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Govt. succumbs to chemical fertiliser demand



Farmers’ protest

By Dr. Parakrama Waidyanatha

The government has, at last, yielded to the unceasing demand of farmers for chemical fertilisers over the last several months, by its recent gazette notification, although it claims that its policy on organic agriculture remains unchanged! The farmers should, however, be elated and this is reminiscent of what happened nearly a century ago when British farmers did the reverse, shifting from organic to chemical farming! Sir John Russell (1942), a famous British soil scientist, in an article referring to transition from organic to conventional farming then, states that: “It is difficult for us in this distance in time to recapture the feelings with which the farmers received the information that a powder made in a factory and applied out of a bag at the rate of only a few hundred weights per acre could possibly act as well as farmyard manure put on the land as dressings of tons”!

Regrettably, the government totally ignored the view of the majority of scientists and academics that shifting totally to organic farming within a season is impossible, and that it should be attempted gradually. In fact, the President failed to consult the Department of Agriculture and other crop research institutes before rushing into the decision, vehemently supported by a few, including a medical doctor, who appears to be the chief advisor on the matter.

However, this advisor’s knowledge in agriculture is evidently scanty, as per his utterances, but he has been deceiving the masses, too, with numerous unsubstantiated claims, via mass media. Interestingly, his claims, one after the other, have been brilliantly and comprehensively debunked by a qualified and well-informed scientist in a video now doing the rounds, via YouTube, which everyone interested in the matter should watch!

No country has been able to totally shift to organic farming from conventional or chemical farming to date! Only 1.5 percent of total farmed land is subjected to organic farming of which 66 percent is pasture, only the balance being crop. And although returning to organic farming, which was abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century, commenced about six decades ago, only 16 countries have hitherto exceeded 10 percent in organic farming! It is expanding at a meagre rate of two percent per annum.

It would appear that Basil Rajapaksa, the new Minister of Finance is the prime mover in the policy change! Under his hand by a Gazette Notification dated 31st July 2021, under the Import and Exports Act No.1 of 1969, permission has been granted theoretically for the importation of virtually all chemical fertilisers, but under import control licenses. However, the government has vehemently claimed that there is no shift in its organic agriculture policy!

The notification, too, is confusing! It states that it has been “published in order to regulate the importation of chelated minerals and micronutrients which were previously banned”. Chelation here implies encircling of a metal nutrient by a large organic molecule. That way the metal molecules are protected from certain adverse soil reactions which reduce the availability of the micronutrient to the crop. However, apart from micronutrients chelated or otherwise, there is a provision in the gazette notification, as stated below, for the import of the following, as well under license.

“Mineral or chemical fertilisers, phosphatic; superphosphates or other

Mineral chemical fertilisers potassic

Mineral chemical fertilisers containing the above two fertilising elements

Mineral or chemical fertilisers containing the three fertiliser elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium


The above implies that virtually all chemical fertilisers could be theoretically imported!

The crux of the matter is how the licenses would be given? Would it be to all regular fertiliser importers or a few henchmen of the powers that be!

Although the chemical ban has been in place since April this year, farmers suffered immensely last Yala season. Some predictions made by experts of the Institute of Agriculture and others, if the policy of organic farming were to continue, reveal a profitability of paddy farming and rice consumption to decrease by 32.7 percent and 26.7 percent respectively or imports to increase by Rs 10 billion. Similarly, a reduction in tea productivity and loss of foreign export earnings by Rs 85 billion per annum and a decline in coconut yields by Rs 18 billion per annum are predicted. Further, the decline in productivity of field crops such as vegetables are predicted to be large. More specifically, a reduction in GDP by 2.65 percent owing to a 20 percent yield loss in crop agriculture sectors is predicted. Overall, the economic growth will be retarded with adverse implication on employment, rural economic activity, food security, poverty and vulnerabilities. Let us hope that sanity will prevail and the government will implement a realistic fertiliser policy.

The reason for the shift to organic agriculture is the myth that agrochemicals are the cause of non-communicable diseases, especially the chronic kidney disease of Rajarata. It is now established with substantial evidence that the cause is hard water in conjunction with fluoride present in many wells in Rajarata, especially on high ground. Apparently, there are some 176,000 such wells. A study by none other than the Coordinator of work on the kidney disease in the Health Ministry, Dr. Asanga Ranasinghe and others published in 2019 (BMC Nephropathy Vol 20) reveals clearly that with people learning that the disease is caused by bad water and consequently refraining from drinking such water, from about 2016, has resulted in a substantial decrease in patient numbers. Regrettably, the Health Ministry or Department has not made a firm pronouncement on this finding to date. The consequence has been that the Ministers of Health, Agriculture, many others and even the President continue to blame agrochemicals as the causal agent for the kidney disease! There has been no evidence at all to implicate causation of any non-communicable diseases by agrochemicals.

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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