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Nano nitrogen and nano urea



By Prof. O.A. Ileperuma

Concerns about the non-availability of chemical fertiliser are widespread. Agricultural communities and farmers are venting their anger at the minister and the government. Farmers have even threatened to abandon their Maha paddy cultivation, and such action will have a devastating effect on our food security. This will severely affect the self-sufficiency of rice we have achieved through the dedicated efforts of our rice breeder scientists in the Agriculture Department. The earlier contention of going fully organic with compost was an ill-advised decision taken by the Government. Recently, European Union countries decided to go for 25 percent organic by 2030, understanding what is possible and what is impossible. I have dealt with the futility of moving towards 100 percent compost in my article in The Island on 01 May, 2021, since compost does not provide the required nutrients in sufficient amounts for healthy plant growth.

The authorities have finally decided to import ‘nano nitrogen’ liquid fertiliser from India where it is undergoing field trials right now. Although the authorities have arbitrarily called this nano nitrogen, it is really a product best classified as nano urea. The manufacturer itself has labelled the product nano urea and our Agriculture Ministry officials have ‘invented’ a new label calling the liquid fertiliser nano nitrogen. Our Minister of Agriculture has been misled by the officials who painted the story that we are importing nano nitrogen and not nano urea. He appears so sure of the name of this product that he went on to complain to the CID against MP Patali Champika Ranawake who pointed out, quite correctly, that it is not nano nitrogen but nano urea. Further, MP Ranawaka has publicly accused Government politicians of bloating the price from $ 7.74 per litre at the manufacturer to $25 per litre in Sri Lanka requesting an explanation for such a huge price difference.

It remains to be seen whether this fertiliser is effective for our agriculture, encompassing all sectors in addition to rice. There are several misconceptions among our learned authorities about whether nano nitrogen imported from India is chemical or organic, meaning a natural product. It is important for the general public to know about the nature of this nano nitrogen fertiliser. Some important facts are: The meaning of nano, and how the so-called nano nitrogen liquid is made and the results of field trials in India.

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles defined as those having diameters in the range of one to 100 nanometres. A nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a metre and they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Milk, for example, is an emulsion with casein micelles of sizes between 50 to 600 nm. Nano nitrogen liquid imported from India is prepared by first mixing conventional urea with hydroquinone. This mixture is then sprayed onto calcium cyanamide powder and finally dispersed into nanosized particles. The final product carries one percent hydroquinone, 10 percent calcium cyanamide and close to 90 percent urea. The resultant nanoparticles are reported to possess sizes ranging from 20 to 50 nm. Calcium cyanamide eventually reacts with water giving ammonia and it is one of the oldest nitrogen fertilisers used.

Nano nitrogen was discovered by Dr. Ramish Ralia while working in an American laboratory. He joined the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), one of India’s biggest cooperative societies which has now supplied nano urea to Sri Lanka. According to field trials conducted by IFFCO, they claim that a 500 millilitre bottle of nano urea can replace a 45 kg bag of urea. This is hard to believe since this bottle adds only about 20 g of urea because it contains only four percent nitrogen while a 45 kg bag of urea provides 21 kg of nitrogen. Even if 40 percent of the conventional urea added is absorbed by plants it works out to 8.4 kg of nitrogen taken up by the plants which is over 400 times provided by nano urea. Unlike urea which is applied to soil, nano urea liquid is sprayed directly on to leaves where it gets absorbed through the stomatal openings of leaves.

In spite of the projected advantage of nano urea over conventional urea, it cannot supply the initial nitrogen requirements for growing rice, vegetables and other crops. Urea is needed at the initial stage of planting. Nano urea is useful only at a later stage of plant growth where the plants have developed leaves. Application of nano urea at the initial stage is scientifically meaningless and a wasteful exercise. Based on the requirement of urea stipulated by the Agriculture Department, the urea requirement is 225 kg per hectare for the dry zone. At the current price of urea which is Rs 3,430 per 50 kg (without subsidy), what a farmer has to incur is Rs. 15,435, for the dry zone. For the wet zone where the requirement of urea is only 140 kg per hectare, the expenditure would be Rs. 9,604. To provide the same nitrogen requirement to one hectare of paddy fields a farmer has to spray 1250 litres of nano urea. According to Government estimates with each litre of nano urea costing Rs. 1,250, the total cost comes to around Rs. 156,250 per hectare. However, the Government is distributing only 2.5 litres of nano urea per hectare which is totally insufficient and will severely reduce rice production. Even if the Government distributes the imported nano urea free of charge, ultimately the money comes from public funds which is an utter waste of taxpayers’ money. Why the Agriculture Ministry officials do not see this simple arithmetic is astonishing and unpardonable. Moreover, field trials carried out in India are not sufficient for a critical assessment of the efficacy of nano urea and further field trials are necessary in Sri Lanka to determine the accuracy of the Indian claims.

