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Sorry state of rubber industry in SL

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By Dr. L. M. K. Tillekeratne 

Former Director RRI, UNIDO expert in Rubber Processing

Rubber plantation was established in Sri Lanka over the past nearly 10 decades for extracting latex for the manufacture of raw rubber grades namely Ribbed Smoked Sheets (RSS), latex crepe, technically specified rubber (TSR), the starting materials for the manufacture of moulded products such as tyres. Rubber latex in concentrated form is used to manufacture foam rubber and dipped products like household and medical gloves, condoms and balloons. With the spread of diseases such as AIDS, the demand for the natural rubber based medical gloves and condoms started rising rapidly in the mid-1980s.

Due to COVID-19, which is fast spreading all over the world, the demand for medical gloves used for examining patients and household gloves used in supermarkets, etc., is growing at an unexpected high rate, thereby increasing the demand for concentrated rubber latex. This trend is expected to rise further at least for the next two to three years until an effective vaccine is found for COVID-19; the developed nations like Japan, the US and some European countries have already decided to live with the Covid-19 next couple of years until an effective vaccine is developed. Hence if the rubber plantations in the country start following proven agro-management practices introduced by the RRI, without engaging in extracting latex over in excess of what is biologically available trees by using harmful extraction techniques such as stimulation, they will be able to reap benefits of this rising demand for latex. However, if trees are exploited above 100% efficiency level, the way some of the plantations are doing today, the day the rubber industry disappears from this country is not far off.

The main reason for some of the rubber estates finding it difficult to remain viable today is due to the drop in productivity in kg/ha/yr by over 50% during the last half decade to about 770 Kg/ha/yr, and it is declining further due to the adoption of incorrect agro management techniques totally rejected by the RRI. The countrywide productivity in 2013 was over 1,200 Kg/ha/yr and in 2018 it has dropped down to 774 kg/ha/yr purely due to bad management; this is not due to infertility of the soil or due to poor weather conditions.

It should be mentioned here with appreciation that some rubber plantation companies earn high profits purely as they followthe RRI recommended agro-management practices. They have also been able to show that the rain guards introduced by the RRI to minimise crop loss caused by rain interference on tapping have helped record an annual crop increase of over 30%. Now they are engaged in low frequency d4 or d5 tapping trials on their own, thereby vastly reducing the tapper shortage in their estates.

Harvesting of latex from the rubber tree is done by tapping the bark using tapping intensities recommended by the RRI. The S2d2 tapping system adopted in most part of the island is called the tapping system of 100% efficiency. This 100% efficient tapping technique is capable of giving biologically possible highest yield from a rubber tree over a period of over 24years. If attempts are made to over-extract latex over and above this recommendation, with the help of rash techniques tapping, panels dry up (TPD) thereby making the tree worthless. Further, due to the high intensity tapping the productive period of the tree too is reduced. Hence, in order to obtain satisfactory returns on the investment it is essential to adopt the RRI-approved techniques.

But, it is very sad to note that in most of the RPCC-managed estates, unwarranted bad extraction techniques to extract more latex from the trees (far above what is biologically possible to extract) is practiced and hence today in most of the estates the percentage of Tapping Panel Dried trees (TPD) present is over 50%. If proper agro practices are followed, this percentage should be below10%. In other words, more than half the healthy trees in such estates are without a bark to yield even a drop of latex. Virtually they are like culled cows in a dairy farm. Unfortunately, when you travel on the Colombo Ratnapura road or on the Colombo Matara highway, right along the road you see rubber estates with healthy trees with a big canopy. But, how many of you are aware that most of them are useless trees not yielding any latex due to the above reason.

There has been a proposal of growing other crops on rubber estates. Then what will happen to the rubber products industry earning over US $ 1.25 Bn annually? If such estates are used for other crops which demand more inputs and better care are also subjected to poor agro-management, can they earn profits? Then, what will be the damage caused to the environment?

