‘Organic’ is a way of life and that must be understood, it is about the life of the soil, animal, plant and the universe as a whole. It is the magic word and synonym to ‘sustainable development’ which is the theme in the phrase ‘we must utilize the resources in a way to leave it for the future generation for their use’. It is welcome as we have no choice at the other end. Global warming, melting of the iceberg, reduction of Ozone layer etc. may be seen linked to the word ‘organic’ which is natural and ‘inorganic’ often relates to synthetic, in general. Consumerism has taken us from the ‘organic’ to the ‘inorganic’ under various slogans. Many nations including us with thousands of years of civilization have followed suit not realizing the values of our indigenous knowledge in the race to meet the challenge of ‘modernization’. Modern is reverting to Yoga and vegetarianism and seeking for those values we lost including ‘organic’, but at a cost.
The President over his address to the Nation last week stated ‘we must refrain from eating poisons’ and ‘I will not retreat form this order’ which was an indication of his commitment. But we have heard such in the past from others too.
a) It was the same when a former President declared a ban on Asbestos, lauded by the environmentalist, but then, without any ‘tom tom’ beatings it came back to the country. Did the impacts of the Asbestos vaporize or the threat to the lives of the people minimized? After all was said and done it was only Politics at the end, which won.
b) Sri Lanka was the first or one of the few countries that banned ‘Glyphosate’ a herbicides used in various products in all forms of agriculture for weed control. The government decision makers were hailed as saviors of the nation in terms of health. But it came back through many channels without any noise. There were even claims that these contributed partly to the ‘cyanide’ in paddy in some districts. Yet it is back and in action. Has it become people friendly? NO, it is larger politics.
There may be other issues that had also been questioned on similar grounds of rationality;
Sri Lanka banned the import of Turmeric under the Present regime. The most valued antiseptic in the traditional kitchen and used by almost all Sri Lankans. It is also linked culturally to Hindus to the point that a Yellow string and a piece of turmeric may be used as ‘Thali’ at a wedding. That is how high it is placed in the system. It was banned for unknown reasons and even those which were seized by customs had been burnt, while many other items seized are out on auction. This is one where we find no rationality. We could cultivate Turmeric ‘is a lame excuse’ in which case onions, chilies, Garlic and many more should not be imported. While we import rice not waiting for the next harvest the ban on turmeric seems a question. Could this be naively seen as a ban on a home based antiseptic? Antiseptic and hand wash is a million dollar industry today is the hand wash and all advertise for it. Turmeric may have been a better option far better than any alcohol based in terms of health.
There was an interesting case when a friend of mine went with a team many years ago introducing IPM (Integrated pest management) in agriculture, explaining to an elderly farmer. At the end of it the farmer looked at them and said ‘Sir, this is what we were doing before and it was you who came and introduced these modern fertilizers and herbicides; are you sure that the IPM will work or you will come back with the old formula again?’ The officers did not know where to place their faces!!! This is the reality when we take policies without real values and long term understanding.
We had lost the diversity of crops. Many traditional varieties are only found in archeological storages. We avoided them as they did not produce the quantity like the new varieties. Little did we realize or calculate the overall value of the crop. Now we suddenly find these are poisons, they ruin our soils etc. It is like those who measure the life with dollars or rupees and find that they had lost the life and left with ‘notes’ which they even cannot eat in an emergency. ‘Golden goose’ is not far away from the concept.
It has been the failure of our Politicians and leaders over time who had failed to give a clear well thought policy but had just followed instructions/guidance by those who had other interest in burying our values and knowledge of the past. Now, we have our soil dead, diversity lost, health in question and our future compromised. We yet, import rice and many others from being a rice importing country of the past. We have not won either way in quantity or quality.
I welcome the call by the President to go ‘organic’ as a step for better future, but the process may not be that easy overnight and it has to be a collective effort of the people and the government to make it through. It is essential that there is a need for ALL TO BELIEVE IN IT. In my opinion we have no choice in the long run. Better late than never.
The Swizerland way may be followed where they had voted for an ‘evolution’ into organics by 2027, mitigating the issues of synthetics pesticides step by step. However if we use the money allocated for fertilizers and chemicals at present at subsidy into organic ways, we may have around Rs 80 billion to facilitate the ‘project organic’ faster in the country.
Many had written on the organic farming already and I avoid repeating them.
It demands the following among others to be effective;
a) Apology to the public for the failure of the governments over years ignoring the great irrigation and agriculture traditions of the country. Request people to come forward to make a better future.
b) Acknowledge that it is not a one day process, but the government wants you to start and assure that the losses if any would be compensated. It is better to give farmers the money for this than compensate for the price of fertilizers.
c) Look at the diversity of varieties that had thrived and utilize them as appropriate for floods and droughts, wet and dry.
d) It is essential that we introduces organisms as Blue green algae (Prof Kulasooriya et al had been working since 1970s), Azolla etc into the cultivation calendar which may have alternate cropping schedules. Introduce legumes for short crop rotation also to increase the nitrogen in the system.
e) It is important that we introduce earth worms to our soils, almost lost from most locations; also facilitate wormy culture as a means of fertilizers
f) Look for natural herbicides and other practices (well developed in many countries at present including India) that could prevent/control pests and diseases. Integrated farms associated cattle farming around these areas in paddocks is a recommended option.
g) Consider biogas as an option
h) Local Councils need to prepare their organic fertilizer from domestic waste collection; more active collection of wastes need to be arranged
There needs to be teams to assist farmers in their new venture of organic farming. Farmers may marginally fail economically in the first round or two but will have a more sustained harvest thereafter, with a net profit. The state needs to bear their losses if any at the initial phase. It is not only the fertilizer but the species we use, the modes of cultivation, irrigation management etc would be of importance. But it is worth it, even if it takes time.
The Universities in all provinces with faculties of Agriculture could take the lead to facilitate the farmers with the Department of Agriculture, Agrarian department and Department of Livestock development. Farmers must see this as a DRIVE for the future and not another POLITICAL GIMMICK, as they had seen in the past.
It is essential that we seek quality as a compromise to quantity. If we ensure that the waste is minimized then we reach the quantity we need, with quality. It is important that we realize the values of our traditional knowledge which had seen many epidemics and famine and build on it for the future of our nation in our own way, one step at a time but steady.
After all our inorganic agriculture did not stop us importing rice, so it is worth a try for all the benefit that the organic agriculture,\ offers. It may not take the time we spent learning the ‘inorganics’.
*The author is a retired Professor of Botany and Former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University