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What to expect in the short term and long term

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Banning the import and use of synthetic chemical fertilizers:

By Darshani Kumaragamage, PhD d.kumaragamage@uwinnipeg.ca

I read with interest and concern the conflicting and controversial views expressed by many experts and stakeholders, regarding the Sri Lankan government’s decision to ban the importation of agrochemicals, including synthetic chemical fertilizers. Undoubtedly, some have genuine concerns regarding the negative impacts of synthetic chemical fertilizers on the environment and human health, while others see the potential threat of a food shortage if synthetic fertilizers are totally replaced by organic sources. Any action adopted in a quest to do the “right” thing should be guided by careful analysis of the expected outcomes as well as the unintended consequences, which are often difficult to foresee.

Based on my training and experience in Sri Lanka and in Canada over the last three decades as agriculturist, soil scientist, and environmental scientist, I will attempt to provide a balanced analysis both from an agronomic and environmental point of view. My hope is that these arguments perhaps could shed more light on different thought processes expressed and guide the momentous decisions that are being made.

Organic farming has its benefits and is gaining global popularity. The demand for organically produced food is steadily increasing, particularly in the developed world. Certain aspects of organic farming such as the avoidance of pesticides, have potential benefits in producing food with less negative impacts on the ecosystem health. However, to date, there is no evidence to support that total replacement of synthetic chemical fertilizers with natural organic sources is better for the environment and human health. I am using the term “natural organic fertilizer” in this article, since urea, the most common chemical fertilizer used in Sri Lanka, is also an organic fertilizer, but synthetically produced. While synthetically manufactured urea is not considered an ‘organic’ fertilizer, manure containing naturally produced urea as a metabolic by-product of animals is an approved ‘organic’ fertilizer in organic farming systems.

Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) and agrochemicals

The alarming rate of chronic kidney disease incidences among farming populations in some regions of Sri Lanka is a grave concern. The decision to ban agrochemicals is undoubtedly taken with the best intention of protecting farming communities against this deadly disease, considering that agrochemicals are the root cause, even though this is yet to be proven. I would like to make three arguments against banning inorganic fertilizer and its replacement with organic sources in relation to CKDu prevention. Firstly, the incidences of CKDu are not from the regions in Sri Lanka where farmers use heavy inputs of inorganic fertilizers such as the Hill Country, which leaves us with an uncertainty whether CKDu is indeed linked to fertilizer. Secondly, even if CKDu is linked to fertilizer, replacing synthetic inorganic fertilizer by natural organic fertilizer will not solve the problem as both these sources have similar impacts on ecosystem and human health. Thirdly, unlike pesticides which are toxic by design (since the intention is to kill an organism), fertilizers are not toxic at recommended rates. Therefore, any environmental or health impacts with fertilizers (inorganic or organic) could be better addressed by importing fertilizers with higher standards (with low impurities), combined with efforts to increase awareness to farmers on the use and management of fertilizers.

Based on current knowledge research findings from Sri Lanka and elsewhere, total reliance on natural organic sources to supply nutrients in crop production systems is likely to cause a serious food shortage with negligible benefits to the environment. Below, I am listing some of the challenges in using natural organic sources, and the major concerns regarding the total replacement of chemical fertilizers with organic sources for mass crop production in Sri Lanka.

Low inherent soil fertility. Despite our unsubstantiated belief that Sri Lanka is blessed with fertile soils, the majority of agricultural soils in Sri Lanka exhibits serious fertility limitations for crop production. This is not unique to Sri Lanka, but common to most tropical countries. The soils are much older (highly weathered) than in temperate regions and high temperature decomposes organic matter rapidly while heavy rainfall removes nutrients from the soil system. Therefore, unlike soils of temperate regions, tropical soils have low organic matter, low supply of nutrients, and low ability to retain nutrients. Even if a shift to complete reliance on natural organic sources for nutrients could be sustainable in temperate soils, it is not a sustainable approach for mass production of crops in the tropics.

Nutrients not available at critical stages. Unlike synthetic chemical fertilizers, nutrients in natural organic sources are in a form not readily available to crops until the material is decomposed, which takes time. When organic material is added to soils, activity of microorganisms increases, resulting microorganisms and crops competing for nutrients that are in limited in supply in tropical soils. This may cause an initial deficiency of nutrients at the early, but very critical, stage of the crop.

Food security at a time of pandemic. It is well established that crop yields are usually reduced when nutrients are provided with only natural organic sources, compared to synthetic sources or a combination of them. The most serious and immediate consequence of shifting to total reliance on natural organic sources for crop production in Sri Lanka would be a significant reduction in crop yields, which will threaten the country’s food security particularly at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with the international food supply chain. Such a move will also have a devastating effect on livelihoods of vulnerable farmers and will impact foreign exchange earnings through plantation agriculture and horticulture.

Myth of healthier and better-quality food. The belief that foods produced through natural organic sources of nutrients are healthier and are of better quality is a myth. Whether we supply nutrients through synthetic chemical fertilizes or natural organic sources, the crop plants take up nutrients primarily in the same chemical forms, i.e., as inorganic cations and anions. On the other hand, recent studies conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA has shown increasing incidences of disease outbreaks, which the authors linked to Salmonella and E. coli contamination from animal waste used in the production of organically grown food (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28221898/ ). As such, a cautious and careful assessments of such risks should precede a shift towards 100% organic farming for an entire nation, which is quite a gigantic step.

