By Emil van der Poorten –
On my checking out the web edition of a prominent English-language daily on November 5th, I was “greeted”, if that is the appropriate term, by unmitigated rubbish which, if the writer is to be believed, was about to be delivered by probably the most powerful man in the country – Ranil Wickremesinghe, our Prime Minster – in the form of a landmark policy announcement.
This spoke to a great and noble enterprise that invoked the late Robert Knox’s contention that, if you washed the mud off him, a Sri Lankan peasant was fit to occupy the throne. If one seeks the pith of that proposed wondrous policy it is little more than that which, during World War II, when the international sea lanes were utilized by the allies to transport troops and materials essential to the conduct of war, when we had, of necessity, to grow our own food if we were to avoid dying of starvation. This appears to be yet more proof positive that those who do not read history are doomed to live by the consequences of such self-imposed ignorance. The unfortunate part here is that those of us not contributing to this application of monumental ignorance are fated to suffer the consequences of their stupidity.
I cannot recall the number of times that I have spoken to the complete devastation of any efforts by rural people, particularly in the mid-country, to grow anything resembling food. There is literally no crop – root, vegetable or tree – that is safe from complete devastation by wild pigs, porcupines, monkeys, giant and flying squirrels and even muntjac or barking deer.
Apart from those plants traditionally treated as fruit or vegetables, a friend recently informed me that he had abandoned something like 30 Acres of cardamons because the monkeys had developed a taste for cardamom shoots and the sambhur had finished off what the simians had begun!
I am aware that, not so long ago, a meeting of academics and specialists – those engaged in trying to deal with the monkey menace – determined, unanimously, that the only means of dealing with the menace as killing them. It is interesting that those proceedings have never been exposed to the public and the only way I have knowledge of them is because an attendee told me about what had transpired at that meeting in Kandy!
While the villagers and those living in squatter colonies in our neighbourhood have given up completely on any effort at cultivating root, vegetable or fruit crops, two recent unsolicited reports might give one further pause. The first of these is that of dressed chicken awaiting cooking over an open hearth having “disappeared” when left unattended for a moment and monkeys on an adjacent tree seemed to be enjoying what seemed suspiciously like what was to be the family’s chicken curry! The other complained of the “disappearance” of free range chickens during the day while monkeys were in evidence. For those who are going to suggest that it was jackals that had done the damage, let me say that we have seen neither hide nor hair nor heard the traditional howling of jackals anywhere in these parts for the past ten years, a fact to which I will make reference further on in this piece.
The attempt to foist a bunch of unadulterated crap on those of us living in rural Sri Lanka is typical of the elites of Colombo who will, I am sure, lap up the kind of “information” that their fellow residents splash across the pages of their newspapers. I hope that what those of us from the “boonies” have to say doesn’t unduly impede champage-cocktail imbibing!
At least the Rajapaksa regime had the good sense not to insult its rural voter base with arrant nonsense like this.
This kind of rubbish with the potential for very serious negative economic consequences was preceded by much-heralded banning of glyphosate and asbestos.
I have some knowledge of the latter in particular and did in fact know a person who died of mesothelioma (asbestosis) through his exposure to asbestos dust/fibres over many years of employment at a Johns Manville factory, out of which came a variety of asbestos products. That said, I would be interested to know whether there has been even one recorded case of Mesothelioma caused by asbestos fibre in Sri Lanka. My expressed doubt is because asbestos is primarily used as a roofing material in the tropics and even if there is any dust/fibre released when cutting or drilling the sheets, it would be infrequently, in extremely small quantities and in an open space unlike in a country such as Canada where it was almost exclusively used in its fibre form for insulation and similar application indoors.
There has been more than one analysis of this issue in the media and, while it was very evident, that none of the writers had any association with those making or selling asbestos products, the consensus of opinion was that the banning of asbestos was a hasty and ill-considered step without a scientific justification.
The banning of Glyphosate (colloquially better known by one of its trade names of Round-Up) which could, at least, be considered controversial if not completely ill-advised, bears further and immediate review because there is a significant body of technical and scientific opinion that says that it’s banning could have huge negative implications for food and cash-crop production in this country because, with the “modernization” that has occurred in food production, particularly in paddy production, over the years, nothing short of chemical control of weeds will keep many food and commercial economically viable. Mark you, that is a clock that cannot be turned back for very obvious reasons.
From the unbiased scientific opinions that I have seen, the abuse rather than correct use of Glyphosate is the villain. The very strong circumstantial evidence for the disappearance of the jackal population in most parts of Sri Lanka has been attributed to the “abusive” application of weedicides by cultivators and I am personally aware that, in the ten years I have been back in my ancestral home, I have seen neither hide nor hair (nor heard the eerie pack-howling) of the Nariyas that used to be the bane of our lives as poultry-producers. My village friends say that this is a direct result of the abuse of insecticides in the paddy fields, particularly since the jackals could not differentiate between poisoned and non-poisoned fresh-water crabs, one of their favourite foods, in the paddy field.
An old school-mate, Cecil Dharmasena, wrote a couple of superb pieces in, I believe, the daily Island newspaper, a few years ago describing the damage that was done to agriculture in general by the destruction of the staff-structures in the agricultural department by the free enterprise-mad JR Jayewardene dispensation who removed, virtually overnight, the agricultural officers who provided advice to farmers and policed practices at the field level. It certainly is time for those articles to re-appear in the national media, in all three languages, to emphasize the need of a measured and meaningful approach to the challenges in agricultural production rather than indulge in the stupidities of banning this, that and the other product, willy-nilly..
In case the message still hasn’t come through, let me say simply that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not simply ill-advised but can result in serious economic repercussions for those for whom such steps were allegedly going to provide a “new dawn.” Rather than herald a “new dawn” it could well lead to the setting of the sun on their very existences.
The “Nouveau M-R” (Maithri-Ranil) bunch need to stop covering up for the sins of their most important predecessors, kick out the incompetents that they have put in positions of authority for goodness knows what reason and stop doing things that have serious negative consequences for the very people they claim are to be the beneficiaries of their Yahapalanaya.