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Sound policies a prerequisite for agriculture development –Prof. Marambe



By Ifham Nizam

Continued from last Thursday

The Island:  How do you view
the Green Climate Fund?

Prof: The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is an international climate financing mechanism, and is a main implementing entity for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with a predicted resource of USD 100 billion a year. The GCF operates to transfer finances from the developed countries to the developing countries, and to assist developing countries in their adaptation to climate change and in mitigating actions. Currently, in U.S. dollar terms, the GCF spends one-third on adaptation and two-thirds on mitigation. Sri Lanka considers GCF as an important vehicle for the implementation of national climate action plans and to achieve the targets of UNFCCC and Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Two GCF-funded projects in Sri Lanka have been implemented as of 31st March 2020 with the GCF contribution of USD 77.9 million out of a total project value of USD 101.1 million. Both projects are under climate adaptation category. The Government of Sri Lanka has designated the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources as its National Designated Authority (NDA) to the GCF. The first NDA Readiness and Support Program was implemented in Sri Lanka for the period 2019-2020 with total GCF support to the value of USD 920,000. Despite the above, the GCF is currently facing a problem to support its overall financial targets. The USA has decided to pull out as a contributor to the GCF. Further, the other developed countries have failed to increase the amount of money pledged to the GCF, to mitigate the refusal of USA to provide green finance.   

The Island: When it comes to agricultural practices…are we on the right track?

Prof: Agriculture in Sri Lanka has evolved over the years. The Sri Lankan version of Green Revolution has paid its dividends, especially in the case of the main staple, starting from the development and adoption of famous rice variety H4 in 1958. We now cultivate more than 98% of the paddy land extent using new high yielding varieties. Investments on research and development leading to technological packages have made significant progress. For example, the recommendations made by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) on food crops have been heavily adopted by the farming community in Sri Lanka. High yielding crops always demand more inputs – a natural phenomenon. With the efforts to feed slow but steadily-growing population, new and less-labour intensive agricultural practices have replaced the traditional, more labour-consuming practices. For example, machinery has heavily replaced labour in the front-end (land preparation – use of tractors) and tail-end (harvesting – use of combined harvesters) of paddy. Further, back-breaking weed control efforts using labour has been replaced with the use of herbicides. Commercially available chemical fertilizers have replaced the requirement of large quantities (in many tons per hectare) of organic matter to supply the needed amount of nutrients for the growth of crops leading to richer harvests. Taking paddy as an example, since 1940 where we imported 60% of our rice requirement to feed about 6 million population, Sri Lanka is now self-sufficient in rice thanks to efforts made by scientists as well as heavy adoption rate of technologies by farming community. We have shifted from traditional varieties to new high yielding varieties, use of less labour-intensive practices resulting in high labour productivity and efficiency in agricultural practices, and new fertilizer recommendation. As for science, we have always being in the correct path in terms of food crop production.

However, we were focusing more on quantity than quality. The society is now more conscious on quality aspects and the process in on. The main issue of the agricultural practices has been the misuse of agricultural inputs by practitioners, deviating from the recommendations of the DOA or the responsible entities that make such recommendations. This has been a major problem over the years, which no doubt has had a negative impact on the overall environment.

Fertilizer subsidies granted since 1962 at various levels and with different objectives have made the farming community to use this important input as they wish. The mode of provision of such input subsidy requires a re-visit, understanding the actual requirement, with proper coordination among agencies within the Ministries responsible for the subject of agriculture. More importantly, provision of free-fertilizer is not a request of the majority of the practitioners in agriculture in Sri Lanka. Instead of paying more attention for providing free agricultural inputs such as fertilizer by spending a colossal amount of foreign exchange, timely availability of the inputs at an affordable price is more important. Such an action would ensure higher agricultural productivity. In the case of food crop production, we still import a lot to fulfill our food requirement. However, the progress in terms of productivity of many crops such as rice, maize, chilli, etc. (I do agree that there are many other issues to be solved), has been the key for agricultural development. Such improvement mainly came from our own breeding programmes, thanks to our own scientists, and the private sector that got down technology (micro irrigation to enhance water use efficiency, green houses for continuous production of high value crops, etc.) from elsewhere to enhance productivity and profitability of agricultural enterprises. The technologies are popularized and adopted based on recommendations of the DOA. Research outputs to make such technologies productive, from the Universities and private sector themselves, are commendable under the Sri Lankan scenario.

