Connect with us


Palm oil ban ill-conceived



Open letter to the President

Whilst appreciating and congratulating Your Excellency on much of the new thrusts proposed in the policy statement, the writer was thoroughly dismayed by your decision to totally ban oil palm cultivation. By contrast, for example, Premier Narendra Modi, two years ago, on the advice of the Technology Commission of India (NITIAayog), decided to expand the cultivation of oil palm in India to 2 billion hectares to meet the national vegetable oil demand, in fact, replacing some low income generating arable crops. Irrigated lands are being used for part of the oil palm cultivations. It would appear that you have not consulted appropriate technocrats and academics in making this vitally important decision. I should kindly urge Your Excellency to also create a similar body as that of India here, a National Policy Commission of experts, to advise on policy matters of national interest.

It would appear that you were driven to this decision largely by the outcry of villagers living in the oil palm cultivation areas of the Southern Province that oil palm is the cause of drying of water bodies in their settlements, and some highly biased so called ‘environmentalists’, who have failed to look at the total picture relating to this highly productive and most profitable oil crop. It is the number one and most widely used global vegetable oil, producing 42% of the global oil demand from only 14.8 million ha as against soybean, the number two, which produces only 29.8%of the global oil demand from 103.8 million ha! Economic benefits of oil palm far outweigh that of coconut, tea and rubber in that comparative annual returns/ha for raw produce being Rs 612,0000, 175,000, 88,000 and 80,000 respectively, as per an estimate made by some scientists.


Misleading CEA report

Unfortunately, a scientifically highly erroneous report produced by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) on the matter added ‘fuel to the villagers’ fire’! The report has been heavily criticised by the Coconut Research Institute and numerous other independent well-informed scientists. However, the criticisms had little impact on the Yahapalana regime which, having suspended its initial decision to expand the oil palm cultivation to 20,000ha, vacillated for years without generating a final decision!

The CEA supported the contention that oil palm dries up the soil, incorrectly arguing that whereas a rubber tree transpires only 63 litres/day, oil palm transpires 500-600 litres; the oft quoted figures, however, are 1,300 and 1100 mm/year for oil palm and rubber respectively, in the literature, or 120l/rubber tree and 300l/oil palm tree/day. The mean annual rainfall in the wet zone, where both these crops are grown, is as high as 3000 mm, well in excess of the crop requirements! The CEA seems to be unaware that evapo-transpiration rates of crops are calculated on unit area basis and not per tree or plant basis! Whereas the standard tree density of rubber is 520/ha that of oil palm is only 143, implying then that the two crops transpire comparable amounts of water per unit area of land based on our above cited per tree values. Furthermore the reported green water footprint of oil palm, that is the component of water received from precipitation that is stored in the root zone of the soil and is evaporated, transpired or incorporated into plants, is 19,148 cubic metres/ha for oil palm as against 32,410 for rubber.

It is more than evident that over the years, global warming leading to climatic changes as well as increased water use by the increasing population caused this situation. In my own experience, a beautiful stream that ran across my farm in Kandy which I bought in 1992, dried over the years and by 2015 even traces of its existence disappeared! As excessive water consumption is the main argument against oil palm cultivation, it is vital that a hydrological study be conducted, comparing history and current status of water bodies in an exclusively rubber growing area, as against an oil palm areas in the wet zone to convince the concerned parties.

Coming back to the CEA report referred to above, some 12 points had been cited there critical of oil palm, but nearly all of them have been refuted by the CRI, the organization mandated for R & D on oil palm and a host of independent scientists well versed in the science of oil palm. It is unfortunate that you failed to consult them before making the vital decision.


Palm oil and health

Some concern has been expressed over some bi-products formed during palm oil processing supposed to be carcinogenic, but the latest research has established that consuming palm oil in moderation hardly poses a health risk. Whilst some saturated fatty acids in palm oil may be cholesterol elevating, coconut oil it can be argued to be worse in that regard, in that the cholesterol elevating saturated fatty acid content is more. Of course coconut oil has numerous health benefit too, and although it was downgraded as an ‘artery-clogging tropical oil’, several decades ago, it has now become ‘the darling oil of the west’. Further, apart from others, the high (38%) monounsaturated fat content in palm oil has a distinct health benefit, in that it decreases the LDL (bad) cholesterol.


