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Prof. Yuan Longping, Hybrid Rice and Local Ignoramuses

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by Dr. MP Dhanapala

Some people are allergic to genetic improvement of crops. They are free to provide an appropriate technology to convince farmers to propagate and have their share of traditional crop species to lead a healthy life, ignoring the green revolution, improved crop species and use of agro-chemical inputs inclusive of plant nutrients.

I use the term “appropriate technology” to imply its feasibility, sustainability and economic viability from the farmers’ point of view. In this process, one should demarcate clearly between green revolution and green agriculture. The latter is yet ill- defined with no definite field tested technological recommendations for different crops developed or established.

Similarly, the sustainable agricultural enthusiast can engage in so called environment friendly non-toxic food production to feed the nation at an affordable cost. Surprisingly, the past cropping season (Maha 21/22) was deliberately ignored by the advisors and experts of sustainable green agriculture, without proper guidance and demonstrations to the farmers in all sectors of agriculture.

Everything was in a disarray and the responsible officers of the sector remained tight-lipped while securing their positions in office. Was this sustainable green agriculture? Are we to repeat the same? This needs an immediate and definite answer/solution before the Yala season begins in 2022. Farmers cannot proceed without well defined technological package.

To my mind, the agriculture we had until the first half of the 20th century was presumably sustainable and may have been green. The animal husbandry component together with farming systems and crop rotation, and sometimes the shifting/slash and burn cultivation system based on mixed-cropping associated with crop diversity were apparently considered Eco-friendly concepts in operation. But we failed to produce adequate food for the increasing population.

The land resources diminished gradually with more land being utilized to rear animals; then there was the population explosion. This situation led us to more intensive, demand-driven mono crop culture. Mechanization and other scientific innovations, inclusive of agrochemicals made good the acute shortage of labor as a result of people moving away from agriculture to white-collar jobs. This was influenced by education and urbanization.

How many of those who advise and insist on sustainable and green agriculture are prepared to engage in agriculture as their sole livelihood? Have they ever cultivated land to earn their livings? Probably not. But we have people from all sectors, including Buddhist monks (I am a Buddhist) promoting sustainable green agriculture with no strategies defined for successful implementation. They are unwilling to be full-time farmers. They preach and predict that in a few years’ time, agriculture would return to normal to feed the nation. They have no empathy with the farmers. This is the bitter reality.

The nostalgic eco-friendly scenario anticipated with sustainable green agriculture – forest cover, natural springs, unpolluted creeks and water bodies full of fish, soil microbes, flora and fauna etc. may well be only a dream that would not reappear on earth again. This lives in the minds of those who knew a more spacious era. We then had over 80 percent of forest cover in the country, Now it’s down to less than 30 percent with denudation of forests alongside the population explosion.

If we had the forest cover and a small population as in the past, then we could have continued life in a sustainable environment as we did centuries ago eating healthy food provided by nature. But now we have grown to a little over 22 million confined to 64.5 thousand square kilometers of land in an electronic age. We travel in carbon emitting limousines and supersonic aircraft consuming the resource of the earth without a care of what would happen the next day. Some of us only mark-time till we get the opportunity to migrate to greener pastures; but the poor and the incapable must continue to survive in this environment.

If one can supply the so-called healthy food at affordable prices for every inhabitant, then there is no necessity for a Green Revolution (not green agriculture) or Norman Bourlogue and his innovative approach to improve food production. We need food more than anything else, with the majority of our people born without silver spoons in their mouths.

The green revolution (not green agriculture) was brought about to produce more food for the increasing population within the country. Had we unlimited cultivable lands, the green revolution is meaningless as sustainable green agriculture was in place with rice and other field crops; but we were forced to improve productivity of crops within our limited agricultural land resource. This is the reason why the Norman Borlaugs of this world appeared. He was man who employed the modern plant type concept to improve productivity of wheat per unit area of land. This thinking migrated into rice and other cereal crops.

The modern Indica rice varieties were developed since the isolation of semi-dwarf rice mutant, Dee-Geo-Woo-Gen (DGWG), in Taiwan. There were two improved varieties, Taichung Native 1 (TN1) from Taiwan and IR 8 from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), introduced to Sri Lanka in the 1960s. But they failed to gain farmer acceptance. Sri Lanka too had a dwarf mutant of rice, K8 natural mutant (K8 nm), isolated at the Ambalantota Regional Rice Research Station.

