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Sound policies a prerequisite for agriculture development –Prof. Marambe

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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.

 

Concuded

 



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Features

Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Features

Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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