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Beyond Illusion to Reality with Traditional Rice

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by M. P. Dhanapala

Former Director, Rice Research and Development

Department of Agriculture

maddumadhanapala@yahoo.com,

Tel. 0718412444

Some groups emerge time to time from different professions, with enthusiasm of promoting traditional rice varieties free of toxic contaminants for consumption. Traditional varieties are highlighted as healthy and nutritious, but with little or no scientific evidence. In this connection, a resource person of traditional rice farming gave a seminar on the perspectives of organically produced traditional rice varieties under the theme “Beyond Illusion to Reality” at the Jayawardenapura University.

According to him, each of us can have enough rice from traditional varieties to consume three meals a day from an extent of 1,260,000 acres (0.51m ha.) with an average productivity of 60 bushels per acre (3t/ha), assuming a daily rice requirement of 330 grams per head. I am very confused by this statement. It appears that something is wrong with the calculations, but it is difficult to verify as the milling outturn, cropping intensity and the population size assumed were not stated. This is utterly misleading; do your calculations once more and verify please.

Also, he quoted some per acre yield figures of traditional varieties; Dik wee (102 bu.), Masuran (98 bu.), Pachchaiperumal (84 bu.) and Pokkali (82 bu.) from undisclosed cultivated extents; the cultivation was practised without inorganic fertilizers. I presume he used organic manure regularly though not quantified, and probably agrochemical free weed control practices. The other pests were controlled by timely cultivation using traditional knowledge – initiation of crop establishment seven days after full moon (the first dark night).

Involvement of private companies in the rice trade – buying paddy cheap at Rs.60/kg and selling rice at Rs.350/kg – was identified as a stumbling block in popularizing traditional varieties and he appealed to the general public to purchase the production at Rs. 145/kg of rice, variety Suwandel in particular. No doubt, everybody would purchase traditional rice at that price. It occurred to me why this dedicated group of farmers cannot organize themselves to form a cooperative and develop a traditional rice market.

That the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) took away our traditional varieties is a complaint made periodically by these critics. It is true that IRRI collected in1970s the endangered rice cultivars in different countries for conservation for the future use and stored over one million rice accessions in cold rooms in their gene bank. This would not have happened without the approval of the respective governments. They implement many international collaborative programs in rice research and any researcher can have access to the material in their gene bank under the conditions laid down by the institute.

We received from IRRI our share of traditional varieties for conservation once the Plant Genetic Resources Center (PGRC) was established in 1990. These facts may be verified from IRRI before making undiplomatic statements. To my mind, no other country in the world cultivates our traditional varieties, legally or illegally, for commercial purposes; the unfounded allegations made in public seminars without evidence is unethical and unparliamentary. Furthermore, we do not have any intellectual property rights or breeder’s rights to protect our varieties.

According to the speaker, there were around 6,000 traditional rice varieties cultivated in the past. We have compiled the names of traditional varieties grown in Ceylon from the past literature, but were able to collect only 567 names listed by Molegoda (1924), probably inclusive of the names of 300 samples of traditional varieties displayed by Nugawela Disawe in Agri-Horticultural Exhibition (1902) in Kandy, and 42 names (El Wee) listed by de Zoysa (1944) (Sri Lankan Rice Varieties from the Past to Present, Dept. of Agriculture, 2021). It would be a thankful task if the list of names of the 6,000 different traditional varieties could be provided to the Department of Agriculture for compilation and updating of the list.

One should not confuse the terminology used in the rice market with variety names; Kora, Mal Kora, Samba (red, white), Nadu (red, white), Kekulu (red, white, rosa), Suduru Samba, Keeri Samba etc. are names used in the rice market. Among them, “Suduru Samba” is the only name identifying a variety. Rice in other countries is identified by the name of the variety. For example: Koshi hikari (Japan), Dinarado (Philippines), Basmathi (Pakistan), Kao Dwak Malee/Jasmine Rice (Thailand) etc.

