Connect with us

Features

Bio-Piracy:

Published

on

A Pervasive Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security

By Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies

Biosphere is a common heritage of the mankind. The free flow of fauna and flora is a natural process. The natural flow of fauna and flora does not take in to account the man-made political boundaries in their natural dispersion. In the past, this dispersion has served human kind greatly. Tea and rubber in Sri Lanka can be cited as a good example. These two plants came to Sri Lankan soil from far and dominated the Sri Lankan economy for years. In terms of nature’s systemic flow of fauna and flora around the world, any attempt to have exclusive right or monopoly contradict the the nature. The relationship between the humans and their surrounding is complex and multifaceted. History of human kind is a story of how they made use of their environment, natural and otherwise, for the benefit and progress. Cultures and Knowledge systems evolved as result of this human endeavor. With the advancement of science, their ability to make use of fauna and flora has enhanced rapidly. This has created serious challenges to the biodiversity, which is a cardinal principle of nature of dynamics. The issue of bio-piracy came to the forefront in this context. The use of modern technology and science goes to the extent of exploiting biodiversity and becomes a manipulated act, bio-piracy. Within this complicated process, traditional and indigenous knowledge get misappropriated and exploited. Using the power of science and technology, combined with political and economic might corporates and other actors commits acts of bio piracy, by monopolizing the use of fauna and flora and exploiting the traditional knowledge marginalizing the local and traditional communities who initially owned the knowledge and who were entitled to biodiversity in their locality.

In this context, the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) organized a webinar on the topic “Bio Piracy: Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security”, on Thursday 25th March 2021. Three world renowned Sri Lankan scholars: Prof. Siril Wijesundara, Research Professor (Plant Taxonomy and Conservation) at National Institute of Fundamental Studies and Former Director General at the Department of National Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya; Prof. Veranja Karunarathne, Senior Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Peradeniya and Former Vice Chancellor of SLINTEC ACADEMY, Homagama; and Prof. Sarath Kotagama, Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology and Environment Science, University of Colombo, presented and shared their views on the topic at the webinar. Prof. Gamini Keerawella, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Peradeniya and the Executive Director of Regional Centre for Strategic Studies moderated the webinar.

 

Introduction to Bio-Piracy and the formation of Convention on Biological Diversity

Primary thought of bio-piracy comes into being when knowledge becomes livelihood. Knowledge became a livelihood, built on traditional knowledge of indigenous people. With this came the desire to come up with an international agreement of some sorts and there came into being the Convention of Biological Diversity in 1993. This convention came into existence with the idea that biological material need to be considered a resource highlighted Prof. Sarath Kotagama.

Prof. Sarath Kotagama remarked that the word “Biodiversity” was coined in 1986 and put into use in the 1980s, but the discussion about bio-piracy did not start until the recent past. Any piracy or pirate action of bio items is known as bio-piracy. Bio piracy is the practice of commercially exploiting naturally occurring biochemical or genetic material especially by obtaining patents that restrict its future use, while by failing to pay fair compensation to the community for which it originates. According to him, the illegal appropriation of life, micro-organisms, plants and animals (including humans) and the traditional knowledge that accompanies it, which then gets commercialized is known as bio-piracy. Doing something “any effort to find biological resources and the related indigenous knowledge for commercial exploitation” is called Bioprospecting. But, until recently, there has been no mention of bio-piracy or bioprospecting even though this had been occurring since the colonial times.

Prof. Kotagama highlighted the fact that biological diversity was a common heritage in the past. It didn’t matter where it originated. But in 1992, after the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), the developing countries said traditional knowledge is a sovereign resource that should not be common heritage. By this time, the traditional knowledge and knowledge inherent to indigenous communities was identified as common heritage. Later, in a battle (between the meetings in cities of Washington D.C and Rio De Janeiro) they claimed that the traditional knowledge is not common heritage and it is a sovereign right of the country that owns the bio items and traditional knowledge. According to Prof. Kotagama, even if the ownership was established and the countries secure the sovereign right for bio-items exported from their countries and their traditional knowledge, it was declared that if there is a humanitarian purpose and if it is for the use of humanity, the substance needs to be shared with the rest of the world.

