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Expert advisor, sustainable farming and the rice farmer

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by M. P. Dhanapala,

Retired Director, Rice Research and Development, Batalagoda

Email: ,maddumadhanapala@yahoo.com

Tel: 071 8412444

The two critical facts relevant to rice farming in Ceylon/Sri Lanka that one might consider seriously when dealing with farmers are as follows:

1. Rice cultivation is the least remunerative of all occupations and that the farmers grow rice mainly because of the social dignity attached to it (Bevan, 1914),

2. And that farming is an independent profession that cannot be governed by rules and regulations.

Now we can witness that both the above aspects are being overlooked. Farmers come out with slogans demanding fertilizer because they know that the little profit they had in rice farming is denuded by the unfamiliar organic manure based sustainable rice cultivation. And now they are adamant that they would not cultivate rice if inorganic fertilizers and other agro-chemicals are not allowed. No rules or regulations can force them to cultivate their lands, unless they do it voluntarily. You may intimidate them by threatening to confiscate the land, but this may worsen the situation.

They humiliate policy makers, because right now they are the most affected by this abrupt change in the policy. You may interpret this as a politically motivated issue and take the least resistant path, but this is real. This is the situation we witness almost daily from the news telecasts in TV, radio and news papers; the farmers are almost on the verge of losing the only opportunity for their hand to mouth existence. They have families to look after, children to educate and meet the basic requirements of food and clothing, even if the shelter and health facilities are available. You need not have a sixth sense, but just common sense to predict this situation.

One of the farmers on a hunger strike at Elahera, demanding fertilizer and agro chemicals, was quoted on TV responding to a Div. Secretary who told him to “use the liquid nano urea and see “, by saying, ” Madam, you get a salary at the end of each month for sure, but we get nothing and cannot afford to wait six months to see the results of this experiment as we do not know what will happen. Let them do it and show us”. So the writing is on the wall and we are set to get a double punch, Covid and Famine.

I worked in paddy fields of the RRDI, Batalagoda for 31 long years; drinking the so called contaminated water from wells adjoining paddy fields manured with inorganic fertilizers and breathing polluted air of “Wasa Visa” generated by herbicides and pesticides. So did the work force and other field staff (skilled and unskilled). We never had bottled water for drinking or air conditioned rooms for working in or salubrious conditions outside in the field, but never complained. I hope my kidneys are functional at this age; also my four children did not end up in cancer hospital. And we never had any incidences of kidney failures other than occasional stones in the urinary system, probably due to drinking hard water and inadquate intake of clean water. Now, we know chronic kidney disease of unidentified etiology (CKDu) is confined to one region, but the use of fertilizer and other agrochemicals is well distributed throughout the country.

There is enough scientific evidence published and communicated through media, regarding the root causes of CKDu, but our educated advisors do not respond or are reluctant to accept this insisting that the disease is caused by inorganic fertilizers and other agro-chemicals. Also, they brand the scientific informants as recepients of rewards from chemical companies for promoting their products. I have never received any reward from any company.

When it comes to fertilizer and other agro-chemicals, the most sensitive group is a handful of medical professionals. They have inculcated misconceptions in the minds of policy makers and the general public that cannot be easily got rid of. However, we are grateful to them for their great concern for our health. Now, let me ask who introduced Chlorinated Hydro Carbon, DDT, to control the malaria mosquito domestically? Was it the Department of Agriculture (DOA) or the Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI)? During my childhood, I had seen DDT spraying of such a heavy density in one shot, almost “white washing” the walls and the cadjan roof of our homes at least once a year with DDT.

This is the first insecticide introduced to Ceylon/Sri Lanka. If I ask medical opinion on this, someone might say casually, the risk of malaria (certain death then) is much higher than that of carrying a small quantum of DDT in the liver. Fair-enough. Some medical professionals are crazy, highlighting that the modern rice varieties are hybrids or genetically transformed entities. They do not know that they do not know, same as we do not know many things in the medical field. We don’t have any genetically transformed rice varieties or hybrid varieties in Sri Lanka, except Bg 407, the seeds of which are not being produced (Govikam Sangarawa, Page 11-17, 2020). If I turn back and ask, what is Humulin administered to manage diabetes or what are those vaccines like, Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik, Moderna, Sinopharm etc. administered to protect from COVID 19, the answer may be that ” they are non-virulent or mild products (DNA/RNA) to build up the immune system by antibody formation or by cross-protection”.

