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Grassroots Wisdom ~ I



Change must come from within: communities must be able to make their own decisions, regarding their future. Economic development and social change cannot be imposed from without. It must begin from within even though the initial nudges may have to come from outside


Development economists acknowledge that the poor act rationally, however, straitened their circumstances may be. If their efforts are too thinly spread to be efficient, it is because the markets for land, credit, or insurance have failed them. Good management of even the smallest asset can be crucial to very poor people, who live in precarious conditions. Through their individual and collective efforts, local entrepreneurs can lead significant change by building self-reliance in their geographies.

Since they know community dynamics and power relationships, they are well-attuned to handle the actors in the local ecosystem. They have the potential to become changemakers. Their potential to drive change is tremendous ~ but they often lack opportunities for training and education, and are unable to access networks and finance. They are an essential part of society and often don’t receive the credit that they deserve as policy drivers and implementers in India’s challenging developmental space.

Any work you do in any community has to be owned by the community. They must see it as theirs, otherwise they will agree to what you say; but as soon as you pull out, they are going to revert to their old way because they do not own it. So, one of the things we had to learn was that you must go in with partners who have worked in these places for a long time and are from the community. Change must come from within: communities must be able to make their own decisions regarding their future.

Economic development and social change cannot be imposed from without. It must begin from within even though the initial nudges may have to come from outside. Lasting change comes about so slowly that one may not notice it until people resist being taken care of. They need to be given a chance to fulfill their potential. When we design solutions that recognise the poor as clients or customers, as people we must negotiate with, and not as passive recipients of charity, we have a real chance to end poverty.

Policymakers and development scientists must no longer think of economics as an esoteric discipline and should go back to real life so that policies are better designed and are embedded with grassroots values. Their policy-making must be informed by ethical norms, economic rationale and welfare values. They must understand that a nuanced grasp of local dynamics is also important to the development of relevant policies.

Indian society is not monochromatic nor amenable to a singular solution; it is very heterogeneous presenting unparalleled ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, ecological specificities, political trajectories, complex caste community configurations and diverse economic endowments. All these are underpinned by a socially rigid and unequal caste system that is now undergoing seismic churning. Social realities, like political and economic realities, are fluid and evolving.

Historically disadvantaged groups, such as Dalits (formerly “untouchables”), are now reshaping politics and gaining social mobility. It is the participation of the users in planning, implementation and social audit of these programmes that is critical to their success because their inputs emanate from local realities. The success of any new and innovative social or economic enterprise depends largely on how you insulate the project from political influences. We should be able to harness grassroots talents, local knowledge, and wisdom for the development of native communities. This way we enlist their buy-in and active participation.

We are also able to leach out any residual animus of local vested interests, thereby ensuring a more conducive environment for project execution. We also have to ensure that in the process of scaling our ideas we do not cause collateral damage to the groups whose problems we are addressing. In the new development agenda, decision-making cannot be played out in the same way that development economists have perceived the poor: desperate citizens who need to be rescued by the elite. They will have to understand what people are doing to improve their composite livelihoods. It is then alone that they can make a real contribution.

They will have to integrate grassroots practices into their theoretical frameworks rather than hastily proposing templates that serve the interests of elites. The imbalance between the growth policies for rural vis-a-vis urban population has led to unsustainable development. A major new insight gleaned from studies of these development programmes is that our policies are influenced more by theory and less by practice.

Societies are not cut from the same cloth and people within the same community are also not homogenous. They have their peculiarities. Hence solutions need to be more specific and tailored to address their distinct cultures. This understanding and the policies that are informed by them can make change sustainable.

The project should be clear on when and how beneficiaries will participate and how decisions will be made. This should be discussed and agreed with the ultimate beneficiaries, it is important to consider how community voices can be brought into policy dialogues e.g. by ensuring groups that represent these beneficiaries are consulted and represented in the dialogue process.

We must not forget that we are working with a constituency that is both politically and socially mute. At any rate, we cannot hear it. The poor are rarely visible because the well-off urban developers have little interest in their lives. In a country with more poor people than the 25 poorest African countries combined, this apathy is a failure not merely of intellectual curiosity but moral values. There are many lessons to be brought to the table from field experience.

We need to understand existing human conditions rather than hastily proposing templates that serve the interests of the owners. Experts need to combine their knowledge with grassroots action and a wider community of practice. The incredibly evolving and complicated ecosystem requires better collaboration and partnerships for understanding, analyzing, designing solutions, and undertaking impact studies to contribute to the wider knowledge pool within the sector.

We should not expect effective citizens’ engagement to progress in a smooth linear growth or along a predictable trajectory. It is conditioned by several imperatives. Local inequality, geography, history, networks, nature of social interactions and political systems are crucial in determining the outcomes of any strategy or approach. For any intervention to build sustainable roots in a culture, we require a shift in social equilibrium that derives from modifying norms and social cultures and changing the nature of social interactions.

These require a fundamentally different approach to development – one that is long term, flexible, self-critical, and strongly infused with the spirit of learning by doing. There is no precooked blueprint ready to be replicated. Individuals can make a difference in fighting poverty when ways are found to institutionalize creative ideas. But along a factory model, the replication of successful models continues to be the guiding mantra of development programmes.

There is a need to aggregate the issues and lessons from diverse initiatives in livelihoods and develop a comprehensive understanding that can help design viable and sustainable solutions for composite livelihoods. The truth of a marginalised community can come out only with time. It takes time for trust to build between them and the outsider, so the outsider can peel away the layers and approach the truth. Even though the poor constitute a vast majority of Indian voters, they have been shut out of public discourse by being trapped in a system that is rigged against them.

It’s crucial to help people shift their thinking so they believe they can do the job. Role models matter more than words. Mentors are more important than formal training. To that end, we must introduce them to those who are succeeding in the kind of environment in which they themselves will need to succeed. The knowledge that professionals have accumulated must be passed on face to face, revealing culture in action.

The notion that poor people are lazy and are averse to change is not true. They are certainly amenable to change but do not always have the knowhow. They need information and hand-holding. We need to give them the tools and nudge them to use them for their betterment. We cannot approach people with readymade solutions. It is important to analyse the problems together to evolve solutions. Incidentally, this process is itself a great capacity-builder on both sides. Our communication should be: “How can we help?” or “How can we contribute?” and not “This is what you should do.”

The truly committed advocates are those who have firsthand knowledge of the problem they seek to solve. Personal experience is the best way to create change agents. Inadequate investment in locally-led initiatives is one of the ways by which we fail to ensure that those who are most affected by inequity are provided pathways to address their problems. If the users do not value the benefits, they will not use the facilities.

Local users have much better skills than engineers at transforming technologies to work in their situations easier, and they can be held to account by citizens. Even the best university-taught skills will not be particularly useful if they are not grounded in the local cultures.

(To Be Continued)

(The writer is an author, researcher and development professional)

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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