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Sound policies a prerequisite for agriculture development –Prof. Marambe

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By Ifham Nizam

The new Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) developed by the Department of National Planning of Sri Lanka (still to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers) is considered a holistic approach to agriculture development covering eight major segments in the agricultural economy, namely, food crops, plantation crops, export agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, fisheries, agrarian services, irrigation, and Environment, and adequately covers climate change as a cross-cutting issue to support future development of agriculture, says Prof. Buddhi Marambe, Senior Professor-Weed Science, Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.

Professor Marambe is the President – Weed Science Society of Sri Lanka (WSSSL), Chairman, National Invasive Species Specialist Group (NISSG), Ministry of Environment and Member. National Experts Committee on Climate Change Adaptation (NECCCA), Ministry of Environment. In an interview with The Island he said that all in all, there were many initiatives by Sri Lanka to tackle issues related to climate change in Agriculture. “Researchers, scientists, academic private sector and practitioners in Sri Lanka have adopted such technologies introduced by the state and private sector agencies, which is encouraging. There is still more to be done. We need to keep the momentum, and review and assess what has been done in the past for the agriculture sector in tackling the dangerous climate change. The efforts that are technologically-sound should continue. With sound policies, all sectors related to agriculture should be in a position to streamline climate change concerns into their respective programmes and projects”.

Excerpts of the interview

The Island: Are you happy with the policy initiatives when it comes to climate change and adaptation on agricultural sector?

Professor: The answer is yes. Sri Lanka has laid a strong foundation to tackle issues related to climate change by adopting the National Climate Change Policy in 2012, which deals with both components in tackling climate change, i.e. adaptation (coping up) and mitigation [reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions]. Before the policy was adopted, we had a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2011-2016 based on the climate vulnerability mapping on the major economic sectors done in 2009-2010 period. Later the level of climate vulnerability was assessed for the agriculture sector at district level in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with the UNDP, with studies now being expanded to divisional secretariat level. Scientists from the Natural resource Management Center (NRMC) of the Department of Agriculture, led by the scientists like Dr. Ranjith Punyawardena, are currently involved in such studies with the support of scientists from the other agencies. The Climate Change Secretariat (CCS) of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources (MEWR) coordinates activities related to the climate change being the focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the National Designated Authority (NDA) to the Green Climate Fund. Two National Expert Committees on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation have been established by the CCS to advise the MEWR on policy level decision making in climate change related matters, including agriculture. The country has also prepared its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for climate change for the period 2016-2025, following the adoption of Paris Agreement in mid-2016, where agriculture and food security have been a priority consideration. The country has also developed the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) in 2016 and currently in the process of updating the same to identify actions even to minimize GHG emissions from agriculture. The Provincial Adaptation Plans to cover 9 provinces are now in the making. The state and private sector agencies that are responsible for agricultural development of the country have set their targets accordingly, giving due consideration to climate change scenarios. In the field of agriculture, adaptation is a priority to developing countries like Sri Lanka. Accordingly, promotion of climate-smart and precision agricultural technologies focusing mainly on productivity enhancement of crops under changing climate, development of ultra-short age rice varieties (maturating in about 80-85 days) which are drought tolerant or escaping drought, promoting mid-season cultivation of short-age drought tolerant food crops such as mung bean in paddy fields, adopting water saving techniques such as drip irrigation in selected crops, protected agriculture technologies, development of drought-tolerant tea cultivar TRI 5000 series to tackle climate change, crop-animal integrated farming to promote climate resilience in the agriculture systems are some examples to show that we as a country is prepared and moving forward in facing climate challenges. The new Government Policy Framework on “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” does not highlight the term climate change, however, adequate attention has been given to promote environmentally-friendly agriculture, which has direct implications on tackling climate change. The new Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) developed by the Department of National Planning of Sri Lanka (still to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers) has considered the holistic approach for agriculture development covering eight major segments in the agricultural economy, namely, food crops, plantation crops, export agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, fisheries, agrarian services, irrigation, and Environment, and adequately covers climate change as a cross cutting issue to support future development of agriculture. All in all, there are many initiatives that have been taken by Sri Lanka to tackle issues related to climate change in Agriculture. Researchers, scientists, academic private sector and practitioners in Sri Lanka as a whole have adopted such technologies introduced by the state and private sector agencies, which is encouraging. There is still more to be done. We need to keep the momentum, and review and assess what has been done in the past for the agriculture sector in tackling the dangerous climate change. The efforts that are technologically-sound should continue. With sound policies, all sectors related to agriculture should be in a position to streamline climate change concerns into their respective programmes and projects.

The Island: About 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population are engaged in agriculture, do you think successive governments have done enough for them?

