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Managing Food crop pests without compromising yield and environment

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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

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Teaching for job market and ‘liberating the whole person’ during Covid-19 pandemic

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by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

 

(This is based on a short presentation made at a promotion interview at the University of Peradeniya on November 19th, 2020. Author thanks Professors KNO Dharmadasa, Wimal Wijayarathne and OG Dayarathna Banda, Dean/Arts who encouraged him to publish this speech.)

At universities, we are busy teaching online. It is heartbreaking to find many students lack required facilities. Teaching on Zoom, for example, takes smart phones and personal computers for granted. We have to assume that Internet access is as ubiquitous as air, but reality is otherwise. Attendance at live Zoom classes can be as low as 40 percent in the Faculty of Arts, where students from underprivileged backgrounds account for the majority. Therefore, we need to record our lectures and make them available through other means. I myself have WhatsApp groups for all my classes to transmit important course content with a minimal cost. The university and the faculty take admirable care with extremely limited resources to make sure that no student is left behind. But the situation is far from satisfactory.

In addition to Corona, our political authorities routinely tell us that what we teach at the faculties of arts has become irrelevant and obsolete. They regularly ask us to produce employable graduates. Recently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seen in a video clip telling a graduate that she should have studied ‘something technical.’ While it is wrong to produce an endless number of external graduates merely with degree certificates to wave at media cameras at the Lipton Circus, learning something ‘technical’ signifies a poor understanding of university education.

I want to reflect on the true meaning of education at the faculties of Arts. At our faculties we teach courses in the humanities and the social sciences. As a scholar in literature and language, I am at the most pressured end of the spectrum: Learning literature is the most removed from ‘something technical.’ Therefore, we, the humanities scholars at universities, routinely have to justify what we are doing in teaching and research. There reflections are made in that context.

 

Vision of the founding fathers

The founding fathers of the University of Ceylon, never imagined that future scholars in the Humanities would have to face the particular challenge mentioned above. In the inaugural address of the Ceylon University movement Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the President of the movement, had elaborate plans for a university of our own. Out of 13 professorships they had imagined to create in the University of Ceylon, eight were for the humanities. They wanted professorships for vernacular languages such as Sinhala and Tamil, and when the university was established, in 1942, the curriculum had considerable focus on local language and traditions. Indeed, there were professorships for natural sciences, and many science-based subjects were to enter within the first decade of the university.

In addition, those founding fathers had much larger and grander ideals for education; here are the words of Arunachalam:

“University will be a powerful instrument for forming character, for giving us men and women armed with reason and self-control, braced by knowledge, clothed with steadfastness and courage and inspired by public spirit and public virtue.” “A Plea for a Ceylon University” (A. T. Alwis. Peradeniya: The Founding of a University).

Those beautifully profound words demonstrate that Arunachalam’s vision for education was much more than teaching ‘something technical.’

 

Liberal Arts

In order to rediscover the true meaning of the Humanities education, one may look into what is meant by the liberal arts in contemporary international universities. ‘Liberal arts’ is a bit more inclusive than what we call ‘arts subjects’ since they include natural sciences, basic mathematics and the like. A rich liberal arts degree programme exposes students to a wide range of subjects––languages, literature, philosophy, religion, natural sciences, mathematics, Fine Arts, citizenship education, social sciences (at least key concepts of them) and so on. Since there is nothing strictly prohibited from the domain of liberal arts, one could add numerous other things to the curriculum.

The word ‘liberal’ in liberal arts a loaded one. It includes knowledge required to liberate human beings from socio-cultural bonds they are trapped in producing hierarchy, inequality and injustice. Rousseau famously claimed that chains binding human beings were human-made’ and the hammers to break them were also made in earth not in heaven. A high quality education in liberal arts should help us see those chains and to forge the hammers that can break them. In other words, liberal arts teach us the significance of working towards a just society. For that goal, there are many sources of wisdom. Unlike political parties and rigid ideologues, universities believe that there are multiple ways to reach that goal. That goal may be always at the horizon resisting our reaching it. Still, a society that has given up on that goal is perhaps so much poor even with endless affluence. Teaching liberal arts at universities is one important way societies hold on to a richer dream even in the midst of relative economic hardships. A country can be poor but yet not philistine.