The contest for the sovereign right was more of an effort after the blunder in bio-diplomacy between the United States and Nicaragua. Prof. Kotagama pointed out that when in Nicaragua potato blight occurred and potato started dying, North America had the solution, they had the original gene from the type of potato that Nicaragua was losing. Nicaragua wanted to get the original material the genetic production from the US as a solution to the issue at hand. But because of the political differences the US did not agree to send their genetic production to Nicaragua. Biodiversity issue became a matter of concern with this diplomatic occurrence. Prof. Kotagama highlighted that, with such issues amounting to tensed diplomacy between the countries, after the Convention, how resources must be used sustainably and equitably and how it should be conserved became a point of debate.

According to Prof. Kotagama, when biodiversity came into the picture, animal and plants were looked at differently, more of a resource with a commercial value. Coming to grips of the fact that livelihood is built on the traditional knowledge of the indigenous people (of traditional people) by them mattered most. Still the ongoing destruction of resources and nature in the word of development has not stopped and it is another fact that generated discussion on bio-piracy. What is traditional knowledge is important to know. In-situations – found in the ecosystems natural environment and ex-situation in gardens and home gardens, brought and planted in commercial and non-commercial situation, have an end product, a very good genetic production. Both non-commercial uses, taxonomy and conservation and commercial uses – biotechnology, horticulture, pharmaceutical, ultimately can achieve genetic production. All these together are considered traditional knowledge. This knowledge base was what has been in use and data were collected from the availability of such information. Taking substances from traditional knowledge it will be brought to a commercial platform and look at in benefiting from monetary way. Prof. Kotagama highlighted that giving it a commercial value is the issue. It comes to a point where some countries make money out of somebody else’s knowledge and possessions mercilessly.

 

Historical background of Bio-Piracy

Prof. Keerawella in his introduction highlighted that Patenting system as a form of blatant colonialism as it monopolizes the ownership of bio items of other countries and vested the power and authority in using the items and knowledge related to them with others other than the indigenous communities who owns the knowledge. He stated that one dimension of early colonialism was gathering information and data of fauna and flora from colonized countries and this has been a practice since many decades ago since the colonial times. When colonialism started, Alexander Johnston collected many books that contained information of fauna and flora and they were collected from Sri Lanka and India and he took them to London. Later Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-1869) in his book “Ceylon: An Account of the Island Physical, Historical, and Torpographical with Notices of Natural History, Antiquity and Production” recorded all the information gathered on fauna and flora from Sri Lanka. And there is one Williams Johnes who was not only interested in language but culture, plants and animals in Bengal and India. These are the evidence that shows that the knowledge system was the most important aspect in Colonial domination.

The legitimate governments have motivated individuals to do various bio piracy activities, from gathering information to establishing gardens that will enable information gathering of fauna and flora in colonized countries. According to Prof. Siril Wijesundara, some of the historical events of bio-piracy shaped agriculture, forestry and even the economies of recipient countries. According to him, early explorers played a major role in expeditions where plants were involved. In terms of plant expeditions, even in the distanced past 3500 years ago, plants were taken from places they originated by the Egyptian rulers during their military expeditions. Passage of plants across geographical borders, aided by man became prominent about five centuries ago.

In recorded history, Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese explorer and navigator, is the first person to sail directly from Europe to India in 1498. Prof. Wijesundara remarked that the first man to come to India was Da Gama and then lot of other people followed him. Therefore, the Portuguese played a major role in global dissemination of plants. They were the carriers of plants from temperate to tropics areas and vice versa. Some were to become major crops in their new habitats. In terms of introduction of new plants and crops, the Potato, the world’s fourth largest food crop, was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors from Peru in the 16th Century.

According to Prof. Wijesundara, the greatest bio-piracy in the 19th century occurred with Sir Henry Alexander Wickham falsely declared 70,000 live seeds of a valuable tree as “academic specimens” and smuggled those out from Brazil to England. Today. It is known as rubber. 27,000 of those germinated and on 12th August 1876, the Colonial Office, sent 38 cases containing 1919 rubber seedlings from Kew Gardens to Ceylon. The seedlings were planted at the Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens in Sri Lanka. In 1877 twenty-two of these young trees were sent to Singapore from Sri Lanka, and seedlings from those trees were distributed throughout Malaysia and Borneo. This is known to be an experimental station. That is how the Asian rubber industry began. In 1848, the British East India Company sent a Scottish Botanist, Robert Fortune on a trip to China to steal the secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. Prof. Wijesundara mentioned that the book “For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose discloses the information on how tea became the most favourite drink of the entire world. Robert Fortune has travelled from China to India and then to Ceylon bringing his stolen knowledge to these countries. These are the very known cases of bio-piracy in the colonial times.

