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Beware of imported compost!

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The advisability, necessity, practicality and economics of switching to “organic farming” has generated much interest and received much publicity.

This is as it should be, on such a matter where the slightest false step will have enormous evil consequences for all of us citizens. In such a matter, there is no room for petty considerations, hollow vanity or political games. No less than the future of our nation – even survival, could be at stake. This is not within the right or authority of anybody (individual or group) to cause, order or impose.

In the matter of charting a brighter future for our Agriculture, no one could be fool enough to deny that a harmonized synthesis of organic and inorganic inputs, would be best for optimal crop performance. True poverty is the inability to use assets within our reach. Knowledge is one such.

In the area of crop nutrition, good sense prescribes a balance of organic (compost, humus) and inorganic (chemical, mineral, artificial) components. Either on its own would be unsustainable. Each has its positive and negative features. The optimal mix would of course be specific for each situation or crop. In our situation, the categories could be Paddy versus upland, perennial versus annual, pasture versus arable, with sub-sections such as vegetables and flowers. What is right for rice, will not be so for rubber.

All sane counsel, while recommending the longer term goal of a good mix, raise the very real problem as of now, of swinging to a 100% reliance on compost alone, to the extent of warranting an immediate ban of import of Agrochemicals (or even fertilizers alone). This will lead to a new unprecedented and nearly unimaginable crisis. Nothing short of national starvation or widespread famine would be on the cards.

For “going organic”, there simply isn’t enough compost or humus to even match the most modest replacement of the nutrients hitherto imported. Although precise calculations cannot be made, the sheer bulk of compost needed is massive. For example, since urea has about 25 times Nitrogen as the same mass of dry good quality humus, what a 50 kg sack of urea could provide, will require about 1.25 tons of the latter. It has also to be remembered that because the density of compost is a fraction of that of urea, the bulk to be transported can only be imagined. Some centralized facilities for compost production may become a must. But this capacity will need to be built from scratch. Even if a genuine effort is made immediately, the run-up time may be at least a couple of years. The scale is a hypothetical projection for nitrogen, the calculations for other elements would obviously vary.

Be that as it may, when this matter of inadequacy of humus was brought up, some uncritical and ill-informed (or uninformed) Spokesman, unguardedly declared “If we are short, we can import humus (or Compost), readily available on the International Market”. What market is this? I have seen only one concern doing so, and from one country. Obviously, one whose Intelligence (or occultism) foresaw this announcement of rapid suicidal intent.

Have these bright sparks who speak of imports, heard of the elaborate quarantine measures taken by other countries to prevent introduction of pests? Preventing entry of The Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Drosophila sp.) from California Citrus? Australia does not allow packaging with straw or wood shavings, to prevent possible carriage of Wheat Rust (Puccinia sp). Some countries will not permit even footwear, as possible carriers of harmful soil pathogens?, In our own case the infestation by the Coconut Leaf Miner (Promecotheca cumingii) which threatened our Coconut Industry and cost us millions to control, was suspected to have come in with packaging of smuggled Orchids (or on the outside of planes coming in from Singapore or Bangkok.) Our sustained vigilance to prevent entry of the Mycoplasma suspected of causing Lethal Yellowing (Cadang Cadang) of coconut?, The Root knot Eelworm of Tea (Pratylenchus loosi).?

Soil is notorious as a carrier of numerous organisms responsible for some deadly helminth parasites, Tape Worms, Roundworms, Amoebiasis, bacteria causing Cholera, Enteric etc,. One can hardly imagine the perils that imported compost could bring in. Have we forgotten so soon, the number of containers (more than a hundred) of supposed garbage, brought in from the UK and on opening found to be packed with hospital and surgical waste, that our Courts ordered to be “Returned to Sender”? Was this done or are they still languishing in some Container Yard? Were we not the people who offered “Quarantine facilities” to Indians as Tourists at a time when new virulent strains were detected? And to tourists from Ukraine, to see whether they could transmit their Strain of Covid 19 to Sri Lankan Guinea Pigs?

If I am right in my fear that Compost or Humus is planned to be “Imported” or has actually arrived, I am sending this as a DESPERATE ALARM CALL to whoever it’s his business to prevent this suicidal mistake.

Please publish quickly and act fast. We have enough problems to not invite on our heads more misfortunes to add to those that already bedevil us!

Dr. UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA

 

 



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Opinion

Support move to generate electricity from garbage

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There had been several letters in the press where the Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma, has enthusiastically declared to achieve 70% of power from Renewable Sources by the year 2030, without knowing the capability and the resources available with the CEB, and the time taken to provide transmission lines to connect the national grid, if international tender procedure is adopted or even otherwise.

I recall a letter sent to the press earlier, wherein I have stated, the garbage problem in Colombo is talked of as an urgent matter, but no action taken for over four decades, and the situation is getting worse day-by-day. The Colombo Municipal Council had once initiated action to set up an incinerator and there had been proposals from interested parties willing to undertake it, but for some unknown reason, these have been shelved by CMC or any other authority concerned.

A report submitted by an internationally famous foreign firm of consultants, Lahmeyer International of Germany, which produced a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy, touched on the possibility of setting up of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose – to eradicate the garbage problem and generate electricity.

What action the Ministry for Power or the CEB has taken is not known. It may be that the CEB has taken action to implement other recommendations and but did not pursue this matter with the CMC. The plant could also produce compost manure and reduce the foreign exchange spent on importing fertilisers. In this well compiled, meaningful and workable report, it is stated: “The incinerator plants use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder, grate, firing and air quality control system. Also, the required land area is greater.

“Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo area, and the amount of garbage collected annually could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is at present dumped on marshy lands in the vicinity of Colombo for the purpose of land reclamation, that practice caused environmental problems [i.e., smells and ground and surface water pollution.]

“The average heat content of the garbage is not exactly known, but based on the few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, the fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions] . This would be sufficient for generation of some 400Mw of power, and at the same time would contribute to the solution of Greater Colombo’s waste disposal problem. “

The aforesaid estimates were prepared in 1988 almost 33 years back, and the present amounts will be very much more, perhaps thrice, due to increase of population. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment may be around USD160 to 240 million at 1988 estimates.

If at today’s estimation at thrice the increase, then the production every day may be around 1200 Mw, which is far more than the 300×3 = 900 Mw. produced by the Norochcholai coal-fired project.

It is therefore suggested that either the Minister for Energy or the Minister for Agriculture, as Fertiliser Corporation comes under him, take up this matter with the Urban Development Authority or the Colombo Municipal Council to expedite it.

It should also be said that undertaking this project will also satisfy those who object to filling marshy land.

The government should give top priority to this project of producing electricity and fertilizer from garbage.

G.A.D. SIRIMAL [SLAS]
Retd. Former Asst. Secretary
Ministry for Power & Energy

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Opinion

A ‘painless shot’ from Army

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When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.

At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.

Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.

The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.

The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.

I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!

What first class service!

To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.

My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)

Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.

Dr. N.Jayasinghe

Physician.

Colombo 7

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Opinion

On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health

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Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.

I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted

The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.

From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.

In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…

None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.

The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.

Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?

As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!

 

Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara

 

 

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