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MONLAR urges govt. to drop contradictory policies if serious about banning agrochemicals

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The Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, urging him to put in place a mechanism to coordinate various institutions that are needed to to make Sri Lanka the first nation to ban the use of toxic agrochemicals.

Given that there is no systematic government programme to promote carbonic agriculture among farmers, it is quite likely that many obstacles and challenges, in the short, medium, and long term to implement the programme will arise. The government must come up with a plan that addresses these challenges and mechanism that can lead to a change in attitudes and grassroot realities, MONLAR says.

“MONLAR commends the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers, on 27 April 2021, to ban the import of all agrochemicals with immediate effect. We are also grateful for your decision to approve the said Cabinet decision on 29 April 2021,” Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator – MONLAR said in the letter to the President.

He says that the use of agrochemicals has had disastrous consequences in the past decades. The widespread use of these chemicals has contaminated soil and water, which has directly led to the increase in cancers and kidney diseases. This has not only negatively affected public health but also led to the overuse of agrochemicals besides undermining food sovereignty, unraveling the ecological balance, and causing the extinction of many animal and plant species.

“Since almost all agricultural inputs, used by Sri Lankan farmers are imported, it has allowed certain companies to build oligopolies. Currently, agriculture accounts for about 7% of the GDP but about 26% of the workforce are involved in agriculture. Often these workers are poor and receive government welfare assistance; most of them are malnourished and in the clutches of microcredit companies. MONLAR believes that promoting environmentally friendly agricultural practices can be a solution to all these problems.”

If the government is serious about banning agrochemicals and promoting environmentally friendly agriculture, it needs to convince the people that the decision to ban agrochemicals will not change when the political and economic context changes, MONLAR has said, pointing out that since coming into power the government has taken several contradictory decisions on agriculture.

“For example, the government initially announced that agrochemicals would be given to farmers free of charge and now it has banned them. Last year, the government said it would not allow fertiliser with heavy metals to enter the market but then it released 18,000 metric tons of fertiliser containing high amounts of heavy metals. These are only some of the policy contradictions.

Rajapakshe says in the MONLAR letter to the President that in the recent past, the government has given large tracts of land and water to companies and investors to expand large scale monoculture crops such as maize and sugarcane. These cultivations do require significant volumes of agrochemicals.

“A few months later, a decision has been taken to ban the import of agrochemicals. The government must clearly tell the public how it plans to rectify these contradictions,” he said.

Rajapakshe adds that if given an opportunity the MONLAR is ready to share with the government its experience with environmentally friendly agricultural practices.



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MONLAR: Govt. has fallen for millers’ ruse

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.

Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.

“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality.  The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.

 The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.

 Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”

In response,  Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.

“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.

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Wijeyadasa no longer considers himself govt. member

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, says he no longer considers himself as a member of the ruling party.

Asked to comment on his present status, the Justice Minister, in the previous UNP regime, said that he had stopped participating in SLPP group meetings since the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct last year.

Dr. Rajapakse, who entered Parliament from the Colombo District on the SLPP ticket at the August 2020 general election, voted for 20th Amendment despite his criticism of it. In the previous Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse represented the UNP.

Responding to another query, Rajapakse said that the SLPP had refrained from appointing him to any committee though he had in the past served and in some instances headed important outfits, such as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

 The former minister alleged that the SLPP had caused so much turmoil that the country was now in a bind. Instead of taking the people into confidence the incumbent administration adopted strategies meant to suppress dissent.

 Commenting on what he called a severe economic crisis against the backdrop of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic, Dr. Rajapakse alleged that those at the helm lacked basic understanding to rationally address issues.

The former minister said that the government appeared to have ignored the growing threat of the EU going the whole hog in the wake of its parliament adopting a resolution against Sri Lanka.

The resolution expressed the concern of the European Parliament regarding the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka. It highlighted that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation of 27 international conventions by Sri Lanka. The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island.

The following is the relevant section from the EU resolution: “…Underlines that the GSP+ scheme offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market; highlights the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status and stresses that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic; calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status; further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”

For want of a cohesive strategy, the SLPP hadn’t been able at least to rationally assess external and internal threats and take remedial measures, the MP said.

Referring to the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, MP Rajapakse alleged that the government was on an extremely dangerous path. The EU resolution reflected the Western thinking and the current leadership acted as if China was our main buyers. How could they ignore the fact that the US and EU countries remain major contributors to the Sri Lanka economy though our decision-making process was aimed at satisfying China.

 

 

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Geneva concerned about deaths in police custody, Shani’s safety

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The Sri Lanka Core Group has joined the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in calling for what it calls independent and impartial investigations into deaths in police custody. The six-member grouping led by the UK has also stressed the need to ensure security of former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, who recently received bail.

Abeysekera had been interdicted. The ex-CID Director has also figured in taped conversations with former MP Ranjan Ramanayake now serving a jail sentence for contempt of the Supreme Court, discussing how to fix certain court cases then being heard, especially against political opponents.

The following is the text of statement issued by Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi,

Montenegro and the UK at the 47th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): “Council resolution 46/1 called upon the Sri Lankan Government to address the harmful legacies of war and to protect human rights, including for those from religious minorities. We regret the lack of progress on these issues, with a number of further concerning developments.

The Sri Lankan Government has attempted to dismiss a number of emblematic cases and to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals pursuing some of these cases. This counters the Council’s call for prompt, thorough and impartial investigations. We call for former CID director Shani Abeysekera’s safety to be ensured.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the recent intention to introduce a rehabilitation process lacking adequate judicial oversight. Human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, remain detained without trial and further arrests under this Act have continued, including among minority communities and the political opposition.

We remain concerned about the restrictions on memorialization . We join the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in requesting independent and impartial investigations into recent deaths in police custody

We are concerned over appointments to the Office on Missing Persons and reiterate the importance of ensuring independent and credible institutions to achieve justice.

We encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Council and OHCHR in relation to resolution 46/1 and stand ready to support this.”

 

 

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