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The faithful Lankan matriarch from Negombo

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(UCAN) Every day around 7pm, octogenarian Sembuwalage Mary Hariyat faithfully recites the rosary and litany from her old prayer book with lightly frayed edges and irregular-shaped pages.She is never alone as she settles before the statues of Mother Mary and the saints at home. Among those around her are some of her growing brood of 24 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, not to mention her eight children.

“My prayer book and rosary are my weapons in times of joy and sorrow,” says the 82-year-old from the tourist village of Negombo, known as the “little Rome” of Sri Lanka because of its predominantly Catholic population.

The majority of some 150,000 Catholics in Negombo depend on fishing, just like many other coastal communities in the island nation. Despite a life hit hard by poverty, thousands of Catholic mothers like Hariyat are considered important in building up the local Church.

Hariyat never forgets to neatly arrange a small dish of raw white flowers and light an oil lamp before her prayers at home. On some days, she will burn incense sticks according to traditions passed down from generation to generation.But above all, Hariyat loves to teach the kids prayer rhythms and styles.

Her son Liyanage Samantha said: “It is our mother who taught us rhythms of all prayers. We learned every prayer from her. Now she is teaching our children and their children too,” he said. Her sons, daughters and their families credit her for teaching them how to live their Catholic faith.

“All my eight children and their children and grandchildren are devout Roman Catholics,” Hariyat proclaims with pride.

“I stay with one child for a week. That’s how I divide my time among all my eight children, week after week. If a family member is sick, I stay longer to help and serve in that house,” she says.Every word she utters hints at how grateful she is to God for everything she’s got.

“God has abundantly blessed me and all the members of my large family,” she saiys.

In February 2021, Hariyat suffered a severe heart attack and had to be hospitalized.  She says God and Mother Mary “stayed close to her during the terrible time” and if not for their blessings she would have been long gone. Like a true Sri Lankan Catholic, whenever she or a member of the family faces a problem, Hariyat takes a vow to visit national shrines on a special pilgrimage.

Most of the time it is Our Lady of Madhu, a Marian shrine located in a dense forest in Mannar district, some 220 kilometers from Negombo. The shrine is considered the holiest Catholic site on the island.Hariyat has been attending the August festival at the shrine since she was 20 years old. She even visited during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, when the shrine was surrounded by refugee camps and shelled many times.After recovering from the heart attack, Hariyat accompanied by the family of one of her sons visited Our Lady of Madhu last June.

Her son too had recovered from a major illness even though the doctors had said he could not be cured. He could not stand or do any work and suffered unbearable pain that prevented him sleeping. Doctors said some tissue lining his spine was torn and could not be rectified.Hariyat recalled praying to Mother Mary for months to heal him. She believes that Mother Mary intervened at her request.

“My son had a major operation and the doctors wanted about 600,000 rupees (US$ 1,715) to carry out the operation. His children decided to hold a lottery to find the necessary amount,” she said. “I continued to pray to God, Mother Mary to heal him and vowed to bring my son” to Madhu and Kattara churches in Mannar diocese.

Hariyat said no operation was required and even the doctors were surprised with her son’s miraculous recovery.

“For more than fifty years, I have been going to Madhu and Kattara churches with my children. I have experienced many miracles in my life,” Hariyat said.

She remains as enthusiastic as ever about the pilgrimage to Hiniduma Calvary shrine and joins other Catholic faithful in walking around the small hill on which the shrine stands overlooking St. Anne’s Church and the Gin River quietly flowing beside it.Hariyat’s house is located in a beautiful village called Pitipana nestled between the sea and a lagoon. It is a village of fishers and except for a few families, everyone else is Catholic.



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Opinion

Are ‘clients’ of irrigation projects (farmers) dying of diseases caused by agrochemicals?

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By Chandre Dharmawardana
chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca

Engineer Madinda Panapitiya (MP), writing about “Using existing resources for agri-food sector in Mahaweli areas” in The Island (30-11-2022) makes a number of claims and suggestions.

1.    One such claim is that “the main clients of irrigation projects (farmers)” are “dying of diseases caused by indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals”?

This is an unsubstantiated claim propagated from at least 2011, as seen from a discussion in the Kalaya website of Dr. Nalin de Silva where he claims precedence to Ven. Ratana in fear-mongering, stating that “Sri Lanka’s food is poisoned by arsenic and other toxins introduced by agrochemicals”. This theme was pushed forward by Dr. Jayasumana, the Natha-Deviyo Clairvoyant Ms. Senanayake, Dr. Sanath Gunatilleke, Dr. Anurddha Padeniya, Dr. Ranil Senanayake and others, various NGOs, as well as Champika Ranawaka, Chamal Rajapaksa and other politicians who launched a program to create a so-called “Toxin-Free nation”, i.e., free of agrochemicals, while ignoring the more important toxin. Many news agencies joined the fear-mongering. The toxins emitted by traffic that burns fossil fuel,  submicron dust, or the vast mounds of urban garbage that emit toxic leachate, toxic fumes,  generate pathogens and spontaneously explode spewing poison into the ecosystem were ignored.