K8 was known to be a sister-line of H4, the landmark cross-bred rice variety in Sri Lanka. The genetic improvement of rice in Sri Lanka was reported comprehensively in my newspaper article titled, “Rice Genetic Improvement Odyssey of Past Centuries” in the Sunday Island of 17/10/2021. This was to keep the misinformed or uncertain general public updated about the recorded historical developments of rice in Sri Lanka.

Some educated non-agriculturists distort the facts to convey to the general public that conventionally bred varieties were either hybrids or genetically modified entities. Probably the critics have forgotten the elementary Mendelian genetics they learned in “O Level” classes in schools. I invite attention of anyone who believes these critics to read the Sinhalese translation of the article titled “Are Modern Rice Varieties Genetically Modified Hybrids?” in page 11-17 in Govikam Sangarawa, 51 (2), June, 2020, Dept. of Agriculture..

Now, let me introduce Prof. Yuan Longping as the father of real hybrid rice. His contributions are in no way secondary to that of Norman Borlaug. He initiated the three parental hybrid rice technology to exploit heterosis/hybrid vigor to improve yield potential of rice and developed hybrid rice in China capable of out-yielding the conventionally cross-bred varieties by a substantial margin.

This procedure cannot be simply explained to convince the “local Longpings” who look at it without any background knowledge and experience in floral morphology and genetics of rice. Some of Prof. Longping’s “Super Hybrids” are capable of yielding 18 t/ha (360 bushels/ac) in high potential environments. Though he left us nine months ago and is not with us any more, Prof. Longping admitted that conventionally bred varieties in such specific environments are capable of yielding 16 t/ha (320 bu/ac).

I have listened to this statement of Prof. Longping on two occasions while answering a question raised by the IRRI hybrid rice breeder, Dr. Sant Virmani. Our national average yields of conventionally bred varieties are slightly below 5 t/ha (100 bu/ac) within the country, but I am confident that ours too can reach the potential of above 15 t/ha (300 bu/ac) or more in a matching environment.

The limiting factor is the potential of our environment; the edaphic (soil) and climatic factors specifically. Those who are misinformed that the conventionally bred (cross-bred) varieties are hybrids, can visit RRDI, Batalagoda to learn the breeding process of hybrid rice. The major constraints associated with the program are development of perfect cytoplasmic male sterile parent (A line) and its maintainer parent (B line); fertility restoration parent (R line); standard heterosis or pronounced hybrid vigor and the enhanced cross pollination capacity between the A and R lines (the rice plant is a hermaphrodite and an obligate inbreeder (cleistogamy); seed production process in isolation (space or time) without contamination and finally the unwarranted criticism by the local Longpings.

Now, we in Sri Lanka inclusive of all the local Longpings, can taste hybrid rice from China. All or some of the one million tons of Chinese rice to be imported shortly have to be hybrids, as more than 60 percent of the Chinese rice crop is from hybrid rice. Although one can conveniently avoid answering the questions in the media about the cultivation process (green or non-green), the yield potential of hybrid rice cannot be realized through sustainable green agriculture; it has to be some form of non-green agriculture involved in the process of commercial rice production in China.

The health-concerned local Longpings can investigate and compare the status of Cadmium (Cd), Arsenic (As) and Lead (Pb) and verify the quality and suitability of the imported rice for consumption by the general public. I am inclined to consume it any way, as I am from the farming community and confident that no Chinese can survive without kidneys.

I have expressed my gut feelings about the non-green rice cultivation advocated during my tenure in office at the Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI), Batalagoda, in the newspaper article titled “Expert Advisor, Sustainable Farming and the Rice Farmer”, Sunday Island of 07/11/ 21. After serving 31 years at Batalagoda, with my family living with me and consuming non-green rice and other food items, we have suffered no ill effects. This is a real life experience.

Unfortunately the facts are being distorted by critics to their advantage. Accuracy and precision are two key words in scientific statements. In my newspaper article titled “Beyond Illusion to Reality with Traditional Rice”, Sunday Island of 10/10/2021, I have highlighted this fact as some conclusions were arrived at when evidence is inaccurate and incomplete.