GMOA’s letter

It is ridiculous that the GMOA, which often pokes its nose into matters that it is not thoroughly conversant with, has thanked you for banning oil palm. Have they studied all aspects of the issue: economics, environment and health in-depth before making such utterances? I should refer to an exhaustive review that appeared in an issue of the journal ‘Nutrients’, 2019, on the subject of oil palm by Eva Gestiro and nine co-authors which has discussed the health effects and other matters thoroughly. On a previous occasion too the GMOA had strongly advocated reverting to traditional rice varieties, little realising that they yield only 25-30% of the new improved varieties; and in doing so we will be compelled to import bulk of our rice requirement! Moreover, we have many new rice varieties with similar health and nutritional benefits as the traditional ones, but yielding several fold more!


Alternative lands for oil palm

or other uses

There are some 60,000 ha of uncultivated paddy fields essentially in the wet zone which can be used for other purposes. They are left fallow as returns on investment in rice farming are low. One option is possibly oil palm cultivation, after draining the excess water. In such lands the excess water could be collected in ponds at the bottom of the catena and used for fish culture or irrigation. Raised beds can be prepared, as done for cultivation of coconut in Thailand and Indonesia, in highly ill-drained soils, and used for coconut, oil palm or market gardening. The current provisions of the Agrarian Development Act prohibit alternative use of these lands, but, surely, the Act can be amended.


Coconut oil alternative

It has been suggested by many that we should promote coconut oil as an alternative to palm oil, and the extent under coconut be expanded for the purpose. At the current mean national yield of coconut oil (0.8 M/ha) and the global mean palm oil yield of 3.8-4.0 Mt/ha, we would need five times more land to produce coconut oil than palm oil; and where is the land? With global warming and air temperatures rising, especially in the dry months in the dry zone, there is a serious problem of pollen germination and nut setting in coconut in this area. Hence land expansion for coconut is very limited therein. There is little or no land in the intermediate and wet zones for additional coconut growing. One option, however, appears to be cultivation of coconut as a shade tree for tea in the low and mid countries, and the CRI & TRI research has established that this is feasible. The demand, however, for both virgin and conventional coconut oils appears to have decreased since 2015, whereas that for coconut water is rapidly increasing. In fact the forecast for coconut water demand is to double over the next five years from 2. 25 to 4.5 billion USD. Consequently, the demand for our king coconut is growing, and it would appear more prudent to cultivate king coconut in available lands than producing nuts or oil!


Moving totally to organic farming

Promoting organic farming as far as possible is desirable, but achieving the above target stated in your speech is far- fetched, given the fact that global organic farm cover is increasing only by about 10% of its current extent, which is only 2% of the total global farm cover! Of this 66% is in pastures, and only the balance is in crops! There is much ongoing research in organic farming, especially in the field of microbial fertilizers. However, widely applicable technologies are yet to come. As regards microbial fertilizers, the soil medium should have the nutrients for effective uptake by microbes, implying that the soil should anyway be replenished regularly with nutrients, chemically or organically, except for nitrogen, which legumes and certain other crops can fix from the atmosphere.

So conventional farming cannot be easily replaced. What is more important in the short term is to correct the shortcomings thereof. One important area is judicious use of agrochemicals for which a massive farmer training effort is needed. This necessitates an effective extension service, the current one being in shambles! So please get the government to address this issue. At the same time research and technology output is rapidly declining, mainly because qualified technocrats from research institutes are leaving for greener pastures, especially to the universities where the total remuneration package is more than double for many comparable posts. This lateral brain drain now appears to be more serious than the vertical!

We trust you would give serious consideration to the issues cited above.





Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Abuse of use of title Professor



I read with much interest the letter by Mr. Nissanka Warakaulle, regarding the above matter, in the issue of the Sunday Island of 18th April 2021. I agree fully with the contents of his letter. He should be very familiar with the regulations as he is a former Registrar of the University of Colombo. I wish to highlight another instance where it is abused. In the 1970s, the title of Associate Professor was created. Until then there were only three categories of Professors. Firstly the holder of the Chair, secondly a co-Professor and thirdly, an Emeritus Professor. There were also, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers. The title of Reader was replaced with the title Associate Professor, which is meant to be a designation, to be used after the name. However, this category of academics started using it as a pre-fix, dropping the word Associate!

