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Opinion

Local vegetable oil fiasco and irrational goals

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by Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardene is reported to have remarked at some meeting that the current coconut prices can be reduced if people consume soya instead of coconut! Surprisingly, this has come from an educated minister! What rushed to my mind is the supposed utterance of Queen Marie Antoinette: “If no bread why don’t they eat cake!” However, some historians claim she never uttered those words. Let us hope the Minister too did not!

Be that as it may, the Table 1 below shows the current retail price of commonly consumed vegetable oils.

The cheapest vegetable oil in the market is palm oil which is 24% and 34% less than coconut and soya respectively. The price difference is substantial to the low-income consumer. The poor people largely consume not coconut but palm oil labelled often as ‘vegetable oil.S The high price of fresh nuts is because of the poor production last year and now, and reducing consumption of coconut oil will hardly have an impact on coconut prices.

The relative low price of palm oil is because of the very high productivity of oil palm which is, on average, five times that of coconut and 10 times that of arable oils such as soya, corn, sunflower and sesame.

 

Bit of History

Because of the very high productivity, after the Second World War many South East Asian countries took up oil palm cultivation to meet the increasing global oil demand. Already oil palm cultivations existed in West African countries. It is reported that oil palm use there is as old, if not older, than coconut oil use in East Asia. In fact Malaysia opening up land for expansion of agriculture, and had a land policy of 60: 40 for rubber and oil palm from the early 1960s . However, seeing the growing vegetable oil demand and profits, the then Premier Tunku Abdul Rehman reversed it to 60:40, in 1965. Some of our plantation companies too, but at ‘snail pace’, took up diversifying some of the low-yielding rubber but to date have only about 10,000 ha oil palm.

During the Second World War, with disruption of coconut oil supplies from the east, the west began consuming arable oils such as soya. However, with the resumption of oil supplies from the west after the war, the soya oil lobby attempted everything possible to ban coconut and palm oil supplies to the west. Together with the American Heart Association’s backing, coconut and palm oils were branded as “artery clogging tropical oils”. The attached photo tells it all!

Sadly, however, although several plantation companies made a move to expand palm oil cultivation in Sri Lanka diversifying some of the less productive

rubber lands, the President in a sudden decision without an inSdepth analysis of facts of the matter, banned palm oil cultivation expansion. A written request by a team of 18 experts on the subject including 11 senior professors ended up in the Presidential dustbin, his office informed!

 

The need for a National Planning Commission

This ignoble happening is an outstanding example for the need for a body of professionals and experts for making major national policy decisions. India has such a Commission from the days of Premier Nehru, and to date Premier Narendra Modi continues with it but with a small name amendment Ironically, a major decision of this commission was to expand the Indian oil palm extent from the current level of 400,000 ha to 2 million using a large share of the irrigated lands currently cultivating some eleven arable oil crops. Because of the low yield of arable oil crops India has a huge palm oil import bill. We should learn from the Indian example!

The President’s decision to ban palm oil cultivation is the claim by villagers in the oil palm growing areas that it causes drying of wells and other water bodies. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this contention. The evidence is that the evapo-transpiation rates perday per hectare of rubber and oil palm are about 32,720 and 35,607 litres respectively, a difference of only 9%. Moreover, given the rainfall rates of 2500-3000 mm per year the in the wet zone the needed water for both crops should be conveniently available. Moreover given the economic returns of the two crops for rubber and oil palm of Rs 280,000 and 630, 000 respectively, the justification for increasing the production of palm oil is overwhelming.