Role of Botanic Gardens in plant introduction

According to Prof. Wijesundara, in the 17th and 18th centuries botanic gardens became key players in the plant introduction process. This continued through to the 19th and early 20th centuries although responsibility for introductions gradually transferred to agricultural stations or Departments of Agriculture. In Sri Lanka, Chief Justice at the time Aleander Johnston, suggested Sir Josehph Banks to have a botanical garden. Then he assigned the task to William Cur to set up a botanical garden. William Cur set up the first Botanical garden in Sri Lanka, in Slave Island. Since the place did not match the occasion, it was going to be moved to somewhere else and the first Botanic Garden Director, an opium addict dies and perished with the idea. In the last century, the British Empire instituted regular plant collections. Some plant collections were not done with the consent of the owners and this is true to many plant collection occurred in the colonized countries.

Bio-Piracy in the Modern Times: The Cases of Neem, Basmati and Turmeric

Both Prof. Sarath Kotagama and Prof. Siril Wijesuriya highlighted how in the modern times bio-piracy is happening citing the cases of Neem, Basmati and Turmeric as classic examples of modern bio-piracy and how the developing countries took action to overturn this trend of unfair patenting – or rather legalizing theft of bio items.

To be continued



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

A solution to problem of extra heavy school bags

Published

on

By Anton Peiris 

B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London), DAES (York) and Emeritus Coordinator, International Baccalaureate, Switzerland.

(‘Reduce O/LevelSTRESS’ – continued)

Extra Heavy Schoolbags carried by school children and the setting of homework

Dr. B.J.C. Perera (Specialist Consultant Paediatrician) has said, “Students, even little children, are forced to carry large numbers of books in their schoolbags, to and from school, every day. The deleterious health effects of carrying improperly loaded and very heavy school bags are another associated problem”.   It is not difficult to solve this problem.

(i)  Install a set of lockers (with at least one shelf inside) preferably in close proximity to the classrooms. Lockers can be made of wood or metal, approximately 20 X 15 X 15 inches or 30 X 10 X 15 inches. i.e. about 4500 cubic inches per student. Allocate a Locker to each student.

(ii)  The teachers should set Homework a maximum of twice per week (i.e. 2 X 20 minutes per week) in mathematics and only once per week (maximum of 30 minutes) in any other subject , making sure that a student gets no more than a total of approximately one hour of homework per day, Some subjects require homework only once a fortnight.

Some subjects do not require any homework at all. This can be done if the Deputy School Principal and the Class Teacher get together and use their ingenuity to produce a practical Home-Work Timetable for the class that allows the setting of homework only for a maximum of two subjects per day.    

Here’s the underlying principle behind this: If a teacher does a good job of teaching in class and if he makes the students work in class, then the students need very little or no homework at all. 

During my 40 years as an O/Level mathematics teacher, I have given them only 20 minutes of homework per night twice a week and sometimes no homework at all. They did well in their O/Level mathematics exam because the bulk of the work was done in class during the five years of preparation for the O/Level exams. I taught them well and I made them work maths problems in class. Some of them obtained As (distinctions) in mathematics. 

There should be no homework set in any subject for the weekend. The students will then have time to play, to climb a tree, to go swimming, to go on trips with their parents, to devote some time for their extra-curricular activities (CAS), attend Daham Paasela, etc., during the weekends.  

The foregoing is for Grades 6 – 11 only. (Obviously, there should be some homework set for the weekend for GCE A/L students).

If the schools adhere to the Homework Timetable given above, then the students in Grades 6 – 11 will be able to leave more than half of their text books in their Lockers every day because homework has been set only in one or two subjects per day. The weight of the schoolbag will be reduced automatically by more than 50%.  They will be able to keep a few other things (e. g. swimming trunk, umbrella) also in their lockers. 

If that method of allocation of homework and the use of lockers works well in Europe, the UK, Australia and Canada, why not in Sri Lanka?

