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Opinion

Time for night soil fertiliser

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A series of articles appeared in The Island newspaper connected with the use of ammonium sulphate as fertiliser versus the use of compost. I do not contest the efficacy of ammonium sulphate/urea as a successful plant/soil additive.

However, I have my doubts regarding the efficacy of compost as a successful plant/soil additive. This is partly based on my observations and on what I had read.

There is a block of land in the suburbs of Colombo, adjoining a public road. On the other side of the road is a paddy field, subject to floods, which is very regular in this area. Years ago even the road used to get inundated.

The topography of the land is unique, rectangular in shape with the section near the land, flush with the road surface, while the other end is about 10 feet above the surface level of the road.

Since 1980, no synthetic fertiliser, urea, or ammonium sulphate had been applied to this property. There are about six coconut plams near the road, three in the middle of the property and four at the other end.  

The garden sweepings, kitchen refuse, which include ash from the hearth used to boil water, is dumped at the foot of the coconut plants, other than those near the road.  The plants near the road (also close to the paddy field) have a good yield while the rest are a near absolute failure, at most a nut or two a month.

The kitchen refuse is allowed to compost itself in polybags served at the supermarkets. From what I understand the garden sweepings, and the kitchen refuse, forms compost.

This is in contrast to what I observed when I was a child. While schooling, I used to stay at a house near Matara. The houseowner had nearly 20 acres of land which had some coconut palms. At that time, there were no sealed toilets at Matara and Dondra. The toilets had buckets which were emptied daily by the Matara UC and the Dondra TC. They used to auction the toilet collection annually and the coconut land owners used to bid for them.

The land owner had to cut semi-circular ditches about six inches deep, and three feet away from the foot of the tree. The collections in the buckets were dumped in these ditches and covered with lime-calcium carbonate and covered with the excavated soil.

The yield was between 25-50 nuts per tree.

I was in the West Indies attached to a distillery there. The sugar complex had a library, from where I used to borrow books. There was a series of books by Lobsang Rampha, a Tibetian, who used to describe the manner in which the Tibetians handled their plantations – rice crops. He describes how the Tibetians used night soil (human excreta) as fertiliser and the high yield of the crops. Tibet is, I understand, a mountain terrain.

That was beyond me. Later on, I came to understand that use of night soil is very common in the East, and that it is being practised in the villages of our neighbouring countries even today. I also infer that a few decades ago even the inhabitants of Europe and Americas may have resorted to the use of night soil.

With modern technology, we should be able to get a better value for our night soil.

Do not forget that four girls in Nigeria were able to produce electricity using urine as the raw material, using a domestic generator.

It is high time we rediscovered our roots.

S. P. UPALI S.
WICKRAMASINGHE

 Malabe.spupalis@yahoo.com.



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Opinion

We are tired of politicians’ sick jokes

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By Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

The country is in dire straits. The economy is almost bankrupt, the pandemic is still on a deadly rampage, children have been denied schooling for nearly two years, and starvation of the populace is imminent. The politicians appear to be on a mission to enrich themselves, planning to make the best use of the opportunity, making hay while the sun shines. All systems are in place for those who fleeced the country over the years to prosper further.

Many businessmen, mostly cronies of those in power, are exploiting the misery of the people and profiteering from the pandemic. Some in tourism and related-travel industry, hoteliers, importers of pandemic-related material like testing equipment and drugs, others in private healthcare and importers and wholesale dealers of essential food items seem to be making more money than during normal times. This is when large sections of the populace are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. How in a predominantly Buddhist country, mostly Buddhist businessmen, let alone equally errant non-Buddhists, do not appear to believe in Kamma and keep on accumulating wealth, exploiting the misery of the people, with a ‘we shall never die’ attitude, is really depressing. In the apparent absence of legal provisions or lack of willingness of the authorities to apprehend the culprits, the masses are just hoping and praying that the effects of Ditta Dhamma Vedaniya Kamma will catch up to them sooner than later.