‘Liberation’ in liberal arts includes internal liberation as well, and it could include several modes of refining oneself within. When modernity was an unquestioned project, liberation from the Nature was one goal of humanity. But now we know better. While we have to keep Nature at bay, we also have to realise that we are also part of it. The time of coronavius is opportune to reflect on this. Moreover, our nature itself is something that needs refinement and taming while it is very much a part of big Nature. So, in recent times a diverse set of course related to environmentalism has made its way into our liberal arts curriculum. As Professor Spencer McWilliams has aptly put, “a liberal arts education can help us develop a more comprehensive understanding of the universe and ourselves”. (Liberal Arts Education: What does it mean? What is it worth?)

Our political authorities may ask for graduates with a certain set of limited technical skills to be productive in the narrow roles assigned to them in contemporary economy. For us in universities, a human being is not just a worker. His or her life in the world of work is only one small segment of his or her life. For us as in the Humanities, questions such as what human beings do, what they reflect on, what and how they enjoy during their non-working hours matters as much as the ‘job skills’ they are supposed to hone. To make matters even more complicated, the liberal arts is interested even in the dreams that occur to human beings during their sleeping hours. To put it simply, for liberal arts human self is much more than a human worker.

A holistic development of the ‘whole person’ is the goal of liberal arts. It includes eight interrelated aspects: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, vocational, ethical, personal, and social. Intellectual development requires acquiring broad-based knowledge, learning how to learn, and learning how to think critically. Emotional development includes understanding, managing and expressing emotions. Developing high quality relationships with other people is the basis of social development while ethical development aims at providing students with a clear value system that enables them to make sound decisions. Physical development concerns the understanding of one’s own body and taking care of it. Spiritual development may be the most culture-sensitive as each culture may have its own take on what is ‘spiritual. ‘Vocational’ is indeed a form of development that must be a part of contemporary education. But is only one among eight. It includes exploring career possibilities and developing skills required for a career. As university teachers we do want our graduates to find jobs and achieve some sort of financial independence to pursue other goals of life articulated here. Personal development, the last of the eight, stays the last because it is the bottom line, so to speak. For personal development one needs to cultivate a strong sense of self-identity and agility to step out of that identity in being considerate towards others.

The Role of Peradeniya:

Whole Person, Whole Campus

A fully developed university must have all the facilities needed to address at least those eight areas. Holistic education believes that curriculum and co-curriculum must make use of whole campus for that purpose. Founding fathers of University of Peradeniya seem to have endowed with a concept of holistic education in the early twentieth century. Just to give only a few examples, for those who argue for making use of the whole campus for holistic education claims that for one’s intellectual development, a university has to utilise learning centers, library, academic advising services, tutoring services, information technology centers, invited talks on various topics, workshops, theatre halls, art shows and so on. This list, though not comprehensive, demonstrates that the intellectual development of a graduate is much more than following time tables and attending formal lectures. At Peradeniya, we may not have all these facilities, but when the university was founded a considerable attention was paid to these aspects. Taking a long walk through the beautiful University Park can be education in itself if one is rightly attuned to the lessons of natural beauty. I have learned those lessons at stunning campus parks at Wisconsin and Cornell.

Now, let me touch on ‘spiritual development.’ In addition to formal instructions on subjects such a philosophy and arts that concern one’s spiritual life, there should be co-curricular involvements with campus religious communities. Programmes such as inter-religious dialogue could be part of these activities. Perhaps, it was for such holistic education that places for all religions have been established within the University of Peradeniya.

