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Black, white, or shades of grey on fertiliser?

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The issue of ‘Organic or Inorganic’ is lingering on, the latest complication arising from the arrival in the harbour of a load of “Prilled Urea” – not the most inexpensive form of nitrogenous fertiliser. Rumour has it that it was an authorised import, which had left the shores of Indonesia, well before the issue of the Gazette banning entry. If this implies that “organic” is permissible, and worse still, that some of it has already arrived, this would be attempted “agro-suicide” (econo-suicide as well). I have drawn attention to the need to thwart such a colossal error – the consequences of which will be beyond our imagination. The circumstances surrounding such a colossal breach of Quarantine Laws must be probed, and those even remotely responsible, must invite the most severe punishment possible under the Law and any legal gaps firmly sealed.

Most issues in life (and natural processes, decidedly), are not “Black or White”, but varying shades of Grey. This is apparent even in our vocabulary. Frequent appearances of words like “moderate, balanced, mean, average, appropriate, holistic, blend, mix, optimum, fair, alternative, compromise” and many such words, are indicative of the availability and attendant power of choice. One of the best instances of economic unleashing of power is perhaps the computer, whose magical versatility is achieved through a binary code (just 0 & 1). Our entire genetic design is through the potential of a “four-base Code”, namely Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine. These code for a “Language” expressing millions of genetic traits. The entire wealth of expression of English Literature and stored information, uses an Alphabet of just 26 letters! The thousands of structural proteins and enzymes that comprise our body chemistry, are spelt out by some 23 or so amino-acids. A few units can still provide a wealth of options.

Working out the ideal fertiliser mix, depending on crop and circumstance is relatively simpler. Therefore, a mixture of organic and inorganic components has to be the ideal, because the “Strengths” of the two forms supplement each other very well. What the “organic” lacks in nutrients, it makes up for in its capacity to “ameliorate” soil in desirable physical characteristics. What the “inorganic” lacks in textural improvement, it makes up for in “nutrient density”. Exclusive use of one or the other, is impractical, unnecessary, economically unsound and could be environmentally damaging. They are not and should not be mutually exclusive.

Since the advent of farming, (said to have happened about 10,000 years ago, when humans ceased to be mere ‘hunter-gatherers, and domesticated their crops), participants were probably well aware of nutrient needs of their crops. Early farming practices must have relied entirely on Wood Ash (rich in potassium), Animal Bones (for Calcium and Phosphorus), Animal Dung and Human Excrement and Urine (for Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). Progress in industrial production of Superphosphate and Ammonium derivatives, (at the beginning of the last century) provided a great fillip. Further improvements ushered in by mining of Muriate of Potash and Sulphur as welcome changes, which heralded great improvements of productivity.

Population growth and increased food demands, impelled the developments (such as the Green Revolution), which relied on heavy input practices, including inorganic fertilizer and chemical pesticides. Abuse of such conveniences have led to their own slew of problems.

Our paddy farmers, up until the mid-nineteen- thirties, relied heavily on organics – not least because it was logistically and economically more sensible. All around paddy farming developed a culture that was essentially conservationist and pastoral. With a strong undercurrent of Buddhist tradition. Hence the ‘production-line practices of deep- litter, battery farming methods perhaps had low appeal to the traditional village paddy-farmer. Paddy straw (excess over thatching needs), weeds scraped off the ‘niyaras’, crop residues from the bunds, loppings including those from roadside shrubs, mainly from Wild Sunflower, Suriya Kantha, (Tithonia diversifolia), Weta hira (Glyricidia maculata), Andana hiriya-( Crotalaria sp.), Weta Endaru (Jatropha sp), Eramudu (Erythrina sp) and casual weeds, maintained as roadside shrubs etc. Their loppings were generally laid in the muddy field and worked in with the first ploughings. The droppings of the ploughing and threshing Buffaloes, were an appreciated bonus.

East Asian farmers (Chinese and Japanese) used raw human excrement extensively on rice and Farm Garden crops. The material was delicately referred to as “night soil”. This made very good sense, in that the sole legitimate removals from the field, should ideally be limited to only the crop component desired – all else (including indigestible parts), should return to the field. Processing of sewer waste has since progressed very far, even in Municipal settings. The product is now an odorless, inoffensive material of an agreeable crumbly texture. This is clearly a technology of very high merit, and worthy of wider application.

