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.
Echoes of NM’s dismissal may have an impact on present crisis
by Tissa Vitarana
Dr. N. M. Perera, one of the greatest politicians and statesmen produced by our country, was born on June 6, 1905.
In recognition of his stature as a freedom fighter, a trade union leader, an authority who consolidated parliamentary democracy in the country, an economist who defended the rights of the developing world and sacrificed political power to defend minority rights, he remains in the heart of the people 43 years after his death. Each year on June 6, it has become customary to celebrate his birth anniversary by paying floral tribute at his statue in Colombo. Leaders of the Left and many other political parties participated, together with some leading supporters of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), which he had helped to form in 1935 with socialist objectives.
Among the chief speakers were the current Leader of the LSSP and the Chairman of the Dr.N.M.Perera Centre or his representative. Similar functions would be held at the statues in Thun Korale, Ruwanwella and Yatiyantota, in turn bi-annually.
As usual on June 6, 2021 the function was held, but only with three persons present as a token event, to conform with the three health regulations required to control the Covid 19 epidemic . As the present General Secretary of the LSSP I gave a short speech, the Chairman of the Dr.N.M.Centre who was unwell was represented by Ranil Vitarana, and the LSSP rank and file by Nuresh Rajapakse, a member of the PB whose ample size filled the space left by the absent LSSPers. We retired home to discuss how NM might solve the present crisis if he was alive.
The crisis that NM faced as the Minister of Finance in the SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government in 1972 was far worse than what confronts us today. In 1972 there was the perennial crisis of over production that dogs the capitalist economic system. But in addition the fossil fuel price went up seven times due to the getting together of the oil producing countries to form a cartel, OPEC. The worst global drought in 30 years led to a severe food crisis, with thousands of deaths worldwide. As a result, due to the traditional import dependent policies of the UNP Governments, our people were in grave danger (e.g. the price of a ton of imported sugar went up from $ 40 to $ 600).
NM explained to the people the magnitude of the crisis and called upon the people to tighten belts, stop the import based luxury lifestyle, and develop an import substitution national economy, producing our food and developing value added industry (his budget allocation for science and technology was increased four times). The bulk of the burden should not be passed on to the people but borne by government and the rich. The direct personal tax on the rich was raised to a maximum of 75% (today it is only14%). He managed to balance the budget and in one year in office earn more than the loss. The strict import restrictions reduced the foreign trade deficit and helped to cut down foreign borrowing. The foreign debt was reduced to the lowest in our history.
Today the biggest problem is the high cost of living, mainly due to huge profits made by rapacious middlemen (big mill owners, local money lenders to farmers such as traders etc.). To end this NM and the coalition developed the producer cooperatives (such as farmers) and the consumer cooperatives as genuine peoples’ organizations. By direct dealings between the two he wiped out the profiteering of the middlemen. The cooperatives were so successful that NM brought down the price of essentials to affordable levels, and even gave a measure of rice free. The result was that no one died of starvation unlike in other parts of the world. Due to the opposition of the traders, outsourcing to them was not possible. The result was long queues at the co-ops. This and the other shortcomings were exploited by the media controlled by the rich to lay the blame on the government. They hid the global nature of the problem, but blamed the government.
Besides food shortages a major problem was the shortage of medicine in government hospitals and the high cost of medicines in private pharmacies. Prof.Senaka Bibile, a member of the LSSP, came up with his Medicinal Drug Policy, which was accepted by WHO. NM strongly supported it and it was implemented. The outcome was that medicines for practically every disease was available in all government hospitals free of charge. The shortages were overcome, unlike the situation that prevails today. The foreign drug companies got their governments to intervene and promise a large sum of money to the government to overcome the crisis, provided the NM and the LSSP was expelled. The finance portfolio was taken away from him, and he was given a minor post which he refused and the LSSP was forced out of the Government.
The CP left the next year and the SLFP suffered a major defeat in the 1977 general election. The UNP led by JR Jayewardene came to power in 1977 and opened the door for the commencement of the process of change referred to as neoliberalism. This ideology led by the USA reached its zenith throughout the capitalist world, most of all in America. But it was a failure. It was rejected by the Sri Lankan people at the last presidential and general election.
