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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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Features

An air of discontent prevails

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We have had a series of “Avurudhu parties” here in Aotearoa. No shortage of Kavum, Kokis, Athiraha, and even Wali Thalapa. Buffalo curd available locally and of course imported treacle in abundance. Yours truly has assumed the role of a fly on the wall during these festivities and gleaned much information, worth talking about.

First to get on to the Pearl, the talk of the botched-up vaccination plan and running out of the second dose of vaccine. Bizarre permutations as to what would happen if the second dose was not available on time and to who would be press-ganged into getting the “dodgier” types of vaccine from China and Russia, etc. The possible repercussions of getting a second dose of another type of vaccine to the original, the speculations of which left me rather glad that the general populace of Aotearoa has not been vaccinated to date. The talk moved on to the Easter bombings and the recent comments by leaders of the Roman Catholic church as to the possible perpetrators of the attack. Some increasingly obvious conclusions as to those responsible for the planning and funding of same are being reached by those other than some of us who dared to voice our opinions over a year ago! This combined with the increasing and very rapid unpopularity of the person they elected to high office hoping he was genie of the magic lamp type, and the possible reverse of Hong Kong that could take shape on the reclaimed land near the Colombo port, does not bode well for an already dubious future. By reverse of Hong Kong, I mean Hong Kong is trying to hold out as a bastion for democracy, whilst the proposed port city seems to be modeled on the opposite!

Moving on to Aotearoa, the rest of the world seems to be praying for a leader such as our own Jacinda Ardern, but the fat cats of Aotearoa are getting rather sick of her. Those who own multiple houses and have been setting off their interest payments against their taxes due to a loophole in the law that has now been plugged are grumbling. The fact that most young people can’t afford to buy their first houses due to rich people and property developers snapping up all available property, happily funded by banks who are only interested in the bottom line, is of no consequence to them. The fact that this could lead to so much discontent that it could even lead to armed insurrection doesn’t bother them. They seem to have forgotten that we have had almost no deaths and hardly any Covid 19 cases in our community when they say that the lockdowns, we underwent were too excessive and how the economy and business sector has suffered. These very people throng the stadia during the rugby and cricket games and enjoy music concerts with gay abandon. Megacorporations are not happy about the restrictions that are coming on with regard to the use of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) due to environmental concerns. To top it all off I had a lecture from my 13-year-old daughter about how I am being “led by the nose” by Jacinda Ardern and her propaganda! Where she got that from could only be from her elder brothers whose get rich quick schemes have seen a setback due to certain leftist policies coming in from the Labour government that is in power with an absolute majority.

I laugh to myself and think about other examples I have seen of self-proclaimed pundits never being content with their lot. My education was in a very large Government school. As a perfect and a member of some sports teams we handled the administration and some of the governance of this school. Later in life when my children were attending a private school I got involved in the Executive committee of the PTA of that school. The “problems” faced by the private school and the vast dramas that were involved in trying to solve those problems were laughable when compared to those faced by even us, senior students (a much lower level in the administration) of the Government school.

It led me to believe that people always grumble. They are never content with their lot and there is always someone plugging their case and trying to sow the seeds of discontent among the populace. If those living in Aotearoa, in the present situation and well aware of the chaos and mayhem that is prevailing in the rest of the world are dissatisfied, when will anyone be satisfied? Everything is relative and one should try to step outside the confines of one’s own situation and look at the broad picture. In the words of learned barristers, I rest my case!

This week’s missive will not be complete without a tribute to the memory of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He lived through some of the best and worst times of human existence on this planet and conducted himself impeccably. He showed his humanity and his failings, with a few bloopers down the line but most of those had an undercurrent of humor and couldn’t really be construed as offensive, despite the best efforts of the media and others to make them so. He served as consort to her Majesty the Queen with loyalty and aplomb and he leaves behind an enviable legacy in the world of conservation and youth affairs. It is hoped that his heirs will be up to the task for they face a task which in cricketing terms could be classed as coming into bat after the great Sir Vivian Richards had just scored a century, in his prime. Something very difficult to surpass in skill and entertainment value. Unfortunately, the Duke made just 99. May he rest in peace!

 

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We have much to learn; and emulation is no disgrace

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” said Oscar Wilde who, through sharply ironic wit, often proclaimed the absolute truth.