If the RPCC-managed estates are economically unviable, it means they have not been properly managed; important inputs like fertilizer have been curtailed and exploitation has been intensified by totally ignoring the recommendations of the RRI to achieve short term high yields, thereby lowering productivity to unexpectedly low uneconomical levels. They have been trapped in a vicious circle. Therefore, action must be taken as early as possible to prevent the rubber industry from disappearing from our soil. If not, over 250,000 unskilled workers engaged in estates and over40 to 50,000 semi-skilled and skilled workers employed in the rubber products industry will have to find employment elsewhere.

Another factor that has contributed to this situation is the communication gap between the RRI scientists and the RPCC-managed plantation. The valuable rubber bulletin published twice a year compiling all research findings of scientists and economic analysis of the industry done by reputed economists both local and overseas has not been published since mid-2018. Regional meetings conducted to discuss new developments in the industry and on the plantation and the problems faced by the estate managers in their management activities have not been conducted for years after setting up of the plantation rehabilitation and monitoring committee by the Ministry of Plantation Industries. As a result, not only the RPCC but also the Rubber Development Department officers have been doing things the way they want without heeding the RRI recommendations. Scientific committee meetings conducted by the RRI for planters and the RDD officers have not been held for a long time. A case in point is the present clone balance of rubber planted in the country. Without heeding the pressing need to maintain a uniform plantation of five top quality group 1 clones namely RRIC 100, 102, 121 and Pb 216 and 28/59 covering 20% of the total extent from each, replanting has been done with whatever the clone that is easy to access in their nurseries. This recommendation was made by all the IRRDB member countries in 1986 to avoid mass destruction of the entire rubber plantation or a very high percentage of the total rubber extent in the country in case of a disease pandemic effecting one of the clones starts to spread in the plantation like what happened in mid-1980s to the clone RRIC 103.

A policy decision was taken by the MPI in 1995 to eliminate the low yielding clone Pb 86 from the plantation by destroying even the bud wood nurseries controlled by the RDD and RPCC. According to statistics published following a countrywide survey carried out by the RRI in 2012, even 15 years after banning the propagation of Pb 86 clone, there is still 29% Pb 86 on plantations. This means neither the RPCC nor the RDD has followed the ruling given by the MPI to eliminate this low yielder from the plantation. This factor also has contributed to the declining yield of the rubber plantation in the country. Further, the RRIC 121 population has reached 33% of the total extent, which is slightly more than the recommended norm. Hence, a decision has been taken by the MPI on the advice of the RRI to reintroduce RRIC 100 clone to the plantation and also to discourage planting 121 for some time.

According to the survey carried out by the RRI in 2020, the clone population in the country is in a worse situation now. According to this survey results RRIC 121 population in the whole country which includes SHH has risen to unexpectedly high level of 73% of the total extent while RRIC 100 population is stagnating at a low level of only 8%. Also, the group 1 recommended RRIC 102 clone population in the country is insignificant. A joint effort should be made by the RRI with RPCC and the RDD, to bring the clone balance in the country to a satisfactory level. If a pathogen affecting the clone RRIC 102 enters the Sri Lankan plantations, we may have to make a greater effort than that by the government to control COVID-19, to save the rubber estates.

Therefore, if the new government is to develop the rubber industry, it must first ensure a close interaction among the RRI and the RPCC, the RDD regional offices and resume inspections by the RRI officers in RPCC estates without further delay to identify the wrong procedures followed by them and advise them to adopt remedial measures. RRI must take immediate action to publish its bulletin regularly as in the past to educate farmers on new research developments. One must keep in mind that the damage done by the RPCC by following unacceptable exploitation techniques to draw latex from the trees far above what is biologically available, must be stopped immediately for the sustainability of this valuable industry highly beneficial to the economy of Sri Lanka and also equally to the environment of the country.



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India at 75

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By Gwynne Dyer

Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.

The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)

India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.

So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.

That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.

The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.

Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).

The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.

The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.

Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.

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Ukraine War: Mother May I?

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By Gwynne Dyer

“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”

The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.

The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”

Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?

It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.

Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.

Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.

The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.

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Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity

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Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation

Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran

A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication

Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: vijiyapa@gmail.com)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.

Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.

What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.

The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.

The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’

When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.

For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.

A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.

‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.

However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.

The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.

Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.

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