Recently, in a U-tube discussion, the resource person was very confidently elaborating that Carbon and Nitrogen were subjected to pressure in the synthesis of urea and in the process Cadmium and Arsenic appear as contaminants. Is this how urea is synthesized? How come that something not in the raw material appears in the ultimate product? Also, in the same program, the resource person insisted that thunder showers make nitrate from atmospheric nitrogen and that is adequate to raise the rice crop in the field.

I knew nitrate as a negatively charged ion (NO3-), but not as a chemical compound called nitrate, and the lightening process will produce nitric acid (HNO3) identified in Sinhala as “Akunu Wathura”. (Plants grow better during rainy days irrespective of thunder showers. Here, the confounded effects of many factors are involved in the process. Availability of Sulphur in the form of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is reported from rain water analysis locally, but one can quantify the availability of adequate N in rain water in the form of any nitrogenous compound, by analyzing the rain water in March/April, the peak period of lightning and thunder showers.)

The media person in the program was patiently listening to and admiring the resource person. This reflected on his quality and knowledge more than the inaccuracy and the lack of precision of the two statements. Many unscientific and inaccurate statements of this kind may seep into society and get registered in the minds of laymen if the media is negligent, incompetent or qualified to do their job properly. The most sensible and rational strategy to come out from the present fertilizer dilemma in rice cultivation is suggested in the write-up “Are We Making Rational Decisions in the Rice Sector?”, Sunday Island of 12/09/2021.

Scientists never lie or distort facts to their advantage. If it happens, he is not fit to represent the scientific community any more. Prof. Yuan Longping was a dedicated scientist of extremely high caliber. Moreover, he was a very humble, down to earth gentleman. He made somethings happen that the rice scientists thought was extremely difficult, if not impossible. This would be appreciated only if you understand the morphology (hermaphroditism) and pollination mechanism (cleistogamy) of the rice floret (spikelet).

Prof. Yuan Longping’s hybrid rice research was immensely supported by the government of China. That made hybrid rice a reality by making its cultivation mandatory to some extent. Chinese understand the value of research. Hybrid rice is apparently the ultimate technological innovation or climax in rice breeding, if we are to protect ourselves from hunger.

It is too early to execute hybrid rice cultivation in our country as we need further research to confirm its practicability within our infra structure. However, our Longpings are protesing against hybrid rice at the outset itself, even prior to the development of hybrids without understanding the real mechanism underlying the breeding process. That is the difference between progressive and stagnating nations, probably governed by inherent genes.

I will conclude this disclosure quoting Prof. Yuan Longping, “The ship (hybrid rice) is always above the surface of water (conventional varieties)” i.e. when you improve the potential of conventional varieties, a hybrid can be developed to surpass the yield potential of that variety.

(The writer if a Retired Director/Rice Research & Development Institute, Bathalagoda)

Tel. 071 8412444, e mail: maddumadhanapala@yahoo.com



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PM blames ‘last administration’ for country’s current crisis

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Sky News that “the last administration is to blame” for the country’s current crisis.Protesters have clashed with police in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as people demanded the resignation of the President and new Prime Minister.Demonstrations in the capital have been ongoing for the last two months as the public blames the country’s leadership for corruption and mishandling the economy.The Prime Minister said that the last administration “ran down the economy”.

“We have come to a point where we are bankrupt – which has never happened to Sri Lanka before,” he said in an interview with Sky News following his controversial appointment last week.

“We have no dollars, we have no rupees.”

On whether the President should resign, the veteran politician said it’s a “controversy” as the country is of split opinion.He added: “I suggested that after Sri Lanka passes the 21st amendment, the country should restore the original 19th amendment strengthening parliament – strengthening the powers of the prime minister.

“Then, all party leaders and the president should have a discussion and come to some arrangement on the future.”

Meanwhile, the recent unrest across the country has been sparked amid the country’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, which has been blamed on a combination of COVID, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the president and his brother, until recently the prime minister.

“I can understand the anguish of the protesters – the young and the old,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.

“The young who see their future being taken away, and the old, who are suffering, the middle class, who see their lifestyle collapsing… farmers without fertiliser.

“There are many demonstrations outside police stations, petrol stations and other places. And it shows the anger, the despair, and the hopelessness that the people feel.”

He said that people, at the moment, “can’t bear the burden any longer”.