Bulk quantities required. One of the main challenges in supplying plant nutrients through natural organic sources is the requirement of bulk quantities due to their low nutrient concentrations, which makes it costly and inconvenient to use. While synthetic chemical fertilizers are required in rates no greater than a few hundreds of kilograms per hectare (few bags), natural organic sources are required in a few tons per hectare (truck loads) to meet the crop requirement of nutrients. The economic and environmental cost of long-distance transportation offsets the environmental benefits of organic farming unless the organic material is locally available in adequate quantities.

Pollution of freshwater bodies.

A more serious and long-lasting threat with continuous application of natural organic sources for crop production is the buildup of certain nutrients in soil that eventually ends up in water bodies polluting aquatic environments. Natural organic sources such as animal manure have low nitrogen to phosphorus ratio, and their use to meet the crop nitrogen requirement result in over application of phosphorus to crop lands. This has resulted in P-laden soils polluting surrounding water bodies. Many regions across the world are experiencing algal blooms in freshwater lakes (e.g., Great Lakes in North America, Lake Winnipeg in Canada), with phosphorus from intensive agricultural lands contributing to aggravate the problem. Therefore, regulations for restricting manure applications exist in several provinces and states across North America as well as other parts of the world.

Potentially toxic metals. Potentially toxic metals present in some inorganic fertilizers as impurities (e.g., cadmium in triple superphosphate), poses a threat to human health through polluting drinking water or contamination of food sources, particularly when low quality fertilizers are used. These potentially toxic metals are naturally present in rocks and soils and can remain in the fertilizer after processing of rocks (e.g., rock phosphate), used as raw material. Natural organic sources also contain appreciable quantities of potentially toxic trace elements. Accumulation of toxic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, nickel, selenium, and lead in agricultural soils have been well documented with the application of manure and manure-based composts, which can lead to phytotoxicity and a threat to human health. In this regard, a total shift to natural organic fertilisers could make the situation worse.

My intention is not to undermine the benefits of organic farming, but to caution that more needs to be considered before taking such a huge step as banning all agrochemicals for the entire country. Research findings have shown that the potential environmental and human health threats through the nutrient inputs in agriculture exist even with organic sources. It should also be noted that the early arguments for excluding inorganic chemical fertilizers in the organic farming movement are now being debated by scientists. A concluding statement in a recent review by an eminent Swedish Professor in plant nutrition and soil fertility published in Outlook for Agriculture reiterates that “The decision to ban inorganic fertilizers in organic farming is inconsistent with our current scientific understanding.” (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/00307270211020025 ).

What then is the best approach?

Integrating synthetic and natural sources – middle path?

The best approach in my view is to continue taking the middle path avoiding the two extremes. Thanks to the many years of excellent research conducted by scientists at the Department of Agriculture and various Research Institutes in Sri Lanka for various crops in different parts of the country, most of the current fertilizer recommendations takes an integrated approach (or the middle path) combining inorganic fertilizer with organic sources that are locally available. The benefits of adding organic sources to soil is unquestionable; not only do they improve soil properties and soil health but sequester carbon and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in combating climate change. Combining synthetic inorganic fertilizers with natural organic sources provides the flexibility of adjusting the rates as required to supply nutrients in sufficient quantities while improving the soil organic matter and soil health, thus ensuring greater productivity while protecting the environment. It is however important that we address the non-compliance of farmers in the correct use of chemical fertilizers. This can be achieved through comprehensive farmer education and training on the 4R concept of nutrient management (applying the right source at right rate at the right time to the right place) . http://www.ipni.net/article/IPNI-3255 This will improve the fertilizer use efficiency, reduce waste, and minimize nutrient losses to broader environment, which will ensure the most economical outcome, while providing desirable social and environmental benefits essential to sustainable agriculture. Regular soil health assessments and environmental monitoring for pollutants and corrective actions would also be needed.

I have no doubt that the decision to ban the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers in crop production in Sri Lanka, if implemented, will be reversed possibly after a few seasons of cultivation, but that may be too late for the most vulnerable farmers and consumers, and for the maintenance of soil health. I am hoping that professional advisors promoting and supporting the decision to ban the import and use of chemical fertilizers in Sri Lanka, most of whom were my former colleagues, would give more thought to this important decision considering the facts I presented as well as views expressed by other scientists at various forums. If the decision to make Sri Lanka the first country in the world with 100% organic farming remains unchanged, my final appeal is to do it in stages, targeting only the regions that are affected by CKDu as a trial, before implementing it to the whole country without knowing the consequences of such a decision.

 

About the author:

Dr. Darshani Kumaragamage is a Professor in Environmental Studies and Sciences at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and a former Professor in Soil Science at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. She has a BSc in Agriculture from University of Peradeniya, M.Phil. in Agriculture from the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, Sri Lanka and a PhD in Soil Science from University of Manitoba, Canada. She served the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya as a faculty member for 23 years. She currently teaches courses in “Environmental Impacts of Agriculture”, “Environmental Sol Science” and “Human-Environment Interactions” at the University of Winnipeg. Her current research focuses on assessing and mitigating environmental impacts of agricultural activities with emphasis on fertilizer and manure use in crop production. She continues to actively collaborate in agricultural research activities in Sri Lanka and is involved in training students and early career researchers from Sri Lanka at the University of Winnipeg.



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The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people

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By Sivamohan Sumathy

The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.

Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation

The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.

While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915

Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.

The Democracy Call

From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.

Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!

 

Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya

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Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget

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Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.

Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.

(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)

 

Never forget crimes committed

This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.

Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.

Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.

When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.

Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.

 

Notes on news items

Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.

An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!

Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.

Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.

 

Enough is absolutely enough

Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in

Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.

It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.

Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?

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Organic fertiliser

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Doing the right thing the wrong way

By Jayasri Priyalal

Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.

Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.

This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.

The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.

The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.

Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.

At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.

I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.

Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.

 

 

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