By Dr. C. S. Weeraratna (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prof. N.A. De S Amaratunga in his piece “Is government in self-destructive mode? in The Island of 22 Jan. said more than 60% of people who voted for this government were poor rural people and he has emphasized the need to focus on these people. The livelihood of nearly 70% of those living in rural areas is farming. As per the policy manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ (‘Rata Hadana Saubhagyaye Dekma’), one of the main objectives of the government is creating a people-centered economy through rural development. The Finance Minister in his budget speech presented recently, too, emphasized the importance of improving the Rural Economy. Thus, the government has emphasized the need to improve the rural economy.
The previous governments launched various programmes, such as “Api Wawamu-Rata Nagamu” and Divineguma “to increase rural economy by promoting national food production. But the fact that we spend around Rs. 300 billion annually to import food indicate that these programmes have not been effectively implemented. According to some newspapers a National Agriculture Policy would be formulated within the next three months. In 2007 a National Agriculture Policy was formulated by a team of experts. The publication titled “National Agricultural Policy for food and export agricultural crops and floriculture” by the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services covered 20 policy statements with the aim of solving many problems in the farmimg/agriculture sector which have a negative effect on the rural economy. We are not short of agriculture policies but what is lacking is their effective implementation. If the recommendations in these agricultural policies were effectively implemented we would not be spending around Rs. 300 billion annually, to import food, including crops, such as green gram.
Around 30% of land is used for cultivation of food crops and plantation crops. About 2 million smallholder farmers living in rural areas cultivating nearly 900,000 ha. under food crops such as cereals, legumes etc., contribute a substantial fraction of the country’s food requirement. Approximately, 800,000 ha are under planation crops such as tea, rubber and coconut, and about 20% of exports is the result of those working in these estates. Thus, those in rural areas including estates contribute to the economy of the country to a great extent.
Sri Lanka is a land of villages and there are around 14,000 of them. A majority of the population, nearly 80 percent, live in villages and estates. According to recent estimates, about 30 percent of the total households in rural districts of Sri Lanka live below the poverty line. Headcount Index reported for Badulla and Moneragala districts is around 37%, and the values reported for Matale, Puttalam, Hambantota, Kegalle and Ratnapura were 30, 31, 32, 32 and 34 percent respectively. . Nutrition surveys conducted in the recent past indicate high prevalence of malnutrition among those in rural areas which may have been caused by chronic poverty. A socio-economic survey conducted in the recent past indicates that although the rural sector has the ability to engage in productive activities, there are many constraints.
Wild elephants roaming in the rural villages causing death to many and destroying property aggravate the socio-economic hardships the rural sector has to face affecting the health, education and many other aspects of the rural population.
Around 70,000 people in many districts of the country are affected by a chronic kidney disease (CKDu). They are mostly in the rural areas of the country and are affected socially and economically. The patients in the final stages of CKDu have to go for dialysis which again affects the economy of rural people . In some families both parents have died and their children are helpless.
Pest attacks which destroyed large extents of cultivated crops cause considerable problems to farmers. According to press reports, the sena caterpillar called “Fall Armyworm” (Spodopteria Frugipedera) is destroying thousands of acres of maize in Ampara, causing severe difficulties to the farmers. In addition Brown Plant Hopper attacks are reported in some areas during some months. Paddy crop in Siyabalanduwa is affected by an unidentified disease.
In spite of the country receiving around 100 billion cubic meters of water annually, there are frequent water shortages, mostly in the rural areas where there are around 12,000 tanks. Most of them are silted reducing the water holding capacity of these tanks causing rural communities to face a shortage of water which seriously affects crop production and various domestic activities.
Those farmers, who manage to get a good crop of rice/vegetables are unable to sell it for a reasonable price. Very often farmers are forced to destroy their produce due to the inability to market their produce at reasonable prices. Marketing of agricultural products at a profit to the farmer is an issue which the authorities need to take cognizance of.
Unemployment is rampant in rural areas. Current data is not available but youth unemployment rate (age 15 – 24 years) corresponding to the first quarter 2020 is 26.8 percent. With the COVID-19, thousands of people who were employed abroad have come back to Sri Lanka increasing the percentage of unemployment, mainly in rural areas.
All these issues cause untold hardships to thousands of farmers and have a negative impact on the rural economy. No effective actions appear to have been taken by the relevant authorities to find appropriate solutions to these problems. Those representing the farming community in Parliament appear to be not concerned about the plight of our farming population who have voted them to power.
