Farmers protesting the fertiliser issue
Based on research studies, it is well known that organic manure in combination with chemical fertiliser will give the optimum results and that organic manure alone cannot lead to high yields, unless you add very large amounts ( > 5 mt/ha.).It is best if such manure is prepared in situ, on-farm in order to avoid the cost and hassle of transporting such large amounts. Of course, to meet the needs of urban growers and very small holdings, small packs are already available in the market. It is also known that organic manure/material is a soil conditioner which improves soil structure and the water holding capacity of the soil, aiding in nutrient absorption by the plant roots. However, it is chemical fertiliser that provides plant nutrients to plants in appreciable amounts, to enable them to respond favourably by way of yield, in keeping with their genetic potential.
Enough has been written to the press in recent times by a number of scientists of repute, highlighting the consequences that will have to be faced due to the overnight import ban on fertiliser, supported by scientific facts of relevance. But it is apparent that the Government which is also obsessed with an un-scientific notion that chemical fertilizer contains poisons, is adamant on the decision to ban the import of fertiliser. This means Sri Lanka will have to face dire consequences arising from that very soon, which will melt down to a marked drop in crop production across the board, that will adversely affect national food security, farmer incomes and livelihood, plantation sector performance, national income levels plus a number of other factors. There will soon come a time when substantial quantities of food will have to be imported, to keep up with food security and the savings in foreign exchange made through banning of fertiliser imports will be counterproductive.
In the emerging pathetic scenario, as a retired Agriculturist from the Government sector, I noted with utter disdain, the silence of the authorities in charge of the key Government institutions responsible for the crop sector, viz. Department of Agriculture (DOA), Department of Export Agriculture, Department of National Botanic Gardens, Tea Research Institute, Rubber Research Institute and the Coconut Research Institute, going by the lack of any evidence of voices, if any, raised by them, or Associations of professional officers working for these institutions, in response to this import ban, which will affect all crops adversely.
What we see in the media are only the scenes of the poor farmers protesting to high heavens almost daily these days, about their terrible plight in view of this import ban, to no avail. After all, they are the frontline recipients of this big blow to their enterprise and sheer livelihood as they feel the brunt of it and know through experience for sure, that fertiliser is a must to go for a good yield, given the other factors. Apparently, these poor farmers have no one to go to, and there is no Government institution to take up their cause, thus leaving them helpless.
In the midst of this, I ventured to casually contact a former boss of mine, in the DOA, in the early 1970s, who later became the Director of Agriculture (Head of the DOA), and retired many years ago. I inquired from him, about steps, if any, that he would have taken if the then Government decided to ban the import of fertiliser at the time he was the Director Agriculture. He said that he would have definitely taken up the matter and recorded his protest with facts, as fertiliser is such a vital input for all crops under the purview of the DOA. He also said that at present, relevant officials are “keeping mum” and that he is surprised about it.
Based on the foregoing, this is a very unfortunate situation at a time when we apparently do not have Government officials who will stand up to what is right for the country, based on scientific facts, and consequently the affected farmers are left high and dry in this instance, while the whole country too will have to face the consequences.
Import ban on agrochemicals will also be detrimental to crop production, to say the least and the importance of agrochemicals will be felt hard, more during pest outbreaks, which come on and off and we will be taken unawares, without stocks of required agrochemicals in such instances. Of course, it will be the duty of the relevant extension staff to ensure that farmers use agrochemicals judiciously, and excessive un-necessary use is avoided, through their programmes including Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and those aimed at minimizing the use of weedicides, as implemented since many years ago.
I thought it is nothing but right to highlight these issues under the circumstances, hoping that this will catch the eyes of the decision-makers in this regard, to enable whipping up discussion about the same, so that saner counsel will prevail, to facilitate a feasible resolution, sans an import ban on fertiliser and agrochemicals, even at this late stage.
A. Bedgar Perera
(Retired Director/Agriculture Development,
Ministry of Agriculture)
We are tired of politicians’ sick jokes
By Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva
The country is in dire straits. The economy is almost bankrupt, the pandemic is still on a deadly rampage, children have been denied schooling for nearly two years, and starvation of the populace is imminent. The politicians appear to be on a mission to enrich themselves, planning to make the best use of the opportunity, making hay while the sun shines. All systems are in place for those who fleeced the country over the years to prosper further.