The final banning of all agrochemicals was done by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Agricultural outputs quickly dropped by 40%. When he fled the country due to Aragalaya riots in July 2022, 7 out of 10 families had cut down on food, and 1.7 million Lankan children risked dying from malnutrition – 17% of them from deadly chronic wasting.

That farmers in the Mahaweli area (or anywhere else in the country) are dying of diseases caused by agrochemicals has been discussed and debunked many times in The Island newspaper, as well as in an excellent U-tube emission by the renowned naturalist Rohan Pethiyagoda. I invite Eng. MP to go through Rohan Pethiyagoda’s U-Tube at https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21AJp%2DCX5bpWS4LUo&cid=B41356F321656C67&id=B41356F321656C67%2192406&parId=B41356F321656C67%2192398&o=OneUp so that further misleading statements are not made.

However, if Eng. MP has field data or information that are not well known to substantiate that farmers are dying of diseases connected with agrochemicals, then he should publicise that information.

In fact, the rampant chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) that affect various settlements in the dry zone (e.g., in the Mahaweli C program) are a result of NOT providing clean drinking water to settlers. Those who settled in higher ground away from irrigation water sources dug their own household wells and consumed the well water without knowing that it was rich in fluoride and other electrolytes that cause kidney diseases (see https://arxiv.org/abs/1704.07906 ). So, the blame must transfer to the planners, engineers and politicians who settled farmers in these newly opened areas (in the 1970s) that had not been previously used, even in ancient times.

So, in “using existing resources for agri-food sector in Mahaweli areas”, a priority concern should be to provide clean drinking water to the farmers, before trying to set up farm factories to get work from people facing CKDu epidemic.

 2.   Eng. MP says that “in this approach, the main purpose of managing irrigation systems is to deliver water to the farm gate at the right time in the right quantity.

That can only be done if there is enough water for the needs of agriculture and power generation. That currently Sri Lanka is not producing enough electricity to even meet its daily needs cannot be a secret to anyone. So any such plan must be integrated with the total management of the hydro-power supply in the context of the CEB national energy plan. Saving enough water and optimising irrigation needs and power needs constitute a major hurdle that will become worse with global warming. One possible inexpensive scheme, which involves saving of water in reservoirs now wasted by evaporation was discussed by me in an article in The Island (12- August-2021 https://island.lk/partitioning-water-between-agriculture-and-hydro-power-to-maximise-sri-lankas-clean-energy-output/). Until such schemes are set up to meet the demand, managers of the irrigation system will not be able to provide water at the right time in the right quantity.

3.   Eng. MP further clarifies that farmers should be treated as clients and not “the servants at the mercy of receiving water, according to rigid schedules decided by irrigation management staff”.

Clients of a utility are people who PAY for the product or service supplied to them. Does Eng. MP propose that eventually the farmers should pay for their water? While this may make sense in a strict market economy, the Mahaweli project, or other infra-structure projects (e.g., roads are not toll roads) in Sri Lanka have NOT been planned that way. Tax payer’s money as well as foreign aid from Colonial Powers who perhaps recognised their role in impoverishing these lands financed the Mahaweli Project. Hence any attempt to charge money from farmers must be purely on a nominal basis, if at all. Farmers should NOT be treated as clients, but as partners in the management process.

4.  Eng. MP also mentions “food production factories”, without explaining what they are. He says that there is a need to minimise the damages caused to the ecosystems where these food production factories are located. Therefore, he says that the management objectives should also be focused on producing multiple types of organically grown crops, profitably without polluting the soil and groundwater aquifers.

Many studies of the soil and water in the dry zone have shown that the levels of agrochemical residues are utterly negligible and far below the danger thresholds specified by the WHO.

Eng. MP supports “organic farming”, without examining the damage to the ecosystem that is inherent in organic farming. Organic methods yield much lower harvests, and hence farmers open up more land to survive, encroaching on the ecosystem.  Control of weeds using water (as in traditional paddy farming) increases the demand for water while manual weeding and tilling (instead of modern no-till farming), all lead to greater erosion.  Furthermore, factory processed organic foods is unsupported by organic markets.

Organic farmers resort to composting which produces large amounts of green house gases. Composting work inefficiently because every compost pit has significant anaerobic regions that produce unacceptable GHGs. As a typical example, research on pig-manure/straw composting shows that methane emissions can be as large as 64%. The obvious solution of ventilating the composter cools the compost bed, reducing the amount of good thermophile bacteria, while enhancing pathogens. More importantly, improving ventilation increases the output of nitrous oxide which is 300 times worse than CO2.

