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‘Maha season ruined, Yala will be a disaster’

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No agro-chemical imports yet, only fraction of liquid fertilizer received

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government lifted the ban on agro-chemical imports, well over a month ago, but the country is yet to receive much-needed fertiliser supplies.

The President’s Office on Nov. 22 announced the ending of the ban on agro-chemicals imports introduced on April 22, 2021.

However, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne claims that though Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage assured the Parliament agro chemicals would be imported, so far the private sector hasn’t been given the approval.

Addressing a gathering at Rattota over the weekend, the former UNPer said that the farming community had been deprived of fertiliser as well as agro-chemicals.

Lawmaker Kaviratne alleged that Minister Aluthgamage sabotaged the move to resume agro-chemical imports by removing the Registrar of Pesticide Dr. J. A. Sumith. MP Kaviratne emphasized that the government owed an explanation over the top official’s removal. When contacted yesterday afternoon, Sumith declined to comment.

Minister Aluthgmage couldn’t be contacted because he was at a meeting. Earlier, Aluthgamae declared that the Registrar of Pesticide was removed in the wake of him lifting the ban on five pesticides, including glyphosate imposed seven years ago.

Lawmaker Kaviratne said that unless urgent measures were taken to import fertilizer and agro-chemicals, farmers wouldn’t be able to engage in cultivation in the early part of this year. The agriculture ministry seemed to be even unaware of the two cultivation seasons namely, Maha (September-March) and Yala (May-August), lawmaker Kaviratne said.

Responding to The Island queries, the lawmaker pointed out that the controversy over the rejected consignment of Chinese carbonic fertilizer and the subsequent decision to pay the supplier USD 6.7 mn distracted public attention from the real issue. MP Kaviratne emphasized that the issue at hand was the failure of the government to deliver the promised carbonic fertiliser needed for Maha thereby deprived them of both fertiliser of any kind and agro-chemicals as well. On the other hand, of 1.2 million  litres of liquid nano fertilizer ordered from India, a relatively small quantity had been received so far, the MP said, alleging that the Agriculture Ministry ruined the agro sector. About one mn litres of liquid fertiliser were yet to be delivered, well informed sources revealed.

The MP said that the Agriculture Ministry within one year had achieved the unthinkable. Asked to explain, she said that even during the war the farming community served the country at the risk of their lives. Regardless of sporadic terrorist attacks on paddy growing districts, the LTTE couldn’t dishearten them, the Matale District MP said. But the current dispensation had compelled the farmers to give up cultivation by depriving them of the basic necessities, the outspoken MP said.

The SJB spokesperson said that the Agriculture Department recently acknowledged that the yield in the major paddy growing districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa would be approximately 50 percent of the normal output whereas in the East only 1/3 of paddy land had been cultivated. The total output could be as low as half of previous years, MP Kaviratne said, urging the government to take stock of the situation, at least now.

With the country experiencing an unprecedented debt servicing problem, a sharp drop in paddy, vegetable and maize production could further aggravate the US Dollar crisis, the MP warned, warning the government to stop acting the goat.

MP Kaviratne said that the foolish SLPP administration had caused immeasurable damage to the national economy. The Opposition would raise the issue in Parliament once the new session commenced on January 18, she said.



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Booster shots: Poor public response makes GMOA contemplate legal remedy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Lack of enthusiasm among the public to receive the booster dose was disconcerting, given that Sri Lanka had a long-established and highly functional immunisation programme, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

By 20 January 2022, 64.56% of Sri Lankans had been fully vaccinated, but only 22.47% had received the booster dose, the GMOA said.

“At the early stages of vaccination against Covid-19 the public response was favourable. However, the current waning of interest might be driven by the myths and rumours regarding the vaccines. It is important to take measures to counter such misinformation by raising public awareness of the ongoing vaccination programme.”

“Legal action against those responsible for the spread of communicable diseases can be taken under the Penal Code”, GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said. “Provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance can be used against persons who do not comply with directions given by the proper authorities under the Quarantine Ordinance,” he said.

The GMOA said that several countries had made it mandatory to have proof of vaccination for entry into public places. The same thing could be done in Sri Lanka to ensure that more people got vaccinated.

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Govt., SJB haggle over procedure to rescue country

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB on Sunday said that it was wrong for the President and the government to seek the assistance of the Opposition to steer the country out of the present crises without creating a proper forum to obtain such assistance.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the latter’s third Policy Speech in Parliament last week had sought the assistance of the Opposition. “His speech is full of excuses. He sought our assistance but there is no forum to offer our assistance. The government too has asked for the same several times. If the government needs the Opposition’s assistance, what it should do is to declare a state of national disaster situation so that the Opposition could make use of Parliament as the forum for our contributions. That has not been done so far. The President and the government could make use of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act No 53 of 2005 to form a disaster management committee comprising the government and opposition MPs.

The President is the ex-officio Chairman of the committee, the Prime minister and the Opposition leader are there with 24 government ministers and five opposition MPs. In addition to that there are provisions to the involvement of the Chief Ministers of Provinces in the committee. If the government genuinely needs our support it should have started forming that committee. There are laws enabling the formulation of mechanisms to help people the government does not make use of them. We have been repeatedly asking the government to appoint that committee.

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Lord Ahamad plants kumbuk tree sapling during visit to Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

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By Ifham Nizam

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, planted a Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna) sapling at the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary last week.

The Department of Wildlife said Lord Ahmad had been joined by the British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton, Hasanthi Urugodwatte Dissanayake, Acting Additional Secretary of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry, Saman Liyanagama, Wildlife Ranger of the Colombo Wildlife Range, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Professor Sevvandi Jayakoddy, Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University.

The planting activity was followed by a brief visit to the wetland and Prof. Jayakoddy, and Liyanagama explained the importance of wetland ecosystems as well as challenges in conservation and maintenance, while Dissanayake briefed him on the Sri Lanka’s pioneering work related to mangrove restoration and conservation, both at policy level as well as at the ground level.

Hasini Sarathchandra, Publicity Officer, Department of Wildlife Conservation said British High Commission in Colombo with the International Water Management Institute Headquartered in Sri Lanka, had already launched a project under the Darwin Initiative at the Baddegana Wetlands.  Similar collaborations are envisaged involving the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary.

Wetlands play an important role in our natural environment. They mitigate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands. Despite progressive loss and degradation, wetlands still cover some 200 km2 of the Colombo metropolitan area and suburbs.

The wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the people of Colombo and its suburbs. The wetlands can reduce extreme air temperatures and make the city more live able due to evaporative cooling. The wetlands provide a critical land-mass which helps to maintain the richness of Colombo’s biodiversity.

The Bellanwila-Attidiya wetlands was declared as a bird sanctuary on 25 July 1990, due to biodiversity of the area and its contribution to controlling floods. The wetlands, which span over 930 acres, host endemic species and is a paradise for migratory birds. 44 species of fish including 06 which are endemic to the country have been identified in the Bolgoda River which flows through the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to 21 reptilian species, 17 species of mammals and 10 butterfly species. Bellanwia-Attidiya sanctuary falls within the upper catchment of the Bolgoda river basin. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary.

Selection of the location was also due to the close collaboration that Sri Lanka has with the Government of the UK on conservation of mangroves and wetlands.

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