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Education, culture and health of our rural population compromised

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Another Open Letter to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Minister,

It appears that you are being lobbied by various individuals with an eye of promoting toxins and fossil additives into agriculture with seemingly no concern to the well being of our population. The writer quotes, ‘This has been best put by Bombastus Paracelsus (1493 -1541), the father of the science of pharmacology. He postulated that “all substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. It is the dosage that differentiates poison and remedy”. This saying has been used by proponents of agrotoxins to justify their use in farming. But what has been ignored is the reality of biological magnification.

Biological magnification, or biomagnification, is the increasing buildup of toxic substances within organisms that happens at each stage of the food chain. I do hope that the Doctor promoting Glyphosate has done some studies in biology. If he did, he would know the reality of biological magnification (fig 1)

He claims that the Yahapalana President was wrongly convinced that glyphosate was the cause of CKDu and banned it. This, he states is wrong, because, “It is now known that the aetiolating agent of CKDu is hard water and fluoride in dug wells on high ground. Those who drank river or tank (surface) water did not contaminate the disease.

This statement flies in the face of current research that shows, those who drank water from the irrigation system loaded with agrotoxins, suffer a much higher CKDu burden than those who drank from wells and springs. Their data suggests that it is the irrigation water from upstream that brought the toxins into the drinking water of communities of the lowlands.

Yes, it is true that the phenomenal success in value adding to our export crops through certified organic product, grew from 50 hectares of certified organic land to 49,000 ha in under 22 years, without any support from the Government. An entirely successful private enterprise initiative that was highjacked by the government. The sycophants and bureaucrats hoping to save foreign funds by advising a naïve President to ban agrochemicals. But in no way does the Presidential fiasco have an impact on the international market for certified organic product. In these desperate times when every dollar of foreign exchange earned is critical, It is amusing to see the promoters of chemical farming attempting to justify their trade by putting down organic production.

What any intelligent person needs to do now is to address the human health issue in agriculture and ask when non-communicable diseases (NCDs) began to increase among the farming community. It will be seen that this was a phenomenon that began in the early ‘70s. Then ask the question did we change any thing in the management of our farming systems at this time? Yes, we did, we brought the ‘Green Revolution’ system of fossil subsidised agriculture and changed our traditional farming systems. There is a strong correlation between the onset of the NCD’s and chemical farming, but no one seems to want to wake up this beast.

Chemical Farming provides an insidious way for chemical manufacturers to get humanity hooked onto their products. It was back in the ‘70s when chemical farming was being promoted, honest researchers pointed out the addictive nature of the system. To produce double the food, you needed ten or fifteen times more energy (in kilocalories), than before and that energy comes from fossil fuel. Further, when you add fossil derived chemicals into the soil, they tend to destroy the soil ecosystem until the farm will not produce without these chemicals. The soil of the farm has become addicted to the chemicals, without which they cannot produce.

This is why the nation is in such a quandary, we are addicted and as the Doctor says, “The country, or for that matter, the world cannot move away from conventional farming and agrochemical”. True, but this is due to addiction. If his education was a little broader, He would know that the world, including agriculture is facing a crisis, with the onset of climate change. He should know that it is the fossil driven agriculture being promoted by him is one of the major reasons for the crisis. Advocating the pouring of gasoline onto a burning planet is not the best advice.

Another significant statement is “Farmers claim that they have to invest three to four times more for manual weeding after the glyphosate ban.” So is the only benefit of using Glyphosate is the give the farmer the free time from manual weeding? Maybe the Doctor, was too young to remember the ‘Paddy Weeding Campaign” of the ’60 where the government facilitated urban kids to assist the farmer in the task of manual weeding. The National Geographic reported on a 200% crop increase. It was an amazing national effort, until the politicians felt threatened and disbanded it.

A weed, is merely a plant out of place in any system, therefore Glyphosate has to be toxic to a wide spectrum of plants to be a weedicide. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to microorganisms which are essential for soil health as well as for the proper functioning of the gut in most animals. The damage this chemical does to the soil ecosystem and human health by destroying many of the beneficial microorganisms, has still to be addressed.

Mr. Minister, the following statement from the Farmers of Sri Lanka made o the Meeting of the CGIAR Brasilia May 1998 could not be clearer:

“We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.”