Many businessmen, mostly cronies of those in power, are exploiting the misery of the people and profiteering from the pandemic. Some in tourism and related-travel industry, hoteliers, importers of pandemic-related material like testing equipment and drugs, others in private healthcare and importers and wholesale dealers of essential food items seem to be making more money than during normal times. This is when large sections of the populace are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. How in a predominantly Buddhist country, mostly Buddhist businessmen, let alone equally errant non-Buddhists, do not appear to believe in Kamma and keep on accumulating wealth, exploiting the misery of the people, with a ‘we shall never die’ attitude, is really depressing. In the apparent absence of legal provisions or lack of willingness of the authorities to apprehend the culprits, the masses are just hoping and praying that the effects of Ditta Dhamma Vedaniya Kamma will catch up to them sooner than later.
In the middle of all this, many politicians of all hues compete among themselves to amuse people with miserable jokes. Several ministers habitually give hilarious evasive answers to questions raised about important matters, thus exposing their gross ignorance of the subject. A suggestion was offered that mass scale deaths of fish, turtles and other marine life along the coastline after the recent fire in a sinking ship was just an expected seasonal phenomenon. Yet another minister talking of the same ship thought that rather than attempting to douse the fire, it would be far more profitable to let it burn out fully so that millions of dollars could be collected as compensation. Another, a medically qualified minister, claimed that the price of drugs was raised to prevent patients from hoarding drugs at home. He also blamed the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), the authority responsible, for delaying the vaccination programme by wasting too much time examining the documents without summarily approving the vaccines. Yet another parliamentarian, a lawyer by profession, suggested that the disorderly vaccine rollout was probably as instructed by the ‘donor’ country. A politician thought it was a good idea to bring in tourists from a country ravaged by COVID-19 to test how the disease would spread in our country. Another famously questioned why we need atmospheric oxygen at all while defending the wanton denudation of the land of vegetation. A former parliamentarian boasted of the leader of his party being accepted worldwide as a great man soon after he was totally rejected and reduced to a non-entity by the local electorate.
Another classic example is the recent gazette notification of over 600-strong list of items that will be discouraged from being imported. There are many items listed therein, a shortage of which could seriously affect the economy and could bring many industries to a standstill. However, the politicians have given full attention to lingerie. Even the Minister of Trade hurriedly summoned a press conference along with some garment manufacturers to reassure that the country is self-sufficient in underwear. The Opposition too probably fell into the trap laid by the government to divert attention from more important items therein and started making fun out of the lingerie issue totally ignoring the much more serious aspects of import restrictions. There seems to be a bunch of designated official jesters on both sides fully entrusted with entertaining the people with sick jokes. They turn every important discussion into a huge laughing matter, insulting the intelligence of the people. Even social media are full of such meaningless banter with hardly any serious discussion on matters of vital importance.
Thus in many instances being academically qualified does not seem to dampen their penchant for speaking falsehoods with ridiculous humour. The glaring lack of common sense among the representatives of the people is alarming. The general assumption seems to be that people are fools who will believe anything uttered by self-serving politicians. Unfortunately, this notion appears to be true for a significant segment of the electorate. At present, politicians are not accountable for their deeds and words. Ideally, party leaders or party whips should have some control over their utterances.
It is the general impression that the incumbent government elected, with an overwhelming mandate, is falling short in fulfilling many promises given. Hence it is high time that those offering themselves to the people as a viable alternative got their act together to convince the electors that they are a different lot capable of performing better than what has been happening for over 70 years. For those who had been in power earlier with nothing much achieved to boast about, this is going to be an arduous task. The people have lost faith totally in politicians, including the so-called educated ones (viyathun) who have proved to be mere treasure hunters no better than the rest, or even worse as they have no experience in governance. Perhaps the civil society activist groups should come to the forefront, to save us all from impending disaster.
Ideally, all parties or groups aspiring to gain power should have a long-term development plan. There should be designated spokesmen already academically qualified or have developed an in-depth knowledge in individual subjects like economy, finance, trade, healthcare, agriculture, industries and foreign affairs. Being a practising democracy, at least in name, all should be knowledgeable and free to express their views on various issues to some extent. However, those designated as above should take over when a crisis develops in a particular field so that the electorate can take part in a learned discussion and arrive at sensible conclusions. It is worth considering whether the concept of a shadow Cabinet as seen in advanced democracies could be adopted here so that if and when they come to power, they know exactly what their mandate and targets would be.
