By Emil van der Poorten –
A friend recently drew my attention to the fact that there had been a tripartite agreement signed between the Coconut Research Institute, the University of Peradeniya and Fonterra, the dairy products conglomerate, to increase milk production in coconut plantations, particularly those owned by smallholders.
To say I was bemused by this would be an understatement and let me tell you why.
This tripartite project, it is claimed, is intended to run dairy cattle under coconut and is being touted as some kind of ground-breaking initiative.
Half a century ago, at least, the possibilities of enhancing the incomes of coconut growers through mixed farming with cattle and sheep was investigated and a variety of exotic pasture grasses introduced (Brachiaria brizantha and Brachiaria ruziziensis among others) systems of fertilizer application developed to prevent one growing and producing at the expense of the other and associated issues dealt with. There was a record kept of this research and these trials and I would be interested to know what became of it and, if it is still not around, why it isn’t.
People like Dr. Appadurai of the Faculty of Agriculture at the Peradeniya University did some really valuable, if sometimes controversial, work in the field at the time and there has to be, at least, some part of all of that significant information compiled by the Department of Veterinary Science in Peradeniya, the Department of Animal Production and Health and an assortment of trade and agricultural entities still available. But when the CRI is headed by a septuagenarian who, it had to be by coincidence, was a schoolmate and good buddy of the father of the Minister who appointed him and the lead man on the Fonterra side probably knows as much about cattle as I do about advanced rocket science, what the hell can one expect?
As for the academic actively involved in this abomination, I am at a loss for words to explain his involvement.
However, it must be admitted that the first two mentioned share a most important qualification: they were both Mahinda Rajapaksa stooges. And that should qualify them, eminently, for positions of responsibility and authority under the Ohey Palayang dispensation don’t you think? In fact, it is one of the less well guarded secrets that the Fonterra official was hired by the dairy products behemoth, coincidentally I am sure, at a time when a conduit to the Presidential Palace was worth its weight in gold and, seemingly, paid in similar coin. Checking on what Prof. had to say with regard to this individual’s conduct in the matter of the post mortems held into the cold-blooded executions of the Action Contre Le Faim workers in Mutur might also prove instructive. Anyone interested in this piece of work could probably still access that information by resorting to the World Wide Web. But, oh, Professor had to be a Tiger because he was a Tamil and despite the fact that he had to flee Sri Lanka in order to escape a death sentence issued by the leader of the afore-mentioned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Mr. Prabhakaran. As for this individual’s conduct with regard to the four doctors in Nanthikadal hospital at the time of Prabhakaran’s last stand, shall we say that the primary command of the Oath of Hippocrates – “Do no harm by word or deed’ – hardly seems to have been his guiding light.
Briefly put, all of this is the unadulterated version of what comes out of the south end of a north-bound bull and is to my knowledge is perhaps without equal in the matter of a monumental waste of public money in the interests of a few individuals who should be spending their time far more productively studying a primer in livestock production. The fact that a (the most?) senior member of a University’s staff should lend the prestige of his institution to an exercise of this nature is beyond ludicrous and, in terms of the expenditure of academic time and public money, verges on the criminal.
I hark back half a century because I know it was that far back that the Coconut Research Institute led by Dr. W.R.N. Nathanael and with extremely knowledgeable people such as the late Shirley Corea and the late Reg. De Mel, as Chair of the Board, explored not only the needs of coconut as a single crop but the prospects of livestock husbandry in combination with it. I consider it one of the singular privileges of my life in agriculture that I had the opportunity of serving with such intelligent and dedicated people who, apart from anything else, provided a unique learning experience to a comparatively callow youth!
And if you want to check on my credentials in the matter of this facet of agriculture, I’d be pleased to offer you some writing done at the time and published in the Ceylon Planters’ Society’s journal, the periodical put out by the Department of Animal Production and Health (the first time they had ever published any material from a non-scientist) and from the journal of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, among others.
Blowing my own trumpet? I suppose you could say that but I also believe that I need to provide some proof that I am not some inexperienced Johnny-come-lately political stooge playing at “livestock expert.”
Incidentally, while it has already been proven that the import of dairy cattle can be a very lucrative exercise when the cows that are being brought in are dairy herd culls in the countries of their origin because they suffered from such serious maladies as mastitis, it might be interesting to know whether these pundits are aware that the only recognized dairy breeds that will survive and produce in the coconut-growing areas are the relatively-low-yielding Jersey or Guernsey breeds and that the Friesian Holstein, the primary dairy breed internationally, cannot be used without shelter from the sun because it reacts very negatively to heat stress and, if I remember right, is very susceptible to cancer on its udder, lips, etc. because it lacks adequate skin pigmentation.
However, one must give the benefit of the doubt to this triumvirate of unspeakable who probably think that places like Wariyapola possess climates as salubrious as some part of Holland, New Zealand or Great Britain. I also remember some despot in either South or Central America or Africa who afforded his own livestock the benefit of air-conditioning and this is probably what our triumvirate have in mind. After all, at least two of them have been nurtured in the Rajapaksa culture of total impunity in the matter of personal and public conduct.
Also, I have seen some writing recently that simply states that the Murrah Buffalo is likely the solution to the acute shortage of dairy products in the poorer tropical countries. It is hardy, long-lived, produces significant quantities of milk high in butter fat (something welcomed by the malnourished of Asia but abhorred by westerners facing “weight problems, is extremely “low-maintenance” in terms of its resistance to internal and external parasites and produces milk economically for a longer period than the so-called “established” dairy breeds.
But I suppose the Murrah could have one serious drawback: its import, use and development might not yield high enough side benefits for the primary participants and their friends and relations and the opportunities for fudging and fraud by virtue of comparisons being available just across a narrow strait that separates us from Mother India.
To classify this Tripartite Agreement and its aims and objectives, given the body of information already accumulated over a very long period, as a monumental waste of time, money and resources would certainly not be an exaggeration. The only explanation for it would generate accusations of conspiracy theorizing, except the the absence of anything resembling rationality cannot but leave an odour of deceased rodents in the air.