By Neville Ladduwahetty
Resolution A/HRC/46/L.Rev.1 dated 16 March 2021 has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council based on procedures and practices adopted by Committees of the General Assembly. Of the 47 Members in the Council, 22 Member States cast an affirmative vote, 11 members opposed it, and 14 abstained. The procedure adopted does not recognize the number of votes that abstained. Therefore, adoption of the Resolution was based on 22 affirmative votes, which is less than half the 47-members in the Council. This outcome should be a cause to fault the Council for adopting a procedure that permits a Resolution to be adopted even when more than half of its members decided not to support it for whatever reason.
However, other agencies of the UN adopt other procedures. For instance, the 15-member Security Council requires nine affirmative votes for a decision to be adopted. Others who see a moral obligation to the institution they represent require half plus one for a decision to be adopted. Simple majorities in most Parliaments require half plus one of its elected members for a Bill to become Law. Therefore, there is nothing comical if perceived from another perspective, that the resolution did not secure a majority of the 47 Member Human Rights Council and furthermore, that 25 Members did not affirmatively support the Resolution. The lesson, in particular for the Human Rights Council, is that the basis for adopting a Resolution should be revisited, because the current practice allows Resolutions to be adopted by less than half the number in the Council. This is not good enough a threshold for a UN institution as vital as the Human Rights Council where much is at stake for all States.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the hard reality is that the Resolution was adopted. Another hard reality that is of serious consequence is that the adoption of the Resolution comes at a great cost to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. In fact, having stated at the very outset that the Resolution is “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations …” the Resolution goes on to violate Article 1(2) and Article 2(7) of the Charter. In addition, it recalls co-sponsored Resolutions of 2015, 2017, and 2019, despite withdrawal from co-sponsorship because they violate Sri Lanka’s Constitution; a right granted under the Vienna Convention and furthermore, violates the mandate granted to the Human Rights Council under General Assembly Resolution 60/251. Under these circumstances, such a flawed Resolution should not be adopted, particularly with votes less than half the membership in the Council.
Article 1(2) states: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”. AND Article 2(7) states: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…”.
Article 1(2): Right of Self-Determination
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights AND the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state in Article 1 of their respective Covenants:
“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.
In view of the people’s right to freely determine its political status, the Resolution of the Core-Group states: “…to ensure that all provincial councils, including the northern and eastern provincial councils, are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka” (Preamble to the Resolution)
COMMENT: This is a violation of the right of self-determination of a people to freely administer and govern themselves because it binds the people of Sri Lanka to a particular form of internal Government, and denies them the opportunity to self-determine a form of Local Government that best serves them. Therefore. this provision amounts to a denial of the fundamental freedom of a Peoples to govern themselves under a form of Government of their choosing. For the Human Rights Council to impose restrictions on how a Member State should govern itself is a denial of their fundamental right to self-determination.
The Preamble states: “Noting the enactment of the twentieth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, while stressing the importance of democratic governance and independent oversight of key institutions”.
COMMENT: The need to remind the people of Sri Lanka the “importance of democratic governance and oversight key institutions” is an insult in view of the fact that the amendment is a product the people of Sri Lanka have determined in keeping with their right of self-determination. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is not the only country to function under a Presidential system of government under provisions of separation of power and the internal arrangements in each are different as they are with the systems of governance in each state that supported the Resolution. Under the circumstances, the need to draw special attention to arrangements in Sri Lanka is a slur on what Sri Lanka has rightfully determined for itself.
It is indeed comical for the U.K. as the sponsor of the Resolution to “stress the importance of democratic governance”, when three-fourths (¾) of U.K. Parliament was for staying in the European Union whereas the majority of the people of U.K. wanted to leave the EU, thus laying bare the U.K.’s deficit in democratic governance.
Article 2(7): Domestic Jurisdiction
Section 2 of the Resolution states: “…implement the recommendations made by the Office and to give due consideration to the recommendations made by the special procedures ….”
Section 7 of the Resolution ‘expresses serious concern at the trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including the accelerating militarization of civilian government functions; the erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions; ongoing impunity and political obstruction; policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief; increased marginalization of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities; surveillance and intimidation of civil society; restrictions on media; freedom, and shrinking democratic space; arbitrary detentions; alleged torture and sexual and gender-based violence’.