There is no centralized planning in farming in the country which sometimes leads farmers to cultivating the same crop/s, ultimately resulting in gluts. Previous governments attempted to solve this problem but they appear to have failed miserably.
If the authorities are genuinely keen to improve the rural economy, they need to address these issues. The villagers must be assisted to improve their economic activities and make them more productive. Research need to focus on these issues and all technological knowledge generated by researchers must reach the villagers. There has been rhetoric on rural economic development during the last few years. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary.
VIOLENT NIGHT —Santa Claus goes Die-Hard this Christmas
By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage.
Tis’ the season to be jolly and binge watch Christmas movie classics like ‘Home Alone’, but in a twisted turn of events Director Tommy Wirkola has other plans for audiences. With a screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Director Wirkola and his team flips the table on the Christmas movie stereotype and gives audiences a scintillating and gut-churning tale starring the beloved Santa Claus. The movie stars, David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Leah Brady, Beverly D’Angelo and Alex Hassell among others.
The film starts with a boozy opening featuring a not-so-jolly, drunk, self-loathing Santa Claus complaining about how children these days are greedy and are ungrateful. The story then shifts it focus on to the über-wealthy but awfully dysfunctional Lightstone family, who have gathered to celebrate Christmas. Siblings Alva and Jason have brought their families to spend time with their mother Gertrude. Alva, her son Bertrude and actor boyfriend Morgan Steele, plan to gain financial benefits from Gertrude, while Jason his ex-wife Linda attempt to fix their marriage for the sake of their daughter Trudy. The ‘holy night’ becomes a more ‘gory night’ as the Lightstone family are taken hostage by a group of mercenaries led by ‘Mr. Scrooge’, who are looking to steal $300 million locked away in a massive vault within the compound. Santa who had arrived to deliver his gifts is unwillingly caught up in the unfolding mayhem, having fallen asleep mid-cookie/booze binge. Santa Claus is soon forced to pull himself together for young Trudy, and deliver more than just ‘lumps of coal’ to the bad guys.
As the title itself suggests, the highlight of the movie is the violence and it lives up to its name. Wirkola and the team go all in with the violence, plenty of blood and gore and crude language to top it all off. Blood and guts are the last thing one would expect from Christmas flicks. The movie is packed with very graphic action sequences given to audiences from every camera angle possible, so it may not be for the faint hearted.
The film borrows greatly from the quintessential holiday movies of all time— ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Die-Hard’. Both franchises have always resonated well with audiences over different generations and the two titles, in a similar vein, combine action and violence set during Christmas time. The deadly booby traps that Trudy sets up bring back memories of Kevin McCallister’s assault on the Wet Bandits— Marv and Harry and David Harbour’s Santa is basically the new John McClane. Both Die-Hard and Home Alone have done well with striking a balance between the violence and themes about family, love and bringing people together for the holidays. For Wirkola who is amplifying the violence a thousand times over, it is important to not lose the festive vibes amidst the unbridled carnage. The movie manages to balance the scales just enough that it does not hamper the thrill. Wildly entertaining as it may be, the short and rather simple storyline affects the pace of the film. The storyline does not ponder too much over who lives and dies and barely goes into detail about the characters, and fails to give the film solid ground.
The star that truly shines is David Harbour, who is known best for his work as Jim Hopper on the Stranger Things series. He delivers a very natural performance, almost as if he was destined to play the role of a not-so-Saint Nick. He brings his A-game into the violent aspects of the role, while simultaneously delivering heart-warming scenes. Adding his own input into developing the character in the early stages of production, Harbour surely enjoyed this new rendition of Santa Claus. Adding more layers and elements to the character, the movie refers to and expands on the many cultural iterations of Saint Nicholas. ‘Violent Night’ gives audiences a glimpse into Santa’s history with a Viking-style backstory. Going by Nicomund the Red, he topped the naughty list as a warrior who pillaged and killed with his reliable hammer, Skullcrusher. Obviously in this scenario his former lifestyle gives him a greater advantage over the bad guys. Harbour brings great energy and inventively switches with ease between the hard and soft elements that complete the character.