In almost all of the countries, rice is consumed as raw milled. We are among the handful of nations consuming par-boiled rice; probably the only country consuming red pericarped rice. According to the speaker, Keeri Samba is a traditional variety. I am always in favor of Bg 360 remaining as Bg 360 in the rice market. However, Keeri Samba is a name that appeared in the rice market, after introduction of Bg 360 in 1996.

“Consumption of keeri samba (Bg 360) would end up with the future generation of children in the cancer hospital as there is indiscriminate use of toxic herbicides to control weeds, because of its dwarf plant stature,” is an unsubstantiated statement, made by the presenter of this seminar. The breeder of Bg 360 (so-called Keeri Samba) is not among us to defend his case but, as the team-leader who spearheaded the rice breeding program, I like to declare that this is the first variety we have developed with improved eating quality. The adverse comments on Bg 360 would not affect the popular demand for this variety, but as rice breeders we would appreciate if the price tag of Bg 360 is in par with other samba varieties, with a reasonable profit margin.

There are many critics condemning modern rice varieties on different grounds as sources of non-communicable diseases. Most of the critical statements on modern varieties are discussed in page 11- 17 of Govikam Sangarawa, June 2020 issue, Department of Agriculture. Also, I invite the attention of all the participants of the seminar “Beyond Illusion to Reality” to the u-tube presentation of Dr. Pethiyagoda (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGe6ld2q1vs) to understand the basics; precision and accuracy in scientific investigations, the definition of data/opinion/statements and valid interpretation of results, especially the cause and effect relationship in experimentation.

The misconceptions, distortion and misinterpretation of facts were highlighted and discussed in that seminar. The organizers of scientific seminars should have this knowledge to prevent misleading the general public, as such seminars can inculcate absolutely wrong concepts and facts regarding important and relevant topics of current interest, in the minds of the inquisitive listeners, thereby leading to lot of damage.

A couple of years ago, as a farmer, I had to attend a seminar given by another enthusiast of traditional rice varieties. The seminar was organized by the Divisional Agrarian Service Office, Weke, Kirindiwela. Probably these seminars cannot be mutually exclusive events. Some seeds of traditional rice varieties were distributed among farmers in the audience at the outset and the main speaker began the speech. The hall was full. He introduced himself a descendant of “Yakkha”, probably to impress the audience of his cell lineage with “Ravana.” He spoke of Siyane Korale, the great poet, Mahagama Sekera and his book “Yasodhara”.

Most interestingly, the speaker was trying to describe the date that the world ended according to the Calendar of Mayans, the South American tribe. He said “though the world did not end on that particular day, it was marked by yellow colored rains bringing fish from outer space. The audience appeared hypnotized. (As a 10-year old, I have listened to fiction of this nature in our Sunday Fair from a man who wanted to sell a precious oil that Ven. Thotagamuwe Rahula thero overdosed himself with. My father was convinced by that speech and bought a capsule of two drops of oil and squeezed it on my tongue. It had the taste of coconut oil. In fact, it was coconut oil.) “What a loss of precious time”? I thought.

There were many other fairy tales by the resource person, that probably have skipped my mind. After about one hour or so, he said that “traditional varieties of rice were capable of giving 60 bushels per acre (3.0 t/ha) whereas the so called improved varieties of Batalagoda could give only 80 bushels (4.0 t/ha)”, but without any scientific procedure of comparison and that he would disclose to the audience how to bridge this gap. I waited for another hour biting my tongue to learn the process of bridging the yield gap; but nothing was delivered. I left the hall after two and half hours, in the middle of the presentation with the long face of the chief organizer on me.

The historical aspects of genetic improvement of rice were compiled recently (Dhanapala et. al. 2021, Tropical Agriculturist, Sept, 2021) to rationally look at the pros and cons of rice breeding and its consequences. As breeders, we were concerned about rice production in all agro ecological regions in the country, not only in one isolated patch of land or region or ecology. We were getting a national average of less than 15 bushels per acre (0.75 t/ha.) prior to 1950s with traditional varieties (Rhind, 1949) and around 98 bushels per acre (4.8 t/ha) in 2020 with modern varieties. These were figures recorded in the Ceylon Government Blue Books during the British era and in the Census and Statistics Department of Sri lanka at present.