Instead of cutting down funding on ‘liberal arts’ education, the government must invest more in the kind of education explained above. Even without enough financial resources some of us have been working hard to promote such a holistic education. Yes, just some of us. There are people who have no idea as to what they should be doing at universities. Among them, there are academics who believe that training students to site exams that lead to a certificate is university education. Yes, that is education often found at private tuition classes. But there is much more to university education. If our holistic education is only partially done, it is natural that authorities ask out graduates to learn ‘something technical.’

The prevailing pandemic has crippled nearly all co-curricular activities at campus. An education that does not include library, playground, gymnasium, the Sarachchandra Open Air theater, the E.O.E. Perera theatre, heated discussions with guest speakers, and, even some trips to the lovers’ lane or other ‘lanes’ cannot help achieve eight developmental goals of holistic education. COVID-19 has corroded that education. But holistic education is faced with a bigger threat. It is the demand that education be geared for the job market. True academics must do everything possible to prevent that philistine virus making inroads into our higher education institutions. Only those who are capable of realising the true meaning of holistic education envisioned in the Humanities and liberal arts can stand up to such philistine invasions. Those are the ones who really deserve to be hired and promoted.

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Chinese Development Experience:

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Why Have Sri Lankans Failed So Far

by Luxman Siriwardena

 

During the past decades, several East Asian Economies have experienced consistent high rates of economic growth while achieving unprecedented improvements in the standard of living of their citizenry, an achievement that has been described in the famous World Bank study as ‘Asian Miracle’.  Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) were the partners of this achievement. One analyst explained this miracle as developments that have ‘telescoped into a single generation, a process of socioeconomic development that took the advanced economies of Western Europe centuries to achieve’. This group have now been dramatically overtaken by Communist China which has also eliminated poverty, probably excluding a few clusters in remote parts of rural China. 

Unfortunately, however, all South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka still remain far behind China as developing economies. It has been estimated that a high percentage of the population of many of these countries are living in abject poverty and deprivation. 

China’s economic development as now well demonstrated, has been associated with technological advancement surpassing many of the advanced market economies. It is only a matter of time before China   becomes the largest economy in the world. Even in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation it has emerged as the only country to record a positive growth rate in 2020, according to multilateral lending agencies.

In this context it is of significance to understand how President Xi Jinping has articulated the Chinese development within the framework of Marxist Political Economy. In this regard, a speech delivered by Jinping, in the mid-August needs to be closely studied by the academics and policy makers in developing countries like Sri Lanka. President Jinping proposes in the speech that the Marxist political economy must be studied and developed as a higher stage of theoretical and practical advancement of Political Economy. Most relevant to the current development discourse is his combining of Marxist political economic principles with new practices of reform and opening up of the Chinese economy. 

President Jinping has also categorically mentioned that the belief of some people that Marxist political economy and the analysis in Das Capital is outdated or outmoded is arbitrary and inaccurate. Jinping states that nowadays there are various kinds of economic theories but the foundation of Chinese development cannot be explained by any theory other than the Marxist theory of political economy. 

With reference to the development of theory and practice in China, Jinping upholds the contribution by successive Chinese leaders. Going through his argument it is clear that President Jinping is contributing to the new stage of development in Marxism termed as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. 

In his analysis President  Jinping refers to almost all challenges the modern-day advanced market economies are confronting and strongly advocates study of them in the context of Marxist political economy which include  theories of developing a socialist market economy, enabling  market to play a decisive role in allocation of resources while providing for a prominent role for the government and state-owned enterprises in promoting, facilitating and coordinating  new industrialization, agricultural modernization and other  essential players of growth and development. It is also interesting to learn the way China addresses the property ownership/rights and right of the farmers to contract out lands. 