COMMENT: Section 7 of the Resolution is influenced by the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner. It contains comments and observations that violate provisions of Article 2(7) of the UN Charter in respect of issues that are “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state” cited above.
Unlike under normal circumstances, the literal interpretation of Article 2(7) that prohibits UN from intervening in issues domestic as enunciated by Professor Kelsen and others of similar view, is justified under the extremely extraordinary background that Sri Lanka and the rest of mankind had to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This view was underscored by the UN when it decided NOT to intervene in issues domestic relating to how member states coped with the COVI-19 pandemic. What the Resolution addressed instead was the situation that prevailed in Sri Lanka in the background of a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists in 2019, and the measures adopted to cope with the pandemic in the absence of international guidelines that the UN should have spearheaded.
The extraordinary circumstances referred to above started with a new President being elected in November 2019. A bare two months later, starting January 2020, Sri Lanka encountered its first COVID-19 patient. Until August 2020 when a new Parliament was elected, it was the Executive that had to deal with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, most countries were at a loss as to what strategies to adopt to deal with the pandemic. Furthermore, a fact that should not be overlooked is that during the period of review by the Council, the Legislative and Executive Branches of the government in Sri Lanka had existed only for four months.
At the end of the day, governments have to make hard choices. In the background of a raging pandemic the choice is whether to implement strict controls by deploying personnel known for their ability to ensure strict adherence to health guidelines, or to relax them. Those countries that have decided to leave it to individuals as a matter of individual choice have experienced far more deaths than countries such as Sri Lanka that decided otherwise. Are they guilty of fratricide? To fault elected representatives for the choices they made in the fulfillment of their responsibilities to their people, is to place individual choice at a premium over state-initiated guidelines to contain a global crisis. Not to recognize the positive results in terms of lives saved because of the measures adopted by the government is not to recognize the most fundamental of all human rights which is right to life.
The impression conveyed upon perusing the list of societal shortcomings cited in Section 7 is that they are unique to Sri Lanka. On the other hand, over the span of one year there would be instances of societal shortcomings similar to those cited in Section 7, in every country. For instance, in other countries too, policies exist that affect freedom of religion or belief; marginalization of persons or groups; restrictions on media freedom; shrinking democratic space; sexual and gender-based violence etc. Such shortcomings exist, albeit to different degrees, in all of the 22 countries that supported the Resolution despite the existence of independent institutions, or how liberal and democratic their policies are. Therefore, what is so special or unique about Sri Lanka for it to deserve special attention?
Mandate of the Human Rights Council
Section 6 of the Resolution states: “Recognizes the importance of preserving and analyzing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka…and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law…and to support relevant judicial proceedings in Member States with competent jurisdiction”.
COMMENT: The Human Rights Council has NO MANDATE nor the COMPETENCE to collect evidence relating to international humanitarian law or to support judicial proceedings in Member States. The Council is expected to function within the mandate stated in UN Resolution 60/251. The relevant provisions are:
3. Decides also that the Council should address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon. It should also promote the effective coordination and the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system;
4. Decides further that the work of the Council shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development…”.
The mandate of the Council does not authorize it to share its findings with other Member states for them to engage in judicial proceedings because it violates the “principle of equal sovereignty” (Article 1(1) of the Charter. If they do, what about the evidence sequestered for thirty years? Instead, what the Council is supposed to do, is to make recommendations to the states concerned. By focusing on Sri Lanka, the Council is being selective, thus violating the principles it is supposed to follow as stated in Paragraph 4 cited above.
A fact that should be borne in mind is that no investigations that could lead to a prosecution would be possible, using any evidence gathered for the purpose of future accountability exercises because access to victims and witnesses would not be possible due to Paragraph 25 of the OISL Report relating to confidentiality in the OISL Report.
Resolution A/HRC/46/L.Rev.1 dated 16 March 2021 has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council based on the procedures and practices adopted by Committees of the General Assembly. Since the procedure adopted does not take into account the 14 abstained votes, the 22 members who supported the resolution prevailed over the 11 that opposed. Consequently, the procedure adopted enabled the Council to adopt the Resolutions based on votes that were less than half of the 47-member Council.
