By M. P. DHANAPALA
and D. S. de Z.ABEYSIRIWARDENA
Former Directors, Rice Research and Development Institute
We have observed earlier, in media discussions, that the majority of resource personnel were critical about modern rice varieties in Sri Lanka. The issues brought up against were Genetic Modification, Glycemic Index, Protein Status, Cooking and Eating Quality, Nutritional and Medicinal Properties, to mention a few. There appears to be a knowledge gap, as the critics were non-agricultural professionals; some of them were incapable of even sorting out weedy rice from real ones.
Recently, (Vidusara, Page 10, Oct 28, 2020), a scientist highlighted many traditional varieties of superior quality rice, but without citation of any scientific or experimental evidence for his claims. Among them was Kuruluthuda, a traditional rice variety, highlighted for its aphrodisiac qualities, availability of essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and Magnesium with no quantifications, and also its ability to regulate blood cholesterol. This is fantastic, but this variety needs some clarification at this point. Kuruluthuda reported here was red pericarped, 3.5 month variety. If so, it can be cultivated in both Yala and Maha seasons. The variety identified as Kuruluthuda in the list of pureline selections of the Department of Agriculture (Rhind,1948) was white pericarped, 5 to 6 month photosensitive and can be grown only in Maha season. Prof. M. F. Chandraratne too reported photosensitivity of Kuruluthuda in his text book on Rice Breeding. If so, are we referring in both these instances to the same variety or two different varieties?
And now, there is a new trend in criticism of local rice research, for not delivering rice yields in par with countries like Australia, Japan, China, etc.. In this instance, undisclosed technological gaps are highlighted for yield disparity. We, as rice scientists in the country, are left in the dark under these circumstances, as it appears the critics are overstepping their professional boundaries to invade the rice sector.
In China, the majority of rice cultivars are hybrids exploiting F1 hybrid vigor. Hybrid rice is a few steps ahead of us, as we continue research on developing local parental varieties for hybrids, and cross pollination for the F1 seed production procedure. The other countries, Japan, Australia, etc., grow conventionally developed varieties of their own, as in Sri Lanka. However, the disclosure in the text below is to keep critics aware of the biological limits of the tropical environment for any quantum jumps in rice yields, through biotechnological approaches or otherwise.
It is scientifically accepted that the performance of any crop species (genotype) results from its interaction with the environment it is exposed to. Rice is no exception to this phenomenon. The crop environment is composed of biotic (pests and diseases) and abiotic (soil and climate) components. These are basic facts that one should be familiar with, before being critical of paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is located within the tropical belt of the northern hemisphere, between latitudes 5º55′ and 9º49′. The countries being compared, Australia, Japan, China, etc., are in the temperate zone, and are blessed with soil and climatic factors conducive for rice cultivation.
Irrespective of the parent material involved in the genesis, the soils in Sri Lanka are leached by heavy monsoon rains, and therefore less fertile; particularly the rice soils are subjected to intensive and continuous double cropping, without a resting or fallow period for replenishment. Also, the consistent soil microbial activity, caused by high temperature regimes in the tropical belt, decomposes the organic content rapidly, affecting physical, chemical and biological properties of soil, especially the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). As a result, the rice farmer in tropics, Sri Lanka in particular, will have to use both organic and inorganic manure regularly, to sustain good CEC and soil fertility for high productivity.
Soils in the temperate zone are fertile, rich in organic content and CEC due to slow microbial activity resulting from low temperature regimes. In addition, the Japanese paddy fields are provided with subsoil drainage facilities to improve soil productivity. The Australian rice soils are rich in native fertility, and sometimes application of nutrients P and K is not needed for rice production; also the adoption of strict plant quarantine measures keeps the country free of many rice pests and diseases. The pest and disease cycles are usually interrupted in the winter, due to low temperature and/or unavailability of alternate host plants. These ground situations cannot be ignored in a fair comparison of rice productivity in the two different regions.
The other major factor determining crop productivity in the two zones is the difference in photoperiod which involves photosynthesis; i.e. the net-assimilation rate after allowing respiratory losses. In modern rice varieties, the plant canopy structure is designed to improve photosynthetic efficiency, while containing respiratory losses.
We experience short and long day photoperiods regularly within each year (except on the equator) depending on the latitude concerned. The longest day (June 21) in the Northern hemisphere is the shortest day in the Southern, and the shortest day in the Northern (December, 21) is the longest day in the Southern hemisphere. These are basic, but important facts, ignored in the comparison of potential yields among different regions.