 

The unrealistic policy of the government to meet the national oil demand from coconut

 

Our national annual vegetable oil demand is over 180,000 MT of which for consumption as oil and for the food industry is about 120,000MT. The current coconut oil production is a meagre 45,000MT, and that of palm oil from the 10,000 odd ha now under cultivation is about 20,000MT. Given our coconut oil yield of ) 0.8 MT/ha/yr we need an additional 75,000 MT coconut oil just for dietary consumption obtainable from about 93,750 ha. There is doubt whether such an extent of land suitable for coconut is available. The government has set upon expansion of coconut cultivation in about 20,000 ha in the north and east. There is a serious constraint to coconut cultivation in the dry zone because of increased atmospheric temperatures with global warming, causing poor pollen germination and fruit set. Given the various constraints the Coconut Research Institute calculates availability of a maximum of a further 50,000 ha for it. The simple logic is that it is hard to produce our oil need from coconut oil. On the other hand, diversifying an additional 50,000 ha of unproductive rubber could provide our oil requirement conveniently. Given the massive economic benefit of oil palm over rubber, the government’s indecision on the issue is hard to understand.

Cultivating oil palm or coconut in abandoned paddy fields

Estimates reveal some 143,000 acres (58,000 ha) of which over 80% are in the wet zone. Rice is not cultivated in these lands because of very poor returns. Much of these ill-drained lands should be cultivable with coconut or oil palm using the “Sojan” system developed in Indonesia where the crops are grown in raised beds. The drained water can be collected at the bottom of the catena in ponds for fish culture.

 

Should coconut cultivation expansion be only for the oil?

 

The biggest demand now of coconut globally is for the coconut water as a sports drink. It is expected to grow four fold over the next five years. The anti-oxidant and other health benefits are some reasons for it. Because all the health benefits are retained on dehydration of the water to form a powder, the latter is used widely for addition to other drinks. The American Chemical Society has recommended it as a sports drink. There is also a huge demand for tender coconuts. As shown in the picture below partially de-husked tender coconuts are a common site in foreign supermarkets. A tender coconut shown in the picture is 4.25 Singapore dollars! The potential for export of tender ‘Thambili’ nuts appears huge, and the ill-drained lands should be quite suitable for cultivation of this crop for export.

As per the data in Table 2, the export market for coconut milk products has grown far in excess of the coconut oils.

In conclusion, coconut is a multipurpose commodity , and its expansion need not necessarily be only for oil production for the local demand, but based on the market demand and profitability of the various products globally. The government policy to meet our entire vegetable oil with coconut oil is untenable given the limited land availability. Converting about 50, 000 ha for oil palm is very rational and if the rubber land diversification is to be stopped, the ideal option is the use of the abandoned paddy lands involving smallholders of those of lands. Some 35% of the global palm oil production is via smallholdings.

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Opinion

Where are the Maha Nayakes?

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Coincidentally, February 26th was Navam Full Moon day, when after 20 years of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha preached the “Vinaya Pitakaya” or the code of conduct for Buddhist monks. It is sad that that the majority of them hardly heed the principles laid down there.

I was anyway, contemplating writing a piece on the conduct of Malcom Cardinal Ranjith on national issues when Dr Upul Wijayawardhana beat me to it with an excellent piece in today’s (26.02.21) The Island!

The Cardinal has been very discreetly and without undue emotions addressing the national issues at stake with substance and authority, and the appropriate actions the government should take. By contrast our Buddhist priests often deviate on political riffraff, praising the political leadership or criticizing it, rather than confining themselves to the matters at stake! Often their utterances over electronic media are disdainful, full of emotion and very unbecoming of monkhood! They are unaware that the moment one becomes emotional, one loses self-control and make a mess of things! They should take a ‘leaf from the ‘Cardinal’s Bible’, as it were!

There is no argument that priests, Buddhist or otherwise should take evidence-based stands on national issues and endeavour to move the political authority in the right direction. They should not go to praise the President or other politicians unduly, but confine themselves to facts of the matter as the Cardinal always does.

What is most disdainful is the manner in which Buddhist monks conduct themselves in protest rallies, often shouting slogans, forcefully breaking through security defenses, and even climbing windows! Very often the leaders of mass demonstrations, especially of universities, are priests. Of course, they do so, knowing that the police will handle them gently, with dignity and respect!