While the procedure adopted by the Council is acceptable for Committees of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council is in a league by itself. Since its decisions impact on nearly every aspect of human life, the procedures and practices it adopts should be unique and stand alone. Another Council of similar standing is the Security Council. The procedure adopted by them is that out of its fifteen members at least nine should vote affirmatively for a decision to be adopted. Democratic Parliaments require half plus one of its members for a Bill or decision to have any legitimacy. Therefore, Sri Lanka should take the initiative to table a Resolution in the General Assembly calling on the Human Rights Council to take a fresh approach in the adoption of Resolutions. The outcome of such an approach should as a minimum be that even if the abstaining votes are not recognized, no Resolution should be adopted without half plus one of its members casting an affirmative vote for it to have any legitimacy i.e., more than 24 affirmative votes.
Having stated at the very outset that the resolution is “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter”, the Resolution goes on to violate Article 1(2) and 2(7) of the Charter, right of a State to withdraw from an undertaking if it is in conflict with the “internal law of fundamental importance” to the State based on a right granted under Article 46 of the Vienna Convention, and violates the mandate granted to the Human Rights Council. If a Resolution violates the stated purposes and principles of the UN Charter, the General Assembly should take note and declare such a Resolution unadoptable.
The call on the Sri Lankan government to hold Provincial Council elections and to ensure that all Provincial Councils operate effectively in accordance with the 13th Amendment is a violation of Article 1(2) because it denies the right of self-determination to institute local government arrangements that suit them best and to bind the people of Sri Lanka to internal arrangements of governance set by external entities.
Article 2(7) does not “authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…”. In keeping with this provision the UN did NOT intervene in the decisions taken by member states to handle the enormous challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Having stayed in the sidelines they have decided to single out Sri Lanka to document what the Council determines as shortcomings in the manner Sri Lanka coped with the crisis presented by the COVI-19 pandemic in a background of a Muslim terrorist attack that denied the fundamental right to life of hundreds.
The resolution is not binding on Sri Lanka. Furthermore, as stated above it violates certain provisions of the UN Charter and holds Sri Lanka to commitments it withdrew from on legitimate grounds. What Sri Lanka could do is table a Resolution in the General Assembly highlighting the issues at stake and seek redress. In addition, such a Resolution should propose a revision on the lines suggested above to the procedures adopted by the Human Rights Council in respect of how it decides to adopt Resolutions since current procedures are totally inappropriate for an all-important institution as the Human Rights Council.
A solution to problem of extra heavy school bags
By Anton Peiris
B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London), DAES (York) and Emeritus Coordinator, International Baccalaureate, Switzerland.
(‘Reduce O/LevelSTRESS’ – continued)
Extra Heavy Schoolbags carried by school children and the setting of homework
Dr. B.J.C. Perera (Specialist Consultant Paediatrician) has said, “Students, even little children, are forced to carry large numbers of books in their schoolbags, to and from school, every day. The deleterious health effects of carrying improperly loaded and very heavy school bags are another associated problem”. It is not difficult to solve this problem.
(i) Install a set of lockers (with at least one shelf inside) preferably in close proximity to the classrooms. Lockers can be made of wood or metal, approximately 20 X 15 X 15 inches or 30 X 10 X 15 inches. i.e. about 4500 cubic inches per student. Allocate a Locker to each student.
(ii) The teachers should set Homework a maximum of twice per week (i.e. 2 X 20 minutes per week) in mathematics and only once per week (maximum of 30 minutes) in any other subject , making sure that a student gets no more than a total of approximately one hour of homework per day, Some subjects require homework only once a fortnight.
Some subjects do not require any homework at all. This can be done if the Deputy School Principal and the Class Teacher get together and use their ingenuity to produce a practical Home-Work Timetable for the class that allows the setting of homework only for a maximum of two subjects per day.
Here’s the underlying principle behind this: If a teacher does a good job of teaching in class and if he makes the students work in class, then the students need very little or no homework at all.
During my 40 years as an O/Level mathematics teacher, I have given them only 20 minutes of homework per night twice a week and sometimes no homework at all. They did well in their O/Level mathematics exam because the bulk of the work was done in class during the five years of preparation for the O/Level exams. I taught them well and I made them work maths problems in class. Some of them obtained As (distinctions) in mathematics.
There should be no homework set in any subject for the weekend. The students will then have time to play, to climb a tree, to go swimming, to go on trips with their parents, to devote some time for their extra-curricular activities (CAS), attend Daham Paasela, etc., during the weekends.
The foregoing is for Grades 6 – 11 only. (Obviously, there should be some homework set for the weekend for GCE A/L students).