In the 1920s, British scientists initiated pure-line selection for the improvement of traditional varieties. They did not work in isolation, but had consistent dialogue with key members of the Ceylon Agricultural Society, to mention a few: Mudaliyar J. P. Obeyesekera, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, J. C. Ratwatte Disawa, Dr. Rajasingham, Mr. K. B. Baddewela etc. They were in the forefront leading the discussions. If the present day traditional rice enthusiasts were born earlier, they could have contributed to the traditional rice improvement immensely during that era. Then, rice varietal improvement would possibly have taken a different path. However, rice was imported during the British era too despite all these efforts.

Though the breeders treated rice as the major staple of the country, one should not ignore the other claims made with traditional varieties despite no scientific evidence being produced, clinically or otherwise. Much of the knowledge may have accumulated through trial and error basis over a period of time. In “Vidusara” (2020/10/28), a list of traditional rice varieties was published, rich in nutritional and medicinal qualities (Fernando, 2020). Similar lists of varieties are displayed frequently in herbal medicinal shops. They include predominantly Pachchaiperumal, Suwandel, Kalu Heenati, Sudu Heenati, Goda Heenati, Kuruluthuda, some Ma Wee types etc. either identified as rich sources of nutrients; vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and proteins or having medicinal properties to contain blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and/or improve the immunity system.

Among these varieties, Kuruluthuda was specifically highlighted to have aphrodisiac properties (Fernando, 2020). We need analytical procedures; biochemical, molecular biological or any other, to identify the active ingredient and/or to quantify these properties and establish the bio-chemical pathways conferring the said effects to claim patent rights. Who knows that ‘Viagra’ can be replaced with a meal of Kuruluthuda? However, Kuruluthuda as reported in literature is a white pericarped, photo-period sensitive, date fixed variety and can be grown only during the Maha season (Gunawardena and Wickramasekera, 1947 and Chandraratne, 1948), but Kuruluthuda as reported in “Vidusara” is red pericarped, short duration and period fixed (Fernando, 2020). The authenticity of this variety needs verification. There are multiple accessions under the same name in the collection of traditional varieties at the PGRC and systematic evaluation and cataloguing of the germplasm is needed for future use. DNA fingerprinting may be helpful in identifying possible duplications.

Although the medical purpose of serving rice-soup (kanji/kenda) of traditional varieties is not clear, it was promoted on many occasions by the traditional rice lovers. Once a COVID 19 patient (first wave) claimed that he was cured by eating this rice-soup (Hela Suwaya Program, Siyatha TV, Ravana, 09/04/2020). There was a rice-soup program launched to feed school children recently, but discontinued probably due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The rice-soup program in the Cancer Hospital mentioned by the resource person of the seminar is being continued, may be as a therapeutic, preventive or immunity build-up measure and/or for developing resistance to infections. However, if the rice-soup improves the digestibility of rice, irrespective of its origin – traditional or modern – Bg 360 is the most easily digestible, the reason why its glycaemic index is high and people eat more.

Traditional rice varieties were known to have been introduced to Morawewa, Rajangana etc. by some groups recently, but the farmers did not continue cultivation due to some reason or another. If chemical inputs are not used and the yields are high, the traditional rice can be sold definitely cheap in the market and can compete with big-time millers of modern varieties by organizing the farmers to sell their product at the farmer cooperative shops. It needs the cooperation of all traditional rice lovers who believe that they can feed the nation with better quality, nutritive rice free of toxic contaminants; failing which the traditional rice technology is inappropriate. However, those who promote traditional rices should take the responsibility for food security in rice, which is so vital, as it remains as our staple food; i. e. availability in adequate quantities at affordable prices to feed all, not only a selfish high income group. Also the government must be compelled not to import cheap and low quality rices to feed the poor.



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Features

Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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