It is noteworthy that other religious leaders hardly participate in protest demonstrations. Even if they do so it is done in a peaceful manner. Our Buddhist priests should follow suit.

The question is where the leading monks who should discipline the juniors are. Many of them are, sadly, the culprits themselves! Have they at least read the “Vinayapitakaya”? Moreover, I am not aware of any instances of Mahanayakas endeavouring to discipline monks. Should they not at least ensure their conduct is on the key principles of “Vinaya Pitakaya”? It is time the Mahanayakas and other leading Buddhist monks addressed this vital issue of discipline of monks as matter of highest priority.

 

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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Opinion

A drive of great memories

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Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s recent recollections (The Island 25/2) of advantages of coming from Ceylon/SL – or rather “benefits” accruing from Mrs B’s permitting Pakistan to use Ceylon/SL airspace in 1971 — when he was living in Pakistan, remind me of similar experiences in 1974.

Four of us drove overland (well, only one of us could drive then) in a Beetle from London to Sri Lanka, taking nearly six months. At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, neither side checked our heavily laden car.

We had gotten used to cooking for ourselves in many countries, and camping up to Turkey; so we always carried basic foodstuffs. In Pakistan, however, many things were rationed and towards the end of our stay we needed to stock up.

Just before leaving Lahore for India, we went in search of rice and sugar (rationed). One chap we happened to ask, got into the car (with four already in it and luggage overflow) and said he would get us what we needed. He insisted on giving it free — “You are my brothers!” Very strange – it was only later that we discovered the reason for this.

He jumped out near a shop and disappeared, presumably to queue somewhere. Returning with about 8lb of rice and 3 lb of sugar, he absolutely refused to accept any money. Instead, he insisted that we visit the Shalimar Gardens and wouldn’t let us pay there either. We took a photograph with him which we promised to send him. He was an Assistant Store-Keeper at Pakistan Oxygen.

However, things were slightly different at the border. The Pakistan side wouldn’t let S, our Ugandan-Asian friend, cross. No Hindu from any part of the world was allowed to cross into India. Fortunately, our group was pretty mixed (with a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Sri Lankan Muslim and an Anglo-Asian atheist! – though fortunately, that wasn’t on the passport). S’s “companion” insisted she’d become a Muslim by marriage, and signed a declaration form to that effect. Problem solved! But a moment of anxiety at Indian Customs when a cursory search was made of the car. Officials were offended by the fact that we’d brought rice with us — “We have rice in India!”

MANEL FONSEKA

 

 

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Opinion

Realities of Canada’s efforts to prevent child conscription

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Letter to PM Justin Trudeau

 

Right Honourable Prime Minister,

Canada’s efforts to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is greatly appreciated. Your statement on the 12th of February 2021, reaffirming Canada’s commitment to draw attention to this inhumane practice with the longstanding intent of ending such conscription, along with nearly 100 UN Member States endorsing the Vancouver Principles on ‘Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers’, is most commendable.

The late Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s former distinguished Minister of Foreign Affairs, too devoted a great deal of time in campaigning for the same laudable objectives, and also canvassing international support towards the aims envisioned in the Vancouver Principles, and peace in Sri Lanka. He was unfortunately gunned down on August 12, 2005, by a sniper belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which group was designated as an international terrorist movement by the UNSC in September 2001, as he was emerging from the swimming pool at his residence in Colombo.

The LTTE was one such organization that abducted and conscripted children, several of whom were as young as 10 years, over a long period, that came to the attention of UNICEF that recorded a total in excess of 7634 such child soldiers. After a short period of training, they were unleashed on remote villages in the north and east of Sri Lanka settled by Sinhalese farming communities, who were set upon in the middle of the night to be hacked and shot to death while they slept, to make them combat ready. The last such village that was attacked was Gonagala in the Ampara district in the year 2000, where 62 persons were put to death, with the lucky ones escaping to the jungle to be rescued later by Sri Lanka’s security forces. Despite the LTTE signing a pledge with UNICEF’s Special Rapporteur, Olara Otunnu in 1998, and thereafter making repeated promises to the UN officials, they continued to conscript underage children to their fighting forces. They would abduct them on their way to school or homeward bound children after school hours, and by instilling fear and making threats to the parents. Subsequently, they forced each family to release a child for their separatist war effort.