We should also consider the health effects due to exposure to nanoparticles such as those in nano urea. The world has yet to understand the health effects of nanofertilisers and inhalation of such small particles into the lung can have adverse health effects. Air pollution studies have revealed that the most dangerous of all air pollutants are fine particles which go right into the alveoli of lungs and cause bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart diseases and even cancer.

Sri Lankan scientists have reported a different form of nano urea way back in 2012. The work of Prof. Nilwala Kottegoda and her team at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology revealed that when urea is adsorbed on hydroxyapatite nanoparticles and applied to paddy fields, it acts as a slow release nitrogen fertiliser resulting in the gradual release of urea to the plant compared to direct application of conventional urea which gets leached out to an extent of about 60 to 70 percent. In this manner the amount of urea required to be applied to soil can be conveniently reduced to around half of what is applied now. The hydroxyapatite can be readily prepared from the Eppawala phosphate deposit. Furthermore, the apatite also decomposes slowly yielding much needed phosphorus nutrients for the healthy growth of plants. Unfortunately, our Government did not use this valuable discovery by Sri Lankan scientists which is often the case with local inventions and discoveries. Politicians take the risk of fast tracking things for short term political gains; scientists come out with suggestions after careful weighing of benefits and disadvantages. Obviously the 10-year agriculture plan of ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ suffered the same fate in the hands of politicians, over the ‘Wiyathun’ who planned it.

While the government is talking about nitrogen and has even imported potash, there is a missing link in the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) formula of fertilisers and what is missing is phosphorus. Traditionally, phosphorus nutrient has been supplied through imported triple superphosphate. Successive governments have talked about making phosphate fertiliser using our own Eppawela rock phosphate deposit. This is restricted to NATO (no action, talk only) since some unseen hands are preventing this from being implemented. This writer along with other experts submitted a comprehensive proposal for the manufacture of single superphosphate (SSP) fertiliser from Eppawala phosphate to the Minister of Agriculture in 2018. There are at least two cabinet decisions empowering Lanka Phosphate Limited to undertake this project but no action has been taken to commence the local manufacture of phosphate fertiliser.

It is not clear what the Government is planning, regarding the supply of the essential triple superphosphate. Initial fertiliser (‘Mada pohora’) requires urea, triple superphosphate and potash. In the same way babies require calcium and phosphorus for the development of bones, supplied through milk, plants too need phosphates for healthy growth. Phosphorus deficiency causes stunted growth and hence poorer yields. Unlike urea, which decomposes giving oxides of nitrogen after a few days, phosphate binds to the soil and remains in the soil for a much longer period and hence farmers may not immediately need phosphate during one season.

It is of no use to supply nano urea now at the planting stage. This will only promote weed growth and farmers have no way of controlling them in the absence of weedicides. It will only be useful at a later stage as ‘Bandi Pohora’ when the leaves have fully developed. Even the manufacturer claims that it is used as a supplementary fertiliser and will not replace the initial requirement of nitrogen fertiliser. Hence the farmers, their agitation fuelled by extensive experience, will most likely continue to suffer with their livelihoods destroyed. At the end the agricultural productivity of the country would be severely affected.

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Quest for leadership



Suren delivering the keynote address

Excerpts of Suren Abeyagoonasekera’s recent Keynote address on Thurstan College on the Founder’s Day.

This is the second occasion, when I am invited to perform this traditional duty. First was during 2006~2008 period. Now, I am here again 17 Years later, before a new and a younger audience. I see and feel, several changes, developments and progress all around.

I carry memories, sweet memories, in this sacred place. There are thousands of times, that I was immersed, in my memories, of Thurstan, the remarkable people I met here, and all about THURSTAN. Stern & Soft Principals, Learned & practical Teachers, Rough and Refined friends …. so many. Although my Heart is steaming to share those remarkable events, how can I do that in 10 minutes?

