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Climate repair through rubber cultivation

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by Dr Sunil.E Fernando

Environmental Benefit of Growing Rubber

Hevea brasiliensis, or the rubber tree, began its epic journey in 1875, when Sir Henry Wickham brought 70,000 seeds from the Rio Tapajos area, in the upper Amazon, to Kew gardens in London. Of these, 1911 seedlings were planted in the Gampaha botanical gardens, initiating an agricultural revolution in S-E Asia and an industrial revolution globally. Apart from giving 14 million tons of Natural Rubber (NR) consumed annually, worldwide, rubber trees have other attributes (listed below) as well.

* Extracting 24.9 Kilograms of Carbon dioxide which is also a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) from air, to produce one Kilogram of latex

* Splitting Oxygen from Carbon dioxide and water and adding it to the atmosphere while producing rubber latex.

* Yielding 2.1 cubic meters/tree of wood from Carbon dioxide as biomass in every 30-year cycle of the tree.

* Producing easily biodegradable litter, compared to monocultures like Teak.

* Requiring comparatively less chemical fertilisers, water and pesticides.

* Retaining biodiversity as a tropical plant by co-existing with other species and allowing for intercropping E.g Ginger, Turmeric, Banana, and even Coffee and Cinnamon.

* The uniqueness of the rubber tree is its ability to fix Carbon dioxide almost instantaneously into a rubber hydrocarbon on a daily basis with just water and energy from sunlight. For a similar conversion, nature took millions of years, turning biomass to a hydrocarbon, Petroleum.

Thus, the rubber tree is a natural chemical factory trapping energy from the Sun, propagating a chemical reaction giving, a hydrocarbon, while releasing Oxygen to the atmosphere and accumulating a renewable timber resource. Tapped from year five , the tree removes GHG by converting it to a useful commercial raw material, unlike any other plant species, for 11 months of the year for a minimum period of 25 years.

Why Excess Carbon Dioxide is bad?

Carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere is a double-edged sword. It is an essential prerequisite to make one of the most vital building materials, Carbohydrates, to benefit all living forms. However, its increase in the atmosphere, and in the Oceans, brings about undesirable effects of global warming. “CARBON DIOXIDE-Earth” reports that, its concentration increased from 330 Parts per million (ppm) in 1975 to 408 in September 2019, and further to 415 ppm in September 2020.

Carbon dioxide absorbs Infrared Radiation (heat radiation) from the Sun through molecular vibrations. Unlike other common gases in the atmosphere, like Nitrogen and Oxygen, it emits this absorbed energy back into the surrounding warming the location. Ozone, Methane and Nitrous Oxide are other GHG’s function in a similar manner, absorbing energy from the Sun and emitting heat thus warming the atmosphere.

However, GHG’s also performs a useful function by maintaining atmospheric temperatures, without converting Earth into an ice ball. Nevertheless, high concentration of GHG in atmosphere will emit more heat increasing atmospheric temperature beyond what is required to sustain and enhance global warming. The imbalance in CHG is created by excessive human activity like burning fossil fuels and releasing gases like Sulphur dioxide responsible for acid rain. While farming and especially raising cattle/sheep for meat as well, release large quantities of Carbon dioxide and Methane, etc. In addition, abandoned oil/gas wells and coal mines emit Methane is large quantities as well increasing CHG in the atmosphere.

Two confirmed methods to lower ill effects of GHG’s are,

a) Produce less of it, and

b) Increase plant cover

Carbon dioxide is the raw material for all forms of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats produced by plants providing for growth and energy in all life forms. What is alarming is the excess Carbon dioxide produced, through human interaction accumulating in the atmosphere and in Oceans. Dissolved Carbon dioxide in seawater raises temperature while forming Carbonic acid, thus increasing Ocean acidification. Ocean acidification reduces the ability of sea creatures to fix Calcium as Calcium Carbonate in bones and shells. While Calcium carbonate helps build rigid structures in their bodies it is another form of Carbon sink, besides being a valuable raw material, as well.

Carbon Dioxide Accumulation

Antoine Lavoisier said that in a chemical reaction, matter is neither created nor destroyed. Though producing GHG’s through human intervention a new matter is not created, it leads to an unsustainable imbalance in the environment. This is what causes the problem. See Figure.

In the 21st century Carbon dioxide cycle, there are less of trees and more exhausts due to auto and factory emissions leading to this imbalance. Carbon dioxide is a GHG not only produced by burning fuels and biomass. Humans exhale One Kilogram of it daily. Increase in human population does not increase Carbon dioxide as what we exhaled came from plant-based materials. But when the human population went up from 1 billion 200 years ago to seven billion as of now, increase in human activity led to an imbalance of CHG in the atmosphere and in the Oceans due to accelerated faster release of these gases. Meanwhile, excessive consumption and population pressure, led to lower forest cover that can absorb Carbon dioxide. Thus, the imbalance of accumulating gases that are capable of absorbing excessive amount of heat from the sun, and releasing it through molecular vibrations creates the global warming experienced now.

Biosynthesis of Natural Rubber (NR)

About 2000 plant species produce natural rubber as biological necessity, but Hevea brasiliensis (botanical name for normal rubber tree) produce commercially exploitable dispersion of it in water as latex. The biological reasons for production rubber latex by the rubber tree is not clear, but having a layer of latex just below the top of the bark of the tree, prevent pathogenic microorganisms entering the tree in case of an injury to it.

Latex, which contains about 30% rubber hydrocarbon, is found in horizontally arranged interconnected cells called Laticifers in the bark of the tree. Latex is commercially extracted by making careful incision or “tapping” of the bark. High yielding rubber plantations with about 400 trees per Hectare have reported a production of 2500 Kg/Rubber/Year. However, the theoretical yield potential of rubber is estimated at, 7,000 to 12,000 kg/Ha/Year. A tree giving 15 to 30 grams of rubber per day, tapping on alternative days, yield 2.6-5.2 Kg of rubber per year. According to Apollo Vredestein R and D, on average 1.9 Kg of natural rubber goes into a tire and a tree produces enough rubber to make 2 tires per year or 50 in its lifetime.

Plants take in Carbon dioxide for survival and convert it into an edible/useful form of a Carbohydrate, containing Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen as the first stage. Part of the Carbohydrate becomes a source of energy and the rest become precursor for Fats and Proteins, which perform vital functions of all living organisms. Plants also convert carbohydrates into other polymeric forms including Cellulose. Some Cellulose produced ends up as wood becoming a Carbon sink for a considerable period of time.

In the rubber trees, the process of Carbon Dioxide fixation extends further by converting part of Carbohydrates produced, consisting of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen into a rubber containing only Carbon and Hydrogen, which is more akin to Petroleum. The wonder tree makes this hydrocarbon in a few minutes, while nature took millions of years to convert biomass derived from Carbon dioxide like cellulose to give Petroleum.

(To be continued)



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Features

Rising farce of Family Power

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Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

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A tribute to vajira

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By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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It’s all about France in Kandy !

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Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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