The anti-UNP political parties helped form the SLPP-led government and are committed to do everything possible to solve the economic, social and health problems facing the country and people.
Like NM, I and the LSSP are very happy that the neoliberal foreign market dependent policies have been rejected, and the commitment is to establish an indigenous economy, where local agriculture and value added industry are to be developed. A major problem is the Covid 19 coronavirus epidemic. In view of my training in virology and experience here and abroad in association with WHO, I could have made some contribution to overcome this problem. In addition where local value added industry is concerned I have already made a significant contribution as the Minister of Science and Technology when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President.
In the four years I established 263 Vidatha Centres, one in each division, and helped 12,300 micro, small and medium entrepreneurs to develop island-wide (17 exporters, 64 suppliers to Cargills and other food chains, and 53 to hotels). To promote large scale industry for the export market I set up a Hi-tech Centre, SLINTEC, with emphasis on nanotechnology near Colombo. But it would appear that I am not fit to be a minister, leave alone a cabinet minister. I wonder whether what happened to NM and Senaka Bibile had any bearing on this.
But why was Prof Sirimali Fernando, Senior Professor in Medical Microbiology at Sri Jayawardenapura University left out. For her post-graduate research in London she not only worked in the field of Virology, but also used the PCR. She could have seen that the PCR test (and the RAT) were properly standardized to give reliable results. Control of the epidemic will be difficult with many false positives and negatives.
You can understand what a person of NM’s stature felt when he was kicked out of the finance ministry, when what has happened to me is related. The only occasion that I could express my views was when the Health Advisory Committee of Parliament met on one occasion, at very short notice, with the Minister in the chair. I proposed that a National Committee of party leaders in Parliament be set up to interact with the minister to exchange views so that we all unite to fight this common enemy. Then truly national Covid committees could cooperate down to village level in the interest of all the people.
The minister turned this down and said that this Health Committee will meet twice a month and any party leader is free to come. Four months have gone and this committee has not met once since then. Secondly I proposed that as community spread had begun a new community based approach was necessary to control the spread and I gave an outline of the necessary measures. She rejected my assessment and approach, stating that it was still in the cluster stage. I said that the cluster approach could continue where indicated, but my proposal too should be implemented. She rejected this proposal.
I might mention that the day Dr. Fernandopulle was appointed as minister she invited me to meet her and I had a fruitful discussion with her for more than an hour. I hope that she will get the necessary support.
Monastic food – vegetarian food (mildly selective)
I was directed to the film series on food on Netflix titled Chef’s Table and enjoyed watching the first of series three. It was on the South Korean Zen Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan, and her preparations of monastic food.
(born 1957) is a Zen Buddhist and chef of . She lives in the Chunjinam Hermitage at the in , where she cooks for fellow nuns and monks, as well as occasional visitors. She had no formal culinary training but is now directing the preparation of vegetarian food in a café in Korea and has visited China and Japan as ‘food ambassador’. Temple food is literally food consumed by ascetic Buddhist nuns and monks. Since their goal is enlightenment, achieved by both mind and body, ascetic food aims at this great achievement – enlightenment.
The bustling Chef
Jeong Kwan ran away from her home in a northern province of South Korea at age 17, leaving her family of seven siblings. At 19 she joined an order of Zen nuns and took to cooking with joy, food for the nuns and monks in an adjoining monastery. She had learned to turn out noodle dishes when she was just seven years old. She refers to her being chef to monks and nuns as her way of spreading the Dhamma as food is a very important component of ascetic life, the food certainly not to be relished, drooled over, hungered for, but eaten mindfully to sustain the body in health and thus contribute to the development of the mind.
