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MONLAR accuses govt. of allowing India to play bigger role in country’s agriculture

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The government has allowed India to play a bigger role in Sri Lankan agriculture due to its recent actions regarding agrochemicals, moderator of Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR,) Chinthaka Rajapakshe alleged yesterday.

Rajapaksa told The Island that the government had banned agrochemicals to break the existing cartel that controlled fertiliser imports and thereby help its business associates.

Rajapakshe said that the actions of successive governments had greatly undermined the country’s food security and sovereignty.

“The government’s impotence was shown during the rice issue. It put out a number of gazette notifications to control the price of rice and the mill owners ignored these gazettes and created a shortage. The government finally allowed mill owners to determine prices. This shows that the government does not understand the ground realities, i. e. that it can’t influence the market because all the tools it has at its disposal are ineffective, and it has no plan.”

Rajapakshe said that since banning the import of agrochemicals, the government had not held any discussions with stakeholders involved in organic agriculture in the country.

“It is now obvious that the government has no intention of going green. All it wants is to ensure that its associates will control the agrochemical market in the future. However, the government is bungling that up, too,” he claimed.

Rajapakshe added that if the government held discussions with those already involved with organic farming, it would have learnt that the first thing to do was to restore the microbes in the soil biodiversity. A healthy soil had a variety of living organisms.

“Plant roots can also be considered as soil organisms in view of their symbiotic relationships and interactions with other soil components. These diverse organisms interact with one another and with the various plants and animals in the ecosystem, forming a complex web of biological activity. Because we have been overusing agrochemicals for decades, most of our soil is dead. While supplying compost is a component of this, it is not everything that we can do. There are so many other things we could have done.”

The government was compelled to ban the import of fertilizers because it faced a dollar shortage, Rajapakshe said. If the government was serious about reducing the cost of importing fertiliser it could have worked with farmers and introduced easy compost making methods, he said. “Instead, the government tried to give their associates an opportunity to mass produce compost and when that failed it resorted to importing organic fertiliser,” he said.

“This has also allowed India to come into our agriculture. Adani is already working in Sri Lanka and he plays a major role in Indian agriculture. I don’t think he is here only for the West Container Terminal,” he said.

MONLAR worked with a large number of farmers and most of them were ready to switch to organic farming if a transparent and feasible path was made available, he said. The ground reality was that the government’s actions were increasingly driving out small scale farmers and those lands were being taken over by large companies.

“This has been happening for a while and farmers are highly suspicious. The government keeps on transferring land owned by small farmers to large companies. These companies are export oriented. During the first phase of shifting to organic agriculture, there has been a drop in the yield. We must take that into account and increase the area of farmlands but we are doing quite the opposite,” he said.

On the other hand, the government had done nothing to educate the farmers on how to engage in organic farming. Those who planted tea used compost the way they used agrochemicals, which is not an effective way of using compost, he said. MONLAR had introduced certain practices used in Andhra Pradesh, India, to some Sri Lankan farmers on recovering lost soil diversity. Those practices have been embraced by farmers with great enthusiasm, he said.

“There are ways of boosting soil biodiversity within days. They have not been explored. Having TV programmes on organic agriculture is not enough, the government has to go to the farmers,” he said.

Moreover, compost is only one component of organic agriculture. There are a number of specialised equipment and machinery needed to successfully engage in organic agriculture. We also need things, like cutters and crushers, to make compost on a large scale. There are a number of Sri Lankan companies that produce these machines, but they have not been given the necessary support to expand production, he said.

Rajapakshe said that Sri Lanka also needed to gear its waste management system towards compost making. Although a large quantity of biodegradable waste was collected daily, most of it was thrown into dump sites. Compost could be created with the biodegradable waste and systems should be introduced to prevent heavy metal contamination.

“Heavy metals can come from things like batteries, bulbs and e-waste. We need to establish protocols to prevent such items from mixing with biodegradable waste,” Rajapakshe added.



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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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