Founder is a ‘a person who establishes an institution or settlement’, he is also identified as, originator, creator, initiator, and or institutor….

In that sense, we must remember,Rev A. J. Thurstan, an Anglican Missionary and priest, who founded a private technical-school that taught ‘Agricultural & Craft skills,’ in these premises , in 1859, i.e.163 years ago.

E. A. Nugawela, (then Minister of Education) who opened the Government Senior School, on 11th January 1950, a new school called the Government Senior School.T. D. Jayasuriya, Deputy Minister of education, attended the ceremony of renaming, the ‘Government Senior School’ as ‘Thurstan College’ after the founder of the first school – Rev A. J. Thurstan on 26th March 1953.

The first principal of the new school was, D. E. A. Schokman, who had previously taught, at Kingswood and Trinity Colleges. Kandy.I joined school during the tenure of Mr M D Gunawerdena as Pricipal, a strict Disciplinarian. When he leaves his office room, on his rounds, there was pindrop silence in the entire school. A very pleasant and a soft spoken person. But an Iron Fist in a velvet Glove.

He was followed by P M Jayatillake, a Gentle Giant, 6-footer, Sportsman, who held a record of 111 not out in the annual Ananda ~ Nalanda Big Match, representing Nalanda. When his record was broken by Bandula Warnapura many years later, he walked straight up to the Batsman and Congratulated. Highly knowledgeable in Dhamma, friendly with Students but firm. He engaged Grade 11,12 & 13 students often on lenthy discussions of important subjects, and invites us to write on matters of interest and submit to him, if he finds substance interesting, he will discuss it with the students. We loved this interaction. He was the founder of the Big Match, First College Magazine,and more. I was a Prefect and later his Head Prefect.

I am very happy to learn, the present Principal Pramuditha Wickramasinghe, is endowed with strong Leadership Qualities. We are very happy that the school is in safe hands. We will fully support you Sir.My subject today and always, is ‘Leadership’.

The Founders list continues, with many Principals, Teachers, Old Boys, Parents and well-wishers, who supported Thurstan to, what it is today. They committed themselves to find Teachers, funds, materials and even systems to the betterment of the Institution. They are ‘fountains of inspiration & towers of Strength’, who added value, nurtured, stood by, and enriched our Institution Thurstan.

Respected Sirs, Ladies & Gentlemen every true Thurstanite will remember, appreciate and value, your Contribution & Commitment whole heartedly.I remember Old Boys deep attachments, on two incidents, where the Old Boys rallied round Thurstan in a flash.

First was to revoke or reverse a subtle move…, which was to make Thurstan a part of another school, in which powerful people were old Boys. Thousands of Old Boys gathered in support, to negate or nullify any such move and vowed to sacrifice their lives. We had a Meeting on this Stage, Hall was. I was a speaker.Second was when Newspapers carried banner Headlines that, ‘Thurstan was under attack’. Old boys gathered quickly, to protect the Students, like a father standing before the enemy to save the next generation. Fortunately, Police intervened and restored Law & Order.

I need not tell you about the current situation of the Country. It’s a known fact, People continue to suffer without Basics…, fragile Economy, weak Education, Essentials, Medicine, Food, Global problems, etc., I will avoid touching the cause. But overall, we are forced to admit the absence of Visionary True Leaders. We all know about it. It’s not the best.., all of you will have various ways of analysing. I wouldn’t enter a debate.

When I was newly elected to the 30 Member Executive Committee, of the Colombo YMBA – Young Mens Buddhist Association, I asked the Seniors ‘what do you think…, is the problem of this country..’ there were several responses, Terrorism, weak Leaders, dirty politics, Bribery, Corruption, indiscipline, etc.,’

My answer was, all of them are due to, none, but ‘Lack of Quality Leaders’. We have lost many potential Leaders who aspired for a Change.They were misled, we lost them first in 1971, then in 1988, finally young and valiant men who joined the army to save the country.

Sadly, successive leaderships, failed to groom the next line of Leaderships, which is the Prime Responsibility of any Leader. We have to build future Leaders, to take this Country forward. Future Leaders must possess true Leadership Qualities. We are 30 Years behind the rest of the world, we have lost a great deal of valuable time, and we have to catch lost time.