Lockers should have padlocks because, when they lose their locker key, the padlock can be cut off in two seconds with a three feet long metal cutter. Each locker should have either a metal or a hard-plastic number plate fixed on its door. Lockers can be made in units (e. g.  20 or 25 lockers per unit). Most schools need additional space to keep the lockers. The Ministry of Education should provide the necessary funds to the schools to procure the additional space and to install the lockers. It is an investment on the health of the population. Nobody wants our students to grow up into adults having back problems and damaged spinal columns. The important thing is to make a start NOW by providing lockers to about 50 pilot schools. 

It is the duty of the Private Schools and the International Schools also to provide Lockers for their students.

(To be continued)

 

Next instalment: The Problem of Tuition Classes.

 

The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.) 

Continue Reading

Features

The edge of tolerance

Published

on

BY Kusum Wijetilleke

(kusumw@gmail.com)

In March of 2021, a nine-year-old girl from Delgoda, died as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of an exorcist. Her helpless screams were reported by several of the exorcist’s neighbours. The ritual required that the girl be beaten with a cane, presumably to drive out the undesirable spirit. Her father spoke to multiple news outlets, decrying the ritual and exhausting himself; insistent that his daughter was never under any sort of demonic spell.

In this supposed age of information, not only do ancient belief systems, including those that revolve around witchcraft, demons and exorcisms persist, they remain culturally relevant and widely practiced.

Garudan Thookkam, a symbolistic ritual involving Lord Vishnu, that originated in Kerala, and is also practised in Sri Lanka, requires that devotees be hung with metal hooks from a moving vehicle. An ancient Hindu ritual called Sati, which requires a widow to leap into the funeral pyre of her husband, is still practiced and was documented as recently as 2006. In parts of Africa, children suffering an epileptic seizure are treated not at a hospital, but by a witchdoctor.

There are literally hundreds of reports of exorcisms and witchcraft in various parts of India. In 2011, a woman from Kamhara died after an exorcist performed a ritual to banish a demon allegedly preventing her from conceiving a child. The exorcist branded various parts of her body, including her genitalia, with hot iron tongs and proceeded to beat her. In that same year, in Poaltore, several villagers were suffering from diarrhoea and fever. The local witchdoctor suspected a man from the same village had placed a curse and ordered his murder as well as those of his two sons. In 2021, in Odisha, an elderly couple was burnt to death while they slept, on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. Just a few months ago, a man and his toddler, from a village outside Delhi, were beaten to death during an exorcism.

There are no official statistics for the practice of exorcisms in Sri Lanka, though anecdotal evidence persists. What happened in Delgoda should not shock or surprise: these rituals occur regularly and in households of varying socio-economic backgrounds. The widespread belief in exorcisms may indicate a higher number of injuries and deaths than are reported.

Around the world, we have more substantiated evidence. The Vatican, Roman Catholicism’s HQ, has a programme that specializes in training and tutoring would-be exorcists. All the major religions have some belief in exorcisms or similar rituals.

Belief in ritual is a part of culture, and to each of us, our cultural inheritances can be definitive. The things we believe are unquestionably influenced by our environment, teachers, elders, parents and family; these are considered sacred. For many, the practice of these rituals is a key determinant of success and failure, of life and death.

The demise of the nine-year-old girl is proof that not all belief systems are benign. In Sri Lanka, we are taught the importance of culture, from an early age. We are obligated to participate in ritual and ceremony without question.

During this once-in-a-century pandemic, when the focus must be on using the latest available science to inform our decisions, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health was pouring pots of ‘holy-water’ into a river. She approved a ‘potion’ as a remedy for Covid-19. Despite condemnation, she is still the Health Minister. She paid no price professionally for making laughable, ill-informed and potentially dangerous decisions. This should be alarming for any modern society that is serious about progressing.

Sri Lanka is hardly alone in the battle against dangerous dogmas. The UK Government’s own statistics from 2017 show 1500 child abuse cases linked to witchcraft and demonic possessions. This cannot be explained away by a lack of education. In 2018, a GP from Manchester was delisted from the NHS after taking a mentally ill patient to a church for exorcism. He also faced additional charges for threatening that she would be cursed if she told anyone about the ritual.

