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Nano-Urea: A solution to presentfertiliser crisis?



By R.S. Dharmakeerthi

Professor in Soil Fertility and Nutrient management
University of Peradeniya

Safeguarding the food security is a prerequisite for ensuring national security. We can produce enough food or generate enough foreign exchange to purchase food to achieve food security. If we fail to secure these two, we will have to abide by the conditions set forth by other countries. Under the current global geopolitical battle to secure safe spaces, the super powers will always look for opportunities that they can capitalise in countries that are strategically important such as Sri Lanka. The current fertiliser crisis in the agriculture sector of Sri Lanka is making us even more vulnerable.

Organic Agriculture Mania

On 27 April, the Cabinet took a bold decision to ban the use of agrochemicals, almost overnight, to provide the nation with safe and healthy food. Recently, Senior Professor Udith Jayasinghe Mudalige, the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, has gone on record admitting that the sudden 100% organic agriculture was based on the wrong advice. If someone can mislead a government on a matter related to national security, then there must be something terribly wrong. The authorities now say a phase-out transition to 100% organic agriculture within a period of 3-5 years could have been the best policy. One could see the determination of the government to go for 100% organic agriculture. There are enough scientific publications that insist that crop yield will be reduced by 20-25% on average in organic agriculture leading to food insecurity of a country. Therefore, not the transition period, but the concept of 100% organic agriculture itself is a threat to national security.

Chemical fertilizer is not poisonous

The government still believes that chemical fertilisers are poisonous and have led to a number of non-communicable diseases including the chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu). Those who have a knowledge on soil science reiterate the fact that at rates of fertiliser applied in Sri Lanka, there is only a very low risk on health. For example, a final report of a government-funded research project on CKDu, led by Senior Professor Rohana Chandrajith of the University of Peradeniya can be considered a case in point. According to that report, causes for CKDu have been narrowed down to three reasons; namely fluoride content and magnesium content in drinking water, and low water intake by farmers. None of these causes are related to agrochemicals used in those areas. Even for other health issues highlighted by 100% organic supporters, a cause-effect relationship has not been established by scientific investigations.

Deficit of organic fertiliser

If the governments strive for 100% organic agriculture, they first wanted to produce the required quantities of organic fertilisers within the country and within 3-4 months before the next cropping season (i.e. this Maha season) starts. They failed to achieve this target and farmers are demanding fertilisers. Then without listening to the outcry of scientists not to import organic fertilisers, as it is a threat to our bio-diversity, plant and animal health, the government decided to import an “organic nitrogen fertiliser” from a Chinese Company. At least two sets of randomly drawn samples from these organic fertiliser stocks were found to be contaminated by pathogens and micro-organisms. Later, the government announced that they will not allow this seaweed and manure-based nitrogen fertiliser to enter the country. The Chinese government then issued a press release saying that our test reports were not accurate. Despite all this the ship carrying the fertiliser lot is still sailing, and we will have to wait and see how the Sri Lankan government will handle the pressure from the Chinese government to accept that fertiliser lot.

Produce from agricultural lands is the lifeline and only income source of the farming community. They are in dire need of fertilisers. Some farmer societies have even decided not to accept water from the irrigation tanks until there is an assurance from the government on fertilisers. If fertilisers are not provided on time to farmers, this could lead to another crisis; management of water in irrigation tanks.

Nano-Urea: An illusion

The government has decided to purchase an alternative fertiliser called “Nano-N” from India. Part of this fertiliser was airlifted as the cultivation has already started in some parts of the country and received on 20t October. Again, Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was on record saying it was a highly efficient “organic” liquid nitrogen fertilser. One hectare of paddy land requires only 2.5 liters of this Nano-N. This time someone has given the wrong advice to the Ministry of Agriculture and the government.

The patent right for “Nano-N” fertiliser is owned by Indian Farmer Fertiliser Corporations Ltd. (IFFCO) and is produced in a factory owned by IFFCO in Gujarat. They invented this technology in 2019 and released for commercial purposes in June 2021. This suggests that even in India there is a limited experience on the use of this fertiliser. To the best of my knowledge there is no experimental evidence on the use of this product under Sri Lankan conditions. There are some important aspects of this Nano-N that farmers and general public must be aware.