Profesor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics,
University of Colombo

Continue Reading


Vacant seat in Parliament



by Harim Peiris

One of the more interesting features about the current Parliament of Sri Lanka, is that it has the highest number of parties with representation in that august Assembly, mostly through a plethora of small parties, which have been elected with one or two members to Parliament. Most of these parties are regional in scope and represent specific communities, often ethnic or religious minorities from the Northern and Eastern provinces. Generally colourful almost quixotic political characters have been elected from these single ticket parties, with a couple of them, including the EPDP and the ACTC securing two seats each. They certainly add colour and a vibrant diversity to the composition of the legislature.

Also falling into this same category of a single seat party, from among the minor parties, is the former governing United National Party (UNP), which rather fortuitously through its vote tally in all districts, managed to qualify for a single National List seat in Parliament. The UNP is a small party with a big party mentality and blessed with close links to major national newspapers, its unelected office-bearers and defeated candidates, manage to make the news daily, if rather irrelevantly.

The UNP has rather unusually been unwilling to fill its single seat, making the current Parliament a full house at 224 members, rather than its complete complement of 225. However, political circles are abuzz with talk that finally its longest serving and possibly leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will have himself nominated to the UNP’s solitary seat in Parliament. It has to be a record in any country with a proportional representation electoral system, for a party to fall from a governing party with 106 seats, to a solitary parliamentary seat in the ensuing election. Leaving that grand old party with a nice head office, a proud history, and some political personalities who made a serious error in political judgement, when they denied its longtime deputy leader and presidential candidate, the party leadership, resulting in the formation of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party.

Just over a year since nominations for the parliamentary elections closed on 20th March 2020 and the UNP thinks about finally getting its act together, to nominate Mr. Wickremesinghe to its solitary seat, and the SJB celebrated the first year anniversary of its formation; it is worth examining the implications to politics and national governance, created by the Rajapaksa political vehicle of the SLPP supplanting the SLFP, and on the Opposition side of the House, the even newer Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, taking over the constituency, the younger generation leaders and the political leadership of the non SLPP/Rajapaksa socio-political forces in the country. The SLPP created its own history in the August 2020 parliamentary elections becoming the most electorally successful political party under the 1978 constitution, securing 145 seats in Parliament, bettering its predecessor UPFA’s result of 144 seats won in the euphoria of the war’s ending in 2010. The SJB also performed approximately comparative to its parent UNP’s 2010 post war performance, securing 54 seats in 2020.

However, the SJB has also made its own mark on the political landscape of the country in its relatively short history. Firstly, by comprehensively wiping its predecessor UNP off the electoral map, and firmly capturing the Opposition political space. It has faced the juggernaut of an SLPP Administration with a super majority in Parliament. In response, the SJB and the Opposition Leader’s approach has been measured, thoughtful and calibrated. Occupying the moral high ground, by claiming that the Opposition should oppose but not obstruct, it has permitted some leeway to the Rajapaksas to implement their mandate; but has been a moral conscience, as well as a check and balance on the government. As a new party it has focused on building up its grassroots capability, and the indefatigable Opposition Leader has been mirroring the President’s own dialogue with the village, by having numerous grassroots level consultations and discussions, albeit without an attendant media circus.

Politically as well, the focus of the SJB has been to bring to sharp focus the shortcomings of the Administration, and accordingly it has been the inspiration for the “sir fail” political concept; a rather direct assault on the performance or alleged lack thereof by the Government and the President, elected as he was among other things as a technocrat who would get things done. Astutely Sajith Premadasa has been careful to refrain from an overly negative assault on his successful rival in the presidential election, focusing instead on the issues and avoiding the personal mudslinging which has been the sorry hallmark of Sri Lankan politics in more recent times. The SJB and the Opposition Leader have sought to adopt a more principled and issue-based politics, rather than on pure personalities and one that is non-sectarian, both distinctions of which are an unusual departure from the norm in mainstream Sri Lankan politics. As the politics of the UNHRC process in Geneva and the cremation issue of the Covid deceased for the Muslim community dominated the political debate in the past few months, the SJB demonstrated remarkable political maturity in taking a principled position opposed to forced cremation based on the WHO guidelines, and then rolling out a newly minted and credible reconciliation policy on the cusp of the Geneva vote, which differentiated it clearly from the Government, arguing that national unity was the best guarantor and contributor to national security.

As a slew of highly charged political issues ranging from exonerating various accused persons from ongoing court cases through a presidential commission, to the controversial proposals for the autonomous Port City Commission come to dominate the political debate in the near future, the SJB will be tested. But Sajith Premadasa took on the Rajapaksas in their home turf of Hambantota for years, and did not flinch from a tough political ask in a local constituency setting. The current challenges are bigger and the setting is the national political stage. One year on, in a game with a five-year cycle, the SJB can take solace and some credit that while the beginning of the end may not have begun for the current Administration, the end of the honeymoon period with the public for the Administration, has clearly already occurred.