These child soldiers were given combat training and were equipped with an AK47 automatic weapon and a cyanide capsule strung around their neck, to be bitten into in the event of their being captured. They were used as stormtroopers in the LTTE’s unceasing waves military strategy, adopted in battles against the Sri Lanka Army, with many of them becoming casualties in combat. Their bodies were laid to rest in the special cemeteries set up to bury the LTTE’s martyrs, with no mention of their dates of birth, and only the date of death being recorded on the gravestones in order to hide the fact that they had conscripted under age children below 15 years, which was a war crime. Some of the children so conscripted were brainwashed to become suicide bombers, with the LTTE holding the world record, having exploded around 377 human bombs.

Those responsible for the disruption of schooling and family living and care for Tamil children in Sri Lanka, are present in Canada as well, and raised funds for the terrorist war engaged in by the LTTE through extortion of Tamil expats and Tamil owned businesses, drug and human smuggling, passport fraud, and numerous other illicit activities. Following the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, and ending of the three- decade long separatist terrorist war in Sri Lanka, these LTTE activists in Canada, have donned the cloak of human rights activists to spread their fabricated stories, doctored videos, and unsubstantiated wild allegations of IHL violations and war crimes, supposed to have been committed by the Sri Lankan security forces during the last phase of the armed conflict January 1 to May 18, 2009. It is a shame that these allegations have been swallowed by the powerful countries in the west that continue to harass Sri Lanka at the UNHCR and other fora, based on these unproven alleged violations, citing Ban ki-Moon’s one sided three- member panel report headed by Marzuki Darussman, which has been locked away for 20 years till the year 2031.

Unlike these bogus allegations emanating from born again pro-LTTE Human Rights activists, Sri Lanka rescued about 300,000 Tamil civilians held by the LTTE as a human shield, in the final battleground at Mullivaikkal on the northeast coast; sheltered them in welfare camps in Vavuniya where they were fed, provided with education, vocational training, psychiatric help, etc., until the land area of almost 1,000 sq. km was cleared of landmines, houses and infrastructure restored, and made safe for resettlement in their former villages. Among those who surrendered were nearly 12,600 former LTTE fighters, including the remaining 594 child soldiers who were rehabilitated with new livelihood skills and released to their families and society, where they could be gainfully employed under the restorative justice principles adopted in their case.

A new 12-minute video documentary has been produced under the title ‘Truth Behind Dare’ using video clips provided by the rehabilitated ex-LTTE fighters which shows the military training given to the children who were abducted and conscripted as soldiers for armed warfare, most of whom perished in battle. Some scenes show parents handing over their children to the LTTE terror organization as part of their propaganda to claim willingness of the civilian population to give up their children for the separatist cause; which obviously fails as the parents faces shows the immense pain they suffer at the time, as the alternative is violence being directed at them and their children still risking being abducted on their way to or from school.

Other scenes show Adele Balasingham, the Australian nurse who was married to the LTTE’s ideologist, in military attire, participating in a Passing Out Parade of women cadres most likely trained by her, who were being garlanded with the signature ‘Cyanide Necklace’ for committing suicide in the event of capture. Adele Balasingham today resides freely in the UK, probably supported with the tainted funds raised by the LTTE, with no questions asked about her being part of a designated international terrorist movement.

The LINK to this revealing video is given here: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpz8Cl_-YpM&feature=youtu.be> .

Please watch the video to learn the facts behind the rigged version that is propagated by the pro-LTTE organizations, which have been sold to the western powers who seek to punish Sri Lanka for geopolitical reasons best known to them.

MAHINDA GUNASEKERA

Toronto, Canada

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