We are at a time when personal agendas trump national agendas, when glyphosate is promoted, by people called conservationists who kill great numbers of endangered species to be recognised. When the agenda on sales of chemicals begins to trump public health and biodiversity conservation issues. When doctors promote toxins.

Mr. Minister, our founding father the Rt Hon D. S. Senanayake spoke of his vision for the nation as one of ‘educated, gentlemen farmers.’

But the intervening years have seen education, culture and now the very health of our rural population compromised. As the occupant of that august chair, will you act?

Dr. Ranil Senanayake



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Opinion

The faithful Lankan matriarch from Negombo

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(UCAN) Every day around 7pm, octogenarian Sembuwalage Mary Hariyat faithfully recites the rosary and litany from her old prayer book with lightly frayed edges and irregular-shaped pages.She is never alone as she settles before the statues of Mother Mary and the saints at home. Among those around her are some of her growing brood of 24 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, not to mention her eight children.

“My prayer book and rosary are my weapons in times of joy and sorrow,” says the 82-year-old from the tourist village of Negombo, known as the “little Rome” of Sri Lanka because of its predominantly Catholic population.

The majority of some 150,000 Catholics in Negombo depend on fishing, just like many other coastal communities in the island nation. Despite a life hit hard by poverty, thousands of Catholic mothers like Hariyat are considered important in building up the local Church.

Hariyat never forgets to neatly arrange a small dish of raw white flowers and light an oil lamp before her prayers at home. On some days, she will burn incense sticks according to traditions passed down from generation to generation.But above all, Hariyat loves to teach the kids prayer rhythms and styles.

Her son Liyanage Samantha said: “It is our mother who taught us rhythms of all prayers. We learned every prayer from her. Now she is teaching our children and their children too,” he said. Her sons, daughters and their families credit her for teaching them how to live their Catholic faith.

“All my eight children and their children and grandchildren are devout Roman Catholics,” Hariyat proclaims with pride.

“I stay with one child for a week. That’s how I divide my time among all my eight children, week after week. If a family member is sick, I stay longer to help and serve in that house,” she says.Every word she utters hints at how grateful she is to God for everything she’s got.

“God has abundantly blessed me and all the members of my large family,” she saiys.

In February 2021, Hariyat suffered a severe heart attack and had to be hospitalized.  She says God and Mother Mary “stayed close to her during the terrible time” and if not for their blessings she would have been long gone. Like a true Sri Lankan Catholic, whenever she or a member of the family faces a problem, Hariyat takes a vow to visit national shrines on a special pilgrimage.

Most of the time it is Our Lady of Madhu, a Marian shrine located in a dense forest in Mannar district, some 220 kilometers from Negombo. The shrine is considered the holiest Catholic site on the island.Hariyat has been attending the August festival at the shrine since she was 20 years old. She even visited during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, when the shrine was surrounded by refugee camps and shelled many times.After recovering from the heart attack, Hariyat accompanied by the family of one of her sons visited Our Lady of Madhu last June.

Her son too had recovered from a major illness even though the doctors had said he could not be cured. He could not stand or do any work and suffered unbearable pain that prevented him sleeping. Doctors said some tissue lining his spine was torn and could not be rectified.Hariyat recalled praying to Mother Mary for months to heal him. She believes that Mother Mary intervened at her request.

“My son had a major operation and the doctors wanted about 600,000 rupees (US$ 1,715) to carry out the operation. His children decided to hold a lottery to find the necessary amount,” she said. “I continued to pray to God, Mother Mary to heal him and vowed to bring my son” to Madhu and Kattara churches in Mannar diocese.

Hariyat said no operation was required and even the doctors were surprised with her son’s miraculous recovery.

“For more than fifty years, I have been going to Madhu and Kattara churches with my children. I have experienced many miracles in my life,” Hariyat said.

She remains as enthusiastic as ever about the pilgrimage to Hiniduma Calvary shrine and joins other Catholic faithful in walking around the small hill on which the shrine stands overlooking St. Anne’s Church and the Gin River quietly flowing beside it.Hariyat’s house is located in a beautiful village called Pitipana nestled between the sea and a lagoon. It is a village of fishers and except for a few families, everyone else is Catholic.