An average of polls from the last decade shows that more than half of all Americans believe in demonic possessions. A Gallup poll shows that belief in the devil was at 55% in 1990, but reached 70% in 2007. In 2011 the US had fewer than 15 ‘official exorcists’ (licensed by the Catholic Church); in 2019, there were over a hundred. It must be noted that, in the US, the official request for an exorcism requires a psychiatric evaluation with a mental health professional. The vast majority of mental health issues, when investigated, were found to be results of psychiatric issues and/ or related to psychotropic medication.

There has to be a reckoning, an acceptance, that we as a society must discourage belief systems that require nonsensical and often dangerous rituals, which very often leave deep psychological scars on the victims. Sometimes, it really does seem polite to simply ignore blatant incoherence. Society tolerates nonsensical statements and damaging actions if they are based on deeply and solemnly held beliefs.

Beliefs are our personal representations of the world, they affect our emotions and thus our behaviour, especially towards one another. If we feel that someone in our vicinity is disrespectful towards our belief system, this invariably affects how we treat them. This prejudice has led to the oppression of homosexuals, non-believers, scientists and philosophers. Fundamental differences in belief systems have disastrous consequences. In fact, it seems that part of the story of humanity’s progression has been the constant struggle to survive our cultural ethno-religious differences.

Liberal thought and modernism prescribes a tolerance of other’s belief systems so as to co-exist in a society. Tolerance, in the hopes of minimizing the chances of conflict, defines modern liberal thought on social issues.

The neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has eluded to the “balkanization of the world” and the consequences of being defined by our cultural assemblies. A belief is one’s personal representation of the world. A structure of thinking that guides our emotions and behaviour. The (new) liberal consensus also believes that the most appropriate means of countering extreme beliefs is to encourage moderation.

Then when skeptics question even the most extreme religious doctrines, they are instantly told that questioning these beliefs will only serve to isolate the moderates. Thus moderation provides a safe haven for fundamental beliefs because very often, moderates do not question more extreme beliefs. The conversation is muted.

Throughout history, reason and debate have left a lot of dogmas in the past and it is that willingness to question a belief about reality that has led to human progression. To hide behind moderation for the sake of tolerance, to ensure no offence is caused, has consequences of its own.

The endgame for any civilization or society is not to be politically correct and tolerate all manner of absurdity, but to use reason and openness to evidence to challenge dogma. The idea that one’s beliefs, religious or otherwise, must be respected is deeply flawed. Ultimately, as sentient human beings, it is not up to us to respect a person’s belief, it is up to us to evaluate their reasoning. Modern society has weaponised tolerance in a manner that runs counter to human progression and flourishing.

 

 

Continue Reading

Features

Sustainable solution to decline in tea production, export revenue and livelihood issues

Published

on

by Jayampathy Molligoda

Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board

(1) Introduction:

The word “sustainability” is often distorted without being used in ecological context to get its proper meaning. In simple terms, we have the responsibility to protect the right of future generations to live in a safe environment. Similarly, Climate change can be understood as a set of alterations in the average weather caused by global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Climate change phenomenon is serious, which is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. it is the one challenge that potentially has the most severe impacts globally and on Sri Lanka. The very reason for this is that climate change affects virtually every aspect of our ‘every day today’ life, economic, social and environmental. It is a multidimensional challenge, with its impacts ranging from issues like human health, supply of safe water and food, biodiversity, economic development, etc.

 

(2) Systems view of life:

Modern Science has come to realize that all scientific theories are approximations to the true nature of reality. Science doesn’t have answers to natural phenomena. Mechanistic view looks at a closed view of a specific area which is a tiny part of a large system. They have dominated our culture for the past three hundred years and is now about to change. Before 1500 AD the dominant world view was that people lived in small communities and experienced nature by the interdependence of spiritual and material phenomena.

The Systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration, inter-dependence of all phenomena i.e.: physical, biological, social, and cultural. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization.

According to Prof. Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, the architect of “systems view of life” to find lasting solutions, there are solutions to the major problems of our time. They require a radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking, and our values. An “Eco system” is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil. In my view, the above is the best illustration to understand the importance of adhering to the “system view of life” to find lasting solutions. Capra’s view is that our traditional politicians and business leaders have been unable to provide long term solutions to these problems and he welcomed the creation of social movements founded on the premises to change the current traditional sociological paradigm and to build sustainable communities.

From the systemic point of view, the only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable” Therefore, the challenge of our time is to create sustainable communities, that is, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations. The sustainable communities need to be designed in such a way its social structures do not interfere with natures inherent ability to sustain life but support and corporate with natures inherent ability to sustain life.

