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Policy Making and Execution in Agriculture



By Gamini Seneviratne


It’s been a long time since the thought had occurred to me and/or I’ve been asked by concerned people, mostly scholars or would-be scholars to write about our post-Independence experience in policymaking in the various sectors I served in. My friend, the late S B D de Silva, (for those who have no knowledge of his work, I refer to his “The Political Economy of Underdevelopment”, in which he employed Keynesian economics as deconstructed by its application to ground realities – a book that demands translation into other languages), was particularly insistent that I write of the much-maligned industrial policy of the 1970s. He would also, till his last years, phone me at odd hours asking for my views on some aspect of plantation agriculture.

What agitated S B D was that he had been Director of Industrial Policy and Economic Research before moving towards agrarian studies. I was brought into the Ministry of Industries and Scientific Affairs as Director / Regulation of Industries in the late 1972. (My functions there had to do with the disbursement of foreign exchange ‘quotas’ among manufacturing industries to enable them to import raw material and machinery for their operation). Not long after I came there, I was appointed, in addition, to take over the functions (Policy and Research) that had been S B D’s beat. I shall revert to questions of industrial policy later.

My first encounters with agriculture, as a public servant, was in Matara in 1965. As AGA there my primary duties had to do with the development of the Highland Colonisation (HC) Schemes that had been established for the cultivation of tea. (Despite the publicity given here and abroad to ‘the plight of estate workers’, today and for several decades now, such ‘small-holdings’ have produced the bulk of our tea – around 70%. Several years later, I had the task of editing the Bill drafted by Wickrema Gunasekera under which the Tea Small Holdings Authority was set up. More on that is due in the interests of public policy relating to the system of ‘plantations’ the inefficiencies of which S B D exposed in his ‘Political Economy’).

Matara had established several such colonies off Pitabeddara on a roadway that runs towards the district boundary between Matara and Galle. They were serviced by the Derangala factory owned and operated by the State Plantations Corporation (SPC). Another set of colonies was being opened between Morawaka and Hiniduma, supported by Kalubovitiyana, a new factory that was brought into operation during my tenure in Matara. These two factories were quite capable of processing all the leaf produced in the HCs (the SPC had another factory, Delgoda, in Ratnapura District). Private factories, hungry for leaf, had begun to raid the HCs and were offering higher prices than the SPC.

Price per pound [lb] of leaf payable by the factory was determined on a simple formula: the net sale average (NSA) of made tea at auction divided by the out-turn – which was taken to be around 22 %, roughly four and a half pounds of green leaf to a pound of made tea. Prices at auction for low grown teas being low in the mid-1960s, the NSA was usually below one rupee – which meant below 20 cents per pound of leaf. After deducting for water, coarse leaf, weight of gunny bag … the SPC paid 16 – 17 cents – and the private factories cashed in, paying, say, a cent or two more. The producers shifted towards them, the SPC gathered less leaf than could be economically processed, its losses went up – it was all a mess. The SPC claimed the private factories could pay more because they cheated on the weight of the leaf they collected. I asked for a meeting at the SPC – which they were happy to grant.

That didn’t turn out well for them. The price data for the last auction was on the wall in their Board Room – and the prices for Derangala and Delgoda had been interchanged. Recriminations, apologies (the SPC Chairman was an impressive man who had been a top officer at Inland Revenue or a Bank). He agreed to adjust the payment for that week, I agreed that the weighing mechanisms used by the bought-leaf factories should be checked.

That took a bit of doing, getting our transport and personnel (led by the Weights & Measures Inspectors) into place as secretly as possible. The private lorries were ignored as they came in as usual, were stopped on the way out, their weighing scales checked. On average they registered 5 lbs less than the true weight. All were charged, taken to court, tried and fined. All the lorries belonged to a politician of the ruling party, the UNP. There was no change in the verdicts, but it all added up to other unwelcome developments that made my transfer out of the district desirable.

What was most visible to the agitation of bought-leaf factory operators was that the SPC factories began to thrive – and, what was truly annoying, the small-holdings began to improve the quantity and quality of their leaf (that meant better prices at the auction for the SPC and a couple of cents more for leaf).

It had to do also with the economies of scale and when it looked as if more land would be brought under HCs some distance away – that would be good if the SPC didn’t get the leaf. But if the quantities were right the transport would pay for itself.

There was an HCS already at Rotumba on the eastern end of the district; it had been there for a few years but the allottees had not moved in. I happened to go that way on my first day at Matara and the DRO, S E T Jayasinghe, a campus colleague told me about it. The beneficiaries of Rotumba were to be mostly the wrong people led by the previous President of the MPCS and the new President, the mudalali with a paddy mill, a van and the big sillara kade, a natural supporter of the UNP, obstructed the expected influx of people ‘of the other side’. He did this by simply occupying the land allotted to the previous President and refusing to construct the access road to the Scheme. Two years on there were just two allottees on the land meant for 100 and I found the Colonisation Officer (CO) at home rubbing after-shave into his chin.

He chose to move out, a senior OLDO (Overseer for Land Development) who had served in that area and was a CO was brought in. The MP came to protest, along with the mudalali and the law was explained to him. He said it was a political problem for him and his man was given an extra fortnight to vacate the encroachment. When I went there, there had been no change on the ground. The mudalali was ordered to remove the fence to the encroached land, he moved to do so, the Grama Sevaka and others ripped it all off and within a few months Rotumba was active with the land prepared by some 80 families who were ready to move in.

An initiative to establish a Youth Settlement Scheme for the cultivation of tea met with much opposition from politicians, local and at parliament level. It had to do with caste – a factor that had not been taken account of in selecting young men for the project. The settlement was to be located around Ginneliya, above Urubokka in the jungle that extended towards Katuwana (where a fort built by the Dutch still existed).

I discussed the project with senior planters in that area, Douglas Jayawickrema of ‘Berabeula’ and R L Pereira of, I think, ‘Deniyaya’ estate. Gunam Thambipillai of Pitabeddara and Rajah Senewiratne, Superintendent of the SPC factories were constantly at hand for consultation: indeed, they were the primary designers of the lay out for the internal roadways, the wadiyas, the residential and other buildings. Both trudged through the forest with me to work out such detail.

Applications were called from young men in the vicinity, and they were interviewed at a ‘Land Kachcheri’ – one where a Land Officer normally ‘screens’ a hundred applicants in a day. This was different: two teams of a Land Officer and a senior Agriculture extension officer were given that task. So painstaking was their scrutiny of the applicants that they took three days to conclude the selection process. I dropped by for an hour or so each day.

When the selections were made, I submitted the list to the GA, Francis Pietersz, who approved it.

And all hell broke loose. It was alleged that I had selected ‘reds’. The managers of major plantations in the area, including Berabeula and Deniyaya complained to me that I had taken their best workers. But that was of no account; the MPs for Deniyaya and Hakmana sent out telegrams flying everywhere from the Prime Minister down, demanding that I be transferred out of Matara.

So it was done: I was sent to the Ministry of Agriculture ‘with immediate effect’.

And, with no further delay, the first Youth Settlement Scheme in the country was buried before the youth moved in. Evidently, the MPs’ supporters had their own version of a land kachcheri, made their selections – and sent them to the site at Ginneliya to grow cinnamon.

It was the year that straddled mid-1965 and mid-1966.

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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