Continue Reading


How to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country



The current social political and economic decision making and the ‘mysterious’, illogical behaviour of Sri Lanka’s leadership, are classic examples of ‘how to degrade, dismantle and destroy a country’.

What are the essential conditions for a country to be a united, successful, sovereign and independent?

1. The rule of law.

2. A responsible Parliament.

3. An executive totally dedicated to the protection and well being of the country.

4. A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty.

5. Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment.

6. Awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology.

The rule of law, as ordinarily understood, is a code of conduct that a people and a state accept as their guiding and protective set of regulations for the common good. There are two sides to it; rights and duties. Human rights and civil rights on the one hand, and paying taxes, obeying social rules of human interaction, such as observing traffic regulations, etc., on the other hand are the two sides.

The institution that oversees the whole complexity of the rule of law is the judiciary. The judiciary must be like Caesar’s wife––totally above suspicion. That is what the blindfolded lady with a sword and scales of justice signify. What we see happening now is something worrisome. I am not going to list all the unsavoury happenings in the recent past. But the Presidential Commission on political victimisation has removed the blindfold of the lady, thrown away the scales, and she is wielding the sword against those few who sincerely and competently did their duty.

How can an independent judiciary stop ongoing trials and release the suspects just because the executive or a commission says so?

In other words, they are degrading the judiciary, destroying its independence.

A responsible Parliament is the very soul of a democratic country. A Parliament that behaves with decorum, efficiency and a keen sense of responsibility to the people that elected it is essential for the country’s progress.

People’s representatives are stealing public funds. They get tax free vehicles and sell them for millions! This is stealing the money due to the Treasury. They sell permits for everything, from petroleum to pharmaceuticals, from sand to stone, collecting millions. This is a brazen demand for bribes. When the President concludes his term, he gets a mansion for free in Colombo. This does not happen even in a banana republic. They have no shame to lose the elections and creep back into the Parliament through the back door, called the National List. They get huge commissions for development projects.

Listen to the current parliamentary debates. What are the crucial problems facing the country today? The gigantic external debt is number one. Number two is China, India and the USA nibbling away at the country’s sovereignty. Number three is the worsening situation of poverty. These are the three main problems among many others. Are they discussing and making laws and policies to solve the debt crisis? Are they making statesmanlike policies and diplomatic overtures to keep the three ogres at bay? Are they discussing ways and means of improving agriculture and industry and making our economy vibrant and people friendly? Listen to the gibberish they are mouthing, or rather screaming, at one another. They accuse, scold and insult one another using un-parliamentary words. They call one another thieves. They may belong to various political parties and may be in the government or in the Opposition, but are united “thick as thieves” and protect one another.

An executive totally dedicated to the protection and wellbeing of the country is yet to be found. If such an executive had been there, would there have been an Easter massacre? If such an executive is there, will it tell us only what we already know, after years and millions spent on a Presidential Inquiry into the Easter barbarity? They have shown us only the tip of the iceberg, which is there to be seen even without an inquiry. We want to know what is hidden under. Why is the executive so coy about showing it to us? We can only say with Marcellus in Act I, scene iv of the Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (Sri Lanka)”. We have neither trust nor hope in the executive. It too has gone the way of the Parliament.

A vibrant economy that lifts the poor out of poverty. Isn’t that the main task of any governing body of a country?

But it is not so in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they only talk about getting loans, more loans and bigger loans. And when they get a loan they crow about it as if it is a great achievement. Any decent gentleman would keep his loans secret, for he would be ashamed of the public getting to know it. We do not have gentlemen. Ours are scoundrels who are happy to get loans so that they can get their cut. They are not worried because they do not repay the loans. It is we the people who have to settle their debts.

If not for the women sweating away in FTZ factories, if not for the women plucking tea buds by the ton in the plantations, if not for the women sold to slavery in West Asia, where will this country be? What have the governing ingrates done for them? Nothing. It is the private small industries and entrepreneurs that are some consolation to the local labour force.

