Connect with us

Features

Managing Food crop pests without compromising yield and environment

Published

on

By DR. Chandrasiri Kudagamage

Insect pests cause substantial damage to our food crops. Insecticides are normally applied to combat them. However, dependency solely on insecticide for pest management has resulted in various undesirable environmental and human health problems. Human health is affected by the consumption of food with insecticidal residues. Also, the destruction of friendly insects such as pollinators, predators and parasites, is among some of environmental effects of indiscriminate use of insecticides. Long-term persistence of some chemicals in the environment and frequent exposure to these chemicals may also result in different forms of cancers. Sri Lanka ranks very high as regards pesticide-related health hazards and around 20,000 poisoning cases are reported per year and of them 1,600 are fatal. Seventy percent of them were related to suicide. (Registrar of Pesticide)

With the development of herbicide resistant crops like soya bean, corn and wheat the use of total weed killer glyphosate has increased and become most widely used herbicides in history. Farmers, in 2014, sprayed enough of the chemical to cover every acre of cropland in the entire world with nearly a half- pound of the herbicide, according to a 2016 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe. With this intensity of use glyphosate is likely to cause problems and as a result, this herbicide is being increasingly scrutinised for human health impacts. Scientists say it also could be altering the wildlife and organisms at the base of the food chain.

DDT was a widely used insecticide during post world war times. The popularity of this insecticide was due to it less acute toxicity. However, it was subsequently known that this insecticide accumulated in the fat layer of fish and mammals. It was banned in 1970s in our country. However, the use of insecticides continued and many farmers believed chemicals are important input for reducing yield losses.

Undesirable effects of chemicals came to be realised worldwide shortly after the wide use of agro-chemicals in post-world war times. Famous environmentalist and a marine biologist by profession, Rachel Carson in her book, ‘Silent Spring 1962’ highlighted the bad effects of indiscriminate use of chemicals. This inspired grass root environmental movements and others to highlight these effects in various forums. Carson did not anticipate a total ban on pesticide. However, she predicted consequences of over use of chemicals on biodiversity and target pests developing pesticide resistance etc. This led to establishment of environmental protection agency(1970) by an executive order from US President Richard Nixon. The purpose of this agency was to protect human health and environment. Similar legislature also being adopted in our country. The pesticide law 33 of 1980 was enacted to regulate import, manufacture, distribution and use of agro-chemicals in Sri Lanka.

 

Alternative Approach

 

To address the above issues new concept of pest management popularly known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM was launched and it evolved into an Eco-friendly and economical pest management tool. This approach has been recognised as a policy for the management of pests by successive governments. However, enough funding in the form of manpower, funding for conducting research, laboratory and analytical facilities has been limiting. This has slowed the progress of IPM in pest management in several crops.

The primary objective of IPM is to develop an economical eco-friendly pest management package where pesticides are used as the last resort when other control measures fail and the pest population exceed a certain threshold called the economic threshold. IPM integrate well with other available control methods and can be applied to any ecosystem such as crop based, home garden, greenhouses and domestic pest control.

Following globalisation and transboundary movements of food and with the increase of demand for diverse food, there has been a concern for contamination of food with various pathogens and chemical residues. Hence agriculture practices need to be introduced to minimise these effects. Recently-introduced Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) fulfil this requirement and goes beyond the scope of IPM.

IPM has various components such as mechanical control (use of bags for fruit fly control), use of resistant varieties, biocontrol (use of predators, parasites and microorganism) and legislative and quarantine (banning of imports from infested country).

 

IPM experience with major food crops

 

There are about five or six major insect pests in our staple crop rice. These pests infest different stages of the crop. Among the pests, rice brown planthopper (BPH) and rice gall-midge play an important role causing low to high of damage depending on the prevailing climate. Due to the cultivation of resistant varieties the incidence of rice gall-midge was very low compared to the times when susceptible varieties were cultivated. With respect to rice brown planhopper , the first resistant variety was introduced to farmers in 1980s. Although resistant varieties are ideal as an insect management method, evolution of new strains that can attack these resistant varieties remain a problem. This has happened with respect to gall-midge resistance where resistance broke down in rice varieties cultivated in the 1980s. However, rice breeders and entomologists were able to introduce a new resistant variety by 1984. There are reports of breaking down of this resistance in the recent times. This indicates importance of constant attention in monitoring resistance, management of resistance and finding new sources of resistance. The availability of molecular genetic tools make it easy for the incorporation novel forms of resistance, which is more stable.