(3) Structures, Processes and patterns:

The following ten points are useful in order to understand as to how the eco- system works.

1. Eco system is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil

2. The theory of living system tries to understand this and the ecological literature deals with the basic principles of ecology (and live accordingly)

3. Nature, every organism, plant, micro-organism, cells, tissues all are in a living system.

4. All living systems need energy and food.

5. All living systems produce waste, but there is no net waste

6. Capra expresses the life of any living organism as made up of pattern, process and structure.

7. If we apply these ideas to ourselves or our organizations, we can see that in the patterns we find our identity.

8. In the processes we develop our relationships, our beliefs, our principles and behaviours becoming more conscious.

9. In the structures we become more fluid, more focused on the present moment; we become alive. 

10. The building of sustainable communities is deeply connected to our search for a new sociological paradigm.

This gave rise to the concept of Complex Adaptive Systems, as a multidisciplinary concept- are considered complex because they are made-up of diverse elements which are interconnected with each other and are adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience.

(4) Decline in tea production, market share, revenue, despite chemical application:

In this connection, we wish to state that Sri Lankan tea production has been drastically declining over a period of time, despite supplying large quantities of imported artificial fertilizer. For an example, in 2010 the total tea production was 330 million kilos, covering 222,000 hectares, wherein some 160, 000 metric tons of fertilizer per year had been used on an average basis up to date on a regular basis, however, we have ended up with only 289 million kilos of tea production in 2020, covering 253,000 hectares. The compound annual average growth rate (CAGR) was negative 1.5% and the Sri Lankan tea industry cannot sustain anymore as both quality, quantity as well as the competitiveness have drastically eroded. As a result, our market share has come down and the foreign exchange revenue which was around US $ 1.6 Billion eight years back has now come down to US $ 1,24 million/year only. As you are aware, during the period 2017 to end 2019, a large number of tea factories had to close down and many smallholders were badly affected and the new/re planting extents were less than 1%, where as it should have been at least @2% of the cultivated extent.

As a result of excessive usage of agro-chemicals, there has been a number of rejections of our Ceylon tea consignments reported from the major important markets such as Japan, EU, UK, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan etc.  This situation has arisen due to detection of pesticide residues in the Ceylon Teas exported, which are over and the above the permitted maximum residue levels (MRLs). Tea Exporters Association (TEA) has brought to the notice of SLTB notice on number of occasions the serious non- compliances which includes detection of excessive pesticide and other chemical residues over and above MRLs. In addition, the presence of foreign/extraneous matters and high moisture levels which lead to microbial contamination & fungus formation may end up in development of micro toxin fungus – these will become health hazard.

 

(5) Tea plantation system as a complex adaptive system:

My own view is that the long- term goal of Sri Lankan tea industry would be to build “sustainable communities” for the tea plantations and, achieving higher foreign exchange earnings from tea exports may be only one of the unit objectives.

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient. It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others. And it takes a long-term perspective—one that’s focused on both the present and future.

Scientists began to observe certain properties in biological systems. The adaptation of the individual independent components within the system to the environment was one such property. The experts observed this phenomenon was visible in systems such as eco-systems, global economics systems, and social systems.

(6) Strategies implemented by the new administration:

With the new administration, the government together with the private sector stakeholders have been able to reverse the negative trends experienced previously and the higher fob prices and increased tea auction sale averages are now getting tricked down to growers, thus addressing the livelihood income issues systematically.

The Sri Lanka tea industry witnessed a recovery amidst the COVID pandemic, with a substantial increase in production and the export volume during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the corresponding period as well as the year 2020 compared to 2019.

 

During the Q 1- January to march ’21, the tea export revenue was Rs. 65 Billion, up by Rs. 16 billion YoY, from Rs 49 Billion during the 1Q, 2020.

Q 1- January to march ’21 cumulative production totaled 74 million kgs, up by 20 Mn. kg.

FOB price was Rs. 939/= per kilo during the Q1, which is an increase of 13%, from Rs. 827/= during the corresponding period 2020.

FOB price in US $ during the Q1 was US$ 4.77 as against US$ 4.47 during Q1 -20.

March fob in US $ was ($ 4.87) the highest ever.