If this is a “organic” fertiliser, as the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture states, this must be imported into the country according to the conditions set forth in the Plant Protection Act following proper protocols to avoid another fiasco like the Chinese organic fertiliser issue. But what authorities is hiding from the public is that this “Nano-N” is actually a synthetic fertiliser that cannot be used in organic agriculture. According to the web site of IFFCO, this product is actually called “Nano-Urea” and hence cannot be organic.

This “Nano-Urea” contains only 4% nitrogen as against 46% nitrogen in urea granules. If only 2.5 litres of “Nano-Urea” is applied per hectare, rice plants will receive only 100 grams of nitrogen. This is assuming 100% efficiency which we will never achieve in nature. The most important point here is that to produce five tons of paddy harvest from one hectare, plant needs 105 kg of nitrogen of which 50 kilos of nitrogen are in grains. Therefore, anybody can calculate how many liters of “Nano-Urea” is required to produce the expected yield. That is 1,250 liters of “Nano-Urea” per hectare to provide at least the nitrogen that is removed from paddylands with harvest (i.e. 50kg N). Because of this, the limited available Indian research indicates that “Nano-Urea” cannot be applied as the only source of nitrogen but must be used together with at least 50% of nitrogen from other organic and chemical sources. By giving farmers only 2.5 liters of “Nano-Urea”, farmers will definitely reduce productivity. Our research evidence suggests that paddy yield loss due to lack of nitrogen fertilisers could be around 16-60% depending on the site characteristics. Therefore, “Nano-Urea” will endanger our national security as we will have to depend on other countries for our staple food.

According to the IFFCO website, 500ml bottle of “Nano-Urea” costs about Rs.640 (Indian Rs.240). Even if airfreight and other costs are ignored, the cost of one kilo of nitrogen in “Nano-Urea” is Rs.31,000, where as one kilo of nitrogen in granular urea is only Rs.130. No wonder why the government has decided to provide only 2.5 liters of “Nano-Urea” per hectare. What this writer cannot understand is that a much cheaper synthetic fertiliser like urea has been banned in their quest for 100% organic agriculture and then import another type of synthetic urea fertiliser at a price of 240 times higher. The government has ordered 3.1million liters of “Nano-Urea” from IFFCO at a cost of Rs.4,000,000,000 (Rs. four billion according to the figures given above). If farmers need to obtain their expected yields, the government has to provide farmers with additional sources of nitrogen. But the country has not produced enough organic or bio fertilisers to provide at least one-third of nitrogen required by different crop sectors.

The government is creating an illusion that the “Nano-Urea” is a wonder product that can replace 50kg of urea bag with just half a liter of this liquid nano-fertiliser. Of course, they are relying on the information provided by the IFFCO. According to IFFCO, because urea is in “Nano” size particles, plants can absorb nitrogen from this product easily and utilize efficiently. What they probably not aware or hide from the public is that urea is 100% water soluble and they dissolve almost instantaneously disintegrating urea granule into urea molecules. The size of a urea molecule is much smaller (approximately 0.3 to 0.5 Angstrom in different dimensions) than that of a “nano-urea” particle (200 to 500 Angtrom). If the size determines the absorption efficiency, then dissolved urea must get absorbed faster. Therefore, the question is why “Nano-Urea” needs to be produced in the first place. According to the limited literature on “Nano-Urea” this writer reviewed, the IFFCO conducted field experiments do not have a liquid urea only treatment to compare with “Nano-Urea” treatment. This raises some concerns, at least in this writer’s opinion, on the significance of this wonder product.

Nano products are new to the environment and not enough research has been conducted on the long-term effects of nano particles on human health and environment. Therefore, in many organic agriculture certification systems nano fertilisers are not allowed. Therefore, before such new products are introduced, adequate research must be conducted in a given environment to ensure environmental sustainability that is expected from organic agricultural systems.

Finally, if the government is not taking evidence-based advices from their “advisors”, we can only wait and see what will become of our food security and hence the national security vis-à-vis the interests of world powers.

The writer can be reached at or +94-77 264 0505

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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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