Jeong Kwan’s recipes use aubergines, tomatoes, plums, oranges, pumpkin, tofu, basil, chilli pepper, and other vegetables and of course rice or noodles. vegan, Jeong Kwan’s recipes omit garlic, green onions and leeks, which are believed to be mildly aphrodisiacal. In the Netflix film I watched, this fairly well set nun with a serene face and charming smile, grows all the vegetables used in her menus. She sows seeds or plants seedlings, tends then lovingly and then harvests what she needs day by day. She says however: “It’s up to nature and the plants themselves to stay alive. Time flows for them and for myself at the same pace.” Her philosophy on cooking monastic food is: “We cook food that can become one with the person eating it; then it functions like medicine inside our bodies.”
Most of what she used in the film were familiar to me. There was nelum ala or the ‘yam’ of the lotus used; and various leaves she gathered. She uses oil fairly freely in her preparation. I don’t know what oil it was. And of course kimchi is an integral part of what she serves each nun in small dishes; the typical Korean dish always present, made from a certain kind of cabbage dipped in sauces. Nun Kwan dipped into large clay pots of sauces, some of which were very old, the sauces I mean.
Vegetarian and Vegan
It is apt to define these two terms here. A vegetarian is one who does not eat meat or fish and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious or health reasons.
A vegan is one who abstains from the use of animal products particularly in diet and believes in the “philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.” There are degrees of veganism. The term was coined by Dorothy Morgan and Donald Watson in November 1944. (Wikipedia)
Food served at meditation retreats
I wrote a fortnight ago about my experiences of meditation retreats at Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island off Ratgama, Dodanduwa, while Ayya Khema was living there and later; and about 10-day and shorter retreats undertaken at Dhamma Khuta Vipassana Bhavana Centre in Hindagala, Peradeniya. Both places were vegetarian. At Parappuduwa we served ourselves from dishes placed on a trestle table, after the resident nuns and any foreign persons in prolonged retreat, had had their meal. I recollect Ayya Khema would remain in her seat supervising us! I once reached out for a dish to pass on to my neighbour who I thought needed some from that dish. Ayya Khema reprimanded me for reaching out for a dish. I did not explain it was not for me but for another that I did what I did. Extreme respect!
At Dhamma Khuta we went up to the food tables in a two queues – men and women – and held out our plates for rice first and then down the line for the vegetable curries; just four sans red chilly, and a salad or leaf sambal. Everything was served in measured quantities. This was lunch at 11.15 – 11.30. We were served dessert, mostly fruit or a prepared simple pudding. For breakfast we were served boiled seed like green gram, followed by a cup of tea. We were allowed to keep tea and sugar in our dormitories and expected to drink plain tea after noon, which unfortunately some did not follow, copiously adding milk and even snacking, just as they broke the Golden Silence rule. In the evening at around 6.00 we were given the choice of half a glass of fruit juice or a mug of plain tea. Those on medicines were served a couple of biscuits and a banana.
Recollections are many but I will narrate just two. At the first ten-day meditation retreat at the newly constructed and not quite complete Dhamma Khuta picturesque Centre right on top of a hill, with Ven Goenkaji and wife living in the bungalow on the premises, we were rather choc-a-bloc since the organizers wanted to accommodate as many as possible at this unique retreat. We were three in most dormitory rooms with the previous meditators accommodated in the now defunct tea factory below, necessitating an arduous van ride in rain and mud and fog.
One of my roommates was obviously rich and definitely fussy, and oldish. She brought along a huge suitcase which covered half the floor of the room. My small bed was against the opposite wall so I had no jumping across or alongside it. She even brought a winter coat! Before bed there was a ritual she followed: munched crackers and cheese, thala guli and drained a mugful of beverage – cocoa or chocolate made with the hot water given each of us in our flasks after the evening gilanpasa.
The next recollection is me, a novice, standing at the narrow food table with helpers on the opposite side, ready with ladles. On the first day of the retreat, I stood at the rice dish at lunch, waiting for the server to give me another spoonful. I thought the amount served was totally inadequate. A slight wave of her palm to indicate I move on was missed by me. She then moved me to the curries with a big wave of her hand. The point in this story is that by the end of the retreat, say seventh day to tenth, I found the rice served me was too much and waved away the second spoon ready to descend on my plate. Even the measured, restricted quantity was found to be too much as the mind got calmer and body felt rested.