The extension services have also provided a strong support ensuring the adoption of technologies. Importing dairy cattle or semen seem to have been the key government intervention in the past to improve dairy industry in the country. No or minimum effort has been made to improve fodder production and fodder quality, except the Department of Agriculture trying its level best to provide maize requirement of the animal Industry (mainly poultry). Even when dairy cattle is imported, the rearing of such animals should be done in an appropriate climate for the animal breed. The people involved in rearing imported cattle, should be aware of the requirement of the animal. If better growth and yield is the target, then adequate nourishment, including drinking water is a must. We cannot expect higher yields through/from a malnourished animal. Environmental pollution, such as eutrophication, has been one of the key negative impacts of misuse or overuse of agricultural inputs, especially fertilizers in agricultural ecosystems. Minimum efforts made to conserve soil especially in the sloping lands and in the dry zone is still an issue to be solved. The costs involved in adopting remedial measures is high, but we see the efforts being made in the Central Highland of Sri Lanka. Organic agriculture has been proposed as an alternative to the famous “chemical” fertilizer, however, comes at the cost of losing productivity, absence of large quantities required to support crop growth, transport issues, and at the end, national food security.

The State Department of Agriculture promotes Integrated Plant Nutrient System (IPNS), Integrated Pest Management (IPM), etc., to ensure rational use of inputs. Further, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are been recommended for many crops to minimize the negative impacts of current agricultural operations on the environment and to ensure sustainable production system in agriculture at all levels. There is no doubt that we need to have a coordinated effort to re-orient the overall agricultural production to make it more environmentally-friendly. All in all, the current agricultural practices, based on the way the recommended technologies are used, have created issues in the natural and agricultural ecosystems in the country. The popular ‘ban’ theory adopted in the past and now for many imports is not the way out. Making judicious use of such productive technologies with sound policies and strategic interventions with the involvement of all stakeholders will take us towards the ultimate goal of agricultural prosperity.

The Island: What are your recommendations to the government?

Prof: The answer is simple as follows

I have trust in science and scientific evidence, make evidence-based decisions, have confidence in the scientists and researchers in the state system and academia in the field of agriculture – those without biased political motive (identification of such people will be a difficult task in some cases), do not get carried away by myths and fancies of individuals and groups (e.g. fallacies such Sri Lanka is the country that use the highest amounts of fertilizer for agriculture  in South Asia or the world), move towards carefully designed private-public-producer partnerships, make novel technologies available to practitioners at affordable prices, promote organic farming based on its feasibility in meeting national food (and nutrition) security and mainly as a means of export-oriented production based on demand, and adopt a steady and sound policy on agriculture (e.g. the Overarching Agriculture Policy developed by the Department of National Planning with support of large groups of scientists, academia, researchers, administrators, community-based agencies, farmers at all levels including national and provincial set ups).

I fervently hope that this is the way out in the expected new normal during the post-pandemic period.

UNDP’s, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF ) has contributed to a number of Small Grants Programme, in Sri Lanka, with the financial assistance to climate change adaptation.

Under this initiative, a number of programmes were conducted in the Knuckles region.




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Traffic in Colombo and suburbs: Is it unsolvable?



By Praying Mantis

People curse this phenomenon called traffic congestion in Colombo and the suburbs. However, it has to be unequivocally conceded that the populace has to get about on their daily chores and obligations. The result is traffic, with or without congestion, and we have to come to terms with the fact that it will be there, whether we like it or not. Many deem traffic congestion to be a spectacle that is an eyesore. But it can be solved and the current apparently impenetrable problem can be mitigated to a large extent. What is required is a little bit of intelligence, some meticulous planning, and strict implementation of the rule of law, irrespective of all other mundane considerations.

One important aspect of trying to sort out the problem is judicious timing and usage of traffic lights. These can be set to a computer-assisted or time-controlled operational mode. It needs careful study of the movement of traffic across these junctions where traffic lights are already installed. Steps also need to be taken to install these lights in areas where they are really required but are not installed as yet. All traffic lights should have digital clocks so that the drivers behind the wheels can get ready to move decisively once the colours change to green. All vehicles should move promptly when the traffic lights change from amber to green. At present there is a considerable delay in their starting off from the blocks. In the Western countries, you will be charged for unduly delaying your take off from the stationary position. At the same time, speed limits should be very strictly enforced. Road hogs, who block traffic on the outside fast lanes, should also be prosecuted.