If the schools adhere to the Homework Timetable given above, then the students in Grades 6 – 11 will be able to leave more than half of their text books in their Lockers every day because homework has been set only in one or two subjects per day. The weight of the schoolbag will be reduced automatically by more than 50%. They will be able to keep a few other things (e. g. swimming trunk, umbrella) also in their lockers.
If that method of allocation of homework and the use of lockers works well in Europe, the UK, Australia and Canada, why not in Sri Lanka?
Lockers should have padlocks because, when they lose their locker key, the padlock can be cut off in two seconds with a three feet long metal cutter. Each locker should have either a metal or a hard-plastic number plate fixed on its door. Lockers can be made in units (e. g. 20 or 25 lockers per unit). Most schools need additional space to keep the lockers. The Ministry of Education should provide the necessary funds to the schools to procure the additional space and to install the lockers. It is an investment on the health of the population. Nobody wants our students to grow up into adults having back problems and damaged spinal columns. The important thing is to make a start NOW by providing lockers to about 50 pilot schools.
It is the duty of the Private Schools and the International Schools also to provide Lockers for their students.
(To be continued)
Next instalment: The Problem of Tuition Classes.
The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.)
The edge of tolerance
BY Kusum Wijetilleke
In March of 2021, a nine-year-old girl from Delgoda, died as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of an exorcist. Her helpless screams were reported by several of the exorcist’s neighbours. The ritual required that the girl be beaten with a cane, presumably to drive out the undesirable spirit. Her father spoke to multiple news outlets, decrying the ritual and exhausting himself; insistent that his daughter was never under any sort of demonic spell.
In this supposed age of information, not only do ancient belief systems, including those that revolve around witchcraft, demons and exorcisms persist, they remain culturally relevant and widely practiced.
Garudan Thookkam, a symbolistic ritual involving Lord Vishnu, that originated in Kerala, and is also practised in Sri Lanka, requires that devotees be hung with metal hooks from a moving vehicle. An ancient Hindu ritual called Sati, which requires a widow to leap into the funeral pyre of her husband, is still practiced and was documented as recently as 2006. In parts of Africa, children suffering an epileptic seizure are treated not at a hospital, but by a witchdoctor.
There are literally hundreds of reports of exorcisms and witchcraft in various parts of India. In 2011, a woman from Kamhara died after an exorcist performed a ritual to banish a demon allegedly preventing her from conceiving a child. The exorcist branded various parts of her body, including her genitalia, with hot iron tongs and proceeded to beat her. In that same year, in Poaltore, several villagers were suffering from diarrhoea and fever. The local witchdoctor suspected a man from the same village had placed a curse and ordered his murder as well as those of his two sons. In 2021, in Odisha, an elderly couple was burnt to death while they slept, on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. Just a few months ago, a man and his toddler, from a village outside Delhi, were beaten to death during an exorcism.
There are no official statistics for the practice of exorcisms in Sri Lanka, though anecdotal evidence persists. What happened in Delgoda should not shock or surprise: these rituals occur regularly and in households of varying socio-economic backgrounds. The widespread belief in exorcisms may indicate a higher number of injuries and deaths than are reported.
Around the world, we have more substantiated evidence. The Vatican, Roman Catholicism’s HQ, has a programme that specializes in training and tutoring would-be exorcists. All the major religions have some belief in exorcisms or similar rituals.
Belief in ritual is a part of culture, and to each of us, our cultural inheritances can be definitive. The things we believe are unquestionably influenced by our environment, teachers, elders, parents and family; these are considered sacred. For many, the practice of these rituals is a key determinant of success and failure, of life and death.
The demise of the nine-year-old girl is proof that not all belief systems are benign. In Sri Lanka, we are taught the importance of culture, from an early age. We are obligated to participate in ritual and ceremony without question.
During this once-in-a-century pandemic, when the focus must be on using the latest available science to inform our decisions, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health was pouring pots of ‘holy-water’ into a river. She approved a ‘potion’ as a remedy for Covid-19. Despite condemnation, she is still the Health Minister. She paid no price professionally for making laughable, ill-informed and potentially dangerous decisions. This should be alarming for any modern society that is serious about progressing.
Sri Lanka is hardly alone in the battle against dangerous dogmas. The UK Government’s own statistics from 2017 show 1500 child abuse cases linked to witchcraft and demonic possessions. This cannot be explained away by a lack of education. In 2018, a GP from Manchester was delisted from the NHS after taking a mentally ill patient to a church for exorcism. He also faced additional charges for threatening that she would be cursed if she told anyone about the ritual.