There is a great need to adapt from the traditional tendency for fertiliser trials, to focus solely on the ‘return to investment’, when evolving a “best fertiliser practice”. This is virtually to the exclusion of the equally revealing concern with the pathway and efficiency of utilisation. Of the applied quantity, how much is actually used by the crop, how much is immovably fixed in soil minerals, how much is lost in erosion, how much is leached beyond root accessibility etc? As an indicator of the usefulness of such an approach, I could mention that in preliminary analyses of silt drawn from surface drains in a tea plantation, the silt had virtually the same nitrogen content as of pure urea (circa 46%)! Incidentally, a “rule of thumb” computation of replacement of nitrogen by a tea crop (Replacement Ratio), employed by planters was 8 or 10 kilos “N” for every 100 kg of made tea harvested. This should mean that the tea should analyse at 8 to 10% N. It is nearer 2%!. What does that and the silt analysis say? Tea fields are notoriously low in organic matter, the soil acidity is close to being inhospitably low. Earthworms do not inhabit many tea soils.

If the sudden change from inorganic to organic fertilisers is intended to signal a desirable shift towards systems that are less violent to the environment and less wasteful, it is commendable. Yet undue haste might be self-defeating. A desire to act ‘with’, rather than ‘against’ nature, should be admirable. Such an objective should not generate reasoned objection. But a set of practices, methods and attitudes developed over centuries, are not likely to be amenable to useful change in one or two paddy-growing seasons. Change towards an optimal, stable set of practices, even under the most enthusiastic promotion, will take time. As a well planned programme continues, there will be steady progress towards stability. Thus it is to be expected, that as the system (particularly the soil organisms, biosphere), stabilizes progressively, and adapts to the changed conditions, one can hope that the results would be so self-evident, that compulsion certainly, or even coercion perhaps, may not be necessary.

The livelihoods of millions of our citizens are at stake. Petty biases, prejudices, expediencies and ‘intelligence or information deficits’, simply cannot be unleashed. There are several ways in which an element of sensitivity towards Nature, and evolving more sensitive /merciful/ compassionate methods with less recourse to rough and extractive demands will emerge. Such will have ready appeal for our essentially conservative farming community. They will, by nature, be more responsive to traditions that conserve, rather than waste, guide rather than force, harvest rather than grab.

To me, progress of movements like “Gammedda” are of immense significance. They have much to teach – the value and power of self-reliance, the strength of community co-operation and the validity of prioritisation at local level. Above all, a realisation that true poverty is largely an inability to use the resources you have (including knowledge, tradition and skills). If Sri Lanka can position itself in the vanguard of a move towards a “Compassionate Agriculture”, harmonsing and integrating Nature’s gifts and mankind’s ingenuity, we will have bestowed a priceless gift. Even Nature would be happier to respond to gentle handling than to brutish exploitation.

In the present instance, priorities might include the following:

(i) The establishment of collectively-owned “Green Manure Lots’ ‘ of low input requiring shrubs, like Tithonia, Crotalaria, Glyricidia and Jatropha.

(ii) “The Dry Pit Latrine”, for Dry Zone colonists. Biogas generators, Compost heaps, Domestic Waste Composters.

(iii) Coconut waste water as a source of potassium (rich source with hundreds of ppm of elemental potassium).

(iv) Water Weeds, Salvinia, Eichchornia, Pistia, Azolla and Aroids. Silt from tank desilting. Composted Municipal Waste. (Mattakkuliya?).

(v) Blue Green Algae and N-fixing bacteria (Nitrosomonas, Nitrobacter). Nodule forming Rhizobia.

(vi) Crop Rotation as an organised practice.

(vii) Use of Biotechnology (including emphasis on such as the use of Bacillus thuringiensis against caterpillar pests).

Attractive (Self-recommending) options are infinitely more enticing and palatable than compulsions. There should be enthusiastic cooperation rather than sullen compliance.

 

Dr. UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA



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Opinion

Need to save the Sangha

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May I commend S. M. Sumanadasa for the thought-provoking and timely message to articulate Buddhists, now in deep slumber, on the grave crisis knocking at the door which sadly has escaped the attention of all. The dismal truth is that the revered Sasana is getting destroyed from within.

