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Black, white, or shades of grey on fertiliser?



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.



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It’s the economy, again



There is a report in the Lankadeepa of 30 September, 2023 that thousands (‘dahas ganang’) of university graduates in biotechnology (and engineering technology) languish without employment. There is a comment that even if all of them were employed as teachers in state schools (in fact, there is no money to do so), the pool of unemployed graduates in biotechnology, which is filled yearly,

would not dry up; not dissimilarly (the reporter comments) from the fate of graduates in Arts. That graduates in biotechnology are unemployable in this economy as graduates in Arts are, validates a position that I have repeatedly brought up in these pages: university graduates and other young people are unemployed in this economy because this economy is arid and sterile and not because the education system, at whatever level, is fundamentally flawed.

The moment they land in a vigorously growing economy, they become the output of an excellent education system. Not that the education system (school and university) cannot be improved: Cambridge University has improved since 1215; Harvard University continues to improve since 1635. China (Mainland and Taiwan), Malaysia and many other economies did not await reforms in their education systems to grow rapidly as during the last several decades. It is a bit like the truism about savings and investment in the total economy: you don’t have to save to invest; if you invest savings will accommodate investment. It might be apt to say, ‘it is the economy stupid’.

The report in the Lankadipa highlighted that it was Dr. Bandula Gunawardhena, who, when he was the Minister of Education in 2012, with great enthusiasm, installed these branches of learning in schools and universities. And, he earned a Ph.D. degree in Economics!

Our erudite president of the republic, who goes around the world from one conference to another, preaching to the rest of the world, shows great enthusiasm about digitizing this economy. He is falling into the same trap as Dr. Gunewardhena fell into. You digitize a growing economy, not a moribund and bankrupt one.

It is the economy, again.


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Tribute to Dr. Nilanthi Cooray



I have known Dr. Nilanthi for more than 40 years since her marriage to my cousin Frank.Dr. Nilanthi was born in Moratuwa to a middle-class Catholic family. Her siblings include an older sister and a younger brother, and all three of them were studious. Her parents, especially her father. was a devout Catholic who was a frequent visitor to St. Sebastian’s church in Moratuwa.

Up to grade eight, Nilanthi attended Our Lady of Victories Convent in Moratuwa and then joined the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. She was accepted to the Medical College in 1972 after her successful results at the A-levels. She traveled daily from Moratuwa to the Medical college until such time she was able to get a place at the medical college hostel. During her final years at the medical college hostel, she succeeded in her studies and graduated as a doctor in 1976.

Her career began as an intern at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Colombo for six months and another six months at the Castle Street Hospital, Borella working with leading qualified senior doctors. In 1977, she got married to her lifelong friend, Frank Cooray, who was working as a Technical Officer in the Irrigation Department. Her first appointment as a fully-fledged MBBS doctor was at the Narammala Base Hospital. Thereafter she got a transfer to the Lunawa Hospital.

After serving the required number of compulsory years (five or six years) she gave up the government job and started her own private practice. This decision seemed a calculated risk as at that time Moratuwa had enough and more reputed and recognized senior doctors such as Dr. Festus Fernando, Dr. Winston Perera, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Muthukumaru, Dr. Keerthisinghe, Dr. Guy de Silva and so on. However, within a short span of time, Nilanthi was able to establish herself as a remarkable young doctor and by the time the senior doctors retired or left Moratuwa, she had become one of the highly recognized doctors in Moratuwa with diagnostic excellence.

The demands of work and the up bringing of two little daughters made it difficult for Nilanthi to cope with everyday life. To support her, her husband gave up his job and went on voluntarily retirement after serving for 18 years at the Irrigation Department. He was just short of two years to qualify for the government pension.

In her prime of life Nilanthi was diagnosed for cancer. More time was spent in rest and prayers. Nilanthi and Frank would have prayed to God and all saints for a miracle healing. This was proved, when she went to Lourdes in France, a place known for Marian worship, to fulfill a vow, after receiving the good news from Dr. S. R. Jayatilleke, who was her oncologist, that her cancer has disappeared. This was the first thing she wanted to upon receiving the miracle healing. She got the green light from the doctor to fly. After her cancer Nilanthi slowed down in her practice and limited the number of patients per day.

