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Right to Life –Right to toxin-free food

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By Dr. Ranil Senanayake

It is in this context that we should examine the right to life. Access to clean drinking water, clean breathable air and clean, non-toxic food, must be non-negotiable and fundamental.

Once these fundamental rights are acknowledged, food security and food sovereignty become significant factors of sustainable development. The production of food has been the domain of the farming and fishing communities, from prehistory. However, the strong links that farmers had to their land are being severed by the introduction of industrial farming and the subsequent ‘Green Revolution’ technological package. The traditional knowledge and genes that had sustained humanity for over three thousand years are discounted and replaced with high energy-dependent, biodiversity poor, toxic methods of farming, supported and financed by the international banking system.

The tragedy is clearly outlined in the statement from the National Farmer Federation of Sri Lanka which made the following declaration to the Consultative Group in International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1998. They said:

“We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters, the world over, when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact, it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country, since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers, producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings.”

Today we are faced with the spectre of ever-widening circles of agricultural poisoning that has seen an exponential increase in non-communicable diseases of farmers and rural folk. Everyone agrees that it is a toxic cause, but as there is no demonstrable causal link, the application of the suspect materials continues unabated. The critical question is; when did this syndrome start to manifest?’ The link to the time of abandonment of traditional agriculture, in favour of the ‘Green Revolution’, and the acceptance of exposure to toxic chemicals, as an agricultural norm, is very clear.

The precautionary principle was never invoked. There was no discussion of synergistic effects, bioconcentration and other processes that can render the agroecosystem toxic to the farming populations. Can the erosion of a benign traditional agricultural system that had co-evolved with the biodiversity of this country for over three thousand years to an exotic, toxic, fossil energy-dependent, agricultural system, be seen as more ‘developed’?

Agriculture is the production of food, medicines and fibre by biological systems. Thus, agricultural sustainability must consider biological sustainability. In a biological sense, sustainability is the potential to recover from perturbation and stress (Conway, 1985). A sustainable system oscillates between inflexible boundary conditions. If the boundary conditions are exceeded, a change in state occurs so that the system loses its original identity and potential. Thus, the sustainability of this system is determined by its boundary conditions as well as its internal dynamics. A biological entity is a product of its temporal and genetic history in varying environments. There are environmental thresholds that cannot be transcended without extinction. In other words, every living thing has limits; be it temperature, water, salt or food, take too much you die, take too little, you die. While acclimatisation often allows an individual, or species, to change its measured thresholds, there exist lethal thresholds beyond which an organism cannot transcend. So, sustainability, when applied in the biological context, will be seen to be defined by inflexible boundaries. If the degree of perturbation or stress makes it transcend the boundaries it loses its identity as an organism or an ecosystem.

Agrarian societies, with long histories, possess the credibility of having sustained themselves successfully under the rigour of survival in a natural world. The looming problem for the future is that the model chosen for sustaining the future global agrarian society is an energy and resource-demanding production system, while no investment is being made to research, building on traditional systems.

The burgeoning populations of the future may have no other option than high energy input agriculture to sustain them, simply because we have not invested in examining any other option. Some of the reasoning may lie in thinking that feeding a rapidly growing world population, a socioeconomic problem, can be resolved through reductionist, technological approaches. However, it is becoming evident that the present resource-expensive system of agrarian production will become increasingly more expensive to maintain. This phenomenon is a result of increasing input costs and decreasing productivity of the land. The predicted global climate effects will also make large areas of monocultures risky. There may be value in examining other options.

The value in maintaining diversity is the constant availability of a large number of options. This applies equally well, whether in the case of marketing products or responding to disease or episodic climatic events. The question to be examined by designers of global society is ‘how much diversity can be conserved within the emerging global society? And ‘how much external energy is spent on the production of food? If the lessons learnt at the level of local societies are anything to go by, the goals of sustainability will be achieved best by conserving the diversity of global society and reducing the need for fossil energy to produce food.

The simplistic drive of modern agriculture, that accepts food production as merely an output of chemical applied to the soil, has lost touch with reality. Today we witness a radical change in the practice of agriculture. Both the ‘Green Revolution’ and ‘Industrial Agriculture’, with their emphasis on energy subsidies to overcome constraints in increasing production, have brought about an enormous change in the biodiversity and sustainability status of agriculture. The impact of this high energy input, low biodiversity agriculture has not only been felt by the sustainability of ecosystems. It has also impacted the sustainability of cultural systems. The ethics of such changes have largely gone unaddressed.

Ethics is loose currency in a world justified only by ‘objective’ science, to justify profits. Yet, it is this very blind faith in ‘objectivity’ that has contributed to the collapse of social relations as seen in the ever-increasing crime rates and social dislocation in ‘developed’ societies. This dilemma is brought into focus by the question posed by Upali Senanayake at the first conference on Agricultural Sustainability, answering a question as to ‘what is so important in maintaining ethics as a value in an objective scientific community’. He answered with the question; “If you are completely ‘objective’ and place no value in ethics, then how can I trust you? By this question, he highlighted the value of ethics in maintaining social contracts.

In a country where farmers produce food for themselves, without toxins, while growing food with heavy doses of toxins separately, for the market, it demonstrates a mindset totally devoid of ethics. To meet the right to consume poison-free food, not only do we have to look for policies that safeguard this right, we also need farmers with a sense of ethics and responsibility towards those who consume the food they produce.



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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