Leah Brady’s character Trudy plays a key role alongside Harbour’s Santa, as it’s their relationship that keeps the story running. Trudy depicts the essence of Christmas and is the epitome of everything that is good in the world. She is the emotional core of the tale— a little girl who needs something to believe in. A classic Christmas trope but one that is necessary to push the story forward. Trudy’s character reminds Santa that goodness and kindness is still there, in a world driven by greed and selfishness. The character dynamic helps strike an important balance between the violence and sentimental aspects of the holiday season. The rest of the cast are given ample screen time to work with their characters but don’t necessarily stand out, due to the lack of a solid storyline.
‘Violent Night’ is a simple tale that puts a fresh spin (and brutal murders) on the usual holiday flicks. Home Alone and Die-Hard were violent in their own way, but Wirkola is intensifying the bloodbath and catering to largely adult audiences. It’s not every day that audiences get to see a foul-mouthed, drunk Santa Claus who surprisingly turns out to be very good at crushing skulls and delivering nut-cracking blows with a sledgehammer, save the day. David Harbour’s rendition of Santa can sit at the top with the likes of Deadpool and John Wick based solely off the gruesome and highly graphic action sequences it offers. For audiences looking to catch the film Wirkola’s magic guarantees a bloody good time.
‘Violent Night’ is currently screening at Scope Cinemas.
South likely to be hit most by West’s price cap on Russian crude oil
Months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that the latter’s traumas would not end any time soon. Nor is the invader registering any notable gains from its fatal decision to annex Ukraine by armed means and might. However, it’s abundantly clear that the destabilizing economic consequences for the world from the invasion are likely to increase exponentially.
The recent decision by the G7, EU and Australia to place a price cap of US $ 60 on a barrel of Russian crude oil is further proof of the West’s intention of weakening Russia relentlessly on the economic plane, but as matters stand, it is the global South that is likely to suffer most from this decision.
Observers of the global oil industry were quoted as saying that the world would need to brace for further oil price hikes as a result of the Western decision and that OPEC would likely reduce its oil output in the days to come with the aim of propping-up prices. Needless to say, these developments translate into graver economic hardships for the more vulnerable economies of the South, although destabilizing ripple effects from stepped-up oil prices would be felt worldwide as well.
At the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, hunger and famine were already taking hold of parts of Africa. Some African countries with the worst food crises are; Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia. Their condition was further aggravated as a result of food and energy prices escalating, close on the heels of the invasion.
It was only a matter of time before these economic aftershocks made themselves felt in even the West. Right now, the West is very much into a ‘Winter of Discontent’, with rising food and energy prices proving to be doubly distressing. Inflation in the UK, for instance, is said to be notably high.
In the Asian theatre, countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are virtually begging for survival. If not for the largesse of the international community, it could be truly said that Sri Lanka ‘would not live to see another day’. If its multi-dimensional crisis is not resolved expeditiously, Sri Lanka is likely to be categorized by the world community as one of those countries with the highest levels of hunger in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Some other countries in this category from the regions concerned are: Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and North Korea.
Accordingly, the mentioned economically-distressed countries and more are unlikely to survive another series of energy and food price shocks and also remain intact, so to speak. However, with the prospects remaining bleak for a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine crisis, the possibility of the international community alleviating the economic hardships of the South in the foreseeable future is remote. The conclusion is inescapable that the South would need to brace for aggravating material hardships and economic disempowerment.
Wise counsel would need to be brought to bear on the Russian political leadership to enable it to see the no-win situation into which it has brought itself in the Ukrainian theatre. President Putin is unlikely to take the path of negotiations in Ukraine if the latter course would incur for him a loss of face and prestige. The negotiated settlement while ensuring Ukraine’s independence and geographical integrity should guard against the possibility of a drastic loss of prestige and credibility for the Russian President in the eyes of his public at home.
However, the world community is quite a distance away from such a win-win outcome, considering the polarities in thinking and the persisting hostile relations between the main sides to the Ukraine crisis. The solution calls for deft diplomacy of the highest order.
It is left to powers, such as China and India, to take up the challenge of bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Ukraine. China has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine but is not endorsing it either. Since the Chinese political leadership has entered into what may be called a détente process of sorts with the US, it emerges as a suitable candidate to bring the antagonists in Ukraine to the negotiating table.
President Xi could use the measure of cordiality he established with President Biden before the recent G-20 summit in Indonesia to narrow the differences between the conflicting sides in Ukraine, considering that the West’s staunch support for Ukraine is a vital factor in perpetuating the conflict.