Nilanthi was never interested in having a luxurious life or extra comforts like luxury cars or overseas holidays. Her life was centered around her family and her medical profession. She was a loving wife to her husband and devoted mother to her two daughters. As time passed, spending time with her four grandchildren brought her great happiness.

Only after her death that most of the people came to know about her charitable acts of kindness and in treating the poor without charging a fee. During her funeral service, a priest who gave the homily mentioned how students and staff of St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa benefited by her treatment during their illnesses.

It was only a matter of telling her husband who was now attached to the staff at the College and he made arrangements for them to consult Dr. Nilanthi on a priority line. There was no difference between a priest, staff member, minor staff or a student (of course the student had to wear the uniform to identify their school), all were treated free of charge.

Attending the funeral service were several priests (including Bishop Anthony who was a past Rector of the College) and Christian brothers who served the college. I am certain that they came not only to pay their last respects but also to express their gratitude for taking care of them during their time of illnesses.

In the latter part of her life, her health deteriorated and with the help of her domestic aid, she had chosen a saree and a blouse for her final journey, which she did not disclose to her family members. However, when Frank came to know about it, he was upset and he had asked Nilanthi what this is all about. But she had not given any answer to that.

However, taking that opportunity she had given one more instruction to Frank, and that is after she is gone to give the gold chain round her neck to the domestic aid. For her final journey she was dressed with that particular saree and when everything was over the gold chain was given to the domestic aid.

She leaves so many special memories and a legacy of love. May her soul rest in peace.

-Ralph Gunawardena-

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Full implementation of 13A: Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state? – Part IV



By Kalyananda Tiranagama
Executive Director

Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

(Part III of this article appeared in The Island yesterday (28 Sept. 2023)

President Jayewardene stands up against Ranil Wickremesinghe

President J. R. Jayewardene, on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament on 20 Feb., 1986 said: ‘‘Permit me to speak on the government’s attempts since 1977 to seek a political solution to the problems arising in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

‘‘Our first attempt to do so was outlined in the UNP Election Manifesto of 1977. These proposals were prepared in consultation with some of the TULF MPs at that time. I have in my Address to Hon. Members on 23rd February 1984 outlined the steps taken to implement them as follows:

‘‘Since 1977 the government has made Tamil a National Language in the Constitution; amended rules governing entrance to universities and removed any racial bias governing those rules; removed the regulations prescribing racial considerations governing entry to the Public Services and promotion in the services.

‘‘District Councils have been created and District Ministers appointed. The TULF accepted them and worked for them for two years and contested elections. Last year they withdrew from them as sufficient powers and finance had not been allotted to them.

‘‘The search for a political solution was the profound concern of the government of SL. It was this commitment to reach a peaceful solution to the problem that led SL to take the unprecedented step on the part of any Sovereign State of sending her accredited representatives to explore the possibility of reaching a settlement at two Conferences held in Thimpu, Bhutan in August 1985 … arranged with the Tamil groups through the good offices of India.

‘‘However, neither the TULF nor the groups who attended these talks showed any serious inclination to discuss any of the proposals placed before them by the Govt. of SL. Their final response was an outright rejection of the government proposals and an invitation to the Govt. of SL to make new proposals that would accord with the so-called cardinal principles which they enunciated, which were no more than a re-statement of the demand for Eelam.

‘‘On 12th July 1985 the 6 Tamil groups made a statement of the ‘Four Principles’ on which they were working. On 13th August 1985 the leader of the SL Delegation, Dr. H.W. Jayewardene responded to it with a statement on the ‘Four Principles’ mentioned by the Tamil groups.

‘‘He dealt with the (i) recognition of the Tamils as a distinct nationality, (ii) a separate homeland and (iii) self-determination for the Tamils; and (iv) the linkage of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a reaffirmation of the demand for a separate state and could not be the subject of discussion and acceptance by the SL govt.