What President Jinping has emphasized with regard to the study of political economy has a direct relevance to Sri Lankan academics and policy makers irrespective of what they have learned in universities of the West or from multilateral or other agencies. In his presentation President Jinping has emphasized the importance of six key principles in economic development in China. 

i. Adherence to people-centric development thinking 

ii. Focusing on new development concepts with a futuristic view 

iii. Upholding basic economic systems preserving Chinese Socialists Characteristics 

iv. Improvement of basic distribution systems 

v. Focusing on the direction of socialist market economy 

vi. Adherence to the basic national policy of opening up when effecting    necessary reforms. 

His concluding remarks would be an eye-opener to Sri Lankan and other developing country policy makers, particularly economists. 

Their commitment to upholding the basic principles and methodology of Marxist political economy does not imply rejection of the rational components of other economic theories. Western economic knowledge on areas such as finance, prices, currency, markets, competition, trade, exchange rates, enterprises, growth, and management do reflect one side of the general laws underpinning socialized production and market economics, and should therefore be used as reference. At the same time, however, Jinping suggests that it is necessary to keep a discerning eye on the economic theories of other countries, particularly those of the West, making sure that the wheat is being separated from the chaff. It should be ensured however, that these theories reflecting the nature and values of the capitalist system or are colored by Western ideology are not blindly adopted. Although the discipline of economics is devoted to the study of economic issues, it does not exist in a vacuum, and therefore cannot be separated from larger social and political issues.  

Why have our economists, both in academia and in policy making positions, not understood this simple truth?  Why have they failed to develop theories and explanations that address local needs like their counterparts in the region? For example, India, Pakistan or even Bangladesh have world class economists who have come up with homegrown theories and homegrown solutions to local problems. Could it be that our economists, unlike their regional counterparts who have succeeded, have not been able to free themselves from the clutches of the west intellectually and ideologically? How much their education in the west, reinforced through regular training given by West-dominated multilateral agencies and also frequent exposure to thinking of the West in their work, is responsible for this unfortunate situation? Whatever the reasons are, instead of thinking independently on their own they parrot their mentors in the West for short-term gains like easy recognition and self-fulfillment continuing the vicious circle and perpetuating the misery of their people. Irony is that when a solution is needed the only thing our experts are capable of doing is seeking refuge in programmes of multilateral development agencies reminding us the famous saying attributed to Einstein that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Sri Lankan policy analysts, this applies to academics and researchers too, must desist from advocating indiscriminate reliance on foreign concepts. Their analyses should be based on objective conditions that exist in Sri Lanka and associated socio-political environments namely, political economy. thoroughly and at length to prevent them being marginalized in the emerging discourse.

It is time for our academics and policy makers to change the path on which they have been travelling, the path not only built by the West but also the road rules for the travellers have been written by them.  What our academics and policy makers, especially, economists, have been hitherto repeatedly preaching and implementing are literally  carbon copies of classical, neoclassical or Keynesian theories they have learnt without adaptation to meet Sri Lanka’s development needs.

It is stated by the historians that Lenin further developed Marxism where it was further fashioned by Stalin and Trotsky. In the modern era remarkable adaptations to it were brought in by Chairman Mao. Since then there have been many Chinese leaders who have made various pragmatic contributions for the Chinese economy. President Jinping has presently brought Chinese economy to a new stage of development through more pragmatic and innovative ways without deviating from fundamental Chinese characteristics.

In view of the above it can be concluded that there are many lessons that developing countries like Sri Lanka can learn from the Chinese development experience. If our academics and policy makers can come out of the ivory tower of conventional framework and improve on theories and models that they have learned in the past by adapting them where necessary to local conditions that may go a long way in help promoting effective policy for sustainable growth and development. Until and unless that happens our attempts to achieve sustainable economic growth and development in the country will remain only a pipe dream, which it is today. 

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Covid-19 prevention:

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Revamp CMC’s crippled Public Health Services

By Dr. Pradeep Kariyawsam
Former Chief Medical Officer of Health / CMC

When the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic started, it was inevitable that the wave would reach Colombo, as many other epidemics such as dengue fever, chikungunya, cholera, influenza started in Colombo and then spread to other areas. Here of course those who travelled from abroad obviously brought the disease to the country, and then it spread towards the city in no time. There are many who travel from Gampaha District to Colombo city area and they were the potential carriers of the virus.

