It is immensely disturbing, to see members of the farming community, compelled to abandon their fields and take to the roadsides, holding up placards to draw attention to their plight. This is a national shame. We are not short of jokers who parrot the “The farmer is king” or “wash off his mud and set him on the throne” – that kind of claptrap simply will not do, or that kite will not fly, or that cock will not fight. Let not the insensitivity or arrogance of the “powers that be” which, one fears may drive a normally peaceful community to resort to unpleasant or dangerous reaction. The signs are ominously evident.
On the one side there are the marauding elephants, who in a single night can devastate the entirety of a season’s labour or knock down the walls of modest hovels, which pass for homes. It could be argued that this recurring problem is something that the officers in the field can do nothing about. This is only partly true. The initial error was committed by officialdom choosing to locate settlers across the customary elephant migration paths, used by the animals for decades. The provision of elephant corridors, and electrified fences provide little relief, at very high cost. There is no immediate remedy that the hapless Agricultural and Wildlife officials can provide.
On the other hand there are remediable defects in supplying irrigation water. It has been widely said that we do not have many true “irrigation engineers”, only those who can “competently lead water from point A to point B.”
Then there is the very ill-advised (or non-advised), move to 100% “organic” fertilizer, and to abruptly cease fertilizer imports. If ones child is ill, it would be better to consult a pediatrician than a soil chemist. If one is in need of spiritual guidance, it would be wiser to seek a monk than an agriculturist.
In taking such a drastic step, radically changing a long practiced agriculturally central issue, drastic reversals are dangerously unwise. Several well-informed and knowledgeable scientists, quoting from acknowledged authorities, have urged caution. There have been no corresponding interventions from those who support this radical change. In a profoundly vacuous declaration, it was surmised that we wish to achieve the record on being the first to go “completely organic”. Maybe so. But we run a greater chance of being the first nation to commit “Organic Suicide”. Thus, wrecking over a century’s work in this field of plant nutrition, in the universally acclaimed Agriculture, Tea, Rubber, Sugar, Minor Export Crops and Coconut Research Institutions. Years of dedicated effort and the countless millions of hours and rupees invested in such work, is to be felled in one sweep? Who will take the responsibility and cover the losses certain to be experienced, in this fancy adventure? When it comes to matters of such grave technical importance, are we to be guided by sane scientific knowledge, or of un-informed upstarts or transient politicos and ‘Wannabies’?
As support for this folly, there have been two relevant “shots” fired by the valiant who favour this heroic venture (i) Mineral fertilizers bring in health hazards like CKDU. I do not need to pursue that line, shown to be wildly unproven. (ii) that all scientists who do not support this progressive move (someone even quantified this misconduct to 99.99% ), were bribed by multinationals. This is such a tiresome chant, that it need not be given the dignity of even a mention. I do so, because I feel “Short Changed” Having been involved in work related to crop nutrition for six decades or more, I have yet to be offered even */50 cents for my support, never mind the MN’s , not even by a local “Pohora velendha”. Maybe, I comfort myself by the thought that I am in that 0.01 % of incorruptibles. How nice. Who else, please?
But there is something shatteringly murderous. In answering the legitimate inquiry that since we have an unattainable and immediate need for millions of tons of compost for this 100% move, (as I recall, by that estimable Dr Mahindananda Aluthgamage), that if the is any shortfall in organic fertilizer, we could import compost, available in ample amounts in international markets. This is a palpable falsehood. I have seen only one advertisement for sales from one single country, and significantly well-timed for the remark of our good Min. of Ag.
If this is anything like possible, we should all stand up and in unison, chant “Not on your bloody Nelly.” This stark ignorance of the implication of dumping other peoples ’rubbish, (possibly carrying dangerously toxic metallic pollutants, pathogens (human and plant), weed seeds and a lot more fatally injurious “passengers” in imported compost, should be evident to the meanest nitwit of a village idiot.
Please let us be compassionate in meeting the legitimate fears and travails of our farmers, realistic in our need to be prepared and plan for widespread and certain to occur food shortages, even possibly starvation, to highly diminished export crops, domestics for the Middle East, unemployment in tourism involved sectors, GSP loss, emergency imports of essential foods and pharmaceuticals. Intelligent enough to seek and heed the counsel of those who know. Review the impetuous proposal for change in fertilizer, while taking note that a prudent mix of chemical and organic fertilizers is a worthy long-term goal that has to be based on sound science and not on the populist dreams of adventurers.
Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda
The dire need to increase Sri Lanka’s export earnings and thereby reduce the trade deficit to meet the severe financial crisis we are facing today has been emphasised by many. According to Central Bank annual reports (see Table), export incomes have not increased substantially during the last few years. Tea, which contributes around 12 % of the total exports, registered a notable decline of 16.0 per cent in 2022, attributed to many factors.
In 2022, production of high, medium, and low grown tea, declined by 13.8 per cent, 21.2 per cent, and 15.4 percent respectively. Meanwhile, the average yield in the smallholder tea sector decreased to 1,193 kilogrammes per hectare, registering a year-on-year decline of 15.6 per cent in average yield. Production of rubber and most of the other export crops too have decreased during the last decade.
Increasing exports is of paramount importance to overcome the current financial crisis. But what we are going to export is the main question. Newspaper reports indicate that the quantity of most of our crop exports has dwindled during the last few years. As indicated above, production of tea, our main export crop product, has not shown any substantial increase during the last few years. All these data indicate that the production of our export crops is dwindling and it is sine qua nun that an effective plan is implemented to increase our export incomes. In such a plan, increasing the production of currently cultivated crops such as tea, rubber and coconut need to be adequately dealt with.
Sri Lanka has a wide variation in soil and climate with 46 agro-ecological zones, each characterised by specific climate and soils making it possible the cultivation of a number of different types of crops such as tuberous crops, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor etc. which have a considerable export potential. Out of the 6.5 million hectares of land, around 2.0 million hectares are in the wet zone. About 75% of it is cultivated and most of this land is of low-productivity due to soil degradation. In the dry zone, out of the 4.5 million hectares, only about 2 million acres are in productive use. Thus, there is a large extent of potentially cultivable land in the dry zone. Most of the soils in the dry zone are relatively more fertile than those in the wet zone. Non-availability of adequate rainfall during the Yala season is one of the limiting factors of crop production in the dry zone. However, better water management practices would reduce this limitation. Also, various major irrigation projects such as Mahaweli, Kirindi Oya, Muthukandiya and Inginimitiya provide irrigation to about 200,000 hectares in the dry zone. The numerous minor irrigation projects too would increase the irrigable area in the dry zone. Thus, there is a considerable potential to increase the level of crop production in Sri Lanka.
Although there are many organisations such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Export Development Board, Industrial Development Board etc. there appears to be no proper medium long-term plan to promote the cultivation of these crops and develop appropriate agro-industries except for some ad-hoc projects. The Ministry of Industry and Agriculture should implement an effective agro-Industrial Development Programme which undoubtedly would increase our exports incomes, improve employment opportunities and incomes in the rural areas. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
In any programme/plan to increase foreign exchange earnings from the agric. sector, agro-industries have to be given much emphasis. A large number of crops cultivated in Sri Lanka have considerable potential in various agro-industries. However only rubber, coconut and a few fruit crops are used in industries. Crops such as cassava, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor, ayurvedic herbs, etc. have a considerable industrial potential but are not cultivated to any appreciable extent for want of better and improved varieties, technological know-how, relevant market information etc. Development of agro-industries will also increase export income and will have a tremendous impact on the economy of the country and also provide employment opportunities among rural people. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
There has been rhetoric on promoting exports. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary. Giving talks at numerous seminars etc. will not increase exports unless there is a realistic plan implemented effectively.
Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
It’s the economy, again
There is a report in the Lankadeepa of 30 September, 2023 that thousands (‘dahas ganang’) of university graduates in biotechnology (and engineering technology) languish without employment. There is a comment that even if all of them were employed as teachers in state schools (in fact, there is no money to do so), the pool of unemployed graduates in biotechnology, which is filled yearly,
would not dry up; not dissimilarly (the reporter comments) from the fate of graduates in Arts. That graduates in biotechnology are unemployable in this economy as graduates in Arts are, validates a position that I have repeatedly brought up in these pages: university graduates and other young people are unemployed in this economy because this economy is arid and sterile and not because the education system, at whatever level, is fundamentally flawed.
The moment they land in a vigorously growing economy, they become the output of an excellent education system. Not that the education system (school and university) cannot be improved: Cambridge University has improved since 1215; Harvard University continues to improve since 1635. China (Mainland and Taiwan), Malaysia and many other economies did not await reforms in their education systems to grow rapidly as during the last several decades. It is a bit like the truism about savings and investment in the total economy: you don’t have to save to invest; if you invest savings will accommodate investment. It might be apt to say, ‘it is the economy stupid’.
