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Minister’s promise to make Lanka’s agricultural sector export-oriented



By Chandre Dharmawardana

According to a recent news report (The Island 23rd June 2023), Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has claimed that the “agricultural sector to be transformed into an export-oriented economy”! This is a surprising statement since the plantation sector, established by the British, has been from the start (and even now) an export-oriented economy. It is no secret that this traditional but well-established export earning sector is in trouble due to successive politically and ideologically motivated moves that began with the nationalisation of the sector, de-nationalisation of the sector, “greening” of the sector to satisfy eco-extremists who wanted herbicides like glyphosate banned, and then banned fertilisers and all agrochemicals (see: ) banned from the country.

What the country needs at this moment is cutting down imports by achieving self sufficiency in energy and food needs locally, and NOT prioritising export-oriented agriculture.

The minister is making the usual mistake that the country must “earn foreign exchange” by increasing its export earnings. This however is NOT as simple as it looks. Any such development of an export-oriented market requires the investment of a large amount of initial capital most of which would be in foreign exchange, and competing with established vendors for market acceptance. The export-oriented plantation industry set up by the British involved automatic market penetration, and also a very large investment in foreign capital, road and rail construction, and the best industrial know-how of that era as the British Islands were the then leaders of the industrial revolution. Today that valuable rail system has deteriorated due to poor maintenance. An export-oriented market needs the efficient support of all that valuable infra-structure that countries like China have built up.

The official statement says, “Minister Amaraweera asserted that comprehensive strategies have been formulated to meet the country’s domestic consumption demands, ensuring the success of all agricultural products”. This is a blanket statement covering everything and saying nothing, drawn up by ministry henchmen whose comprehensive strategy is nothing but spinning words.

SAVING foreign exchange that is used up in importing food stuffs (e.g., sugar) that can be easily produced in Sri Lanka itself should be much easier than earning foreign exchange. An even more important source of saving foreign exchange is in developing LOCAL sources of energy to replace fossil fuels. Fossil fuels (e.g., diesel) can be replaced by non-edible vegetable oils that can be extracted from, e.g., castor, an easily grown weed-like plant that yields seeds within a year. The castor oil suitably transformed (to reduce the viscosity), or simply mixed with ethanol can be used in combustion engines. Ethanol can be produced by fermentation technology, well-known to every Kassippu brewer. The burning of such oils is much cleaner than burning fossil fuels as the molecules of these vegetable fuels contain more oxygen (See ). It must not be forgotten that Diesel himself ran his engines using vegetable oils. Vegetable oils were replaced by fossil fuel only after 1923 by which time the West was literally stealing oil for free from various conquered lands.

Furthermore, when a major war is raging (as is the case right now, in Ukraine) saving foreign exchange by establishing energy and food security is more likely to be successful than by promoting agricultural products and soft consumer exports (like garments). These are adversely affected during a war when the available money is channeled to military raw materials. So, Bangladesh that was doing well just recently is now in big trouble with its soft exports. However, given that there has always been a war (Afghan-US war lasted 11 years till just recently, and so on), small countries can be strategic in developing appropriate exports keeping strategic materials in mind.

But the minister has been wrongly advised to push for export-oriented agriculture while even the domestic needs for sugar and edible oils are not met. It is unlikely that the Minster had considered strategic raw materials that become valuable during war time. This seems to have escaped even the author Prabhat Patnaik in his essay entitled “Pitfalls of export-oriented growth” (see ).

During World War II, then political leaders like D. S. Senanayake and Oliver Goonetileke realised the importance of Rubber and made a lot of money, and continued to make more money during the Korean war. At that time Government leaders had the support of an excellent and honest administrative staff, as seen by the ease and efficiency of the Gal Oya project that was done within budget, without incurring foreign debt or foreign aid, and well on time. The political leaders accepted the advice of the top civil servants who in turn worked with British or US experts. At that time a significant local scientific community did not exist. Today, there is a significant local scientific community; but they seemed to be sidelined by the government, not only in archaeology (as has happened in regard to the Kurundi temple in Mooladoova, now known as Mullaitive), but also in agriculture, energy, and engineering.

This healthy balance of payments that existed after the Korean war vanished rapidly after 1956 when Western investors pulled out, fearing SWRD’s cabinet that included Phillip Gunawardena and other avowed Marxists who were threatening nationalisation of privately held foreign and local assets.

Natural rubber, activated charcoal, graphite, titanium, plumbago, kaolin, and many other things that Sri Lanka has can be exploited at a much higher price during a war. Furthermore, aviation fuel can be produced from various vegetable oils. The Ukrainian war has all the signs of a war that will last several years and more. Enterprising businessmen should be given government support to strategically position their exports to the war market.

Many writers including the present author have written about these topics in the past. However, pseudoscientists posing as environmental gurus had joined with opponents of the “green revolution” to mislead the public with false claims of toxins like arsenic and cadmium being in food, or “exponential increases in non-communicable diseases” that had been allegedly caused by the use of agrochemicals and fertilisers. Advocates of “organic farming” or “traditional farming,” etc., had joined with these false environmentalists and successfully sidelined modern agricultural science. Unproven microbial fertilisers have been added to this witches’ brew to further exploit the hapless farmer. It is not clear if the Minister’s advisors are able to shed the myths that have taken hold of Sri Lanka’s agriculture and give him proper advice.

Those who claim to communicate with divine beings like God Natha had dictated agricultural policy and even the health policy of Sri Lanka. Very often, the naïve beliefs of some of the political leaders were in line with the views of these traditionalists who hold a nostalgic and romantic view of the past anchored in occult beliefs. Some of them had called for the elimination of the tea plantations claiming them to have only dwindling value.

Unfortunately, they are wrong. The minister’s belief that new efforts in agriculture must be made “export oriented” is to put the cart before the horse. What he should do to begin with is to support and strengthen the EXISTING export-oriented plantation sector, while also giving priority to developing an agricultural sector that will provide local self sufficiency in energy and food. That will rapidly SAVE large amounts of foreign exchange for a modest outlay mainly in local funds.

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Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)



By Chandre Dharmawardana,

A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.

Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.

A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used [1]. However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.

I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note [2]. I quote from it below:

The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE)[3], initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.

Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.

Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.

Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.

[1]Madras Tamil Lexicon.

[2] index.html

[3] Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.

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How to conserve electricity at home and workplace



Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.

There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.

Here is how

(a)  Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.

(b)  When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.

(c)   Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine

(d)  When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.

(e)  Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.

(f)    Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.

(g)  Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.

(h)  Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.

(i)    Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.

(j)    Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.

(k)  Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.


Via e-mail

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Some lesser known historical facts



The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties

Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.

In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.

Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.

A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.

Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.

When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.

Dr. Leo Fernando

Talahena, Negombo

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