Prevention activities should have been started from all fronts, especially in Colombo North and Central areas, as soon as we heard about the Minuwangoda outbreak; and without hesitating when it reached Peliyagoda which lies in the northern bank of Kelani river. Colombo North lies just a few hundred feet away in the Southern bank. True the CMC started carrying out PCR tests, but most of them were off target as hardly a patient was found initially. There is no point in crying over spilt milk now. The importance of Public Health Services should be recognized at least now, and that a proper service could save the city and country from economic collapse and social unrest. The latter mostly instigated by politicians. The deaths at home is a sign that all is not well with the prevention services. Unfortunately, some politicians and government servants do not understand this reality.

Around 40 years ago, the Minister of Local Government realized the importance and the necessity to organize the people in these areas, who actually lived in slums and shanties and the need to prevent communicable diseases and provided them with basic amenities. Hence under his direction the CMC went on to carry out surveys of the needs of the people through new recruits called Health Wardens. The Health Wardens formed Community Development Councils after having elections in the so-called Gardens (Wattas) where the people in them chose their leaders as the office-bearers to run the Councils. Women’s and children’s groups were also formed by the Health Wardens, and these GCE (AL) qualified youth were the acceptable officials to give instructions on any matter on health and welfare. I can remember they even arranged marriage registrations.

They teamed up with the Public Health Inspectors, Nurses, Midwives and Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT), Health Education Officers, and formed a network that supported the preventive services to the hilt. In short, we were proud of our work and it was appreciated by UNICEF, WHO, UNCHS, etc. For example, when we had to get Colombo as polio free, all of them teamed up and with the help of Rotarians gave vaccines to all children under five years of age in the city in one day! In order to provide a proper service, the city needs at least 65 Public Health Inspectors, 35 Nurses, 175 Midwives, 35 MLTs and over 200 Health Wardens or Health Instructors as they are called now. (The Salaries and Cadres Commission please note!) These services are in a sorry state of affairs now, as the number of officers in service have dwindled so much that we no longer have a single maternity home that is operating at night, as only nine nurses are available, the PHIs have neglected food hygiene work, and Midwives are over stretched so much they are running a crippled service, the laboratories lack material and the poor people have to go to the private sector to get expensive tests done, when they could have got them done free at the CMC labs. But the most important aspects of all this, which are organizing the communities, health education, creation of awareness about communicable diseases, communicating with all and being the link between the people and the health units that were handled by the Health Instructors do not exist anymore.

There aren’t even Health Education Officers anymore, who used to supervise them. The information thus collected then can be analysed by the Epidemiologist to understand the vulnerable areas and direct prevention activities. Unfortunately, there is no Epidemiologist as the post of Deputy Chief Medical Officer (Epidemiology) is not filled during the last three years. That is what is lacking mainly in CMC’s Covid-19 prevention programmes today. It is not the ambulances that the people need as CMC already has two ambulance services; The ambulances run by the MCH Division and the 110-service are run by well-trained fire-fighters. The people need someone to be with them in their hour of need as it happened years ago, looking after their health and welfare needs, as Health Instructors were allocated to areas in which they were responsible for the people in slums, shanties and apartments.

Therefore, it is my humble appeal that the CMC, the Western Provincial Council, and the Ministry of Health get together and fill these posts, create higher cadres for these posts and appoint suitable persons immediately. We have to allocate vulnerable areas to these officers and get them to go to the people, organize them, look after their health and welfare needs and prevent a disaster happening as there will be more Covid-19 waves and new epidemics in the near future. This will definitely reduce deaths at homes. A stable Colombo, health-wise, will make the country stable in the same way. With all my experience I know that this is the only way to prevent this kind of disaster happening again, and this will be a feasible way of managing this crisis for the government to prevent and control this disease.

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