“We are certainly not in a very stable position,” he said.

Police have now arrested more than 800 people nationwide who are accused of ransacking property, looting and setting fire to MPs’ houses on 9 May.But human rights lawyers say in some cases police are jailing people who were out on the streets watching what was happening, rather than actively taking part in violence.The prime minister went on to say that the country faces a possibility of a food crisis due to the lack of fertiliser.Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy after announcing it had suspended up to $7bn (£5.6bn) in foreign loans due to be repaid this year because of a foreign currency crisis.It has led to limited imports with no gas in petrol stations. Other fuel, cooking gas, medicine and foods are in short supply forcing people to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.

“We are feeling the rise in the price of fuel – and we know it will go higher,” he said.

“Our main concern also is that we have not had fertiliser for cultivation, and this coming season, the rice cultivation season will not have the full production.

“Therefore from about August onwards, there is a possibility of a food crisis in Sri Lanka. That’s about the time when the global food crisis will also take place, and we will see how we will survive until about March next year.” – Sky News

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SJB, FSP agree on common agenda

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Focus on abolition of Executive Presidency

BY SHMAINDRA FERNANDO

SJB MP Kabir Hashim, MP, says the main Opposition party and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) have recently agreed on the abolition of the Executive Presidency.Hashim yesterday (20) told The Island that they agreed on empowering Parliament at the expense of the Executive President.The SJB and FSP delegations met at the Opposition Leader’s Office at , Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha this week. The SJB delegation consisted of lawmakers, General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Kabir Hashim, Eran Wickremaratne and Mujubur Rahuman whereas the FSP was represented by Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa.The SJB, offshoot of the UNP, secured the recognition of the Election Commission in Feb 2020 while the FSP is yet to be registered as a political party.

Lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB was keen to discuss the current situation with all political parties represented in Parliament and out as part of the overall efforts to reach agreement on a common programme.Referring to the proposals made by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to resolve the political crisis that would be a prerequisite for addressing the economic downturn, lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB and the FSP agreed on the need for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to agree on a timeline for him to step-down.Responding to The Island queries, one-time UNP Chairman said that the SJB could work together with the FSP on both political and economic issues. The talks took place amidst the FSP, the breakaway faction of the JVP, was consolidating its position as the spearhead of the ongoing protest campaign meant to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

MP Hashim said that they agreed to prepare a document meant for future cooperation. Asked whether they have scheduled another meeting with the FSP, the Kegalle District MP said that they were keen to prepare a working document before they next meet for talks.The top SJB spokesperson said that in spite of swearing in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, the President was on a difficult wicket.Lawmaker Hashim said the SJB was also engaged in talks with the JVP though the deliberations weren’t at official level. “We are proceeding with efforts to finalize a common agenda meant to restore normalcy. We had talks with the BASL, industry leaders as well as civil society,” MP Hashim said.Asked whether the SJB had met Premier Wickremesinghe or sought a meeting with him, MP Hashim said that when Dr. Harsha de Silva raised a spate of issues at hand, especially the recent hard default, the Premier assured the Parliament that party leaders would be fully briefed pertaining to the current situation.Lawmaker Hashim was referring to the first occasion Sri Lanka experienced a hard default as the grace period for the International Sovereign Bonds (ISB) Coupon payment lapsed on May 18. Last month Sri Lanka announced a pre-emptive negotiated default ofall outstanding debt as at April 12.On April 18 the ISB Coupon worth $ 78 million fell due and those had 30 days to obtain “Consent Solicitation” from all ISB holders for payment suspension by May 18.

FSP spokesperson Pubudu Jagoda told The Island that the party discussed the developing situation with some political parties, including the SJB and ’43 Brigade’ led by SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka. The FSP delegation comprised Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa and Sanjeewa Bandara. MP Patali Champika Ranawaka and Attorney-at-Law Shiral Lakthilake represented the ‘43 Brigade.’Jagoda said that the ’43 Brigade’ was of the view the executive presidential system should be retained with necessary amendments.According to Jagoda, the Eksath Samajawadi Pakshaya and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) agreed that the executive presidency should be abolished. FSP leader Kumar Gunaratnam and Pubudu Jagoda had represented the party whereas Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam represented the TNA.