In the middle of all this, many politicians of all hues compete among themselves to amuse people with miserable jokes. Several ministers habitually give hilarious evasive answers to questions raised about important matters, thus exposing their gross ignorance of the subject. A suggestion was offered that mass scale deaths of fish, turtles and other marine life along the coastline after the recent fire in a sinking ship was just an expected seasonal phenomenon. Yet another minister talking of the same ship thought that rather than attempting to douse the fire, it would be far more profitable to let it burn out fully so that millions of dollars could be collected as compensation. Another, a medically qualified minister, claimed that the price of drugs was raised to prevent patients from hoarding drugs at home. He also blamed the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), the authority responsible, for delaying the vaccination programme by wasting too much time examining the documents without summarily approving the vaccines. Yet another parliamentarian, a lawyer by profession, suggested that the disorderly vaccine rollout was probably as instructed by the ‘donor’ country. A politician thought it was a good idea to bring in tourists from a country ravaged by COVID-19 to test how the disease would spread in our country. Another famously questioned why we need atmospheric oxygen at all while defending the wanton denudation of the land of vegetation. A former parliamentarian boasted of the leader of his party being accepted worldwide as a great man soon after he was totally rejected and reduced to a non-entity by the local electorate.

Another classic example is the recent gazette notification of over 600-strong list of items that will be discouraged from being imported. There are many items listed therein, a shortage of which could seriously affect the economy and could bring many industries to a standstill. However, the politicians have given full attention to lingerie. Even the Minister of Trade hurriedly summoned a press conference along with some garment manufacturers to reassure that the country is self-sufficient in underwear. The Opposition too probably fell into the trap laid by the government to divert attention from more important items therein and started making fun out of the lingerie issue totally ignoring the much more serious aspects of import restrictions. There seems to be a bunch of designated official jesters on both sides fully entrusted with entertaining the people with sick jokes. They turn every important discussion into a huge laughing matter, insulting the intelligence of the people. Even social media are full of such meaningless banter with hardly any serious discussion on matters of vital importance.

Thus in many instances being academically qualified does not seem to dampen their penchant for speaking falsehoods with ridiculous humour. The glaring lack of common sense among the representatives of the people is alarming. The general assumption seems to be that people are fools who will believe anything uttered by self-serving politicians. Unfortunately, this notion appears to be true for a significant segment of the electorate. At present, politicians are not accountable for their deeds and words. Ideally, party leaders or party whips should have some control over their utterances.

It is the general impression that the incumbent government elected, with an overwhelming mandate, is falling short in fulfilling many promises given. Hence it is high time that those offering themselves to the people as a viable alternative got their act together to convince the electors that they are a different lot capable of performing better than what has been happening for over 70 years. For those who had been in power earlier with nothing much achieved to boast about, this is going to be an arduous task. The people have lost faith totally in politicians, including the so-called educated ones (viyathun) who have proved to be mere treasure hunters no better than the rest, or even worse as they have no experience in governance. Perhaps the civil society activist groups should come to the forefront, to save us all from impending disaster.

Ideally, all parties or groups aspiring to gain power should have a long-term development plan. There should be designated spokesmen already academically qualified or have developed an in-depth knowledge in individual subjects like economy, finance, trade, healthcare, agriculture, industries and foreign affairs. Being a practising democracy, at least in name, all should be knowledgeable and free to express their views on various issues to some extent. However, those designated as above should take over when a crisis develops in a particular field so that the electorate can take part in a learned discussion and arrive at sensible conclusions. It is worth considering whether the concept of a shadow Cabinet as seen in advanced democracies could be adopted here so that if and when they come to power, they know exactly what their mandate and targets would be.

Politicians trying to surpass each other as jesters entertaining people with meaningless rhetoric will reduce the intensity, urgency and importance of the issues, making a mockery of the discussion. Concerted action is essential for a course correction the nation urgently needs to stall its rapid descent into oblivion.

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Opinion

Keep up with your record of service

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Letter to PM Mahinda Rajapaksa:

Dear Comrade, As I am sure you would recall, it was over 50 years ago that we first met, when you were making your first successful run for Parliament, and I was tallying the vote count for Beliatta.

