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MONLAR sees ulterior motive in government’s organic policy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

It was now clear that the government banned agrochemicals to break the existing cartel that controlled fertiliser imports and help its business associates, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) claimed yesterday.

Chamikara 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.

Chamikara said that a country had to be extremely careful when bringing in organic material from other countries. Even air passengers are questioned whether they are bringing in seeds or plants from other countries.

“A lot of invasive plants have found their way into Sri Lanka. These invasive species can’t be controlled easily and one of the reasons our farmers use a lot of agrochemicals is to get rid of such plants. Imagine bringing in container loads of organic material. Imagine what can come in those? This is why most countries do not import compost and when they do, they are very careful,” Chamikara said.

Chamikara said that given that microorganisms in most agricultural lands had died due to the overuse of agrochemicals, it would take some time for the soil to recover. Until then a mixture of compost and agrochemicals need to be used in some lands for a year or two, he said. For that purpose, the stock of agrochemicals in the country was adequate, Chamikara said.

“Once this is done, we can move to more advanced stages of sustainable agriculture like ecological farming, agroforestry and analog forestry, that require little external inputs,” he said.

Due to various factors, Sri Lanka cannot have analog forests, an approach to ecological restoration which uses natural forests as guides to create ecologically stable and socio-economically productive landscapes, Chamikara said. Thus, the government needed to study what areas could be converted into ecological farming, agroforestry and analog forestry, he said.

“In some areas, due to slopes that lead to soil erosion, we will have to continuously use compost, especially in hill country vegetable farms. It is a decade long process to transition from organic farming to analog forests. The government must be practical and transparent, or the entire concept loses credibility,” he said. Chamikara said the government had done nothing to educate the farmers on how to engage in organic farming. For example those who planted tea used compost the way they used agrochemicals, which is not an effective way of using compost, he said.

“Farmers have not been told of the most basic things. 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.

Chamikara said that Sri Lanka also needed to gear its waste management system into making compost. 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,” he said.

Chamikara also said that dried leaves are not optimal for producing compost. A constant supply of fresh organic matter is needed for compost production. The government needs to put in a system where trees and grass removed from roadsides are collected and processed. Moreover, trees such as Gliricidia must be planted. “This is an exhaustive process,” he said.

Another factor that was vital for the success of organic agriculture was a healthy water table, Chamikara said. If the water table was not high, it was difficult to make organic agriculture work, he said. For this the irrigation tank network in the dry zone needed to be maintained and the continuous destruction of the forests needed to be stopped, he said.

“On the other hand, we keep on transferring land owned by small farmers to large companies. These companies are export oriented. In the first phase of shifting to organic agriculture, there is a drop in the harvest. We must take that into account and increase the area of farmlands but we are doing the opposite. In a way, the land use policy too has a role in organic agriculture. Has the government done anything that we have spoken about?” Chamikara asked.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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