Jagoda said that the current environment was conducive for building a common agenda that could accommodate the vast majority of political parties represented in Parliament and other groups bent on abolishing the executive presidency.He emphasized the pivotal importance of a common response to what Jagoda termed the government crackdown in Colombo, its suburbs and the provinces where over 1,000 persons had been arrested by the police in connection with the ongoing investigations into mob assaults ignited following unprovoked attacks on those demanding the resignation of the President and the Premier.

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SJB, SLFP decry members switching sides as nine ministers are sworn in

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question all-party tag, allege moves to bribe lawmakers

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmakers, Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara are among nine new Cabinet ministers sworn in yesterday (20).The swearing in ceremony took place at the President’s House as protests continued in front of the Presidential Secretariat demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa.Two of the strongest critics of President Rajapaksa’s handling of investigations into the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, the former UNP lawmakers joined the government following talks with UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. UNP Leader and its National List member Wickremesinghe received the premiership on 12 May.

The SJB won 54 seats, including seven National Lists seats at the last general election.The SJB lawmakers visited Geneva in early March, 2022 at the beginning of the 49th session of the UNHRC, where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was strongly criticised. They had been also at the forefront of the SJB’s efforts to secure presidential pardon for ex-MP Ranjan Ramanayake, sentenced for contempt of court by the Supreme Court during the yahapalana administration.The other newly-appointed Cabinet ministers are Nimal Siripala de Silva (Ports, Shipping and Aviation), Susil Premjayantha (Education), Keheliya Rambukwella (Health), Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapkse, PC (Justice, Prisons, and Constitutional Reforms), Dr. Ramesh Pathirana (Plantations), Tiran Alles (Public Security) and Nalin Fernando (Trade, Commerce and Food Security). Except Tiran Alles who entered Parliament through the SLPP National List, others contested on the SLPP ticket.With the appointments made yesterday, the number of Cabinet ministers increased to 13. President Rajapaksa on May 14 swore in Prof. G.L. Peiris (Foreign Affairs), Dinesh Gunawardena (Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government), Kanchana Wijesekera (Power and Energy), and Prasanna Ranatunga (Urban Development and Housing). Except for MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, the rest are SLPP members. But, Gunawardena, too, contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket while his son, Yadamini was accommodated on the SLPP National List.

SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and SLFP Senior President Prof. Rohana Lakshman yesterday told The Island that their parties were strongly opposed to their members accepting ministerial posts.Both said that they had assured President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe of their support for government economic recovery efforts while being in the Opposition. Prof. Lakshman insisted that Nimal Siripala de Silva taking up ministerial portfolio was contrary to the understanding reached with the current dispensation.The SLFP won 14 seats, including one National List seat at the last general election.Of the 13 lawmakers sworn in as ministers, Tiran Alles and Nalin Fernando representing the SLPP entered the Cabinet for the first time.

Among those accommodated in the Cabinet was Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who was overlooked by the SLPP when the appointment of the original 30-member cabinet in terms of the 19th Amendment took place. Since then Rajapakse has been campaigning for the abolition of the executive presidency and on more than one occasion flayed President Rajapaksa. The lawmaker, in January this year shot off a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging him to stop Chinese economic invasion of Sri Lanka. In a 45-point letter to the Chinese leader, the lawmaker alleged that most of the Chinese funded projects had been wasteful and large commissions paid to the corrupt politicians and officials to secure such projects.After the 2020 general election which the SLFP won comfortably securing a 2/3rd majority in Parliament, MP Rajapakse refused to accept the State Ministry for Education. Susil Premjayantha, who accepted that ministry was sacked last early January this year within 24 hours after he criticised the government’s handling of the economy.

SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem on Thursday (19) accused the government of bribing Opposition lawmakers in a bid to secure their support. MP Hakeem questioned the government strategy while alleging that the original plan was to swear in a Cabinet of 15. Subsequently, the government planned a Cabinet of 18 and then they increased it to 22 ministers.PM Wickremesinghe assured Parliament on Thursday that members of the new Cabinet would not be entitled to minsterial salaries and perks.The Finance Minister has not been appointed. Ali Sabry, PC, served as the Finance Minister briefly after the removal of Basil Rajapaksa. Government efforts to persuade SJB’s Dr. Harsha de Silva, who is an economist to accept the finance portfolio have failed.

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