Politicians trying to surpass each other as jesters entertaining people with meaningless rhetoric will reduce the intensity, urgency and importance of the issues, making a mockery of the discussion. Concerted action is essential for a course correction the nation urgently needs to stall its rapid descent into oblivion.
Keep up with your record of service
Letter to PM Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Dear Comrade, As I am sure you would recall, it was over 50 years ago that we first met, when you were making your first successful run for Parliament, and I was tallying the vote count for Beliatta.
I have been impressed by your commitment, from early days, to justice in the land of Palestine, a subject to which I, too, have drawn attention from time to time.
Though we have met occasionally in the intervening years, it was only in the mid-1990s that I actually worked with you, when you were the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training. The hostility that the then Prime Minister had towards you, happened to cover her view of me as well, and you decided to have me develop the infrastructure for our technical education system. Among the outcomes of that, credit for which should be shared by you, are the revision for the first time of the course materials (all in English and in a dialect favoured by foreign experts) that the National Institute of Technical Education provided our Technical Colleges, and making them available in Sinhala for the use of lecturers and students alike. It was also during that period that Parliament was offered the opportunity of debating at length and of endorsing the compendium of Labour Laws that were , and still are, applicable here.
I mention such matters as elements of what would be remembered long after your passing.
Needless to say, there are more spectacular achievements during your stewardship, not least among them the protection of our country from terrorists, trained and armed by India and ensuring their ultimate defeat.
The common theme of such development of our resources, as was encouraged by you, had to do with their protection for future use by the generations to come.
You also showed from time to time an instinctive gift for recognising the strength of the public services, and the skills required for putting them to optimal use.
Looking around now, what we see are attempts at destroying our resource base not only in land, water, minerals and the like, but as importantly our human resources – those in regular employment in whatever sector including the self-employed. Critical to that of course is that we continue to control the resources on which our agriculture, manufacturing industries and fisheries rely. General education is seen as the linchpin in all this but, as you were able to perceive some three decades ago, we need to invest more on developing teaching skills and facilities for practical training in the broad area of technical education.
I also write to draw your attention to the spectacle of some Ministers in your administration, erupting from time to time with highly misleading statements that target public institutions, including the personnel in the public services.
Some months ago, it was said that we spend more on our postal services than we earn. (Where in the world is it different? – the postal service is just that, a service provided for the people by the State). Such statements show that what is being targeted is not the postal service but the ‘real estate’ required by it.
Mr. Prime Minister, there are as you would know or suspect, a whole badawela of tendentious statements issued by some of your Ministers that would lead to or themselves constitute acts of treason against our country. To put it in short-hand, one is ‘tourism’. It continues to take away our sea shore from our people. It is given a whole slew of subsidies (paid for by our people) and no guarantees of it bringing in “VFE” – Valuable Foreign Exchange) or any scrutiny of how much. And, after all our contributions to making tourists and their service providers grin from ear to ear, we the State gets much less VFE than our expatriate workers send in each month.
Another is ‘plantations’. But the fact is that company owned plantations in Nuwara-Eliya and adjacent districts produce only a fourth of our tea – the bulk is produced in small holdings in the Galle, Matara, Kalutara and Kegalle districts.
A few days ago, the sale or lease of over 4000 acres in the hill country (that was denuded of much of its topsoil by the plantation industry) for raising cattle was announced. We the people have not been told who the beneficiaries of such largesse are or how they were chosen. The conditions attached to the deals have been kept secret. It does not seem to matter to such decision makers / decision takers, that the farming communities that were hounded out by the British lusting for what was once among the richest lands in the country, remain locked into ravines.
There are moves to bring in large machinery to crush our rock for export.
All such moves could be brought under control through, say, by small groups of MPs who possess the capacity to brief themselves.
Comrade, as you and I understand, the 50 years we have known each other is a tiny sliver of time. How you are remembered may not be in your hands, but it would be good to reflect on the saying that suggests that we should bear in mind the good that people have done, and bury the rest with their bones.
As time passes it would give perspective to recall Gautama’s words on the state of all life: jati-jara-marana.
With warm good wishes.
Yohani – not our Manike?
It is very heartening to hear that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader of India have expressed their appreciation of the song Manike mage hithe, sung by the local artiste Yohani de Silva, which had gone viral in this part of the world.
Sadly, neither the government nor the Opposition bigwigs of Sri Lanka have congratulated her in the media, taking into consideration the vast amount of foreign exchange she is bringing into this country.
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