Prevention of formation of such parasite GHGs in composting is difficult even for experienced microbiologists because of variations in the composition of input organic waste, humidity and other factors. Hence more organic farming (now producing less than two % of the world’s food needs), more composting etc., have the potential to catastrophically increase GHG emissions.

5.   The “food factories” that Eng. MP envisages will surely need electricity for their operation as well as for refrigeration, etc. How much power is envisaged? Given the current economic crisis, many people who propose blue prints for progress talk of “rapid industrialisation”, introducing value-added transformations to Lanka’s agricultural and mineral exports and so forth.

 But these are all pipe dreams, as such schemes have two pre-requisites that many planners forget (i) industries need power, (ii) industries need trained technical people, managers, as well as efficient means of disposing their waste products and garbage. All three are currently absent in Sri Lanka, and no effective plans for correcting these short comings are discussed in these blue prints.

In the 1970s, during my time as President of the Vidyodaya University and Professor of Chemistry, I was part of the team that initiated food science, polymer science, and environmental science course units and diplomas. But most of our food science graduates have left the country and work in the USA, Europe, and Australia.  The present day universities, underfunded and firmly in the grip of the JVP and other political parties, are no longer the leaders of scientific education.

So, while there is much to ponder in Eng. MP’s write up, his misleading statements in regard to organic farming, or the etiology of diseases in the dry zone, as well as his neglect of Sri Lanka’s short fall in power production that cripples any development plans, are serious lacunae that he needs to address.

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Opinion

Use existing resources for agri-food sector in Mahaweli areas

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By MAHINDA PANAPITIYA

Irrigation Engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Project since 80s

As originally planned, the present phase of the Mahaweli Project should be focused on social and economic development of the families settled in Mahaweli areas. It could be done by promoting food production in a sustainable way, to gain the return on investment of capital cost incurred on the infrastructure constructed for delivering water to fertile lands in the dry zone. The potential available in lands under Mahaweli Project, which cover about 1/3 of farming areas of the Dry Zone, could easily help the country to become self-sufficient in healthy foods, deviating from monotonous rice cultivation, provided it is managed with a right vision.

Concept

According to the concept explained below, there is a need to change the present management approach to a role focusing food production using limited water resources in the Dry Zone. For example, the term “Block Manager” in the Mahaweli Management System was used during the construction phase in the 70s, because areas were blocked for the purpose of managing construction and settlement activities. There are five such blocks, each of about 3,000 Hectares, under Kalawewa Reservoir. Now the project is in the production phase. Therefore, the Block Managers appointed earlier should now be named as Regional Production Managers, because the very word BLOCK implies negative at the production phase.

The role of a Production Manager replacing Block Manage is a completely different discipline from what was adapted during the construction phase. In the current production phase, Irrigation projects should be perceived as a Food Producing “Factory” – where water is the main raw material. A Production Manager’s focus should be to maximize food production, deviating from Rice Only Mode, to cater the market needs earning profits for farmers who are the owners of the “factory”. Canal systems within the project area are just “Belts” conveying raw materials (water) in a Typical Factory. Farm labor, fertilisers etc. are other inputs.

Required Management Shift

In order to implement the above management concept, there is a need for a paradigm shift at national level in managing large scale irrigation projects. In the new management paradigm, the farmers would be treated as clients, not the servants at the mercy of receiving water, according to rigid schedules decided by irrigation management staff. In this approach, the main purpose of managing irrigation systems is to deliver water to the farm gate at the right time in the right quantity.

It is also very pathetic to observe that main clients of irrigation projects (farmers) are now dying of various diseases caused by indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals. Therefore, there is a need to minimize the damages caused to the ecosystems where these food production factories are located. Therefore, the management objectives should also be focused on producing multiple types of organically grown crops, profitably without polluting the soil and groundwater aquifers.

Proposed Strategy

Existing Engineering staff should either be trained or new recruitments having Production Engineering background, should be made. Water should be perceived as the most limited input, which needs to be managed profitably with the farming community – jointly. Each Production Manager could be allocated a Fixed Volume of water annually, and their performance could be measured in terms of Rupees earned for the country per Unit Volume of water, while economically upgrading a healthy lifestyle of farmers. Staff of agencies such as Central Engineering Consultancy Burro (CECB), established in 80s at construction phase of the Mahaweli Project, can be trained to play the role of Production Engineering. CECB could be renamed as Central Food Production Burro (CFPB).

In addition to the government salary, the staff should also be compensated in the form of incentives, calculated in proportion to income generated by them from their management areas. It should be a Win-Win situation for both farmers as well as officers responsible for managing the food production factory. In other countries, the term used to measure their performance is $ earned per gallon of water to the country, without damaging the ecosystem. Another advantage of this approach is that the young generation of the farmers automatically get attracted to commercial agriculture because of high income generation.