Cassandra quotes him today as she wants to point out how much we in Sri Lanka can benefit by reaping some ideas from the recent royal funeral in Windsor. And she does not excuse herself for placing stress on our mediocrity as juxtaposed with greatness. Nationalists may shout themselves hoarse and bring down a few more majestic trees by decrying the comparison. They can justifiably claim we have a cultural heritage of two and a half millennia but have we remained cultured, following faithfully and correctly the four great religions of the world? A loud NO from Cass, echoed by millions of others. Though Britain’s development of the English language, culture, arts and science was later than our civilization, they outstripped all countries at one time and are again elevated, while we are poised on bankruptcy, with the begging bowl in hand and thugs and thieves as legislators. We in Sri Lanka are mediocre if not degraded against the greatness shown by the Brits in many spheres. This is no Anglophile speaking but a dame who was born when the Brits were leaving us to govern ourselves and grew up with our statesmen doing a jolly good job of it; Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, and a few Muslims taking the lead graciously and effectively with complete honesty, to serve the people. They maintained and improved our country so it was admired by others and even some desiring to imitate Ceylon as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew admitted. And where are we now? Except the Rajapaksa family from Medamulana, wearing rose tinted glasses or with eyes shut by arrogance, and their followers and throngs of sycophants, others see our country and our people for what it, and the people, really are. No need to elaborate.

 

The funeral of Prince Philip juxtaposed against customs here

The low-key funeral observing all Covid-19 restrictions was noteworthy for being utterly devoid of bombast and vainglory. It was dignified and moving. Cass wonders how many of her readers watched the funeral on Saturday 17, late evening here. Prince Philip had detailed all arrangements from the Navy being prominent and other Forces joining in plus the substitution of the gun carriage with a jeep he had helped design. The horse carriage he was adept at racing was stationed close by the entrance to the chapel. He has bequeathed it to the daughter of his youngest son and Sophie; the Wessexes having been very close to him and the Queen.

The entire proceedings proved first and foremost that the royal family observed strict pandemic restrictions like mask wearing and physical distancing. There was no one rule for them and another rule for us, thus proving beyond doubt that England (usually), and more so the Royal Family (definitely) are a country and an institution despising double standards. The monarch decreed and abided by the same regulations that have restricted everyone else in the UK, sharing their fate. An anecdote is relevant here. The Queen learned that lesson long ago. She was 14 when her mother said, after Buckingham Palace was bombed in September 1940, that she “could look the East End in the face now.”

Do all our people follow rules common to everyone? Oh! My heavens NO! There are differentiations according to layers in society. Shangri La would host a party for a hundred when only 30 are allowed to gather. During the height of the first wave when restrictions were strict, SLPP electioneering saw hordes thrust together and baby carrying, patting heads and hand clasping mostly by Mahinda Rajapaksha sans a mask. He has a charismatic bond with the masses but that needed to be curbed. Sajith Premadasa’s meetings were strict on physical distancing and mask wearing.

Only 30 were invited to the extremely solemn and yes, beautiful funeral service at Windsor Chapel. This meant eliminating even close relatives of the Family; but it was done. The Queen sat distanced from her daughter and sons and their spouses. Her now diminutive figure seated alone emphasized the loneliness she must be feeling after a close and successful marriage of 73 years.

This brings to mind our First Ladies. Cass steps out bravely to say that Elina Jayewardene was a gracious lady of restraint and dignity, the only perfect consort so far. Cass remembers Hema Premadasa beating her breast (true) and crying over the coffin of her late husband’s remains – in the true sense of the word – at the Prez’s funeral at Independence Square. There is dignity in restraint of even tears over a death in public. Among the women Heads of the country, the mother completely beat the daughter in dignity and ability.

We Sri Lankan women are now much more restrained in our mourning at funerals. Time was when widows even hoarsely wailed their sorrow, coiled and roiled with grief, and begged the dear departed “To look once more; say one word.” Cass in all the expressed grief of such funerals suppressed her laughter with difficulty. How would it be if the corpse obliged?

The choir at the funeral of Prince Philip was just four – one woman and three men. But their singing resounded in the high vaulted, completely majestic, centuries old church. The lone kilted piper within the Chapel evoked much. The service itself was short, just a Reading, prayers and listing of the multitude of honours bestowed on the Duke of Edinburgh, whose medals and decorations were on display beside the alter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner conducted the service.

To conclude, the Duke of Edinburgh had advised and laid stipulations on a simple funeral with the necessary pomp and pageantry but low key and very unostentatious. The actual funeral was even more low-key with mourners requested not to be on the streets or place flowers. The latter they did in all the residencies of the Royal Family in appreciation of a man who faithfully stood by the Queen and in his own way gave service to the nation.

Coming back to Free Sri Lanka, we seem to stress on that first word Cass inserted to the country name, even in these dire times of no crowds. And the worst is milling crowds are apparently encouraged to boost popularity of certain VVIPs by sycophants and by the preference/orders of the VVIP himself.

Consider the funeral of Minister Thondaman: crowds in Colombo and all VIPs wishing to register their presence before the body, and then the commotion at the actual cremation Up Country. Consider this year’s Sinhala New Year celebrations which were very dignified at the President’s residence but were inclusive of all traditions and a large gathering in the PM’s home, even raban playing by the Second Lady, and milling crowds outside.

