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Let’s cut the cackle and get on with it : The fertilizer issue

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by Dr. U. Pethiyagoda

It seems that the “Going Organic” tale has lost its novelty and glamour and the matter has been “done and dusted”. Clumsy and ineffective “face-saving” efforts are grossly insufficient.

Obviously, the President cannot be expected to know the background to guide a correct decision on most of the matters that come within his purview. There are too many instances where genuine error or ill-advised steps have to be quickly reversed. Square pegs in square holes cannot move! It is a pity that Our President declared our intent to go totally organic. Apart from the embarrassment, the so called “Chemical Mafia” may react in ways that could be unpleasant. One hopes not.

But, the President, under whose watch, this extraordinarily short-sided operation was launched, has to expect that he has to take the brunt of any criticism. This coterie, (Viyath Maga) which it is said, surrounds and influences him must be made to pay (financially as well) for their sins, folly, (or crimes). I believe that prudence should guide the President to review his trust in such support. I leave it to the competence of drafters of a “New Constitution” to examine ways to prevent a recurrence of this type of colossal tragedy.

“Asewanatcha balanan……..” is the first injunction in the Mahamangala Sutra. In the case of the recent disastrous happenings in the fertilizer matter, I think it is a fair conclusion that opinion (including of those who know the subject), is that increasing the “organic content” of fertilizers is desirable. Though the nutrient content is low in comparison to “artificial or mineral”, the benign effects on soil physical properties and soil biota are significant. But here too, there are unresolved problems, such as unwitting introduction of toxic elements.

As an aside, I was involved long ago, in a study to examine the value of a two-year rejuvenation of tea fields earmarked for replanting, by planting Guatemala or Mana grass. ( the duration varied in different situations), after which the new tea plants are introduced. It seemed that this rotation, produced only a marginal increase of soil Carbon and this too was only transient. It would have been magical if a hundred years of fertility abuse under tea, could be offset by a mere two years under grass. My guess is that the ideal would be alternate 25 year cycles. In that sense the wise farmer would relocate his chena plot.

In summary, abandon the simplistic view of the “Vasa Visa” brigade for a dramatic and radical move to “traditional, organic” farming, as impossible, mythical and misdirected enthusiasm. Although the cry of 100% organic may make good press, it is bad science.

Can the system sustain a possible feared loss of a quarter or so drop in paddy production, with frustrated farmers vowing that they would not cultivate next season’s paddy, unless there is a reversal of this deadly and ill-advised overnight change to organic? The claimed ready availability of suitable “compost” both nationally and internationally, is more rubbishy than a compost heap.

There is a much more serious implication that seems to have escaped notice. The Department of Agriculture is around a century old. As also The CRI, RRI and TRI and more recently, Minor Export Crops. Naturally, much of the experimentation aimed at evolving best practices for maximum productivity. The major means were by evolving appropriate technologies and ensuring reliable supplies of the necessary inputs. Are we really serious about jettisoning the vast effort, devotion and many thousand man hours and millions of rupees expended on trials to evolve the most rewarding use of agrochemicals – fertilizers, pesticides and weed-killers. Who is to foot the bill for what now becomes an astonishing act of idiocy?

The solutions suggested to meet the acute lack of sufficient compost, and tried (at hellish cost), are at the least asinine. One is appalled at the abysmal ignorance of some in authority – (but not in service). Palliatives like “Cabinet reshuffles” will serve no purpose – it will merely provide a chance for the failed, to wreck some other place! In this game, any amount of re-dealing of the same pack will not eliminate “Jokers”.

It seems that a largely ignorant authority does not know that centuries old farming wisdom and experience that paddy needs fertilizer at specific stages of growth, each being of different composition. “Mada pohora” before planting, another to encourage tillering and “Bundi pohora” at heading and grain filling etc. After much fumbling indecision, farmers are finally given the nitrogen rich urea four weeks or so too late! This also at an incredible cost! Will we ever again have ministers, who if they don’t know, are guided by those professionals who do know?

The astonishing methods suggested, for this self-created mess are laughable, if they were not so serious. The hasty import of compost from China has led to unforeseen consequences including diplomatic ones. Anybody who does not realize the limitations of drawing a minute sample from a bulk of some several thousands of tons, cannot be serious. A single case of detection of anything deleterious is cause for rejection. A needle stuck in a haystack has a better chance of being detected. This is a case where a single positive among many negatives is reason for rejecting the whole.

We are told that several million dollars may be claimed by the supplier, whether the cargo is accepted or not. In true “Kekille Style” some genius may decide to save dollars by accepting this stuff, and thus unleashing a public and human health disaster and agricultural risk of introducing new pathogens, causing damage of catastrophic dimension. The circumstance of a Chinese Government involvement in the supplier concerned, presents a further concern.

Then, we go to importing a huge consignment of “liquid nitrogenous” (!) fertilizer (as far as I am aware, a material unknown to Science) from India, at undisclosed and probably huge cost. Many farmers have rejected this foul-smelling material as containing human sewage! As a friend jocularly recalled, PM Narendra Modi promised to have constructed a massive number of latrines to meet a grave shortage. Perhaps India has solved a harrowing problem – finding a customer to receive the stuff and pay for it! Then there was an equally bizarre promise to compensate farmers who have lost income through going organic. How precisely can this be done? Are we totally daft?

All of these problems created through machinations of the evil “Multinationals”,(the British Colonials having lost their currency!).