It is evident with the many problems the lay people have to face in these times this all-important fact had escaped their attention. They blindly pay obeisance to all who don robes as tradition made all of us to believe what “DUSSEELAS ” propagated to respect the robe. I must emphatically say that there are exemplary monks and they are helpless since it is the responsibility of the Maha Nayakes to voice their concerns and initiate corrective measures. However, the Mahanayakes other than their meetings with politicians who come with gifts, obviously paid for by the people, nothing of importance had been achieved.

The country should know what advice they gave and also whether they followed the advice proffered. It’s a common sight to see politicians rushing to speak to the media and this is to satisfy their ego.

It’s common knowledge that the present situation is most unacceptable and remedial action needs high priority and this must originate from the Sangha.

The first step in my view, is for the heads of the three Nikayas and a few senior monks comprising about 10 or 15 to get together and address this issue seriously without further delay.

The Buddha never CREATED caste based sects or preached the pristine Dhamma to select groups. Prince Siddartha born to King Suddodana gave up all worldly pleasures and traversed a tortuous path to end suffering and after attaining BUDDHAHOOD proceeded to indicate the path to end suffering and in doing so clearly left with those who listened to him to accept or reject what he preached. While commending SMS, let me start from where he ended by saying that a great responsibility is with SENIOR LAY BUDDHISTS to ensure that the pristine Dhamma does not fade away due to neglect from both the clergy and laity.

For reasons of brevity I will take a few points from his article and comment.

The Buddha Sasana is nourished by those who gave up lay life and donned the sacred robe and the lay people. I quote from the Dhammapada which the late most Venerable Narada personalised and gave me.

“THE PURE ARE WORTHY OF THE ROBE BUT NOT THE IMPURE ” Hence its abundantly clear that the Buddha expected the robe not to be used TO GO PLACES and that those who don the sacred robe must conduct themselves within the vinaya, there is no ambiguity there.

Once a person gives up lay life, it is incumbent on him to devote his full time to enrich his knowledge of the Dhamma and impart such knowledge to the lay people to lead a life within the Dhamma which essentially is free of GREED, POWER INCLUDED.The lay people look up to them for guidance and work towards emancipation and they in turn provide the needs of monks.

A. While acknowledging that majority of the monks live within the teachings of Buddha many have strayed out of their main task and dabble in lay activity. There is no dispute that the ” voice cut of men in robes ” have brought shame and ridicule on all bhikkus. We do not see such conduct coming from the clergy of other faiths.

B. I have to, without reservation agree with the comment of SMS that a person who is much in the news accepted by one ,but cold shouldered by another leads a trade union of nurses. It’s common knowledge that at a time when a pandemic of epic proportions had hit the beleaguered country he influenced the union to strike causing incalculable harm to a badly stretched health system battling to save lives. He would never have resorted to that course if he was within the inner circle like the permanent President of another Health sector union. Such conduct was far from the teachings of the Buddha as COMPASSION AND WISDOM ARE GUIDING PRINCIPLES. I guess most are unaware that this person is accused of invading some others temple with political backing and is now facing litigation where the case appears never to end.This monk unquestionably tarnishes the image of all Buddhaputhras who live within the VINAYA indicated by the Thatthagatha.

I think it is not out of place if I mention that the much maligned man who is the architect of the draconian legislation which exists today refused to meet him as such a position was not meant for a person who wore the sacred robe.

SMS who pioneered this wake up call mentioned what a Katina Pinkama was for and what the Sangha had to do during the VAS SEASON OR THE RAINY SEASON. The lay people know well that most temples do not follow the edicts but await the Pinkama with much fanfare .

He also touched on the Mercedes BMW phobia. My mind raced to a prelate who lived within the vinaya whom I knew closely. He is the late Ven Madihe Pannasiha. He mentioned to me how the politicians of all hues who rush to the hills who await their Mercedes cars had reached him with an offer. He had declined and told him that a dayaka had placed an Austin for him to get about and that he would prefer to get some repairs done since that needed attention.