The report in the Lankadipa highlighted that it was Dr. Bandula Gunawardhena, who, when he was the Minister of Education in 2012, with great enthusiasm, installed these branches of learning in schools and universities. And, he earned a Ph.D. degree in Economics!
Our erudite president of the republic, who goes around the world from one conference to another, preaching to the rest of the world, shows great enthusiasm about digitizing this economy. He is falling into the same trap as Dr. Gunewardhena fell into. You digitize a growing economy, not a moribund and bankrupt one.
It is the economy, again.
Tribute to Dr. Nilanthi Cooray
I have known Dr. Nilanthi for more than 40 years since her marriage to my cousin Frank.Dr. Nilanthi was born in Moratuwa to a middle-class Catholic family. Her siblings include an older sister and a younger brother, and all three of them were studious. Her parents, especially her father. was a devout Catholic who was a frequent visitor to St. Sebastian’s church in Moratuwa.
Up to grade eight, Nilanthi attended Our Lady of Victories Convent in Moratuwa and then joined the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. She was accepted to the Medical College in 1972 after her successful results at the A-levels. She traveled daily from Moratuwa to the Medical college until such time she was able to get a place at the medical college hostel. During her final years at the medical college hostel, she succeeded in her studies and graduated as a doctor in 1976.
Her career began as an intern at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Colombo for six months and another six months at the Castle Street Hospital, Borella working with leading qualified senior doctors. In 1977, she got married to her lifelong friend, Frank Cooray, who was working as a Technical Officer in the Irrigation Department. Her first appointment as a fully-fledged MBBS doctor was at the Narammala Base Hospital. Thereafter she got a transfer to the Lunawa Hospital.
After serving the required number of compulsory years (five or six years) she gave up the government job and started her own private practice. This decision seemed a calculated risk as at that time Moratuwa had enough and more reputed and recognized senior doctors such as Dr. Festus Fernando, Dr. Winston Perera, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Muthukumaru, Dr. Keerthisinghe, Dr. Guy de Silva and so on. However, within a short span of time, Nilanthi was able to establish herself as a remarkable young doctor and by the time the senior doctors retired or left Moratuwa, she had become one of the highly recognized doctors in Moratuwa with diagnostic excellence.
The demands of work and the up bringing of two little daughters made it difficult for Nilanthi to cope with everyday life. To support her, her husband gave up his job and went on voluntarily retirement after serving for 18 years at the Irrigation Department. He was just short of two years to qualify for the government pension.
In her prime of life Nilanthi was diagnosed for cancer. More time was spent in rest and prayers. Nilanthi and Frank would have prayed to God and all saints for a miracle healing. This was proved, when she went to Lourdes in France, a place known for Marian worship, to fulfill a vow, after receiving the good news from Dr. S. R. Jayatilleke, who was her oncologist, that her cancer has disappeared. This was the first thing she wanted to upon receiving the miracle healing. She got the green light from the doctor to fly. After her cancer Nilanthi slowed down in her practice and limited the number of patients per day.
Nilanthi was never interested in having a luxurious life or extra comforts like luxury cars or overseas holidays. Her life was centered around her family and her medical profession. She was a loving wife to her husband and devoted mother to her two daughters. As time passed, spending time with her four grandchildren brought her great happiness.
Only after her death that most of the people came to know about her charitable acts of kindness and in treating the poor without charging a fee. During her funeral service, a priest who gave the homily mentioned how students and staff of St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa benefited by her treatment during their illnesses.
It was only a matter of telling her husband who was now attached to the staff at the College and he made arrangements for them to consult Dr. Nilanthi on a priority line. There was no difference between a priest, staff member, minor staff or a student (of course the student had to wear the uniform to identify their school), all were treated free of charge.
Attending the funeral service were several priests (including Bishop Anthony who was a past Rector of the College) and Christian brothers who served the college. I am certain that they came not only to pay their last respects but also to express their gratitude for taking care of them during their time of illnesses.
In the latter part of her life, her health deteriorated and with the help of her domestic aid, she had chosen a saree and a blouse for her final journey, which she did not disclose to her family members. However, when Frank came to know about it, he was upset and he had asked Nilanthi what this is all about. But she had not given any answer to that.
However, taking that opportunity she had given one more instruction to Frank, and that is after she is gone to give the gold chain round her neck to the domestic aid. For her final journey she was dressed with that particular saree and when everything was over the gold chain was given to the domestic aid.
She leaves so many special memories and a legacy of love. May her soul rest in peace.
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