I swear, IQ level of our Youth, is greater than, many of our neighbours. But we have failed to give them correct inputs, and best practices & guidance. If children are given bad inputs, the results are weak.

I proposed to YMBA and launched ‘Young Buddhist Leadership Training Programme’. Course content, will begin with Exercise and Meditation. Then to Managala Sutta, Parabhava Sutta, Singalovada Sutta, finally to ‘Leadership Qualities of Gauthama Buddha. The proposal was enriched by famous Civil Servant, Olcott Gunasekera,(now Ven Vajiraramaye Gnanaseeha) and Luxman Hettiaarachchi (former Chairman of Walkers). It was Launched, we trained the first batch of 20 at Maharagama Dharmayathanaya, and went upto 200. It was a week long course. Now we take the module Islanwide, on a One Day Course.

Dear Students, trust me, believe me, the soil of Thurstan is magical. I still can’t fathom. Either the earth you trample at Thurstan is sacred, or our Historic Nuga Tree gives you the vibes of ‘fearless Leadership. Look back the Leaderships we have gained, in 74 Years, and as a ratio, in comparison to older schools with 6000, or 8000 student population. We are small. Never make the mistake of going into big numbers. I believe Education is not for mass production that ignores quality.

I spoke to some of your teachers, believe me they are a class. They are very resourceful, they are confident, and have faith in Principals Leadership.

Dear Students,

Let me remind our Moto ‘Thamasoma Jya thigramaya, meaning …From Darkness to Light…thus, it’s in our DNA.

To move from ‘Darkness to Light’ we need Visionary Leadership, valour and couragesness. We do have them, isn’t it?

I wish younger generations will understand the vacuum in Leadership.

An Indian, became the Prime Minister of England, another Indian may become Head of USA. But their grooming may have begun 20 years ago.

I am telling you seriously, many people left the country in a hopeless mind. Will you believe that we can not produce strong Leaderships ?

This is a blessed Country, with many rare resources, a highly fertile Land with five Rivers, staring from the Central Hills in five Directions enriching soil we were born and fed. You have blessed Teachers, and your feet firmly on the ground of Thurstan.

Dear Students, you are gifted with a Leader, with far reaching Vision & Wisdom, A good Panel Teachers, and dedicated Old Boys and well-wishers.

Dear Principal, I respectfully propose, Thurstan to produce, unwavering lines of ‘Excellent Leaders’

I will conclude with a line, my respected Principal P M Jayatillake taught us…..,

The heights by great men reached and kept, were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Regime changes in Sri Lanka and ‘Subha saha Yasa’



Recently a perfect analogy brought forth by a well known actor at a political rally, comparing regime changes in Sri Lanka, to the story behind the famous play of yesteryear, ‘Subha saha Yasa’, was reported in social media. In Simon Navagaththegama’s reputed novel, the regime changes that were prearranged by mutual consent between two look-alikes, King Yasalalakathissa of ancient Sri Lanka and his gate keeper, Yasa, who temporarily exchanged their roles, are depicted.

Reportedly, each party on the throne at a particular time was protected by the other and vice versa, while the then public were duped by their jocular expressions (bordering on ‘koloppan’) and promises of ‘ yaha palanaya’ and prosperity. In the process, the people at large were being taken for a ride by the two look-alikes. It was lucidly pointed out that the identical happenings have been and are taking place in Sri Lanka over the years, and the country has thus been brought down to the pathetic current situation by two major political forces.

Based on the foregoing comparison, Sri Lanka has to necessarily move away from this pattern of regime change , whereby the governing parties take turns protecting each other and also deceive the electorate by making false promises. So much so that in essence the country is now bankrupt. It is earnestly hoped that at the next democratically available opportunity for a regime change, the Sri Lankan electorate will act wisely to break the aforesaid trend that has taken root over the years. They must do the needful to bring in uncontaminated material sans undesirable ‘baggage’ to freshly take over the leadership role for this gem of a country which was once called the ‘ Pearl ‘ of the Indian ocean. (‘The country floating in the Indian ocean’ as referred to by an astronaut viewing it from outer space many years ago, as per a documentary film shown at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington 1992)).