The so-called high potential countries do cultivate only one rice crop a year, and the cropping season is determined when the temperature is conducive and the photoperiod is almost above 13 hr/day. Photoperiod reaches its peak (around 16 hr/day) when the crop is in its reproductive phase; the crop too spends more than four months in the field to mature. In contrast, the poor farmers in Sri Lanka have to cultivate their major rice crop (Maha) when the photoperiod is below 12 hr/day throughout the season (October – February); and their minor crop (Yala ) when the photoperiod is just above 12 hr/day, but never exceeding the maximum of 12 hr and 30 min.. The crop duration in either case is less than four months. Sri Lankan rice crop eternally suffers this disadvantage of photoperiod difference between the temperate and tropical zones. Also, a single day increase of crop
duration, within the range of 3.5 – 4.5 months of age, leads to a yield increment of around 0.05 t/ha, even under local climatic conditions.
The facts above (soil fertility, photoperiod and crop duration) explain the yield disparity between Sri Lanka and countries away from the tropical belt. Any critic can evaluate popular Japonicas, Koshi-hikari, Akitakomachi, Reiho etc. or the Australian counterpart; Calrose, Ingra, Blue-bonette, Bluebelle etc. or any other known high potential technology package under the local agro- ecological conditions, and verify how they perform. The results will convince you that it is not the cultivar or technology but the crop environment (Soil and Climate) that is the deciding factor of yield disparity between the two regions; and that your conclusions, potential of variety and/or technological gap, are utterly irrelevant, invalid.
A fair comparison is needed among the countries within the tropical belt, without confounding the effects of soil and climate of other regions, to conclude the claims of low yields in Sri Lanka by these uninvited critics. Also, there is no known single gene solution in biotechnology (genetic transformation), similar to that of Bt or
β Carotene (golden rice) gene, leading to a quantum jump in yield potential; rice yield, as in any other crop, is determined by quantitative trait loci (QTLs).
Also, it is important to record that the national average rice yield (year 2020) was 4.85 t/ha. In some stable crop environments, yields of 10 t/ha, approximating the potential of the cultivars, is not uncommon despite overall average performance is low. The inconsistent yield by any genotype within the country is attributed to the effect of specific agro-ecological environments.
Scientists have made futile attempts to change the photosynthetic system of rice, C3 to more efficient C4, with different approaches. There had been reports of rice-sorghum hybridization, with the objective of changing rice to C4 photosynthetic system, by introducing Kranz anatomy with bundle sheath cells carrying chloroplasts. Also, there were some unsuccessful atmospheric N-fixation projects (Azolla-anabaena complex, blue green algae and other soil microbes and Susbania spp.) where the cost factor has overridden the cost of inorganic N. There was also the internationally known SRI (System of Rice Intensification) project in Sri Lanka implemented around two decades ago, but no participant farmers of the project are traceable now. There are many more examples of this nature. These are the realities we have faced already with innovative technologies in rice. We know what is appropriate and what is not. Let the rice researchers work peacefully towards their intended objectives, without being disturbed.
Sri Lankan rice scientists have gained a lot from little more than a century’s old, recorded history of local rice research and field experiences; they understand the farmer’s need very well and appropriateness of technologies they could adopt. It is natural, with the experience behind, that the researchers may disagree with inappropriate, expensive, futile technological innovations. The country had bitter experiences in the past by embarking on projects designed by experts with no local experience, but had spent their youth in green pastures abroad (e.g. Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (Dambala) project).
The Department of Agriculture has competence and capability to decide on seasons (Yala, Maha) and agroecological regions, based on long-term changes in soil and climatic parameters, and they will attend to any changes as and when needed. NamingYala and Maha seasons may be older than 900 years, but as long as no consistent and significant differences are noticed, the cropping seasons can remain as designated. The major climatic regions and agro-ecological zones were mapped by scientists of high caliber in the past, and their successors are consistently monitoring the changes in respective parameters for necessary amendments.
Many things have happened in the rice sector since the green revolution in the 1960s. We really feel sorry for the poor knowledge of some critics in the field of local rice improvement program, and the ignorance of the fact that the Department of Agriculture initiated and continued to release modern rice varieties in Sri lanka since 1970, with Bg 11-11 as the first improved cultivar. The process is still being continued.
The local rice scientists contributed their best within the available facilities and the limited budgets, and are satisfied with their accomplishments, as the rice production within the country can look after the national requirement.
Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’
Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.
True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.
Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently
Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.
He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.
Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”
And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!
The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.
The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’
Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan
The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental.
Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.
Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.
There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.
“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”
Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called ‘Love at the Edge.’
Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,
No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle..
The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna, which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..
Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando
This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.
His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.
As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.
His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.
He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.
We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.
Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.
He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.
He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.
He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.
Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.
His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.
Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.
SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.
However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.
At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.
Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.
May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
Dr Mohan Jayatilake
Boogie Night with Suzi
Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.
From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).
Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.
She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.
TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.
And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.
Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.
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