An average of polls from the last decade shows that more than half of all Americans believe in demonic possessions. A Gallup poll shows that belief in the devil was at 55% in 1990, but reached 70% in 2007. In 2011 the US had fewer than 15 ‘official exorcists’ (licensed by the Catholic Church); in 2019, there were over a hundred. It must be noted that, in the US, the official request for an exorcism requires a psychiatric evaluation with a mental health professional. The vast majority of mental health issues, when investigated, were found to be results of psychiatric issues and/ or related to psychotropic medication.
There has to be a reckoning, an acceptance, that we as a society must discourage belief systems that require nonsensical and often dangerous rituals, which very often leave deep psychological scars on the victims. Sometimes, it really does seem polite to simply ignore blatant incoherence. Society tolerates nonsensical statements and damaging actions if they are based on deeply and solemnly held beliefs.
Beliefs are our personal representations of the world, they affect our emotions and thus our behaviour, especially towards one another. If we feel that someone in our vicinity is disrespectful towards our belief system, this invariably affects how we treat them. This prejudice has led to the oppression of homosexuals, non-believers, scientists and philosophers. Fundamental differences in belief systems have disastrous consequences. In fact, it seems that part of the story of humanity’s progression has been the constant struggle to survive our cultural ethno-religious differences.
Liberal thought and modernism prescribes a tolerance of other’s belief systems so as to co-exist in a society. Tolerance, in the hopes of minimizing the chances of conflict, defines modern liberal thought on social issues.
The neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has eluded to the “balkanization of the world” and the consequences of being defined by our cultural assemblies. A belief is one’s personal representation of the world. A structure of thinking that guides our emotions and behaviour. The (new) liberal consensus also believes that the most appropriate means of countering extreme beliefs is to encourage moderation.
Then when skeptics question even the most extreme religious doctrines, they are instantly told that questioning these beliefs will only serve to isolate the moderates. Thus moderation provides a safe haven for fundamental beliefs because very often, moderates do not question more extreme beliefs. The conversation is muted.
Throughout history, reason and debate have left a lot of dogmas in the past and it is that willingness to question a belief about reality that has led to human progression. To hide behind moderation for the sake of tolerance, to ensure no offence is caused, has consequences of its own.
The endgame for any civilization or society is not to be politically correct and tolerate all manner of absurdity, but to use reason and openness to evidence to challenge dogma. The idea that one’s beliefs, religious or otherwise, must be respected is deeply flawed. Ultimately, as sentient human beings, it is not up to us to respect a person’s belief, it is up to us to evaluate their reasoning. Modern society has weaponised tolerance in a manner that runs counter to human progression and flourishing.
Sustainable solution to decline in tea production, export revenue and livelihood issues
by Jayampathy Molligoda
Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board
The word “sustainability” is often distorted without being used in ecological context to get its proper meaning. In simple terms, we have the responsibility to protect the right of future generations to live in a safe environment. Similarly, Climate change can be understood as a set of alterations in the average weather caused by global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Climate change phenomenon is serious, which is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. it is the one challenge that potentially has the most severe impacts globally and on Sri Lanka. The very reason for this is that climate change affects virtually every aspect of our ‘every day today’ life, economic, social and environmental. It is a multidimensional challenge, with its impacts ranging from issues like human health, supply of safe water and food, biodiversity, economic development, etc.
(2) Systems view of life:
Modern Science has come to realize that all scientific theories are approximations to the true nature of reality. Science doesn’t have answers to natural phenomena. Mechanistic view looks at a closed view of a specific area which is a tiny part of a large system. They have dominated our culture for the past three hundred years and is now about to change. Before 1500 AD the dominant world view was that people lived in small communities and experienced nature by the interdependence of spiritual and material phenomena.
The Systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration, inter-dependence of all phenomena i.e.: physical, biological, social, and cultural. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization.
According to Prof. Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, the architect of “systems view of life” to find lasting solutions, there are solutions to the major problems of our time. They require a radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking, and our values. An “Eco system” is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil. In my view, the above is the best illustration to understand the importance of adhering to the “system view of life” to find lasting solutions. Capra’s view is that our traditional politicians and business leaders have been unable to provide long term solutions to these problems and he welcomed the creation of social movements founded on the premises to change the current traditional sociological paradigm and to build sustainable communities.