Incidentally, anyone displaying doubts about such painful inanities, is either a believer of “Pattapal Boru Western Science” or in the pay of evil Multinationals. I am a little peeved. After over five decades of service to the agricultural sector (one way or another), nobody not even those dreadful Multinationals, has shown any inclination to offer me a single dollar or rupee. Have I been short-changed? But then all colleagues I know, are singularly uncorrupt and incorruptible persons of impeccable integrity. So these accusations of bribery are without basis and most unfair.

This whole episode has become a face-saving exercise with several faces needing to be rescued. This is OK if it is free of potential harm. It is a matter of grave regret that The President (possibly misinformed), declared at the UN General Assembly, (no less) that we aim to be the first in the World (or more cynically, the last) country to go one hundred percent organic. Had such a statement been made by a more prominent State Leader, he may never be free of ridicule. We should be thankful that we are only a small country whose Leader’s gaffe goes (hopefully) unnoticed.

It is time for the scientists to consider how best a sensible strategy be developed, to obtain a better integration of the traditional and advanced scientific concepts. This would involve fresh thinking on crop rotation, biological control of pests and diseases, soil and water control, erosion and other undesirable but unavoidable negative environmental consequences, harmonizing responsibilities between the Departments of Agriculture and Veterinary Departments and the CRI, RRI and TRI. There is much that could and must be done. There is no point in making donkeys to bark and dogs to bray. For the immediate future of paddy cultivation, crop rotations, reserves for production of good green manure crops (like “Wal Surya Kantha – Tithonia diversifolia, Glyricidia, Ipil-Ipil and Crotolaria come to mind, The Niyaras could be more systematically used to provide vegetables, yams, and “greens”.

Perhaps we can salvage ourselves from disaster, if it catalyzes a re-visit to the virtues of crop-rotation, fallowing, integration with animal sciences (pasture/fodder) and fish culture. One nostalgically recalls, how during World War Two, paddy lands were able to provide a cornucopia of fresh and palatable vegetables.

Let us grasp this unexpected opportunity.



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Speaker proposes how to steer SL out of crisis

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Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has handed over a set of proposals to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, spelling out how to resolve country’s economic crisis.The proposals made by the Speaker pertain to a number of important sectors and highlight the importance of providing relief to low income groups.

The Speaker has said Sri Lankans working or doing business overseas or foreign investors depositing USD 100,000 with the Central Bank for a period of two years should be paid a 10% interest per annum in Sri Lankan rupees and allowed to credit the interest to any account preferred by the depositor. He also proposes that the government issue a vehicle import licence worth USD 25,000, six months after an individual makes a fixed deposit while also allowing him to pay a standard tax of USD 10,000 to the government for that vehicle.Speaker Abeywardena has proposed how to reduce energy costs, release adequate stocks of LP gas to the market, boost domestic production food production, stabilise the banking system.

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MR had not decided to resign on 09 May, says Weerasekra

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP MP Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera says Prime Minster Mahinda Rajapaksa had not decided to resign on 09 May 09 although the SLPP MPs had been asked to bring supporters to Temple Trees for a meeting.Weerasekera said so when The Island asked him why he had skipped the Temple Trees meeting.One-time Public Security Minister said that the then PM Rajapaksa had, during a conversation with him on 08 May had denied reports that the latter was planning to resign the following day. MP Namal Rajapaksa, however, had asked a group of MPs and others to bring supporters to express support for the PM, MP Weerasekera said.

Weerasekera said he had been among those contacted by MP Namal Rajapaksa.The former Navy Chief of Staff said that the failure on the part of law enforcement authorities and the military to respond swiftly and decisively to a threat of breach of law and order had led to a disaster at time global attention was on Sri Lanka due to the deteriorating financial situation.MP Weerasekera questioned why police had refrained from firing at least once into the air when mobs arrived at some MPs’ houses, which were destroyed. For over 48 hours mobs had ruled the country, the MP alleged, demanding an explanation why shoot-on-sight orders had not been issued as soon as mobs started to attack MPs’ houses.MP Weerasekera said that serious accusations made by SLPP members, particularly Wimal Weerawansa, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Mahindananda Aluthgamage couldn’t be ignored. They accused some sections of the SLPP of conspiring to unleash violence and the police and the armed forces turning a blind eye to countrywide retaliatory attacks.

Newly-appointed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said that he would order a thorough probe into the May 09 incidents. Minister Alles said so when The Island asked him what he would do against the backdrop of allegations of the police facilitating attacks on protesting public in the Kollupitiya and Fort police areas.MPs, Weerawansa and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana alleged in Parliament that Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration and C. D. Wickremaratne, Inspector General of Police prevented Deshabandu Tennakoon, Senior DIG, Colombo from mob attacks on the protesting public.

Former Minister Weerasekera said that the government, the SLPP and the police should come clean on this matter. MP Weerasekera said that the government mishandled the challenge posed by those who cleverly exploited the economic crisis. “Perhaps one of the major blunders was allowing the public to block roads. Now, it has become a style. Interested parties also exploit the media and social media. The government seems clueless,” MP Weerasekera said, urging the government to review the developments.MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage, too, told The Island, the top SLPP leadership ignored repeated warnings. The former Agriculture Minister questioned whether those who had advised the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by the President deliberately deceived them.

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Lankan-born Cassandra elected to Australian Parliament

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She beat another candidate of Sri Lankan origin, Ranj Perera

Cassandra Fernando of Sri Lankan descent has been elected to the Australian Parliament.Cassandra, an advocate for essential workers and the Federal Labor Candidate for Holt.She migrated to Australia with her family when she was 11.She began working at Woolies Dandenong Plaza as a teenager. She now represents workers in the retail and fast food industries, fighting to improve their pay and conditions. She has also volunteered to tutor migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds so they can make the best of every opportunity.

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