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The ‘Sena’ Caterpillar invasion: Where are we heading?




Emeritus Professor of Entomology, University of Ruhuna

This is a continuation of the previous article written by me, published in The Island on 19 Jan 2021. (Fall Armyworm: Strategies for Effective Management). I also wrote about this pest in 2019 and I have emphasised the following: The Fall armyworm – FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda known as sena caterpillar) female is a strong flier capable of flying more than 100 KMs per day, nearly 500Km of flying during lifetime, depositing 1500 eggs an average. The other factors that are centered on FAW are: FAW consumes many different crops but prefers Maize; also it spreads quickly across large geographical areas, and can persist throughout the year.

The FAW, originated in the Americas, invaded the Africans in 2016, and was detected in the Indian subcontinent, in 2017, and believe the FAW naturally migrated to Sri Lanka, from India, in 2018. Sri Lanka lost the initial opportunity in 2018, as we were not adequately prepared to stop the spread, although the Department of Agriculture did some work; but the FAW was present in all SL districts, except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. The ban on cultivating maize, in the following year helped to contain the spread, but now it is spreading again, confirming the belief that once FAW invaded it will stay.

Hence what are the strategies available now? As we emphasized, the management of FAW has to be centered on Short, Mid and Long-term strategies.


Short-Term Strategies:

Destruction of FAW eggs found on leaves and developing whorl by hand. The middle level expertise in the Department, such as Agricultural Instructors, KVS and the development and Project Assistants, recently recruited to the Government service, along with the farmers, should be trained to detect the eggs and destroy them immediately on the ground. If we miss this opportunity, the eggs will mature and tiny first instars larvae could be seen. At this stage, the only opportunity is to apply a Department of Agriculture approved chemical pesticide, using a knapsack sprayer or power sprayer at the recommended dilution. The names of the recommended pesticides are available with all research and extension officers of the Department of Agriculture.

It is also recommended that no single strategy of FAW pest control will yield strategic results. The employment of Integrated Pest Management Strategies should be carried out, such as combining Chemical control with cultural and sanitary control practices, which will give satisfactory control. When the larvae are small, proper timing and spray of pesticides are critical for elimination of this pest.


Mid-Term Strategies

: It is of paramount importance to understand that elimination of these dangerous pests are to be carried out jointly by the Government and Provincial Councils for effective control. The US University researchers, after working jointly with USDA, have identified the effective parasitoids, and they have released millions of parasitoids using the federal government facilities and the Universities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Sri Lanka should avail this opportunity by writing to the authorities of the USDA, and arranging to import the strategic parasitoids, already identified to suit tropical countries, such as Sri Lanka.

This reminds me of the imports of eggs. Larval and pupal parasitoids from Indonesia, Malaysia, and establishment of those parasitoids in the WP and Coconut Research Institute to eliminate the Coconut leaf boring caterpillar Promecotheca cumingii n early and mid -70s in Western Province, which is in practical operative till now.


Long-Term Strategies:

Sri Lanka should declare an Emergency if it wants to eleminate the pest. Maize is a staple food of many African countries. The Long-term strategies are early detection of the pest, stopping its spread, and initiation of research programmers to import tolerant varieties, and granting permission to import such tolerant varieties produced by SEEDS giants, such as Monsanto.

However, these could be controversial. The Director General of Agriculture should be the leader and chief executive of this strategy, and no one should undermine his authority, as we witnessed a team of Rwandan experts, from Ghana, coming here and advising farmers without the knowledge of the DG, and even the Minister himself. Still no one knows what sort of pesticidesethese Rwandan Experts have recommended?

(The writer is Former Senior Professor of Agriculture Biology, University of Ruhuna. Received his PhD in Entomology from the University of Florida, USA, in 1985, on a research assistantship. The title of this thesis is on the Fall armyworm, its parasitoids and Ecology for effective management)

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President’s ‘order’ to produce 70% from renewable energy: A response



Dr Janaka Rathnasiri (The Island, 1st March 2021) has not filled-up the relatively simple table of electricity costs, when the President’s order is implemented. I reproduce the table.

I gave him a clue (last column) by stating production costs approved and published by PUCSL for 2019. Wisdom acquired from internet on grants to reduce greenhouse gases may to be translated as reduced prices paid to electricity producers from renewable energy. Dr Rathnasiri may reflect them in production costs, as he fills-up the fourth column.

Filling-up the table needs no knowledge of electrical engineering, power system engineering, renewable energy technology or utility experience. It requires only elementary arithmetic. Dr Rathnasiri has to ensure 13% + A + B = 70% (equal to President’s order).

If 2030 is too far ahead to visualize, Dr Rathnasiri may fill-up the table for year 2021. The only number that he cannot change is 9.92, which also reflects another “order” from the government not to increase electricity prices. PUCSL, too, claimed credit many times over, for not increasing electricity prices. So, Rs 9.92 per unit has to stay.


Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

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Imran Khan – rare blend of politics and sportsmanship



By the time you read this, our nation’s Goose may have been cooked in Geneva, and only the bare bones are left for political pundits to chew on. I have been consistent in my belief that our performance from 30/1 onwards was unprincipled and reckless. I am less concerned about whether the UNHCR has the authority to take us further along to judicial prosecution or not, but I am more worried about the moral and ethical dimensions of how we have handled the matter of quelling the murderous LTTE and its supporters.

When the terrorists disdainfully rejected one of the several peace offers of the Kumaratunge-led Government, Kadirgamar eloquently summed up the situation and his disappointment, ending with “If it is War the LTTE wants, then War they will get”. And boy, did they not get it! I was reminded of the lines spoken by Julius Caesar to the emissary sent by the Senate, to walk him into a death-trap “Cannot is false, dare not falser, tell them that Caesar will not come”.

The usual political pundits and social media see sinister plans among other things, of the visit of Imran Khan, whose single speech I listened to, displayed a great command of English, depth and clarity of thought, and excellent delivery. Then it crossed my mind that he was after all a product of Oxford for his B.A?. He had also spent a significant part of his life in the UK. To captain Pakistan for a long time, displaying his talent as a formidable fast bowler, an outstanding captain, and an ambitious and persistent politician, he has literally won his place as PM.

It is my belief that quality in a field, different from competitive politics, generally makes for a good politician, rather than those who can boast only of political experience. Imran Khan is by nature, a “team man”. He deserves to be honoured and admired.

He has also been a humane philanthropist, endowing a hospital for cancer patients, reportedly to honour the memory of his mother, who had died of this dread disease. Still, Sri Lanka Cricket, SLC managed to further enhance its already filthy reputation by denying Michael Tissera and Arjuna Ranatunga to a felicitation event. This, once again reinforces my view that sports should not be of concern or interference of politicians. I wish I could have retrieved that memorable speech by Lakshman Kadirgamar, to our cricketers in London while on his way to New York. Sangakkara’s selection to be President of Lords, will keep our flag flying.

I have drifted somewhat from the title of this note. I have no doubt that our counterpart upheld our 2500 years’ Sinhala culture, by delivering his speech with his characteristic oratorical splendour, in “official” Sinhala. I hope that our honoured guest did not choose to match it by replying in Urdu.

I leave it to specialists to explain the links that bring in the East Terminal issue, the recent Modi speech in South India, and the Trinco Oil tanks. We could do with some complex chatter that will stamp us as masters of the art of seeing the sinister implications of even the most harmless exercise of our nations’ hospitality. We are devilishly clever, are we not?





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Electricity for all by year end:



Prime Minister’s promise

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said at the Kerawalapitiya LNG Project inaugural ceremony, that at present 99% householders had electricity and by the end of the year every household would have electricity. The question is how electricity has been supplied to 99% households.

This brings to my mind the effort of the then Minister for Power and Energy, D. B.Wijethunga, who as far back as the 1980s, had a vision to provide electricity to rural areas. As the provision made available in the annual budget of the CEB was only to extend lines to those suburban areas which were considered profitable, and provision made available in the estimates of the Ministry was meagre, he directed the Secretary to seek foreign funding for rural electrification. It was then that the Asian Development Bank was approached and they agreed, on condition that only those rural areas which were profitable be selected.

On this requirement, the CEB did an exhaustive survey and the ADB, being satisfied, granted the loan. When work started, Members of Parliament rushed to have their villages supplied with electricity. When being told that only those viable are to be supplied, they agreed to fund such villages with their Decentralized Budget allocations. I handled this project at the Ministry level. Credit should be given to the engineer who was entrusted to carry out the project – Maxi Tissera – for his personal dedication. Since then, all successive governments continued to take great interest, as it turned out to be a political issue to entice the village voter. As for the negligible 1% yet to be supplied with electricity, it is due to being in remote places. It is hoped the houses in these remote villages will be provided with Solar panels.

Next, to the LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya which was ceremonially inaugurated, it has a very unpleasant repulsive history. This project should have been constructed about four years back, if not for the scandalous interference of the then Minister for Power Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and the Secretary to the Ministry, Dr. Suren Batagoda, by not approving the tender board decision to award the tender to the lowest local tenderer -Lakdhavani; instead to be awarded to a Chinese construction company, which had quoted higher. This was contested by the local firm. As there was no response to several appeals, the local firm filed action in courts to get redress.

Fortunately, with the defeat of the Yahapalana government, the present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened, and made the local firm withdraw legal action and awarded the tender to the legitimate lowest bidder – Lakdhavani. If this project was constructed earlier, the country would have saved billions. However, the culprits who delayed this project, for reasons, better not discuss, are free. It is left for Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to probe and suitable action be taken, considering it a national crime.

As far as I am aware, subject to correction, a LNG terminal has not been built and when the construction of the LNG plant is completed, it will stand idle till terminal facilities are provided; hence it is suggested that immediate action be taken to have one provided in time, if not already done.


[Rtd. Asst, Secretary, SLAS

Ministry for Power and Energy]

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