We are quite sure that our excellent engineers, especially those in the Moratuwa University, can set up a system or some devices that would allow the green to come on at consecutive colour lights, suitably timed to enable the traffic to move steadily and reasonably fast right across all traffic lights on a main highway. We are quite sure that this would not be such a problem for our excellent engineers. We do not need to get down foreign experts for this.

A directive from the political hierarchy should go out immediately to the police that they SHOULD NOT switch off traffic lights under any circumstance. This will solve a lot of problems. ALL TRAFFIC LIGHT INTERSECTIONS should have yellow criss-crossed ‘no waiting’ areas. Those who wait on these lines, blocking the smooth flow of traffic, should be instantly fined or charged. The traffic policemen could intervene appropriately, even with the traffic lights functioning, to prevent grid blocks and unnecessary lawless blockages. The police are so trigger happy to switch on constantly blinking amber lights at the drop of a hat and take over directing traffic. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The policemen love to take ‘absolute power’ over the motorists into their own hands by switching off the traffic lights, and make a complete mess of it all by themselves. The computerised traffic lights would do a much better job than the brains of stupid traffic policemen with IQs about 10 below plant life. They seem to have one-track minds and most of the time they think that in the mornings, only the traffic going towards the centre of Colombo should be allowed and, in the evening, only the traffic going away from Colombo need to be given preference. The police patrol (four- and two-wheelers) should be used to apprehend road traffic rule violators. At present they are parked on our roads, sometimes blocking traffic, all by themselves, with all the officers engaged in chats, in person, or through mobile phones. Our traffic police should take examples from the Highway Patrol Vehicles of the Western countries, particularly the California Highway Patrol fleet. Catch the offenders and punish them, irrespective of their political connections. Our traffic policemen are “PAVEMENT POLICEMEN.” They should catch and deal with all the traffic rule violators, notwithstanding any of their powerful connections. These include motor bicycles that weave in and out of traffic, those on two-wheelers who go on the pavements, those that overtake on the left, three-wheelers and buses which are a law unto themselves, lane jumpers of all types who could not care less for the other road users, the speedsters that weave in and out of lines of traffic, those who wilfully cross centre double and single lines just to get a micro-second advantage in time, just to mention only a few.

All two-wheeler motor bicycles, three-wheeler tuk-tuks, and buses of all types, should be strictly reined in. The maniacs that ride and drive these contraptions need to be disciplined remorselessly. They cause more traffic jams and accidents than all other vehicles put together. When confronted for their mistakes by other road users they even turn aggressive or make lewd gestures, especially to female drivers of other vehicles. The currently prevalent lane allocation operative during the rush hours in Colombo is doing a little bit to ease the problem. Yet for all that, at all other times it becomes an even deadlier free-for-all, totally ignoring lane-discipline. It is also laughable that a certain controlling big-wig of the Private Bus Mafia has threatened to strike if the three-wheelers and two-wheelers are not taken out of the inside lane. The government should call his bluff and see how they will all come back with their tails between the two rear legs when their income drops down to zero. It has been said that the private buses are generally allowed the freedom of the ass by the police because most of such buses are owned by either policemen or politicians. We have of course not checked the veracity of this contention.

All container carriers, large lorries and other bulky vehicles, except passenger transport buses, should be allowed to get onto the roads only from 9.00 pm to 6.00 am. They should be banned from all our roads from 6.00 in the morning to 9.00 at night. They cause more traffic jams than all other vehicles on our roads.

The DIGs, SSPs, SPs, ASPs, CIs and IPs of traffic police should come out of their air-conditioned cocoons, called offices, and get on to the roads to supervise the way traffic is controlled by the lesser ranked policemen. At present these worthies generally come out only when the so-called top politicians move around in Colombo. Then they crawl back into their own holes, so to speak. Some years ago, a Senior DIG of Traffic with the initials of RML, used to get on to the roads to see how things were. He did a fantastic job and was responsible for creating some of the one-way streets in Colombo. Definitely an officer to be emulated.