Recent Efforts

We were able to introduce some of the concepts explained in this note during 2000 to 2004, under a program called Mahaweli Restructuring and Rehabilitation Project (MRRP) funded by the World Bank. It was done by operating the Distributary canals feeding each block as elongated Village Tanks. Recently we tried to modernize the same concept at Pilot Scale in System B, by independently arranging funds from ICTA. In that project, called Easy Water, we introduced an SMS communication system to the farmers, so that they can order water from the Maduru Oya Main Reservoir by sending a SMS, when they need rather; than depend on time tables decided by authorities as normally practiced.

Conclusion

The World Bank also recognised the above concept in 2003, as the best water management approach suitable for South Asian countries. Due to the lack of vision of existing managers in the irrigation sector focusing on food production, the above approach has not yet reaped the full benefits. What we need in Sri Lanka, is a political leadership to create challenges for irrigation officials to play a role of educated profit-oriented farmers, deviating them from Rice only mode, by promoting concepts similar to above. Also note that while I worked for a project in Azerbaijan funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development, I was able to introduce the same concept and they are now using it successfully. I do not see any reason why we could not practice here.

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Opinion

Would anyone in power and sure to lose an election call for an election?

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If she/he would, why don’t tyrants seek election periodically?

(no kerena deege hevnallath adai! Even the shadows of a failing marriage are misaligned.)

by Usvatte-aratchi

I was mightily amused by the demands of several astute political leaders in and outside parliament that president Wickremasinghe uses his constitutional discretionary power and dissolve the parliament, after February 2023. Consider for a moment reasons why he simply cannot.

Wickremasinghe ignominiously lost an election to parliament from his district, after 45 years and after perhaps ten elections, all of which he had won handsomely. Not one member of the party he led, the oldest in the country and which unconventionally had made a president in 2015, won election to parliament in 2020. The party, as a whole, collected enough votes from the entire country to entitle it to nominate one person to sit in parliament. Bhikkhu Ratana’s hurriedly put-together party did equally well! Bhikkhu Ratana was as well entitled to be installed as president as Wickremasinghe. He had distinguished himself by advocating the production of crops without chemical fertilisers and pesticides (vasa visa nati kema). After 12 months of prevarication, Wickremasinghe decided to sit in parliament. He pleased himself in the House with some occasional clever witticisms. After more than two years, a vastly popular Prime Minister was forced out of office. Suddenly, this lone pine in the wilderness grew so tall that Wickremasinghe was appointed Prime Minister. Two months later he was President of the Republic, all constitutionally proper. But the framers of the constitution had made fools of the people, in whose name the constitution was made. In the constitution, there is no office of a vice-president who would be elected to the office along with the president and who would assume office as president for the rest of the period of five years, in the event the office of president felt vacant for any reason Nor was there a provision that in the event that a person not expressly elected by the people as president of the republic were to come to hold that office within the constitution, that he/she would hold the office of the president no longer than it was necessary to elect a new president, to wit, four calendar months. The great republic to the north of us has a vice-president and so has the oldest republic in the world, the United States of America. In our country, the lack of that provision paved the way for a politician who failed to win a seat in parliament in 2020 to decide the fate of that same parliament in 2022. How bizarre? Is that ironic or tragic? Do we laugh or do we cry?

There are two forces contributing to an equilibrium where it is in the interests of the president and a large group of members of parliament to avoid dissolving parliament. The first force is exerted by Wickremesinghe who is abundantly aware that he would lose in an election for president. Recall that two years ago, he could not win a seat in parliament. The other force comes from a majority of members of parliament who are sure to lose their seats in an election, any time soon. Among them, there is a large number of MPs who entered parliament for the first time and would lose the right to a lifetime pension which they would not earn if they did not complete five years in parliament. To most of them, this is a valuable asset which they loth to lose. I am advised that according to the Constitution, the president has the discretion to dissolve the parliament after a minimum of two and half years from the date of their election to office. Parliament itself has the power to request the president to dissolve parliament, provided more than two-thirds of all members of parliament adopt a resolution asking the president to do so. The second force discussed earlier prevents such motion. These two forces ensure that no matter the commotion created by those that seek the president to resign and parliament to dissolve itself, there is sufficient inertia to make the status quo stable. They are each perfectly dependent on the other for survival and they dearly crave survival. The president cannot dissolve parliament and survive. Nor can members of parliament survive without Wickremasinghe a president who, on his own, would not dissolve parliament. This hysteresis can last for about another 3 years legally and longer illegally. I would not rule out the latter probability.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa and President Rajapaksa were both thrown off their perches by forces outside parliament.

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