What have they done for the farmers? They do not get water in time, the fertilizer in time and now, as if Sena is not enough, they have the pachyderms! Their habitats are sold to multinationals and they have nowhere to go. They are being massacred more than one a day. This is a national crime against innocent elephants that cry to heaven for retribution. The country is cursed for it, but for our scoundrels it is water on the duck’s back. The farmers suffer, they are protesting in sit-ins all over the country. The politician monkeys see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, and of course do nothing. We are going downhill, getting poorer and will soon end up in bankruptcy.

Social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful ambient, is necessary for people to live happily in a country. It was so sad to watch a popular tuition master, teaching ecology on YouTube, advise the students to leave this country for their own good, adding that he himself is contemplating such action. Can anyone blame him? We who have passed the three score and ten probably will remain and prefer to sink with the ship. But the younger generations certainly have a right to enjoy this short but incredibly beautiful life, instead of getting bogged down in the lawless, fearsome chaos this country will become.

Not too long ago, we lived side by side, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, without any suspicion or antagonism, enjoying one another. We were together in school, in the playground, in the market place and in the neighbourhood. Now we realize how wonderful that was. Then came the petty political rascals. Just to get power and amass filthy lucre, they would sell anything, sacrifice anything. For them there is nothing sacred or invaluable. Even foolish religious leaders were made use of for their benefit. The Sinhala were pitted against the Tamil, then against the Muslim. They pit religion against religion with fantastic canards like bound fallopian tubes, kotthu with impotence pills, female underwear laced with infertility drugs, etc. The media slaves of the petty political scoundrels, and even some political religious, went to town with the incredible stories without checking on their veracity. The gullible public swallowed them hook line and sinker. How much blood have we shed for the last 50 years?

What a waste of life!

When will the people ever learn that they are governed by a coterie of scoundrels––Ali Baba and the 225 thieves? Will we ever have social fraternity and friendship in a tolerant and peaceful environment? The answer is blowing in the wind, my friend; it is blowing in the wind.

The awareness of and the love and protection of the country’s ecology is the duty of every true patriotic citizen.

Ali Baba and the 225 thieves are hell bent on destroying just that, the ecology. The cunning scoundrels and their bootlicking officialdom are good at shooting the messenger. A young girl declares that Sinharaja is destroyed. And the officers instead of investigating those felling trees ask the girl if she knows where the forest boundaries are. A civil activist exposes the fraud of the Sahana Malla. Instead of verifying the accusation by checking the items in the Malla, he is arrested. You point the moon to them and they cut off your index finger. In the cancer causing coconut oil case, they have shown that they are more interested in protecting the crooked businesses, rather than the vulnerable citizens of the country. They are destroying the forests in Wilpattu, in the Sinharaja and all over. They are destroying our country, they are destroying us.

I’m sure the governing ignoramuses have never heard of Chief Seattle’s almost ‘sacred’ ecological declaration, where he tells the aggressive white invaders that his people and the environment are not two things but one. I’m sure they have never heard of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” on the love and protection of Mother/Sister Earth. They know only their insatiable greed; they see nothing beyond their own navels. They have no love or kinship to the soil and the rocks, the rivers and the seas, the flora and the fauna of Sri Lanka. They certainly have no love for Sri Lankans whom they deceive every five years. They are not the legitimate children of Mother Lanka. Their only goal in life is to exploit this country and its people to the maximum possible and get away, the dual-citizen traitors. There is no hope for our beautiful elephants, our environment and us.

Ali Baba and the 225 thieves know quite well how to degrade, dismantle and destroy our country. They not only know it, they are deliberately committing the heinous crime. Who can stop them? Only the PEOPLE can stop them. That’s why I have been calling for a Grand Alliance of Good People. But I feel I am only a voice crying in the wilderness.

Cannot our people see the cunning deceitful trickery they are perpetrating on us? When the A20 was mooted, before genuine opposition could come up, their lackeys, political, religious and lay, vociferously stood against it. The genuine Opposition was silenced. At the last moment, the bootlicking slaves supported the Bill in the Parliament. The same trick was repeated at giving away of the West Container Terminal of the Colombo harbour to the Adani Group of India. The trick is being repeated for the third time with the Port City. The same bootlicking pack of lackeys is vehemently attacking the draft of the Port City Management. The genuine Opposition has no time even to get organised. The draft is deliberately made worse than what the Chinese imperialists demand. Eventually, they will remove the unnecessary excess and the lackeys will say a compromise is won by them.

If our people still cannot see this traitorous tragic betrayal performed before their eyes, they do not deserve a unitary, sovereign, independent, self-respecting state called Sri Lanka.





Continue Reading