NO PREFERENCE WHATSOEVER SHOULD BE GIVEN AT ANY COST TO VVIPs, VIPs AND OTHER ASSORTED POLITICAL ELEMENTS ON OUR ROADS. The violation of all traffic rules by large platoons of support vehicles just to enable one political nincompoop to travel a distance of a couple of kilometres at break-neck speed is a real crime and a crying shame. This is a particular menace down Parliament Road. After all, they are supposed to be servants of the people. If they need to get somewhere in time, they should start off early enough. In other countries, even Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, do not enjoy preferential treatment on their roads. Their vehicles obey their own rules and laws.

The flashing red and blue lights on the windscreens of vehicles should be completely banned. The donkeys behind the steering wheels of vehicles with these rapidly flashing lights seem to think that they have carte blanche to do as they wish. They will have those blinking lights on and come at you even on the wrong side of the road. The ONLY vehicles allowed to use these flashing red and blue lights should be ambulances and police patrol vehicles. Incidentally, ALL police officers should be instructed to intervene and provide right of way and a clean fast run to all ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The really valid reason for this is the fact that it may mean life or death for a patient. As is done in the United Kingdom, that should be the only overriding concession made to vehicles on our roads.

You might say that all this is wishful thinking!!! The powers that be have turned a Nelsonian blind eye to this problem so far. They have certainly acted as if they could not care less. The politicians would not want to give up their exalted positions on our roads. Why should they worry? Their steamrolling juggernauts would get them there in time. Even if they get a bit late, the stupid organisers will wait for them to start the proceedings. The unimportant masses can spend all their time on our roads for all they care.

We hope these suggestions catch the attention of the powers that be in government, the police, people in positions of forward planning and traffic control. More than anything, we hope that the Executive President of our country would read this and act on at least some of these suggestions. He is perhaps the only one who can control this menace on our roads. If he so decides, like many other things he has done so far, this problem could be solved virtually overnight. It can only be done by reading the riot act to the police which would then percolate down to all the miscreants on our roads.

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How to transform conflict into co-existence



Humans and elephants killing one another

Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya

M Sc, (Department of Irrigation Engineering) Utah State University, Utah, USA – 1982 , B Sc (Civil Engineering), University of Peradeniya, Sri lanka – 1974


I thought of writing the following note after reading a recent news item about the interest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to solve the human-elephant conflict. By the way I am an Irrigation engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Projects since the 1970s while developing the dry zone forests areas for irrigated agriculture. The main purpose of this note is to put forth a proposal to solve this conflict, from a different perspective based on my field experience.


Sri Lanka has been truly blessed with the presence of the largest mammal on earth; it has contributed tremendously to our culture, economy, environment, leisure industry and natural beauty. Elephants are quite closer to humans than to other mammals. According to the article (referred to in the end note) for most of the mammals, brain mass is already developed at more than 90% when they are born. But elephants and humans are different, because brain mass development at birth is 35% for elephants and 28% for humansi. Therefore, unlike other animals they can’t survive during their infant age without the support of their parents. For an example if a human baby grew up in a jungle among the animals from child stage, he or she could not learn the normal human behaviour. This holds true for elephants.

Elephants are also intelligent like humans and have the ability to make rational choices and judgements. They don’t attack people without a good reason. When people increase their aggression towards them, they also increase their aggression. They also remember well, and therefore they can be increasingly aggressive and violent with the passage of time. As a result the ‘human-elephant conflict’ would transform to a never ending battle until elephants are driven to extinction in this country.


Human-Elephant conflict based on

my living experience

As an engineer who closely watched behavioural patterns of elephants while working on the Mahaweli Project since the 1970s, (before the forests were cleared for “development”), I still remember how they were freely roaming in harmony with the farming communities dependent on village irrigation tanks. For an example, elephants used to drink from a domestic tank built behind our Mahaweli quarters to meet our daily water needs before we chased them away to lay the modern canal network. Villagers also never considered elephants as threat to their lives unlike leopards because there were no elephant attacks. Grass growing in the village tank beds in valleys and secondary growths in chenas in the highland areas after their harvesting periods were their favourite food items. Even for birds, an area was allocated under village tanks known as kurulu panguwa. In addition, the villagers had also built forest tanks (kulu wewa) exclusively for wildlife and also to replenish ground water aquifer with rains. However, according to modern commercial-oriented western-based farming methods, we have destroyed thousands of those storage tanks and pitted ourselves against nature. We have been fighting a losing battle. An article published in the Economic Review magazine in 2010 explained in detail how this happened under irrigation projects developed during the last 2 centuryii.