‘‘The SL delegation also submitted an outline of the structure of the sub-national units of a Participatory System of Governance on 16th August, but this too was not considered by the Tamil groups though it indicated areas on which discussion and agreement were possible.

‘‘The Accord reached in Thimpu and New Delhi were to be the basis of any future discussions. Such discussion would not reopen the Four Principles mentioned earlier in any form whatsoever. This was the basis of the understanding of both the Govts of India and Sri Lanka ….

There are certain principles which we cannot depart from arriving at a solution. We cannot barter away the unity of Sri Lanka, its democratic institutions, the right of every citizen in this country whatever his race, religion, or caste to consider the whole Island as his Homeland, enjoying equal rights, constitutionally, politically, socially, in education and employment are equally inviolable.”

“At present the Sri Lanka Tamils are in a minority in the Eastern Province while the Sinhalese and the Muslims together constitute nearly sixty per cent of the population. Since the Sri Lanka Tamils constitute more than ninety per cent of the population in the Northern Province, the object of the amalgamation of the North and the East is clear – the Sri Lanka Tamils will after amalgamation become the majority group in the combined unit of administration. Once the amalgamation is achieved the concept of the traditional homeland of the Tamils which has been a corner-stone of agitation in the post-independence period will be revived as this is the only ground on which the T.U.L.F.

denies the legitimate rights of the Sinhala people to become settlers in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Nor does the traditional homelands theory recognise any rights for the Muslims either except as an attenuated minority in the amalgamated territory. So, on the one hand while professing to urge the case for all Tamil speaking people in fact the T.U.L.F. is covertly seeking to secure the extensive areas for development, especially under the accelerated Mahaweli Program, for exploitation by the Sri Lankan Tamils alone. This in short is the duplicitous motivation behind the demand for amalgamation.

‘’ Quite candidly, the Sinhala people do not regard the demand for the amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a bona fide claim but as one motivated by an ulterior purpose, namely, as a first step towards the creation of a separate state comprising these two Provinces. The recent outrages by Tamil terrorists against the Sinhala civilian population settled in the North and East killing vast numbers of them, ravaging their homesteads and making thousands of them refugees in their own land has only made their apprehensions seem more real than ever before.

Even the most naive of people could not expect a single Sinhalese to go back to the North and/or East if the maintenance of law and order within those areas becomes the exclusive preserve of the political leaders and patrons of the very terrorists who chased them out. Could one for instance expect the survivors of Namalwatta to go back to their village if the leader of the Tamil Terrorist gang that murdered their families is the A S.P. of the area? Not only would those poor refugees not go back but those Sinhalese, including those in Ampara and Trincomalee, who are still living in the North and East, would necessarily leave their lands and flee to the South, if these proposals are implemented.”

These proposals are totally unacceptable. If they are implemented, the T. U. L. F. would have all but attained Eelam. It need hardly be said that even if the demand for a Tamil Linguistic State is granted, further problems and conflicts are bound to arise between that Tamil Linguistic State of the North and East and the Centre. Water, hydropower and the apportioning of funds are some of the areas in which conflicts could arise. A cause or pretext for a conflict on which to base a unilateral declaration of independence could easily be found.

There can be little doubt that what T.U.L.F. seeks to achieve by its demands is the necessary infrastructure for a State of Eelam, after which a final putsch could be made for the creation of a State of Eelam, comprising not only of the North and East, but of at least the hill country and the NCP as well.” (quoted in the Judgement of Wanasundara J in the 13th Amendment Case, Pp. 377 – 379)

With all our criticism of JR for the harmful consequences the country had to face with his open economy and executive presidency introduced after 1977, from the above statement it clearly appears that JR was not a traitor to this country, but a patriot who had some genuine concern for the country and its people. He had the wisdom to see through the danger posed to the very existence of this country as a unitary state by giving into unreasonable and crafty demands of the Tamil political leaders in the North-East.

President Jayewardene not only refused to accept these proposals of the TULF and other Tamil groups; he was not even prepared to discuss them. His firm response was that they are totally unacceptable.

(To be continued)

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