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Ukraine’s organic agriculture and its looming war

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By Chandre Dharmawardana

chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca

When the President of Sri Lanka banned agrochemicals in May 2020 and launched organic agriculture, he may have partly dreamed of the big profits that the country could (in theory) make by selling organic food to elite export markets in Europe and elsewhere, profiting from a growing demand. That the local food needs could be easily satisfied was axiomatic within the uplifting belief that ancient Lanka was the granary of the Orient. In the same vein, it is axiomatic to some that Lanka was where Ravana had a fleet of helicopters and airplanes at a time when men lived to the age of 149 years, as recently re-asserted by a government doctor.

The Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture, Roman Leshenko recently declared that “for centuries, Ukraine has been known as “the breadbasket of Europe.” This title is entirely accurate, given that Ukraine is home to around a quarter of the world’s super-fertile “chernozem” or “black soil”.

Soil scientists recognise “chernozem” as a soil which is essentially nothing but organic manure. The plains of the Steppes had been the land that stayed fallow for millennia, traversed by Nomads who did no agriculture, but provided the soil with the droppings of their beasts of burden. The rich humic soil runs to meters deep. Here then is the perfect natural setting for organic agriculture, WITHOUT having to add organic manure to the soil. If one had chernozem one does not have to resort to the stupidity of importing infected material from China to augment the poor soils of a land that gets battered by two monsoons every year to carry away soil nutrients (and pollutants) into the sea.

So, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Western agribusiness attempted to move in a big way to buy up Ukraine’s agricultural land at fire-sale prices, or at least to recruit the land owners into production geared for selling to the elite segments of the EU where the rich believed that their good health depends on eating “organic food”. This is food which (they wish) is free of the slightest traces of “industrial agriculture”. Their followers in Sri Lanka call it “Toxin-free” food and they would even prefer to drink bottled Perrier water if they can get at it.

But the Russian move to re-take Ukraine has severely undermined the plans of the European “Organic” agribusiness giants.

The elite classes in Europe have successfully banned the sale of genetically modified food that their activists have labeled “Frankenfood”. Supermarket chains that sell organic food (known in the EU as “bio-food”) have funded political activism that has ensured that “GMO” food remains banned.

However, Ukraine and many parts of Eastern Europe are already sources of soya bean sold in the EU as “GMO free”, although there are no controls on the seeds used in the Ukraine. In fact, most Europeans who think that they are “GM free” do not know how much of GM is in their bodies. Many pharmaceuticals, and the Pfizer-Biotech vaccines are based on GM technology and they have filled the coffers of EU countries, especially that of Germany.

The EU has proposed a “Green Deal” in 2019 to turn the EU into a world leader in green financing and sustainable innovation, and “allow EU diplomats to engage in Green-Deal-diplomacy”, while also creating millions of new jobs. To realize this “grand vision” (the EU version of Gotabhaya’s “Saubagye Daekama”) a true tidal wave of new legislation, political strategies, reduction goals and financing proposals is being planned. The Ukraine and Eastern Europe play an important role in this project.

Even the wild bees used for pollination of farmed tomatoes etc., in Western Europe and the UK are imported annually from Eastern Europe! The decline in natural habitats caused by human encroachment has extinguished wild-bee populations in Western Europe. However, instead of recognizing this, the EU prefers to blame pesticides for the decline in wild bee populations. While pesticides like neo-nicotinoides do play a role, we see that it is not critical since honey-bee populations in urban and farmland areas have in fact increased, as revealed by a study lead by the University of Oxford!

However, unlike the slam-dunk ban introduced in May 2021 by the Gotabaya government, the EU wants to first halve the amount of chemical pesticides used in agriculture in the coming years. Going green leads to low harvests, and so the Green Deal also proposes to quickly increase the acreage of land cultivated by ecological standards to approximately 30 percent – from 8 percent right now. This will unquestionably introduce more human encroachment into natural habitat and go counter-current to good ecology.

Greek diplomat Tassos Haniotis, one of the EU Directors General, has pointed out in an internal EC document: “Because of the limited supply response in arable organic crops (i.e., the amount of organics that EU farmers can actually grow) the Green Deal could even lead to a growing amount of imported food”.

In Sri Lanka, with its more abrupt approach, this need for imports has already become a stark reality.

The EU Green deal with its looming threat of smaller harvests will have international repercussions. Haniotis is an agricultural economist and expert in EU-US trade relations. He was head of the EU cabinet itself and now leads one of the twelve directorates that make up the Directorate-General for Agriculture & Rural Development of the EU.

Haniotis warns that the Green measures currently proposed even at a modest pace would leave the ‘strategically important North African market’ without its usual European wheat supplies leading to price increases in North Africa and leading to these countries becoming dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia.

However, if Ukraine with its chernozem soils could be retrieved from Putin and made subservient to Western markets, the EU can be supplied with its desired “organic food”, while safeguarding EU’s conventional agriculture for its export market.

That is, the elitist agricultural policy of the EU, in going Green in spite of lower harvests in a world where famine is a reality will limit the world’s capacity to feed itself. The EU itself will become a food importer. Meanwhile, the poorer countries that cannot afford to meet their incessantly increasing import bills will have to turn even more towards products of industrial agriculture, leading to even higher food prices for the conventional produce that they have been buying. This problem will be further compounded into an international tragedy if the elitist interest groups of other countries (e. g, Australia) were to also push to expand their organic agriculture and cut down their harvests.

Unfortunately, feeding the rich with “toxin-free food” and starving the poor are considered to be “environmental justice” by those who fight for organic agriculture.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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