Confrontation Vs Negotiation

Since the introduction of the so-called modern development strategies increase food production, we have been chasing out elephants and putting up electrified fences to ward them off. However, according to my first-hand experience, we could transform this conflict and co-exist with elephants if we handle the eco system for food production in an environment friendly manner. According to the recent observations on brain development behaviour of elephants, if we adopt what is dubbed the negotiation mode, I am sure, elephants will treat humans not as enemies to attack but as another species they have to coexist with. Instead of electrified fencing, live fence using plants such as lemon, palmyra and bamboo could be introduced.

Also, in some countries, bee keepingiv is also used to prevent elephants from roaming in residential areas.


New Proposal

Against this background, it is possible to test out the ancient development model at least at pilot scale in a selected area which has not yet been “developed” under the Mahaweli Master Plan. In the proposed approach, there are no artificial fences separating eco systems according to conventional EIAs recommended by various international funding sources. This is a very low cost method which could be implemented with local private sector involved in Organic Agriculture and Eco Tourism. The best pilot area I can recommend to test that negotiation approach is the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya. I also recommend that the Project be managed by a multidisciplinary team comprising wildlife and agriculture experts, irrigation engineers and archaeologists.


Confrontation verses Negotiation


According to my past experience no innovative ideas could be implemented on ground without political involvement. The main purpose of this note is to interest the political authority in this project. I hope my effort is a success. It should be implemented immediately because the Mahaweli Authority has already planned to follow the conventional confrontation approach for developing the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya.



Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in Sri Lanka

Beehive fences can help mitigate human-elephant conflict

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Lane discipline then and now



By Eng. Anton Nanayakkara

Chartered Civil Engineer

At a time a valiant top heavy effort ( police plus army ++) is being made to enforce lane discipline , it is relevant to recall how a similar attempt was made by a small group of professionals, with foreign driving experience, to introduce the concept of lane discipline as practised in the countries like Singapore, the UK, the US, etc.. It was during 2000 and 2003 that two exhibitions were organised at the OPA for the first time, under the theme, ‘Introduction to the Basics of Lane Discipline’.

It took the form of a seminar- cum- exhibition with a 16’x 8″ physical model to explain all details of correct lane markings, their meanings, etc., to help a person drive any type of vehicle in a disciplined manner without any external assistance or excessive police presence.

At the first exhibition (2000), the Chief Guest was the Minister of Health and the Guest of Honour the Resident Representative WHO, at that time one Dr Peter Hybsier. Dr Hybsier said it was ‘exactly the way to set about solving the existing traffic problem’. In the second case, too, the same model was used with improvements, such as operating traffic lights using led bulbs. The Chief Guests were the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport. Yet another special feature of the second exhibition was the inclusion of a pilot project on Parliament Road from the parliament roundabout to the Devi Balika roundabout with minimum police presence and no traffic fines so as to secure motorists’ fullest cooperation; only advice and warnings were given.

The most important feature of the pilot project was the prior training of all categories of road users. Specially prepared leaflets were to be distributed to all drivers two weeks ahead of the implementation of the pilot project. For this purpose five different categories of drivers were identified and the leaflets contained material applicable to each type of vehicle he/she will be driving at the time. (See below)

At the second exhibition immediate orders were given by the Minister of Transport to the only RDA engineer present at that time to take action to implement the pilot project without delay. So as usual everything ended there! The following pictures give some idea of the model.



While all the efforts being made under the present conditions are to be appreciated, it must be said that the use of public roads for training instead of a scaled down model dilutes all the good efforts, not to mention the need for a massive manpower input (police and army). It is difficult to believe that all drivers from one end of the road to the other end of the road and drivers in different lanes get the same message. It is also not fair to delegate any lane to one particular type of vehicle. All vehicle owners pay ‘road taxes’ that are used to build and maintain roads. So, the roads belong to all road users.

In Singapore, many more vehicles move much faster and much safer than in Sri Lanka. Where driver training is imparted is called the Singapore Safe Driving Centre, which is run by the private sector in Singapore and Honda Company of Japan.

The method proposed in the years 2000 and 2003 here applied to all roads, at all times, irrespective of weather conditions. Fines were the last resort. It is a pity that the present effort is being made 13 years after year 2003, and during that period thousands of lives have been lost on our roads not to mention many thousands of new vehicles getting smashed up, causing millions of damage to public and private property.

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