Moragolla Imbulgasdeniya

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The Cardinal’s damning indictment of Sri Lankans



I was shocked and rather ashamed to listen to the outburst of His Eminence the Cardinal on Ada Derana where he comments on all of Sri Lankans saying that we belong to a corrupt society from top to bottom! Lest I am misunderstood I am myself a Catholic and come from a family which has done our bit for the religion and its institutions.

I must acknowledge that His Eminence had a point in criticising the extravagance associated with the anniversary celebrations to mark Independence. He is right in saying that we have become beggars but some of those people who brought us to this state were once smiled upon by him if I remember right?

However, we have not had as abysmal a performance since independence as he makes it out to be. Let us not forget that as a small country we have a lot to be proud of. We have produced some outstanding people who have been acclaimed internationally. I am not going into a roll call of those who achieved greatness but there have been persons such as Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jayantha Dhanapala, Shirley Amerasinghe, Raju and Indrajit Coomarasamy, Ray Wijewardene, Justice Weeramantry, Desmond de Silva QC, ANS Kulasinghe, Mohan Moonesinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Muttiah Muralitheran, Susanthika Jayasinghe, Kumar Sangakkara, and Professor Paranavitharane, to name a few from a cross section of outstanding international figures who captured the attention of the world.

We have had Bishops too who were held in the highest esteem such as Cardinal Thomas Cooray, Bishop Edmund Peiris and Bishop Leo Nanayakkara. I am told that the university accorded a lying in state at its Arts Faculty, to the late Emeritus Archbishop Gomis, a former Chancellor. He was a scholar who had national recognition.

Yes we have had a vacuum in leadership of quality as His Eminence proclaims which has led to our current economic malaise, but have our religious leaders also contributed to our economic plight, and loss of spiritual values which he bemoans? Let’s not look for the mote in our neighbour’s eye, but look at the Catholic Church.

School ethics have been under the microscope for many years now. There has been much discussion about the unconscionable sums of money changing hands for school admissions to access Catholic education! In relation to sports, Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese are guilty of enticing good players from lesser known schools to cross over for a ‘consideration’ (he calls it a something!). It was justifiably suspected that there was more than the offer to play for a good school which prevailed on parents to move their children to these schools.

Recently there was a message going round that parents had been given several hundred thousand rupees to move their ‘ruggerite’ son to a school which prides itself on its premier position in the sport. What is the Church doing about such corrupt or at least unethical conduct? Spiritual conscience that his Eminence speaks of is present in these institutions managed by him?

In another sermon recently His Eminence also blamed the State for neglecting the poor. He categorically blamed the Open Economy and seemed to be pining for the era prior to 1977, forgetting that the best years for the economy were as a result of our ability to access markets abroad. We need to look at the opportunities created for the female community in factories which are monitored by developed countries in terms of international standards. He also ignores the huge losses which are being revealed in the State run institutions and the horrendous corruption there. Some of this corruption in fact can be blamed on Catholic officials.

The Catholic Church and of course the Buddhist Temples have vast extents of land and other assets. I think the Catholic Church can do much more for the poor by using its own wealth rather than making statements which places the onus on others. It can perhaps be asked how much interest the parishes take in their flock and what they can do to alleviate poverty. I think one obstacle to individual priests being proactive is the stifling hierarchical management which has always existed in the Church.

The Cardinal said that we have lost our ‘spiritual conscience’. I would say that it is not a mere issue of ‘conscience’ but a lack of adherence to social responsibility by all leaders be they religious, policy makers or officials. Further, I feel that it is an admission that the leadership of the religious sects has failed to carry out its primary mission if spirituality is lacking! Why do we have a clergy at all if the flock is spiritually bankrupt?

There was no message of hope that his Eminence was doing something to rectify the position or that he had answers. In fact in Belgium I read that there is a debate that clerics are now being seen as an unnecessary impediment in what should be an individual search for spirituality? Reading history, we see that Luther had his rivalry with the Catholic Church on issues which also included the right of Christians to read and formulate their own thoughts from the Bible, which they were not allowed to read!

The Church should look inwards and give proper leadership to change the spiritual direction as Jesus did when confronted with Priests and Pharisees who were more concerned about safeguarding their own well-being. The attitude of Pope Francis must be commended as he is always conscious of the need to embrace all those in need of spiritual help rather than passing judgment on them.

Franklyn Amerasinghe

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