by Ravi Bandaranaike
In 300 BC, Mahinda Thera, bringer of Buddhism to Lanka and son of the Great Emperor Ashoka, said to king Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka—“Remember that you are only the guardian of this land for all the people and animals that reside here, not the owner of it”
Sitting in my grandparents’ old house, I contemplate the days when one could see the sea from the back window. Now the land is worth 15 million rupees a perch. The 90- year old art nouveau house has been split in two. The three storey tall frangipani in my garden is one of the last magnificent trees left in this block. The scent of the falling Araliya flowers daily permeates through the air; a sensory symbol that reality is, in fact, not STATIC like concrete. A hardware company just tore down the landmark cricket club cafe to build a car park and the iconic gallery cafe shop to build another apartment building. The land value in our neighborhood has now dropped by 25%. I had to make a personal call to the owner of one of the biggest construction companies just to save the last trees next to the apartment building. The contractor told me it was not his responsibility as he piled sand and cement onto the tree’s roots. Why don’t these corporate businessman hire some gardeners to help them think straight? Any banking theory economist could tell you that the value of land is mostly tied directly to the 100- plus year old trees inhabiting it.
It’s 2020 and COVID 19 is rampant in the world; the average Sri Lankan is still struggling to make it through the month; who’s going to live in these high rise towers anyways? I remember the last time I saw the candy floss (bombai-motai) man who’s been walking these streets for 30 years. He was standing under a tree (now gone) taking cover from the rain, and he looked at me from the distance and gently rang his bell. It was a tinkle of sadness. And, just like that, I never saw him again. The city and the people’s wants had changed, and only he and I seemed to notice. I recall when an apartment building came up a few years ago next to the British Council because the humongous tree next to Queens cafe died right after. How did the vast blue ocean that lay before us become synonymous with dull grey concrete? Something in the construction dust from these 1980’s-inspired monolithic buildings poisons the air we all breathe from. Or could it be the smog from all the petrol cars we’ve been importing?
Most people living in Colombo don’t even understand where their food, water and oxygen come from. For all they know it is grown in plastic bags at the back of their local Food City. Out of sight = out of mind. Our people are STILL not conscious that SRI LANKA is one of the LAST remaining places left ON EARTH where humans still live with animals. Where organic food has been a thing for 2,500 years. Where recycling is part of village culture. Where giant reservoirs were built by noble kings as a hobby. Where sacred peaks were once worshipped, not one year old apartment buildings demarcating the destruction of an entire neighborhood of beautiful gardens.
Let’s just say it’s already too late for Colombo, ONCE one of the greenest cities in the world, now completely ruined by gross governmental mismanagement. Right Now the remaining forest lands in Sinharaja, Knuckles and Haputale are quietly being encroached upon by local villagers aided by local politicians for a few 100,000 rupees. Corporations continue palm oil cultivation and heavy duty quarrying in secrecy. The lungs of this island are becoming clogged by the tar of toxic human dreams. The damage to our commons and future tourism industry will be in the billions of dollars. Scenic mountain towns like Ella have been ruined in just three years by unregulated construction and disastrous waste management. What is the Tourist Board doing about the destruction unfolding as they continue to market a beautiful place that NO LONGER EXISTS? I have long wished that the President of Sri Lanka gets the STF and Navy to protect our LRC forest lands and coral reefs like they used to during the war, instead of developing places that do not need ‘developing’. When did concrete and cement become a synonym of development? A fellow surfer or a foreigner living on this island will tell you that the best things in Sri Lanka are often free. If we do not change our course in the coming decade, cash crop farming and graphite mining will quickly destroy the few remaining forests that elephants and leopards still roam in.
Depleting forest cover in Sri Lanka 1956-1999
In 2010, I remember a Sri Lanka full of promise. There’s even a picture of me then pledging allegiance to a poster of our war hero president. I opened my first hotel in 2014, an art and plant filled BnB in the city inspired by the great tropical modernist architect Geoffery Bawa. As one of the first comfortable small hotels in Colombo (Clock inn was the first, Cinnamon Red came after us) business was booming and many of us truly believed Sri Lanka had a chance to become a great Asian nation.
Then, in 2015, Sri Lanka’s first major ecological disaster happened, and it went completely unnoticed. A rock wall was built over the surf break in Unawatuna to stop erosion of the beach. It ended up causing more erosion of the beach.
The environmental impact (EI) report had clearly not been read by anybody making decisions up top. The loss of the surf break made many of the local surfers turn to drugs as their escape. The rest fell in love, married foreigners and escaped the island. Unawatuna, a quiet sacred village, continued to grow as the first coastal tourism hub since Hikkaduwa despite the changing scenery. The local beach that was considered one of the TOP 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, would soon turn into one of the WORST 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, all thanks to the illusion of development.
Unawatuna when it was one of the TOP 10 Beaches in the World, 2000 Unawatuna in 2020. Can you spot the difference?
Now in 2020, the soft white coral sand has since been replaced by truckloads of coarse brown deep sea sand and a giant hotel by Araliya Group towers above the temple, BLOCKING the view from sunset point for the ENTIRE VILLAGE. It follows a trend of high rise construction on the coastline that began with the Marriott in Weligama that broke many of the island’s ancient environmental laws. This is just one of more than 10 new high rise towers coming up along the Southern coastline from Balapitiya to Mirissa that will turn our pristine southern coastline into overpopulated tourist hot zones like those in Thailand or Brazil or Bali. What happened to our tree high building rule? Have Arahat Mahinda Thera’s words finally been forgotten in exchange for a few Chinese-American dollars? Not one of these concrete towers will benefit any of the local population as they are built by large foreign entities and private individuals from Colombo solely for profit with little consideration of the long term environmental impact.
Meanwhile, mega corporations continue to plunder the poor by rapidly expanding supermarkets across the country, selling us garbage products we don’t even need, crushing local organic fruit and veggie businesses and riddling the island with single use plastics. Devanampiyatissa and Parakramabahu would be turning in their graves if they saw what the modern Sri Lankan Man was doing to this Ancient Land.
Once again a failed capitalist model of convenience at all cost repeats itself in Sri Lanka, despite the evolution of technology that SHOULD have made us aware of LATE STAGE CAPITALISM and its side effects. Why have we not switched to a model of ECO socialism or ECO capitalism already, where we consider the environmental impact of development? Why do we continue taking giant foreign loans without ecological clauses? Sri Lanka has so much knowledge that could be shared with the world, from Ayurveda (alternative medicine) and tropical architecture to ecological living (with trees) and enlightenment (Buddhist philosophy). Yet we have let a few ego driven businessmen and politicians choose to freely destroy one of the most sacred islands on earth, ripping apart a multi ethnic culture, ignoring the deep true knowledge vested in its peoples. Another sad story dressed up in instagram filters and social media likes.
As I navigate through this mess, crossing paths with the richest industrialists and political families in this small pond, I wonder which of you actually cares about the preservation the last Fountain of Paradise left on Earth?
(The author is a environmentalist, photographer, musicologist and entrepreneur)
31st night…Down Under
The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne
Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.
In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass.
The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.
The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.
Strategies for effective management
by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy
Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.
Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)
FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff
Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.
The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security
The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology
President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest
by Jehan Perera
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.
The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.
In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.
It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.
The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.
More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.
President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.
One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.
Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.
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