From the systemic point of view, the only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable” Therefore, the challenge of our time is to create sustainable communities, that is, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations. The sustainable communities need to be designed in such a way its social structures do not interfere with natures inherent ability to sustain life but support and corporate with natures inherent ability to sustain life.
(3) Structures, Processes and patterns:
The following ten points are useful in order to understand as to how the eco- system works.
1. Eco system is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil
2. The theory of living system tries to understand this and the ecological literature deals with the basic principles of ecology (and live accordingly)
3. Nature, every organism, plant, micro-organism, cells, tissues all are in a living system.
4. All living systems need energy and food.
5. All living systems produce waste, but there is no net waste
6. Capra expresses the life of any living organism as made up of pattern, process and structure.
7. If we apply these ideas to ourselves or our organizations, we can see that in the patterns we find our identity.
8. In the processes we develop our relationships, our beliefs, our principles and behaviours becoming more conscious.
9. In the structures we become more fluid, more focused on the present moment; we become alive.
10. The building of sustainable communities is deeply connected to our search for a new sociological paradigm.
This gave rise to the concept of Complex Adaptive Systems, as a multidisciplinary concept- are considered complex because they are made-up of diverse elements which are interconnected with each other and are adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience.
(4) Decline in tea production, market share, revenue, despite chemical application:
In this connection, we wish to state that Sri Lankan tea production has been drastically declining over a period of time, despite supplying large quantities of imported artificial fertilizer. For an example, in 2010 the total tea production was 330 million kilos, covering 222,000 hectares, wherein some 160, 000 metric tons of fertilizer per year had been used on an average basis up to date on a regular basis, however, we have ended up with only 289 million kilos of tea production in 2020, covering 253,000 hectares. The compound annual average growth rate (CAGR) was negative 1.5% and the Sri Lankan tea industry cannot sustain anymore as both quality, quantity as well as the competitiveness have drastically eroded. As a result, our market share has come down and the foreign exchange revenue which was around US $ 1.6 Billion eight years back has now come down to US $ 1,24 million/year only. As you are aware, during the period 2017 to end 2019, a large number of tea factories had to close down and many smallholders were badly affected and the new/re planting extents were less than 1%, where as it should have been at least @2% of the cultivated extent.
As a result of excessive usage of agro-chemicals, there has been a number of rejections of our Ceylon tea consignments reported from the major important markets such as Japan, EU, UK, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan etc. This situation has arisen due to detection of pesticide residues in the Ceylon Teas exported, which are over and the above the permitted maximum residue levels (MRLs). Tea Exporters Association (TEA) has brought to the notice of SLTB notice on number of occasions the serious non- compliances which includes detection of excessive pesticide and other chemical residues over and above MRLs. In addition, the presence of foreign/extraneous matters and high moisture levels which lead to microbial contamination & fungus formation may end up in development of micro toxin fungus – these will become health hazard.
(5) Tea plantation system as a complex adaptive system:
My own view is that the long- term goal of Sri Lankan tea industry would be to build “sustainable communities” for the tea plantations and, achieving higher foreign exchange earnings from tea exports may be only one of the unit objectives.
A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient. It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others. And it takes a long-term perspective—one that’s focused on both the present and future.
Scientists began to observe certain properties in biological systems. The adaptation of the individual independent components within the system to the environment was one such property. The experts observed this phenomenon was visible in systems such as eco-systems, global economics systems, and social systems.
(6) Strategies implemented by the new administration:
With the new administration, the government together with the private sector stakeholders have been able to reverse the negative trends experienced previously and the higher fob prices and increased tea auction sale averages are now getting tricked down to growers, thus addressing the livelihood income issues systematically.
The Sri Lanka tea industry witnessed a recovery amidst the COVID pandemic, with a substantial increase in production and the export volume during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the corresponding period as well as the year 2020 compared to 2019.
During the Q 1- January to march ’21, the tea export revenue was Rs. 65 Billion, up by Rs. 16 billion YoY, from Rs 49 Billion during the 1Q, 2020.
Q 1- January to march ’21 cumulative production totaled 74 million kgs, up by 20 Mn. kg.
FOB price was Rs. 939/= per kilo during the Q1, which is an increase of 13%, from Rs. 827/= during the corresponding period 2020.
FOB price in US $ during the Q1 was US$ 4.77 as against US$ 4.47 during Q1 -20.