With Ven Goenkaji, samples of the cooked curries were taken to him to be tasted and passed as OK. At latter retreats, maybe Brindley Ratwatte or Damayanthi performed that task to see that not too much spices were added. But bland though the food was, it was so very well cooked by the village women who came to help. We ate with gratitude in our hearts to them, the organizers of the retreats and even the farmers.
A very significant point was that with the glass of juice or tea and the fresh cool water off the clay pots placed at strategic positions, I slept more soundly than at home. I found the cup of tea made before going to bed totally unnecessary and even impeded sound sleep until woken at predawn 3.30.
Conclusion: we normally eat far too much, especially at dinner!
The Rajeewa Jayaweera I Knew
For a fleeting period, Air Lanka (before its change to SriLankan) lit up the Oman sky, but it was all too brief, as was the life of the initiator of this success. We commemorate the first death anniversary of Rajeewa Jayaweera and recall with pride the achievements of this dynamic individual who left a significant imprint of Sri Lanka’s landscape among those living in the gulf states.
As a journalist my association with Rajeewa spanned over a decade in the nineties. He was a “stoic and principled” administrator who was forthright and considered in his views. As Manager of the Sri Lankan airline in Oman, he delivered exceptional service not only to our community in many ways over the period of his tenure, but also to those Gulf travelers visiting our island. I was amazed at his dedication, determination and discipline; he did not waver in his search for perfection.
When Rajeewa arrived in Oman in the second half of the nineties, Sri Lanka’s National airline was in the doldrums and was considered “just another airline” competing for a share of the Gulf’s travel market catering mainly to the Lankan workforce. Rajeewa’s vision was different, his desire was to raise the standard of the airline to be on par with the best, but he had to contend with the bureaucrats in Colombo. He faced up to the challenge. Not afraid to speak his mind and to take a firm position on issues that were
important to him and the airline, his persistence to enhance the image of the airline succeeded, commencing with the shifting of the airline’s office premises after 13 long years to a prestigious and prominent location. The airline’s logo was displayed for all to see.
This was followed by familiarisation tours to our Emerald Isle for foreign journalists and travel agents and Rajeewa accompanied them as tour guide, mesmerizing reporters with his in-depth knowledge of Sri Lanka’s history and attractions to leave them in awe. Rajeewa was a true ambassador for the country and its airline, just like his late father, Stanley Jayaweera, a career diplomat of repute. In 1997, to coincide with 50-years of Sri Lanka’s Independence, Rajeewa hosted Air Lanka’s first-ever glamorous “Top Agents Awards” ceremony at the Muscat Holiday Inn. The invitees were treated to an extravaganza of what Sri Lanka had to offer interspersed with a cultural show, traditional dancing, and authentic Sri Lankan cuisine courtesy of Jetwing’s finest chefs. Rajeewa’s positive charm instantly propelled the
airline into the limelight, winning hearts and minds of the Gulf’s expatriate community resulting in Air Lanka becoming the preferred carrier of choice for their holidays. As a disciplinarian he may not have endeared himself to many, but he stood tall with his direct and “no nonsense” approach which provided the basis for the airline’s success in the Sultanate.
After completing his term in Oman, Rajeewa was transferred to Madras and then Paris continuing his drive in these two cities to improve the image of Sri Lanka’s national airline.
In later years Rajeewa bemoaned the plight of Sri Lanka’s national airline and mismanagement. He had a fierce loyalty for the airline and represented his country with pride and would have been an ideal member to serve on the SriLankan Airlines board with his vision and experience. Unfortunately, those with vested interests thought otherwise and the island nation’s loss was Qatar Airways gain. Those who associated closely with Rajeewa will remember him as a strict disciplinarian with a strong work ethic and an abundance of skill. He was an outstanding role model for young people in particular. He was a beautiful, kind and much-loved friend. We are sad beyond words and extend our deepest condolences to Rajeewa’s family.
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