Likewise, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could use his offices as the head of the G-20 to help to bring the crisis in Ukraine to an end. As is the case with China, India enjoys cordial ties with Russia and being a major democracy, India is likely to see the wisdom of ending the Ukraine conflict by peaceful means, in consideration of the need to serve the best interests of the Ukrainian and Russian publics without further delay.
A moral duty is cast on the world’s foremost democracies, such as India, to attach primacy to the wellbeing of people everywhere and in the current world economic crunch, it is the people who are affected negatively most. It stands to reason if the Ukraine invasion is ended through negotiations, there would be considerable relief for people worldwide.
The fact that there is considerable popular unrest against the political leadership of China and Russia at present should further prompt the respective Presidents of these countries to lose no time in doing their best to end the Ukraine crisis by peaceful means. It ought to be clear that their tenures at the helm of their countries would no longer be peaceful, since their policies, domestic and foreign, have only served to trigger internal dissent and unrest. They may deploy state coercion to get such unrest under control but the possibility is that the people’s animosity towards their regimes will explode time and again.
If Xi and Putin would permit wise counsel to prevail they would redress the grievances of their publics by peaceful means rather than court chronic and continuing dissent against their regimes by seeking to quell their popular uprisings through the use of coercion. Next, they should use the expertise they have acquired locally to heal a ‘running wound’ that is bringing distress to people the world over, such as the Ukraine crisis.
Christmas with the Calibre Team
The festive season is certainly brightening up and, going by what I see on social media, there will be plenty of festive activities for everyone, and that’s a good sign, indeed, as we missed out on those Christmassy celebrations, the past two years, mainly due to the pandemic.
Choro Calibre and X-Calibre, two unique bands, with energetic musicians, who are focused and passionate to create choral and acoustic music, in their own style, have released their new Christmas cover song…the ever popular Jose Feliciano festive hit, ‘Feliz Navidad.’
This much loved Christmas pop song has been given an electronic colour, and twist, by the Calibre Team.
For the record, ‘Feliz Navidad’ was written, in 1970, by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter José Feliciano.
With its simple, heartfelt lyrics—the traditional Spanish Christmas and New Year greeting “Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad” means Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness”.
The song has been heard, on the radio, by an estimated 3.8 billion people, according to Billboard, where it remains as one of the top 10 best-performing songs on its Holiday 100 chart.
You can check out the new music video, by the Calibre Team, on YouTube, and download the song on Apple Music and Spotify.
Choro Calibre and X-Calibre became a reality, in 2009, when Shamal De Silva, driven by the passion for music, teamed up with a few of his friends and started a choir, and a band.
Shamal began his music career at the age of just eight, probably the youngest church organist at the time, when he started playing at St. Paul’s Church, in Waragoda. Later, he took over the leadership of the College Choir, in 2008, at his Alma-Mater, St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and went on to win “The Musician of the Year” award, in 2009, for his multi-disciplined musical contributions. He also excelled in his studies and graduated from the University of Colombo.
Explaining the meaning of ‘Calibre,’ Shamal says Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur and it is believed to be the strongest sword – unbreakable, and powerful. And so, the band is named as X-Calibre, and the choral group as Choro Calibre.
Elaborating further, Shamal indicated that the choral group, Choro Calibre, is an international award-winning commercial choir (won three awards at the Asia Cantate Choir Games, held in Thailand), and they perform at weddings, events, and Christmas carols, while X-Calibre is an acoustic band, also doing weddings, events and private functions.
“With our new outlook, new sound, re-arranged music and melodious harmonies, we’ve got some exciting events and productions lined up. We perform different genres and musical eras, ranging from the sounds of golden oldies to the top club hits of today”, said Shamal.
You could check them out, during the festive season, at the following venues:
• 14th December: 7.00pm – Cafe Ivy
• 16th to 25th December: 4.00pm – Cinnamon Grand
• 17th December: 5.00pm – Gold FM 70s show at Taj North Lawn
• 20th December: 7.00pm – Christmas party at Cinnamon Lakeside
• 21st to 25th December: 7.00pm – Cinnamon Lakeside
• 22nd and 23rd December: 8.00pm – Taj Samudra
• 24th and 25th December: 8.00pm – Hilton Colombo
• 22nd to 24th December: 9.00pm – Galadari Hotel
• 25th December 2022: Galadari Hotel
VIOLENT NIGHT —Santa Claus goes Die-Hard this Christmas
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