The pests that attack at the seedling stages such as thrips are best approached by following correct planting time as heavy infestation is observed in late planted crop. With respect to rice bug which infest crop after flowering, use similar planting time in a Yaya, weeding around the bunds before weeds flower are important non-chemical methods

Although IPM in rice is fairly successful, it is not widely applied in vegetables and other crops. A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) in four major vegetable growing Districts in Sri Lanka showed that 85% of farmers in the Badulla District applied pesticides to their crops before the appearance of any pests or symptoms. In the Nuwara-Eliya District this was recorded at 66%. This shows that chemical controls are used even before pest damage has exceeded economic threshold levels and the use of pesticides as a precautionary measure has become common.

Cucurbit fruitfly and melon fly infestation is the most common limiting factor in the cultivation of cucurbit crops for local consumption and export. The melon fly lays eggs deep inside the fruit. The emerging larvae feed inside the soft tissue. This results in fruit dropping and decay. The larvae pupate in soil. Insecticide control is difficult since larvae feed inside the fruit and avoid direct contact with insecticide. In the export consignment, if a single larva is present the whole consignment can get rejected. Therefore, alternative control strategy based on IPM concepts are required. There are several strategies such as bagging of fruits, collection of crop residues and decaying and fallen fruits into a black polythene bag which help to destroy the larvae due to heat developed inside the bag. Together with these cultural methods, application of protein bait is an innovative approach to control this pest. The female flies are attracted to protein substance and consumption of protein help to mature their eggs. Proteinous material prepared from locally available substances are mixed with soft insecticide and applied to leaves instead of fruits. To reduce the amount of insecticide used application to few spots of the crop is sufficient to reduce the female melon fly population. For more effective results these IPM methods need to be applied on wide area basis such as Yaya or cropping area.

Mealy bug was reported to infest papaya fruits in different parts of the country in the late 1980s. This insect is a invasive pest rapidly infesting many species crops. However, main host is papaya. Due to its rapid multiplication rate and wide host range insecticide control is not successful. In other countries where this insect was found, the population of mealy bug is kept at lower level because of the action of the predators and parasite. DOA has already released a effective parasite obtained from United State Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service parasite rearing facility, in areas where this pest was found.

In Dec. 2018, another pest Fall Army Worm was observed infesting maize in all major maize growing areas. It was also found to infest sugar cane. This pest is native to America. Outside its native habitat it was first found in Central and Western Africa in 2016, and then quickly spread to sub Saharan Africa and in 2018 it was reported from many Indian states. It is a good example of trans boundary movement as the adult moth is capable of flying hundred of kilometres per night. Also, in the absence of native parasites and predators, other control methods based on IPM concepts need to be developed. Initially, experience of small farmers of South America, where the pest is endemic will be valuable tool for the development of control methods. However, research and farmer awareness programme is of paramount importance to develop more realistic management programme for this new pest.

Taking IPM into farmers’ fields

Many believe the concepts developed in IPM is too complex for the average farmer to understand because it involves counting, record keeping and various calculation for economic threshold determination. Hence, farmers need to be introduced to simpler approach to study the crop growth, pest infestation and natural enemy abundance. This is achieved by a group-based learning process. This is known as the Farmers’ Field School. According to this method around 20- 25 rice farmer groups collectively, study the progress of their crop from establishment to harvesting. For this farmers meet together once a week and observe their fields and share their experience with respect to growth of the crops and those factors that limit the growth including the action of pests, and abundance of natural enemies, etc. Depending on the outcome of the observation of their fields, decision will be taken to take action if the pest population grows up. This is a learner centred process where the agriculture instructor is only a facilitator. The impact of this programme was felt by the increases in yield, reduced insecticide use and favourable bio-diversity factors like abundance of predators and parasites.