 

Roller coaster ride of the country continues

Cass is relieved she had a topic to write on; namely that we should emulate the manner in which the much admired Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was conducted, abiding by his stricture of it being low key and the country’s Covid restrictions. Our leaders especially must accept the saying I quoted at the beginning.

The country continues its roller coaster bumpy ride with some crying out the country is being sold to the Chinese, we will be a colony of theirs after they occupy the Port City; and others in remote areas sitting down for days on end, some near 100 days, drawing attention to the human elephant conflict. Much is touted about the Bill relating to the rules to govern the Port City.

Cassandra listens to all, and is somewhat warned and frightened, but cannot comment. However, one matter she speaks about loud and clear. The people must be told the status quo of the pandemic – daily numbers catching the infection and numbers dying. This is not for interest sake or ghoulish appetites; but to know how things are so we relax a wee bit or shut in more stringently. The Covid-19 Task Force, or the Health High Ups (not Pavithra please) should tell the country of the true situ of the pandemic as it holds the country in its grip. We want to know whether the grip is tightening or weakening. Please give us daily statistics. This newspaper announces total numbers. No help. Are we expected to jot down figures, subtract, and give ourselves daily infection and death statistics? No! It goes to prove that other matters – political slanted, ego boosting and economics – are more important than warning, containing the pandemic, and saving lives.

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Do you pump Octane 95 Petrol to your car to get better performance?

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If your answer is YES, this article is for you

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara.

Senior Lecturer Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Moratuwa

Many passenger vehicles, including three-wheelers and motorcycles are fueled by octane 95 gasoline when octane 92 gasoline (petrol) is available at a lower price. 

Otto engine (petrol engine) is an internal combustion spark ignition engine invented by a German engineer Nicolaus Otto in 1876 and used in most of the light weight vehicles including cars, three wheelers and motor bicycles. Otto engines can burn most of the hydrocarbon fuels (including hydrogen and ethanol) that can mix with air by evaporation (low boiling point). But the combustion characteristics of different hydrocarbons are not the same when burned inside an engine. If an Otto engine is designed for a particular fuel, it would not perform similarly with a fuel that has a different chemical composition.

In a well-tuned Otto engine run on gasoline for which the engine is designed, the combustion of the gasoline (petrol) / air mixture will continue smoothly from the spark plug to the piston head by igniting successive layers of the mixture as shown in Figure 1 (a).

If low grade gasolines are used, the combustion of some of the air/ fuel mixture in the cylinder does not result from propagation of the flame front initiated by the spark plug, but one or more pockets of air/fuel mixture explode (Detonate) outside the envelope of the normal combustion front as shown in Figure 1 (b). This detonation can cause severe damage to the piston and the head of the engine while deteriorating thermal performance of the engine (low efficiency)

Gasoline is a petroleum-derived product comprising a mixture of different hydrocarbons ranging from 4 to 12 carbon atoms in a carbon chain with the boiling point ranging of 30–225°C. It is predominantly a mixture of paraffins, naphthenes, aromatics and olefins. Additives and blending agents are added to improve the performance and stability of gasoline. The engine designers learned that straight-chain paraffin have a much higher tendency to detonate than do branched-chain paraffin.

The tendency of a particular gasoline to detonate is expressed by its octane number (ON). Arbitrarily, tri-methyl-pentane, C8H18 (iso-octane) is assigned an ON of 100, while the straight-chain paraffin n-heptane, C7H16 is given an ON of zero. Hence, a fuel sample with the same anti-detonation quality as that of a mixture containing 90% iso-octane and 10% n-heptane is said to have an ON of 90. Gasoline is made up of a mixture of mostly branched-chain paraffin with suitable additives to give an ON in the range 90 –100. It was also learned through experiments that the ON of a gasoline blends (e.g. gasoline and ethanol) can be calculated by using weighted average ON of each compound. Most importantly, the octane number has nothing to do with the heating value (Calorific value) or the purity of the fuel.

Engine thermodynamics show that engines with a high compression ratio offer higher thermal performance than engines with a low compression ratio. These engines having high compression ratio require high octane gasoline (for example octane 95) to avoid detonation. However, using gasoline having higher octane ratings for the engines designed for a low octane rating (for example, 92 octane) would not provide an additional benefit or loss, other than increased fuel cost.

Therefore, it is important to know the designed octane number of the engine before fueling (refer owner’s manual of the vehicle). For example: the minimum ON requirement for two and three wheelers in south Asia is 87 (The World Bank). Most of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan models including hybrid engines recommend 92 octane gasoline.

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara received the B. Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from university of Moratuwa in 2001, and the M.Sc. and PhD degrees in decentralized power generation systems from Royal institute of technology Sweden and the Melbourne University Australia in 2004 and 2013 respectively. He has well over 13 years of national and international experience in design and installation of centralised/decentralised power plants, boilers (utility/package) and heat exchangers. Currently he is serving as a senior lecture at University of Moratuwa, a visiting lecturer and fellow at Deakin University Australia.

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