Aren’t they genetically modified material ? We have nothing against them, but aren’t they products of multinational companies? I do not want to ask the second question about the rewards because I respect the medical profession. Why then the diabolical standards of medical professionals (not all) that are not in favor of agriculture, on which they also depend for their own needs of food for existence. The recommended usage of agro-chemicals, approved by the Registrar of Pesticides, is within the safe limits as any of the medical prescriptions are, to patients. No casualties were reported so far due to eating rice of modern varieties produced using agrochemicals. Those claims on the spread of non-communicable diseases are based on incomplete scientific evidence.

There are procedures to circumvent these incidences if needed (Govikam Sangarawa, Page 11-17, 2020). We have well defined Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) as recommendations, but no trained extension staff at ground level to excute them; this important fact was deliberately ignored with provincialization. But, now that is history.

The expert advisors, like some of us, are from the same school of thought though our teachers and the thinking processes are different. We cannot rule out the generation gap or the possibility of emerging outliers though the school is the same. I am from the old generation when we had only one School of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture) and one Faculty of Agriculture (University of Ceylon). Both of these were located at Peradeniya. Like the first generation of fertilizer, urea for example, I also learnt from the first generation of teachers in the Faculty of Agriculture; some of them were teachers of the school of Agriculture earlier.

I was totally confused when the farmers were told that urea will be replaced with “liquid nitrogen”. No fool would believe it if he knew the status of liquid nitrogen in storage and the temperature at which nitrogen will remain in the liquid state. And also argue why the gaseous nitrogen cannot enter the plant system through stomata and perform its function within the plant the way that carbon dioxide or oxygen in the atmosphere does. We have nitrogen, more than any other gas in the atmosphere. Please excuse me as I am from the old school and unfamiliar with the so=called nano-technology.

Now the farmers are more confused when we were talking of third or fourth generation of nano-urea formulation as the source of nitrogen. Earlier we were talking of organic nitrogen extracts from seaweeds. The so-called nano-urea may be different from first generation urea, which is not considered organic in organic farming. The nano-urea cargo received from India is within the country and being distributed among the rice farmers. Also, this is described as very efficient; four times as efficient when compared to first generation urea as a fertilizer, but comes as a solution and has to be applied through foliar means to be absorbed through stomata, hydathodes etc. on the leaf surface. As it appears, I do not smell anything wrong other than that stomata are concentrated on the lower surface of the leaf; it may work much better than urea applied to the root zone soil, if everything goes according to the expectations, in spite of the fact that the source of nitrogen is the so called prohibitive urea.

My first concern is, have this product/technology being field tested in scientifically designed experiments? Whether this technology is appropriate; feasible, sustainable, economically viable and as effective as or better than the soil application of urea? Also, can this nano-urea look after the peak requirements of nitrogen at different growth stages of the rice plant?; that is, timely applications at different growth stages of the plant is needed or not.

Rice, being a grass, has a fibrous root system. Anyone who has done basic botany would know that absorption of water and nutrients is the major function of the root system, beside anchorage of the plant. Water ascends through vessels (xylem) by the evapo-transpirational pull, but the nutrient elements need energy to travel up against the osmotic gradient. Similarly, the shoot system of the rice plants has distinct functions. Evapo-transpiration, gaseous exchange (CO2 and O2), in addition to trapping solar radiation for hydrolysis of water to generate energy for different physiological processes within the plant, are the primary functions of the shoot system. Apart from performing these functions, the shoot system of the rice plant is not naturally or evolutionarily designed to absorb water or nutrients, the functions performed primarily by the root system. This may not be so in epiphytes and xerophytes, however. To my mind, therefore, foliar feeding of the rice plant appears similar to feeding someone from the distal/wrong end of the alimentary canal; besides, nitrogen is not a micro element but a major nutrient required in large quantities. Therefore, efficacy of foliar absorption of nutrients in rice is needed to be determined prior to the recommendation of the intended technology.

Now, we are going to replace a technology (soil application of urea) which is appropriate and well established, with an alternative technology based on inconclusive evidence of expert advisors, but unfamiliar to the rice farmer. This is ready for implementation. These expert advisors therefore can come out from their hiding places to demonstrate this technological package for rice farmers of different agro-ecological regions to convince them. We should not blame the staff of rice research for the failure to implement this innovative and valuable technological package in the field. It is the responsibility of the advisors to promote the package by demonstrating it to the farmers and establish their recognition in the minds of the public. They fail in their duty if this new technology is not demonstrated to the new generation of rice farmers they intend to bring up in the country and help the government to alleviate the farmer unrest.

I have all the rights to demand the expert advisors to demonstrate their “Technological Package” as I was recognized in 2014 by the President’s Award (His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa) for development of modern rice varieties and spearheading the development of a technological package to acheive self-sufficiency in rice.



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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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Features

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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