By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
It is immensely disturbing (and shaming), to see members of the farming community, compelled to abandon their fields and take to the roadsides, holding up placards to draw attention to their plight. This is a national shame. We are not short of jokers who parrot the “The farmer is king” or “wash off his mud and set him on the throne” – that kind of claptrap simply will not do, or that kite will not fly, or that cock will not fight. Let not the insensitivity or arrogance of the “powers that be” which, one fears may drive a normally peaceful community to resort to unpleasant or dangerous reaction. The signs are ominously evident.
On the one side there are the marauding elephants, who in a single night can devastate the entirety of a season’s labour or knock down the walls of modest hovels, which pass for homes. It could be argued that this recurring problem is something that the officers in the field can do nothing about. This is only partly true. The initial error was committed by officialdom choosing to locate settlers across the customary elephant migration paths, used by the animals for decades. The provision of elephant corridors, and electrified fences provide little relief, at very high cost. There is no immediate remedy that the hapless Agricultural and Wildlife officials can provide.
On the other hand there are remediable defects in supplying irrigation water. It has been widely said that we do not have many true “irrigation engineers”, only those who can “competently lead water from point A to point B.”
Then there is the very ill-advised (or non-advised), move to 100% “organic” fertilizer, and to abruptly cease fertilizer imports. If ones child is ill, it would be better to consult a paediatrician than a soil chemist. If one is in need of spiritual guidance, it would be wiser to seek a monk than an agriculturist.
In taking such a drastic step, radically changing a long practiced agriculturally central issue, drastic reversals are dangerously unwise. Several well-informed and knowledgeable scientists, quoting from acknowledged authorities, have urged caution. There have been no corresponding interventions from those who support this radical change. In a profoundly vacuous declaration, it was surmised that we wish to achieve the record on being the first to go “completely organic”. Maybe so. But we run a greater chance of being the first nation to commit “Organic Suicide”. Thus, wrecking over a century’s work in this field of plant nutrition, in the universally acclaimed Agriculture, Tea, Rubber, Sugar, Minor Export Crops and Coconut Research Institutions. Years of dedicated effort and the countless millions of hours and rupees invested in such work, is to be felled in one sweep? Who will take the responsibility and cover the losses certain to be experienced, in this fancy adventure? When it comes to matters of such grave technical importance, are we to be guided by sane scientific knowledge, or of un-informed upstarts or transient politicos and ‘Wannabes’?
As support for this folly, there have been two relevant “shots” fired by the valiant who favour this heroic venture (i) Mineral fertilizers bring in health hazards like CKDU. I do not need to pursue that line, shown to be wildly unproven. (ii) that all scientists who do not support this progressive move (someone even quantified this misconduct to 99.99% ), were bribed by multinationals. This is such a tiresome chant, that it need not be given the dignity of even a mention. I do so, because I feel “Short Changed” Having been involved in work related to crop nutrition for six decades or more, I have yet to be offered even =/50 cents for my support, never mind the MN’s , not even by a local “Pohora velenda”. Maybe, I comfort myself by the thought that I am in that 0.01 % of incorruptibles. How nice. Who else, please?
But there is something shatteringly murderous. In answering the legitimate inquiry that since we have an unattainable and immediate need for millions of tons of compost for this 100% move, (as I recall, by that estimable Mahindananda Aluthgamage), that if the is any shortfall in organic fertilizer, we could import compost, available in ample amounts in international markets. This is a palpable falsehood. I have seen only one advertisement for sales from one single country, and significantly well-timed for the remark of our good Ministry of Agriculture.
If this is anything like possible, we should all stand up and in unison, chant “Not on your bloody Nelly.” This stark ignorance of the implication of dumping other peoples ’rubbish, (possibly carrying dangerously toxic metallic pollutants, pathogens (human and plant), weed seeds and a lot more fatally injurious “passengers” in imported compost, should be evident to the meanest nitwit of a village idiot.
Please let us be compassionate in meeting the legitimate fears and travails of our farmers, realistic in our need to be prepared and plan for widespread and certain to occur food shortages, even possibly starvation, to highly diminished export crops, domestics for the Middle East, unemployment in tourism involved sectors, GSP+ loss, emergency imports of essential foods and pharmaceuticals. Intelligent enough to seek and heed the counsel of those who know. Review the impetuous proposal for change in fertilizer, while taking note that a prudent mix of chemical and organic fertilizers is a worthy long-term goal that has to be based on sound science and not on the populist dreams of adventurers.