I have been impressed by your commitment, from early days, to justice in the land of Palestine, a subject to which I, too, have drawn attention from time to time.

Though we have met occasionally in the intervening years, it was only in the mid-1990s that I actually worked with you, when you were the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training. The hostility that the then Prime Minister had towards you, happened to cover her view of me as well, and you decided to have me develop the infrastructure for our technical education system. Among the outcomes of that, credit for which should be shared by you, are the revision for the first time of the course materials (all in English and in a dialect favoured by foreign experts) that the National Institute of Technical Education provided our Technical Colleges, and making them available in Sinhala for the use of lecturers and students alike. It was also during that period that Parliament was offered the opportunity of debating at length and of endorsing the compendium of Labour Laws that were , and still are, applicable here.

I mention such matters as elements of what would be remembered long after your passing.

Needless to say, there are more spectacular achievements during your stewardship, not least among them the protection of our country from terrorists, trained and armed by India and ensuring their ultimate defeat.

The common theme of such development of our resources, as was encouraged by you, had to do with their protection for future use by the generations to come.

You also showed from time to time an instinctive gift for recognising the strength of the public services, and the skills required for putting them to optimal use.

Looking around now, what we see are attempts at destroying our resource base not only in land, water, minerals and the like, but as importantly our human resources – those in regular employment in whatever sector including the self-employed. Critical to that of course is that we continue to control the resources on which our agriculture, manufacturing industries and fisheries rely. General education is seen as the linchpin in all this but, as you were able to perceive some three decades ago, we need to invest more on developing teaching skills and facilities for practical training in the broad area of technical education.

I also write to draw your attention to the spectacle of some Ministers in your administration, erupting from time to time with highly misleading statements that target public institutions, including the personnel in the public services.

Some months ago, it was said that we spend more on our postal services than we earn. (Where in the world is it different? – the postal service is just that, a service provided for the people by the State). Such statements show that what is being targeted is not the postal service but the ‘real estate’ required by it.

Mr. Prime Minister, there are as you would know or suspect, a whole badawela of tendentious statements issued by some of your Ministers that would lead to or themselves constitute acts of treason against our country. To put it in short-hand, one is ‘tourism’. It continues to take away our sea shore from our people. It is given a whole slew of subsidies (paid for by our people) and no guarantees of it bringing in “VFE” – Valuable Foreign Exchange) or any scrutiny of how much. And, after all our contributions to making tourists and their service providers grin from ear to ear, we the State gets much less VFE than our expatriate workers send in each month.

Another is ‘plantations’. But the fact is that company owned plantations in Nuwara-Eliya and adjacent districts produce only a fourth of our tea – the bulk is produced in small holdings in the Galle, Matara, Kalutara and Kegalle districts.

A few days ago, the sale or lease of over 4000 acres in the hill country (that was denuded of much of its topsoil by the plantation industry) for raising cattle was announced. We the people have not been told who the beneficiaries of such largesse are or how they were chosen. The conditions attached to the deals have been kept secret. It does not seem to matter to such decision makers / decision takers, that the farming communities that were hounded out by the British lusting for what was once among the richest lands in the country, remain locked into ravines.

There are moves to bring in large machinery to crush our rock for export.

All such moves could be brought under control through, say, by small groups of MPs who possess the capacity to brief themselves.

Comrade, as you and I understand, the 50 years we have known each other is a tiny sliver of time. How you are remembered may not be in your hands, but it would be good to reflect on the saying that suggests that we should bear in mind the good that people have done, and bury the rest with their bones.

As time passes it would give perspective to recall Gautama’s words on the state of all life: jati-jara-marana.

With warm good wishes.

GAMINI SENEVIRATNE

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Opinion

Yohani – not our Manike?

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It is very heartening to hear that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader of India have expressed their appreciation of the song Manike mage hithe, sung by the local artiste Yohani de Silva, which had gone viral in this part of the world.

Sadly, neither the government nor the Opposition bigwigs of Sri Lanka have congratulated her in the media, taking into consideration the vast amount of foreign exchange she is bringing into this country.

Indrasena Samaratunga

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