FOB price during the year 2020 was Rs 867/=per kilo, when compared to Rs 823/= per kilo during the year 2019.

Consequent to this cabinet decision under the caption “Towards a green socio-economic pattern with sustainable solutions to climate change” actions have been taken by SLTB to request stakeholders to encourage them to produce, supply and use organic manure to be set up on each agro- climatic region in large quantities. It was suggested in the SLTB circular that immediate action be taken by TRI to formulate and prepare specifications of organic manure applications covering different applications such as Nursery stage, immature, mature VP and Seedling and recommendations for small holdings etc. The development of the organic fertilizer business needs high tech inputs based on R&D, the required raw material availability and market acceptance based on different crops. The regulatory issues that prohibit or delay arranging import of trial quantities of organic materials (without micro- organism) for R&D evaluation need to be addressed. The necessary guidelines from the regulatory authorities should support development of organic fertilizer at large scale.

(7) Implementation of tea industry strategic plan:

As a solution, we have recommended the stakeholders to follow strategies which includes ‘Integrated weed management system’ and migrate in to offering high quality ‘Ceylon Tea’ with near Zero pesticide & other chemicals to the global market in accordance with our ‘Tea industry strategic plan 20-25’ and CTTA tea strategy-road map.

One of the most striking features of the current operations of the stakeholders is the increased awareness and adherence of the social & environmental considerations at estate level. Ceylon tea is at an advantageous position in the global market viz; other competitors for reasons such as “Zero tolerance” policy on child labour, adherence to environmental considerations on a sustainable basis and of course the quality of Ceylon tea as perceived by the buyers. As a result, Ceylon tea continues to fetch a higher price at the Colombo auction compared to teas from other producing countries, although the cost structures and productivity levels of our estates are totally disproportionate to make the industry commercially viable in short to medium term scenario.

Tea plantations have to therefore pursue environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices & methods in all their agricultural field operations (i) tea manufacturing processes(ii) and managing its employees (iii)to ensure that all-natural resources and eco-systems will be managed in a sustainable manner. The companies will have to make every endeavor to conserve the usage of all resources by optimizing resource utilization and minimizing waste through practicing cleaner production principles. They will strive to be self-sufficient in green energy to operate all our tea factories through harnessing the hydropower potential within all the lands belonging to the company.

There are many strategies recommended by TRI and others such as development of Agro- forestry farming systems using all unutilised estate land to have ‘nitrogen fixation’ as suggested by Chairman TRI. This will improve the soil porosity, provided we issue guidelines instructing them to follow TRI guidelines on Integrated soil fertility management strategies as mandatory good agricultural practices (GAP)towards minimizing soil acidity, top soil erosion and wastage of inputs etc.

 

(8) Conclusion:

As stated, it is a fact that there has been no increase in productivity, but a gradual decline in tea productivity measured in terms of the yield per hectare in Sri Lankan tea estates, partly due to continuous application of chemical fertilizer and due to difficulties in adopting mitigating strategies to arrest negative impact of climate change. This depleted soil condition and land degradation issues need to be corrected as a matter of priority.  This proposed strategy will enable the growers at least to correct the high acidity levels in the soil and improve soil porosity and tea product quality.

In sustainability circles much is written about “three pillars of sustainability” or in other words, “triple bottom line” of environment, society, and economy. My own view is this is to confuse ends with means. The Environmental sustainability and Human well-being are two desirable points. Economic wellbeing in the long run is driven by those two. In other words, the necessary precondition for long term economic sustainability and profitability of the tea estates is environmental and social well-being from the long- term perspective.

As for marketing of tea in the global markets, the discerning customers have high expectations of the standards and practices applied by the supply chain including tea estates. For example, Tea” is made according to the principles of “sustainable food” thus providing values to discerning customers, employees and all other stake holders. SLTB global promotion campaign aims to popularize tea drinking around the world in order to expand demand and increase per capita consumption, using three USPs; authenticity means demonstrating sustainability credentials, wellness factor and the premium quality of Ceylon Tea.

If the estate management does not look at long term view, it is unlikely they make profits on a continuous basis. Eventually, the long- term value creation for the shareholders depends on the sustainable development of the estates and the community in which they operate. That is why I consider tea plantation sector as one of the truly complex adaptive systems.

Are we leaving the tea plantations to future generations in a better condition than the one we inherited?

Continue Reading

Trending