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Opinion

Evening with Julia Cameron

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We were treated to a Sri Lankan cultural feast on Sept. 9. It included old photographs, old paintings, glimpses of the old sculptures, temple paintings – together a cultural heritage most of our countrymen are ignorant or have little knowledge of. However prevalent Buddhist fervor has given some knowledge to the average Buddhist about the temple paintings that are a part of this heritage. Fortunately, the audience present at the film that evening comprised people familiar with what was on offer and continue their quest for more knowledge.

The evening was an ode to the life and times of Julia Cameron, who was born in India in 1815, but chose to make Sri Lanka her home. She lived for some time in the Isle of Wight in high society making friends with many famous persons like Lord Carlyle, Lord Tennyson and Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer, among them.

Julia, from a young age was interested in photography but it was rather late in life that she took to it seriously. Apparently encouraged by her friend Sir John (Herchel), she in her late forties went on to become one of the most famous photographers of the 19th century, best known for her soft focus photography. She is today considered one of the greatest photographers of all time. The short film screened on Sept. 9 was indeed a treat and revelation.

This was followed by another short film on the 43 Group. That included Lionel Wendt, well known to most Lankans. I don’t think he had the same international reputation that Julia Cameron did but enjoyed seeing his work again. Then came a series of pictures of paintings by our best known artists: Keyt , Ivan PIeris, Daraniyagala and Manjusri to name a few. The 43 Group had a great reputation at that time but are almost forgotten now. Its last member, June Somasunderam died a few years ago. Seeing these pictures was a pleasure, like seeing old friends. They are hardly seen today and maybe many are in private hands here and abroad.

There was also a short clip on a dance form making you aware of the many dance forms Sri Lanka has: up country, low country, ritual dances including one to drive away the devils and one to intervene between God and the supplicant in time of illness or bad times. Few people are familiar with these rituals, but they are not that many. Thanks to the Kandy Perahara, most people are familiar with the Kandyan dance form.

The creator of this lovely film didn’t forget the lowly kite which rose in splendor to the sky at the end of the film.We owe this pleasurable evening to two people whose intrepid research and study documented our cultural heritage for posterity. Thank you Ismeth Raheem and Martin Pieris.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Opinion

PEOPLE’S FRIENDLY POLICE

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The Sri Lanka Police has come a long way from where it started having celebrated 155 years of its existence this year. I thought of adding my perception of how the police have changed from being people’s friendly force to one that has gone down in many ways.

Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) having been a colony under the British gained independent status in 1948 as a Dominion. We adopted the Westminster system of government and all other good things that the British were used to at that time. Even the police force was similar to the British counterpart in that they acted impartially without interference from the politicians. The officers in charge of police stations and their subordinates would carry out their duties without fear or favour. They never curried favour with the politicians and the politicians did not interfere in their duties.

However, all these changed after 1977 and the rot set in. Thereafter, the bootlicking started. Now most of the transfers and promotions began to take place according to the whims and fancies of the political leaders. Even when it came to the appointment of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), on many an occasion, it was a person who curried favour with the political leaders who got the position.

Sometimes the persons so appointed had got the promotion over more deserving and honest officers senior to them, who refrained from stooping to low levels. While the honest police officers did a job of work according to their conscience, there were the others who stooped low to get their promotions and perks.

For a long time as I remember there were nine Superintendents of Police (SPs), one in each province, and four Deputy Inspectors Generals (DIGs). Each province had a few gazette officers – One SP and a few ASPs. I believe it was President DB Wijetunga who got the cadre of senior officers increased with a view to accommodating more favorites.

It has come to a stage now where a Senior DIG is subjected to manhandling by the people for the wrong things he had done. This has never happened earlier. This happened because the people were frustrated and angry that the police who are supposed to look after the safety of the people turned a blind eye when political goons attacked peaceful protestors.

I wonder whether we will ever get senior police officers like Mr. WB Rajaguru. When he was a DIG, he used to go to the fish market which was at Saunders Place then, in a pair of shorts to buy the requirements for his home. Usually this is a task entrusted to a police constable by such senior officers, as in the Army where the batman must attend to these matters.

I have read a few memoirs of senior police officers (who never stooped to low levels to seek promotion) after their retirement and some articles in the daily newspapers where they have indicated how the standards of the Sri Lanka police have deteriorated so badly that they seemed to be ashamed to state they were officers in the police force at one time.

At least after celebrating the 155th anniversary, we hope that there will be change in the attitudes of the police in carrying out their duties. Of course, this will depend on the political leaders who must change their ways first.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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