I must also mention my experience with the late Ven Madulwave Sobitha Thera. The family invited him for a bana preaching and as is customary, a pooja is offered. Without giving him something that he may not require I inquired and his response gladdened me no end. He said I have enough for my needs, however if you can it is expensive please get me a OLA LEAF PIRITH POTH WAHANSE to be given to a rural temple where they do not have this most useful item. To this day I rejoice at the opportunity he gave me to perform that meritorious deed. May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana, SMS also touched on yet another disaster, namely the two renowned Pirivenas getting converted as state Universities. I recall how the maverick of Galle rejoiced having performed that task, perhaps with good intentions but the fall out was disastrous.

While thanking SMS for having set the ball rolling I thank the Editor too for providing some space to highlight this all important need where learned monks will give high priority and save the destruction of the SASANA from within.

 

The protection of Theravada BUDDHISM IS A FUNDAMENTAL DUTY OF ALL BUDDHISTS IN SRI LANKA.
Piyasena
Athukorala

 

 

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Opinion

Teachers paid lower than unskilled casual labour!

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I was shocked and ashamed by the information about wages paid to teachers that was revealed, on July 20, by a leader (Mahinda Jayasinghe?) of a trade union of school teachers. A graduate teacher is paid some Rs.33,000 a month on initial appointment and some Rs. 45, 000 a month after 15 years in service. A teacher fresh from a Teacher’s College receives even a lower salary. A friend of mine, a graduate in science from the Colombo University, who retired from teaching after 32 years, receives a princely monthly pension of Rs.48,000. They accept these low wages because there is widespread unemployment in the country and any employment with superannuation benefits is a bonus. The alternative is often domestic service in West Asia. In 2020, the income, per person, in this country, was about Rs. 60,000, a month. The last year for which data is available (2019) gives the income of per person income in Sri Lanka as Rs.57,400 per month month. (Take the total income in the country; divide that among the total population, including infants and old men and women and you get income per person in the country. These figures are a rough assessment.) A graduate teacher in school is paid a little more than half the income of an average person in this country. It is hard to imagine that and far harder to believe that. Believe that, you had better. They live, at best, in genteel poverty. Is that fair, is that just and is that productive? Some years ago, in this newspaper, I showed that in 1960, a graduate teacher in this country, on first appointment, was paid three times the per capita income at that time and university teachers double that. Imagine a young family of two university graduate teachers and a child, today. The monthly income of all three of them would be about Rs. 66,000, a bit above the average income of one person in the country. Then the income per capita income of this family is Rs.22,000, (divide 66,000 into three and you get 22,000.) about $7 a day-not far above the poverty income. An MP legally earns roughly about Rs.500,000 a month. Many politicians come to Parliament with debt payable to banks. Within two or three years they are rich men. They send their children to expensive elite private schools and have no interest in public schools. Graduate teachers, even after 15 years in service, earn ¾ of today’s average income per person. How dare anyone find fault with school teachers who earn an extra rupee giving private tuition to their own pupils? I should not be surprised if some teachers earned extra money driving a three-wheeler. A member of Parliament with no university degree, who becomes a minister supplements his legal income with millions of dollars, which enables him to live in much opulence and conspicuous grandeur. Governments that pay school teachers so niggardly, and the public who approve of that action, must take responsibility for poor outcomes in schools. Politicians, the bureaucracy and the public at large (We went to public schools and our children and grandchildren go to them now.) all must stand with teachers to get them a decent wage.

The portfolio of education has been held by some brilliant men and women: Bathi-ud-Din Mohammed, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Lalith Athulathmudali, Bandula Gunawardena and G.L.Peiris, all who nevertheless inexplicably allowed teachers wages to fall so low as now. Perhaps politicians, as a whole, found the employment of young people at sub-living wages a convenient way to collect votes at elections. This façade of 18 students per teacher is part of the cheating and hoodwinking that is characteristic of our politicians. How can MPs earn a minimum of Rs.500,000 a month, a rich pension after, as short as, five years in Parliament, travel about in most comfortable tax-free vehicles, eat so sumptuously in Parliament at ridiculously low prices and yet pay teachers beggarly wages? Politicians, and the bureaucracy, especially, must not play games with teachers in our schools. The public must not allow this indecency to continue beyond this year. They must stand with and not against teachers. It is not fair; it is not just; and it is ignominious to debase our teachers with hobbling low wages, as now. Let there be 30 students per teacher. Transfer excess teachers out. Teachers and parents in many rich countries bear with higher student loads and students come out fine. Double teachers’ wages, now. Do not postpone doubling teachers’ wages declaring that such is your intention, as Bandula Gunawardena, who was the minister of education for five years, did on 24 July. Do it now and arrange for its payment in a government strapped for cash at every turn. The public must find the extra resources because the government is a mere agent who disguises itself as a principal. If the public stops paying taxes government must cease functioning. By the same token a public that keeps government on a short leash must have it run as the public wants. Do not let the dog put the leash on the public.

