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Pain of the elephant/human conflict

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Reports of casualties, both human and elephant, are monotonous daily fare in our newspapers. They are in danger of becoming a mere scorecard, with little useful impact. The problem is very real, and a far cry from times when we only read about elephant casualties by collisions on rail tracks. The afflicted communities unfairly place the blame on WildLife officers. In reality, what can these poor officials do? The expensive device of electric fences, have clearly failed – largely because regular maintenance is difficult, if not impossible. Fire crackers are now too well recognized by elephants, making them woefully ineffective. The use of “Hakkapatas” is cruel and ineffective. Shooting is illegal. Several practices operate, but individually they are of limited use.

The conflict is aggravated by the need for human settlements, often urgently implemented, such as those under the Accelerated Mahaweli Project. Inevitably, because large extents, often intruding on the traditional elephant migration paths, have to be on offer, to interest large contractors for jungle clearing. Tragically, it is the settler families that have now to contend with elephant inroads.

There is evidently no single measure that by itself is effective – perhaps a combination may be. The marauding elephants probably see cultivations as handy food, and houses as sources for grain and salt. If these are provided, they may see no need to invade cultivations and dwellings.

A multi-pronged effort could at least yield a partial solution, and would require:

(i) A clear recognition of habitual migration paths.

(ii) The positioning of physical barriers – such as trenches or bamboo plantations.

(iii) The use of linked bee boxes – reported to be effectively employed in Thailand. It is claimed that chilli plants also deter elephants.

(iv) The provision of appropriately placed “Salt Licks”.

(v) Setting aside of extents planted in crops that elephants are known to prefer. This is not unfamiliar to farmers – mimicking the tradition of the “kurulu paluwa” of paddy cultivators. Planting of corridors immediately outside physical impediments, (such as electric fences/bamboo plantings) with crops like bananas, manioc, kithul, maize, sugarcane, rain-fed paddy etc. This could be through Shramadana campaigns organized by State officials or voluntary benefactors marshalled by politicians of local bodies. Even if it needs to be done at State expense, it could still be a socially worthwhile investment. Planting materials where practicable, may be contributed or purchased from the settlers themselves.

(vi) The operations should be done as a co-operative venture with the settlers, to encourage self-help – the effectiveness benefitting from the experience and operation of such programmes as “Gammedda,” implemented successfully with private sector support.

This is admittedly “Armchair” musing, but of some use, hopefully.

“Those who can, do – those who can’t, – teach”

 

Dr UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA

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Opinion

Agriculture Dept. in a slumber

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The Department of Agriculture has been in a slumber for many years. Governments talk about developing agriculture in this country, but nothing happens. I am talking through experience. For the last several years I have been trying to obtain assistance from the department to fertilize my small coconut land and tea plantation, but with no success. In Galle my property is located about one km from the Highway on the Akuressa Road. I spoke to the officers through my cultivator at Walahanduwa and Labuduwa but the stock response is “SORRY the Government has not issued!” Do these officers ever visit these places ? ” NO”.

About two years ago I had to buy from a private trader to fertilize my coconut plants and part of my tea plantation. My profit is almost “NIL”. Due to lack of fertilizer the coconut crop dropped from five hundred nuts to 150/ nuts this month. Besides this, my buyer bought the coconuts @ of Rs 50/ per nut, whilst in Colombo I pay Rs 90/ per nut. Even, in my tea plantation there is a drop in the quantity of green leaf, as I have not fertilized it! Here too I am at the mercy of the buyer and have to accept whatever price he offers as there is no guaranteed price.

In my property I decided to plant cinnamon as it grows well along my fence , but the Agriculture Department told me that I will have to go to Matara to obtain plants, which is 28 miles from my place in Kalahe. Their attitude is very negative.

If one watches the Sinhala news on TV, it is quite evident that the Agriculture Department does nothing to encourage the cultivator in terms of providing fertilizer, advice against pests or even methods in improving the crop. Officers are warming their seats in the offices and never conduct field visits.

There is also no supervision or management by the Department. If from the head office they conduct surprise checks and visits, they will realise the exact situation. My visits to the branches indicated they are very poorly equipped in terms of furniture and equipment. It was found that they are poorly maintained and the premises, with broken furniture and unclean toilets, have never been swept or colour washed. A clear indication that none of the management teams from the head offices ever visit. The approaches to their offices are in a terrible state. Why cannot the management get these officers to provide a programme for the month, and get them to report on facts and figures, with acknowledgement from the growers being obtained with their comments; thus ensuring that the reports are genuine, and there must be sudden visits by the head office to these sites to check and supervise them. The department must adopt appropriate measures by giving proper directions to ensure that the cultivator/grower benefits from the department”. The Public are their Servants today.

The Vision of the Coconut Research Institute is to be the centre of excellence in coconut research technology, development and technology transfer in the region.

Its Mission – General knowledge and technology through excellence in research , towards increasing production & profitability of coconuts.

Its Mandate – 1. Maintain seed gardens.

2. Train advisory and extension workers to assist the coconut industry, guide & advise coconut industry on all matters of technical nature.

It is sad to say these so-called “Visions & Missions” are only on paper. Even the Mandate they talk about is also confined to paper! At grass root level “Nothing” happens.

There is no purpose in having any research and having great experts at the CRI, what matters is do the public benefit from them? It Is an Emphatic No!

No new seedlings are available. There is neither fertilizer nor expert advice. The Southern Province growers are completely neglected, as the so called institutions consist of incompetent and lazy officials who do not care about government or CRI policy. These CRI experts must not confine themselves to their offices; they must visit these places without giving them notice if they want to see what is happening.

 

NIHAL De ALWIS

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Opinion

Presidential words as orders

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At present two presidential inquiry commissions are working on – Easter Sunday Attack and Political Victimization. Many people come before these two commissions and mention many things that have been said/ordered by the former President, Prime Minister and various officials. It would be exceedingly difficult or impossible to check the veracity of those statements.

Now, incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa asks/orders (or in a way threatens) government officials to take his spoken words as legitimate circulars. One day those officers too would have to come before various commissions and judicial courts, to justify the tasks they carried out on verbal orders by a President (may be solely to save themselves from being punished), and then who would be there to safeguard them?

A RATNAYAKE

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Opinion

‘Amude’ also tried in Parliament

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There has been furor on the dress code of NC Leader Athaullah who came to the parliament in a decent Afghan-style dress. I could remember in the years of yore, our friendly Dahanayake from my former electorate Galle, tried to come to the Parliament in an Amude, but cannot remember what followed. He tried to enter the Parliament in Amude (Span Cloth worn by farmers) to protest against the imposition by Mrs Bandaranaike in 1964 of a ration of two yards of textiles per month per person, at a time of grave shortage of foreign exchange.

 When Gandhi came to the British Parliament many decades ago – MPs referred to him as “Naked Pakir walking down the British parliament steps”, as he was dressed in 3/4th trouser style cloth for the down portion, and top part of the body was naked, except for a thin shawl draped over the body exposing parts of his chest. Also in the recent past an ex-president was attired in Modi Dress ( I am not sure if he came to the parliament) for the top part (similar to the top part of Afghan dress) and no one in the government like MP Marikkar or Harin Fernando protested.

Is the so-called Kapatiya Dress in white only admissible in parliament? What about full suits worn by brown sahibs / ex-Royal politicians – this is also a British dress; so why make a big fuss about an Afghan style decent dress. Kandyans are not protesting when down south bride grooms wear the Nilame style dress, which is trending these days?

 

SUMITH DE SILVA

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