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Sri Lankans to be proud of: protesting youth, a Zoologist and a Thespian

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The sea of troubles is within our land, surrounded by the Indian Ocean, which will soon turmoil to send us its SW Monsoon winds. No sharp light of relief is discernible in the mists and vapours of rain and people’s continued shouts of protest. But hope lives on.

The People braved torrential rains and the scorching sun, forewent usual national New Year routines and continue their effort to send a strong, determined, heartfelt, unanimous message to the government. They even dared reprisals because who knew what the cornered President would order. Heartfelt admiration and sincere gratitude are given all the people who protest, and those who help them with necessities. They, in the majority, are of the upper strata of society: professionals, academics et al; their clothes, good grooming, restrained behaviour and lack of racial and religious divides prove this. Foreigners have been in the protests, both in sympathy and agreement, and expressed admiration for the dedication of the protestors. The police are also to be appreciated. They have shown courtesy and restraint, though greatly provoked by some protests, mostly those of uni students. The very recent incident of using live bullets is the exception.

There was always a lurking fear, substantiated by the Prez’s penchant for giving high posts to ex-Army persons, and inbuilt mistrust, that the army would be called in to quell any uprising. Who knows whether they were contacted but refrained from obliging? We appreciate that since the protests, starting with Hirunika’s down Pangiriwatte way, were and are peaceful.

The entire country is enmeshed in a quandary. How will this pan out? We only hope peacefully with great changes wrought and no violence. The call has changed from Go Home to Go to Jail and Return Stolen Wealth. Very correct; justified. Just going peacefully home is not enough for bloodsuckers who sucked the country dry and sent millions to near starvation and deprivation. The most disgraced is the kurrakan satakaya that was thrown over shoulders with hubris and elitism and ended up in GoGotagama draped around garbage bags. What a downfall! Here one admits the Prez did not follow the sataka trend. That makes one wonder if, with no brethren, he would have at least steered the ship of state without it sinking or slanting, though his glorious vistas of splendour were ridiculous! The most offensive brother seems to be the progenitor of the sentence “Kaputas take off and hit the plane” which is echoed derisively worldwide. There was a tall, sinister looking Kaputa recently among the protestors on Galle Face Green and vehicle horns are tooted to the kak kak kaputa kak kak refrain. A friend of Cassandra’s – retired woman professional – went alone for a peep at GFG and stayed on the entire day. “People from all over the island and races were so friendly. I got a strong feeling of national pride and loyalty in my heart.”

The recent mild white-wash of the government as it limpets itself to power by electing a 17 member Cabinet has impressed no one but the SLPPers and the appointed themselves, along with more State Ministers. They are generally young but mostly so-so. Useless sop to Cerberus! Any distinguished economist or financier among them? That’s the kind of person we need now. No outstanding professional either though there is a Prof. The best (Cass’ euphemism for the very worst, deplorably evil) move was to appoint as minister Lohan Ratwatte, who held a pistol at the foreheads, one by one, of terrified Tamil prisoners in the Anuradhapura jail. He is a Minister now, promoted on the qualification of loyalty to his masters and being trigger happy.

This move by appointing a new Cabinet holds no water with the vigilant protestors. Neither with most Sri Lankans. Nor does the apology extended by the Prez for mistakes made by banning chemical fertiliser, etc., and not approaching the IMF much earlier extenuate him in the slightest. No forgiveness for his mea culpa since he deliberately, taking no notice at all of agriculturists’ advice, sent the country organic overnight, and his appointed Gov of CB maintained the country would go his way. When further failure of crops ushers starvation, no Akka predictions nor invoked mantra to gods will divert the curses aimed at him, his brethren and nephews. Curses will rain faster and in greater abundance.

Two honoured Sri Lankans congratulated

Dr Rohan Pethiyagaoda has won the Linnean Medal awarded annually to one or two biologists as an expression of the Linnean Society’s esteem and appreciation for service to science. It is open worldwide to any scientist in academic research in the natural sciences: taxonomy, evolution, ecology etc; i. e a botanist or zoologist. It was instituted in May 1888, the centenary of the Linnean Society of London. The medal is to commemorate Carolis Linnaeus who is accepted to be the father of taxonomy, which was gold up to 1976; now alloy but, needless to say, its prestige has not decreased but increased with the crowding of scientific fields with researchers and academics. Prof Sebsebe Demissew, Ethiopean botanist, won the co-award.

Cass quotes part of the Society’s citation in awarding the Sri Lankan: “Rohan has played a critical role in the understanding and conservation of the astonishing freshwater fish diversity of Sri Lanka and the region more broadly, through original research and support for others.”

He was in government and semi government service and last, Chairman of the Tea Board. What I remember with a broad grin is that he demolished Dr Padeniya’s arguments for banning chemical fertiliser point by point in an interview, the video of which went viral and was the talking point in many cities worldwide where Sri Lankans are domiciled. Rohan was definite, yet simply stated facts with not an iota of hubris or malice.

Rohan being completely minus pride and very simple in demeanour, may not approve of Cass highlighting this interview, but it illuminates who Rohan is and the Prez and his ill advisors. Rohan has won many other international awards as well, and discovered new species of frogs/lizards in Sri Lanka.

The broadly smiling winner of the Laurence Olivier Award for 2022 presented by the Society of London Theatre in recognition of excellence in professional theatre in London was received with a rousing welcome at the Katunayake airport on Monday April 18. He did not stay on in his adopted home UK, to celebrate his success, as he strongly empathised with the youth of Sri Lanka who were protesting for true democracy and elimination of corruption along with the corrupt. What a heartwarming sight it was to see Hiran Abeysekera, excellent Thespian, award winner and deeply national minded Sri Lanka return to add himself to the protesting young ones.

The Olivier Awards, recognised internationally as the highest honour in British theatre, originated in 1976 and were named after Laurence Olivier in 1984 and presented to persons involved in West End and other non-commercial theaters based in London, covering plays, musicals, dance, opera productions.

Hiran Abeysekera won the best actor award for the stage adaptation of Life of Pi, a philosophical novel by Yann Martel (2001) adapted to a film in 2012 which won many awards including Oscar for Director Ang Lee. The book itself – about Pi Patel crossing the oceans in a raft with a hyena and Bengal tiger – won Martel the Man Booker in 2002.

It is reported that in a touching speech Abeyesekera said he was overwhelmed and paid tribute to his home country: “I think of you and wish I was there with you.” He even used the term ‘machang.’ True to his word he is here, ready to go through tough times with the protestors, loyal to the country and wanting it on the path to recovery from corruption, bandyism, lawlessness and near tyranny.

 Kudos to you, Rohan Pethiyagoda and Hiran Abeysekera! You have done Lanka proud, now a near failed state, in spite of all the brilliant people we have.

Bye to Khan should be temporary

Up north west, Pakistan’s Parliament sent the Prime Minister off with a gust of votes. Many over here are saddened since Imran Khan stood for democracy and against militarisation. No Premier of Pakistan has ever served a full term in office.

Cass for one was jubilant when Imran Khan was elected PM of Pakistan in 2018 when his newly formed Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) won elections. He is polished, a great sportsman, even a playboy in his salad days, a well rounded personality and sincere in his quest for democracy for his militarised country.

It is hoped his being pushed out of the premiership is short lived and he regains power soon. How hope otherwise for a handsome man of strong personality!



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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