As one who has been involved in research into health benefits of coconut oil and also been managing a modest family owned coconut plantation for over 15 years, I would like to throw my hat into the ring in the debate involving President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s directive regarding a moratorium on expansion of Oil Palm cultivation in Sri Lanka.
The proponents of Oil Palm cultivation seem to suggest that Oil Palm, which finally results in the production of Palm oil, is economically more profitable, and healthwise not harmful or comparable to coconut oil. Dr. Waidyanatha, an agronomist of repute in his open letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which appeared in The Island of 27th August 2020, makes the following statements concerning effects of palm oil on health. “Some concern has been expressed over some bi-products formed during palm oil processing supposed to be carcinogenic, but the latest research has established that consuming palm oil in moderation hardly poses a health risk. Whilst some saturated fatty acids in palm oil may be cholesterol elevating, coconut oil it can be argued to be worse in that regard, in that the cholesterol elevating saturated fatty acid content is more”. Such wooly statements by one not qualified in the field of health or nutrition is not only misleading but dangerous.
I have previously drawn the attention of readers of this esteemed newspaper of the dangers of importing and consuming large amounts of palm oil by our population (‘Epidemic of coronary heart disease ‘the issue of Coconut products and heavy taxing of palm oil imports: The Island 2016/12/16). Dr. W tries to further support his argument by stating “Further, apart from others, the high (38%) monounsaturated fat content in palm oil has a distinct health benefit, in that it decreases the LDL (bad) cholesterol” doing so, he seems to suggest Palm oil decreases LDL cholesterol but coconut oil does not. However, if I may quote a study from Malaysia, which concluded that Soya bean based mayonnaise diet lowered Total cholesterol and LDL-Cholesterol (LDL-C) concentrations without significantly changing LDL-C:HDL-C ratio or small LDL particle distributions compared to the Palm oil-mayonnaise die (Karuppiah T. et al Lipids Health dis. 2016; 15: 131). Many studies have shown both copra derived as well as virgin coconut oil to raise the good cholesterol (HDL –cholesterol), and several studies have also demonstrated a simultaneous lowering of LDL –cholesterol. For example a randomized controlled four week trial done in the U.K. published in 2018, showed that LDL cholesterol pattern in those consuming V.C.O was similar to those consuming Olive oil when compared to butter fat. More importantly, though was their final conclusion which is most relevant to readers of the newspaper – “The effects of different dietary fats on lipid profiles, metabolic markers and health outcomes may vary not just according to the general classification of their main component fatty acids as saturated or unsaturated but possibly according to different profiles in individual fatty acids, processing methods as well as the foods in which they are consumed or dietary patterns”.
These findings do not alter current dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake in general, but highlight the need for further elucidation of the more nuanced relationships between different dietary fats and health”( Kay-Tee Khaw et al BMJ Open. 2018; 8(3): e020167.). Whether copra derived coconut oil or V.C.O. are equally effective and are yet to be decided in a well-designed controlled trial.
In another article appearing in The Sunday Times of 30 August 2020, this time against Oil palm Cultivation – Quintus Perera quoting from a recently held seminar makes the following statements: A specialist in Humanities is reported in the article to have claimed that “coconut has very strong resistance properties which could prevent infection of COVID-19 as it appears that those countries which use coconut extensively are immune to contracting the virus. In this sphere he said that Sri Lanka did not get this advantage as the coconut oil is adulterated with palm oil”. As far as I know, no such evidence exists from any source. The writer goes on further to state “that extensive research showed coconut oil contains chloric acid which is not present in palm oil, whereas coconut is good for the health but palm oil is not according to research.”! www.sundaytimes.lk/200830/business-times/palm-oil-has-tremendous-impact-on-environment-414461.html 4/5)
As far as I know, chloric acid is a highly toxic acid. The writer must surely have been confusing chloric for lauric! Lauric acid is well known to have antibacterial and possibly antiviral properties. No well documented evidence is available on effects of Lauric acid on Covid-19. Moreover, Lauric acid is secreted by Sebaceous glands of the skin, and not from mucous membranes of the nose or upper respiratory tracts.The Covid -19 virus is not known to enter via the skin!
There is then the question of economic feasibility. Dr. R. Mahindapala former Director C.R.I. writing to The Island 31st August 2020, mentions more or less in passing “coconut, at last, is getting value added by conversion to powder and packaged milk – a welcome development as we have been struggling to get away from the traditional copra and oil extraction.” — implying a greater degree of value addition for coconut products. In my humble opinion, Coconut was and still is The “Kapruka”. Apart from kernel products, coconut water is now exported. Coconut Timber is still extensively used for rural housing, coconut shells for manufacture of activated charcoal, coir which is turned into fibre, pith for planting material – mainly for export, manufacture of brooms from ekel, spoons etc. all of which are eco-friendly and biodegradable! Many of these products are not only forex generating but employment generating as well. How do these compare with Oil Palm?
If the President or someone in his office reads this, I would like to make one further comment and one plea. I was requested by the then Chairman of The C.R.I. in 2011, to help plan and execute research into medical benefits of coconut oil. This was commenced and a couple of projects were completed and a major clinical trial on use of virgin coconut oil in Alzheimer’s disease is still ongoing. Sadly with Yahapalanaya an elephant expert became Chairman, C.R.I., and thenceforth the institution did not see the need to continue the research! A further example, around 2014 I met with the Director Coconut Development Authority and proposed doing a study to determine the health effects of repeatedly using Coconut oil vs Virgin coconut oil vs” Kurutu thel”. The latter is very commonly used by small time street wadai sellers for example. He gave me a patient hearing but that was the last I heard from him! During the time I collaborated with the C.R.I., I also worked with the Asian & Pacific Coconut Community serving on their Advisory board and met with many officials from overseas. My plea is to amalgamate the C.R.I., C.C.B. and C.D.A. into one authority like the Coconut Development Board of India, which is headed by an I.A.S. officer and not a political appointee who could be a square peg in a round hole! Such a move would greatly improve the efficiency and productivity of three branches responsible for development of the coconut industry, as happens in India.
Dr. ASOKA S. DISSANYAKE
Former Prof. of Physiology, Fac. Of Medicine, Univ. of Kelaniya
Visiting Fellow, Fac. Of Medicine, Wayamba University
Buddhism and all beings’ right to life
A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”
Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”
The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”
The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”
When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.
According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.
I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.
The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?
Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.
The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.
The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.
The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.
For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.
There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!
Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way
China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.
“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.
A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.
:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}
The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.
Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.
China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.
While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.
Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.
President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.
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