I am astonished how elegantly our female teachers dress to school and how decently male teachers do, on those measly wages. How well they feed their children and themselves, only the kitchen sink knows. (apa kana hati lipa dani.)

 

Usvatte-aratchi

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Opinion

Extricating Ourselves from China’s Grip – A further Response

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I refer to Mr G. A.D Sirimal’s response, to my earlier comments on subject of China’s Grip. While thanking Mr Sirimal (Mr S) for his response I also wish to say that I am sorry for failing to read his earlier letter where he named the African Research Assistant. Let us leave that failing on my part aside.

I am somewhat puzzled by Mr S’s and this African Research Assistant’s claim that China tried to ‘gain a foothold in the affairs of a country’. I assume that what is meant here is not gaining a foothold in a country physically, but making use of the opportunity to influence a country’s policies and activities in some way. If that is accepted, can we hear of some specific instances of attempts by this country to to do that? To my knowledge, there have been no such instances reported in Sri Lanka. Please correct me if I am wrong.

However, I can think of numerous instances of other foreign countries, specially, those in the Western Hemisphere, which have been trying to interfere in our affairs all the time. Some countries have tried and even succeeded in amending our Constitution without our consent (What happened to the Constitutional provision of the 2/3 majority and a Referendum?). Here, I am having in mind the 13th Amendment and the merger of two provinces. Some other countries are pressurising us even right now, to abolish an important law enacted by our Parliament intended to prevent terrorist activities: the PTA. What about the attempt to bring in foreign judges to try some of our own soldiers who fought to defend our country against a vicious terrorist movement? The European Union once withdrew the GSP Plus facility and is now maintaining a constant threat of withdrawing it if we do not fall in line with their thinking on political issues quite unrelated to trade. Our largest market for the Garment Products – the US is also keeping its options open on the GSP Plus in order to influence our policies. This country once reprimanded us for failing to stop oil purchases from Iran when they imposed trade sanctions on that country. There is a long list of such instances of ‘gaining footholds’ which need not be mentioned for the present. I would like to ask Mr S again whether there is any evidence of China trying to influence policies and activities of other countries like that. Assuming for the time being what the African Research Assistant and Mr S believe is right, one comment seems appropriate. When China wanted to get a foothold in a country, it at least offered a loan to finance a project considered important by the same country. However, the countries mentioned above offered nothing in return. Furthermore, it is significant that the myth about China’s secret motives was invented by these same countries following the mischievous Trump tradition.

Now, the question that arises is Which grip should we try to extricate ourselves from? the Geneva (European-American) Grip or the Imagined China’s Grip ?

Let me add a comment about what Mr S chooses to call ‘Vanity Projects’ and those capital projects that make the country poorer (according to his thinking). As I pointed out in my earlier letter this is a highly debatable issue. If we leave out what may be called purely ‘Vanity Projects’, and those in the government sector proper, what remains are those intended to earn incomes by selling services to the public. These are the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Many of these may be important to the country in a national sense, but may not attract private investment because the initial capital requirements are large and the returns on investment are earned only in the long run.

It is true that many SOEs have failed to earn profits and have become burdens on the Government Budget. But that does not mean that these are total failures and the country would be better off if they are closed down. As investment projects, there was nothing wrong with these, and at that stage were even considered essential to bring about economic development. However, these eventually became failures, the reasons being invariably, poor management and corruption. This is the common story of many of our failed SOEs as confirmed by the findings of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). If that is the case, there is no justification in accusing the foreign lender for choosing non-viable investment projects. As I pointed out earlier, the problem is something of our own making.

There are several other possible comments on certain misconceptions regarding projects that ‘make the country poorer’, but I prefer to skip them for the sake of brevity.

S.A. Karunaratne

 

 

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