March fob in US $ was ($ 4.87) the highest ever.
FOB price during the year 2020 was Rs 867/=per kilo, when compared to Rs 823/= per kilo during the year 2019.
Consequent to this cabinet decision under the caption “Towards a green socio-economic pattern with sustainable solutions to climate change” actions have been taken by SLTB to request stakeholders to encourage them to produce, supply and use organic manure to be set up on each agro- climatic region in large quantities. It was suggested in the SLTB circular that immediate action be taken by TRI to formulate and prepare specifications of organic manure applications covering different applications such as Nursery stage, immature, mature VP and Seedling and recommendations for small holdings etc. The development of the organic fertilizer business needs high tech inputs based on R&D, the required raw material availability and market acceptance based on different crops. The regulatory issues that prohibit or delay arranging import of trial quantities of organic materials (without micro- organism) for R&D evaluation need to be addressed. The necessary guidelines from the regulatory authorities should support development of organic fertilizer at large scale.
(7) Implementation of tea industry strategic plan:
As a solution, we have recommended the stakeholders to follow strategies which includes ‘Integrated weed management system’ and migrate in to offering high quality ‘Ceylon Tea’ with near Zero pesticide & other chemicals to the global market in accordance with our ‘Tea industry strategic plan 20-25’ and CTTA tea strategy-road map.
One of the most striking features of the current operations of the stakeholders is the increased awareness and adherence of the social & environmental considerations at estate level. Ceylon tea is at an advantageous position in the global market viz; other competitors for reasons such as “Zero tolerance” policy on child labour, adherence to environmental considerations on a sustainable basis and of course the quality of Ceylon tea as perceived by the buyers. As a result, Ceylon tea continues to fetch a higher price at the Colombo auction compared to teas from other producing countries, although the cost structures and productivity levels of our estates are totally disproportionate to make the industry commercially viable in short to medium term scenario.
Tea plantations have to therefore pursue environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices & methods in all their agricultural field operations (i) tea manufacturing processes(ii) and managing its employees (iii)to ensure that all-natural resources and eco-systems will be managed in a sustainable manner. The companies will have to make every endeavor to conserve the usage of all resources by optimizing resource utilization and minimizing waste through practicing cleaner production principles. They will strive to be self-sufficient in green energy to operate all our tea factories through harnessing the hydropower potential within all the lands belonging to the company.
There are many strategies recommended by TRI and others such as development of Agro- forestry farming systems using all unutilised estate land to have ‘nitrogen fixation’ as suggested by Chairman TRI. This will improve the soil porosity, provided we issue guidelines instructing them to follow TRI guidelines on Integrated soil fertility management strategies as mandatory good agricultural practices (GAP)towards minimizing soil acidity, top soil erosion and wastage of inputs etc.
As stated, it is a fact that there has been no increase in productivity, but a gradual decline in tea productivity measured in terms of the yield per hectare in Sri Lankan tea estates, partly due to continuous application of chemical fertilizer and due to difficulties in adopting mitigating strategies to arrest negative impact of climate change. This depleted soil condition and land degradation issues need to be corrected as a matter of priority. This proposed strategy will enable the growers at least to correct the high acidity levels in the soil and improve soil porosity and tea product quality.
In sustainability circles much is written about “three pillars of sustainability” or in other words, “triple bottom line” of environment, society, and economy. My own view is this is to confuse ends with means. The Environmental sustainability and Human well-being are two desirable points. Economic wellbeing in the long run is driven by those two. In other words, the necessary precondition for long term economic sustainability and profitability of the tea estates is environmental and social well-being from the long- term perspective.
As for marketing of tea in the global markets, the discerning customers have high expectations of the standards and practices applied by the supply chain including tea estates. For example, Tea” is made according to the principles of “sustainable food” thus providing values to discerning customers, employees and all other stake holders. SLTB global promotion campaign aims to popularize tea drinking around the world in order to expand demand and increase per capita consumption, using three USPs; authenticity means demonstrating sustainability credentials, wellness factor and the premium quality of Ceylon Tea.
If the estate management does not look at long term view, it is unlikely they make profits on a continuous basis. Eventually, the long- term value creation for the shareholders depends on the sustainable development of the estates and the community in which they operate. That is why I consider tea plantation sector as one of the truly complex adaptive systems.
Are we leaving the tea plantations to future generations in a better condition than the one we inherited?
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