.
12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.
13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.
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