Prof: The labour force in agriculture in Sri Lanka has reduced from 50% in 1980 to 25.5% in 2018. The labour productivity in agriculture has been positive since 1980, which reached LKR 0.3 million in 2017 and LKR 0.33 million in 2018 (per labour unit per year). The labour involvement in agriculture has decreased owing to many reasons, specifically migration to urban and other economic sectors and mechanization in agriculture. Youth moving away from agriculture has been a popularly known reason and modernization of the sector with novel and affordable technology is the key for further improvement of labour productivity in agriculture and retention of the young and skilled labour that is attracted to agriculture. As for doing justice to the farming community by the government of Sri Lanka – I have mixed feelings. Since independence, successive governments have given priority to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice with more investments in research and development. However, other crop sectors and animal production sector have not received the same treatment. Our farming community have been struggling to feed the nation. They need tangible support, not political pledges. More attention need to be paid to infuse new technology and making the technology affordable to those in the sector, to ensure increase in labour productivity and to support the livelihood of the farming community. Provision of subsidies (such as for fertilizer), price controls, and insurance schemes to support the agriculture production and productivity in the country have been key interventions by the government of Sri Lanka, to support livelihood of the practitioners in agriculture. However, timely availability of such inputs, including good quality seeds and planting material, is a must to reap richer harvests without affecting the livelihood of the practitioners. There is no need of rocket science to decide on imports of agricultural inputs depending on the seasonality of crops. What the dedicated farmers in Sri Lanka require is to have timely supply of inputs (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and organic matter) and an effective market mechanism. The agricultural practitioners have been flooded with many promises by successive governments, but they have been taken on a ride continuously. Since 1978, the country has been more inclined to import food requirements despite the potential of producing certain food and feed crops such maize, mung bean, green chilli, etc., and dairy cattle in the case of animal production. We have undermined our genetic potential in and biodiversity. In the food crops, with our scientists been able to develop the hybrids and improved production technologies, we are in a position to boost the productivity levels of food crops and animals considering limitations to expand land availability for agriculture. Unfortunately, limited attention have been paid to improve the livestock sector. Private-public partnership is a must to achieve productivity targets with assured local and export markets for the agricultural products. Import restrictions imposed for some food crops in crisis situations would assist in this effort however, will not be a good practice in scenarios where international trade plays a major role.

The Island: Your thoughts on food losses as waste during COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the agricultural sector?

Prof: COVID-19 made many issues that the agriculture sector has faced over many years, to surface at a magnitude that many of us did not even dreamt of. The food supply chain collapsed in the country at least for a shorter time period, not only leaving producers at a precarious position, but leaving many agencies still wondering what to be done. Closure of markets, national and regional lockdowns, issues related to transport, etc. during the COVID-19 pandemic rendered the situation more difficult to handle. The private sector itself, despite their contribution to the agricultural development of the country, was taken by surprise indicating that the so-called “engine of growth” is not prepared in order to face such a crisis. This was true for both crop and animal products, affecting both the industries badly. The government made a valiant attempt to intervene, by means of permitting food transport and agricultural operations amidst islandwide curfew and lockdown, but still failed to cope up with the situation owing to the complexity of the food supply chain, as we learned from many media reports. Panic buying resulting in empty shelves in the markets certainly would have increased food losses due to excess storage of food in homesteads, though scientifically valid analysis on this matter is not available yet. In contrary less food demand at later stages also would have contributed to food losses to a certain extent. When any supply chain collapses, it is natural that both the producers and consumers (not to forget the other players) feel the impact.

The Island: What about the perishables and 20 to 40 per cent harvest losses?

Prof: This has been a long-discussed topic with limited success in terms of practical solutions. The disruption to the food supply chain, as was evident in the COVID-19 pandemic, has only cautioned us further to look into this matter deeper in finding a long-lasting sustainable solution. Unfortunate part is that the whole society speaks of the need for reducing post harvest losses when there is a glut in the market. It is always too late – as the society including the researchers and academia, and the industry, we are not prepared to meet the challenges. We plan our cultivation well, but we do not plan for the post-harvest operations and value addition in the same manner. This is the key issue. Once again, the state and private sector organizations should chip-in at early stages of cultivation and plan for the future to support the agriculture community. Special analysis is not required to conclude that there is a glut of food products in the markets during specific time period of the year such as December, March-April and July-August. This depends on the seasonality of the crops and the way farmers carry out their cultivation aiming at harvests at times when there is a high demand for the crop produce. We cannot start thinking what to do with the excess food at the time when we have a surplus. This can only be addressed through proper planning. Enough lessons are learned from repeated mistakes. Efforts have been made to educate practitioners on the quantities required in the case of different food products during different time periods of the year. The Department of Agriculture has developed a mobile app to educate the farming community in Sri Lanka regarding the requirements and market potential of different vegetable crops, which is upgraded twice a month (every 6th and 21st day of the month). Finally it is a matter of imposing certain rules and regulations to make sure what is required, including for post-harvest processing, being produced. Proper land use planning and directives based on market mechanisms are a must to overcome such problems in the future.

Asking farmers to do value addition for a better export price will not solve the issue at all, unless the mechanism is set to support product marketing at national and global levels.

 



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Features

Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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