Apart from government extension, NGOs such as Sarvodaya, CARE and Sri Lanka Red Cross have provided their support on IPM by conducting training programmes on IPM, but, focusing mainly on paddy.

 

Pesticide Management

A comprehensive pesticide control procedure in the form of pesticide law 33 of 1981 is in existence in the country, but enforcement is low due to several reasons. Often advice regarding pesticide selection was given by the pesticide seller in the village. As a result farmers may select the wrong pesticide, Over use of pesticide is common. They do not use correct dose and dilution. Often they apply pesticide even before appearance of the pest. Also, they do not follow correct post harvest interval. Although, provisions are available to mitigate these shortcomings via the pesticide law, the best way to tackle is through farmer training based on a good extension program.

Under the pesticide law, every product imported to the country has to be registered. Further field monitoring and enforcement of correct use, laboratory testing for quality and residues, imports regulations in the form of banning and restricting the pesticide are carried out. Over the years, the use of WHO Class1 pesticides has been prohibited and these products banned.

Instead of conventional pesticide, there are several specific pesticide registered in the country having low toxicity to humans. Some of these products affect insect hormone system and hence specific to them. Also, available in the market are several neem based botanical pesticide which are effective particularly on caterpillar pests. Additionally, there are bacterial insecticides which result in gastric problems in insects. Insect become sick and die when they consume leaves treated with these insecticide. These insecticides act on few species of insects and easily break down when exposed to light and other environmental factors. Hence, these products are not very popular with farmers although they are safe and environmentally friendly. For these specific pesticides, there are opportunities for use in home gardens and in greenhouses

 

Future development and promotion of IPM

There are several shortcomings in the development and implementation of IPM. There is a dearth of trained extension workers to deal with large number of farmers involved in crop production. To address this issue, leader farmers can be trained in IPM methods and they can be used to train other farmers in a Yaya or in a village. The government extension workers can be facilitators in this training programme as explained above with respect to Farmers’ Field School method of training. However, more intensive training programme for extension workers covering many aspects of IPM and successful experience of IPM particularly from rice IPM programme needs to be integrated into their training curriculum. Farmer field school programme has been adopted in many countries the world over and the knowledge is shared in the form of reports, videos, manuals, field guides and podcasts. Hence there is lot of avenues to incorporate relevant information in the training curriculum of the extension workers in our country.

Consumer awareness of environmental and health hazards of pesticides and particularly of the persistence in the environment needs to be created to reject food contaminated with pesticides. For this facilities for pesticide residue analysis needs to be improved.

Field demonstration of IPM methods with the involvement of researchers, extension workers and farmers needs to be established. By following IPM methods used in these demonstration, farmers can pick up the most appropriate IPM methods to test in their fields. More investment is needed to promote innovative research such as melon fly control as explained above. Participatory IPM trials and development of simplified IPM packages for major pests and diseases are also necessary for popularising IPM among farmers.

Globalisation of trade and travel, and introduction of improved planting materials can cause accidental introduction of pests. Papaya mealy bug and fall army worm are recent examples of such pest introduction. Facilities available at the plant quarantine station need to be improved for identification of pests of quarantine significance.

There is also an increasing interest in utilising information technology in agriculture to help extension advisers and other intermediaries in delivering up to date information to farmers to manage their crops. Development Mobile Apps that work offline for early warning and surveillance of pests helps farmers make quick decisions for the management of pests.

Author is Former Entomologist, FAO Rice IPM project’s Research coordinator, Director Horticulture Research and Development Institute and Director General Department of Agriculture



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective

Published

on

by Harshana Rambukwella

Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).

Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.

Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.

Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.

But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.

Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.

However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.

Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

Continue Reading

Features

No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

Published

on

by jehan perera

The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.

There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.

The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.

In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.

In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.

DEATH BLOW

Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.

It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.

Continue Reading

Features

Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity

Published

on

By Hema Arachi

T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.

This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.

President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”

A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.

During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.

I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”

Continue Reading

Trending