7 May, 2021

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Political Rhetoric Or Sounding The Death Knell Of Lanka’s Agriculture?

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

A quote attributed to the Greek play write Euripides says that “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad”. Reading the news from Sri Lanka, one can only wonder if a prescient Euripides had Lanka’s successive rulers in mind.

The President has “vowed” to ban the import of fertilizers. Politicians are famous for vowing to bring rice from the moon. But they brought the consumer “Iti haal” and American flour. Australia worked hard on its organic agricultural content for THREE DECADES, but without keen-jerk bans. Even though some members of the “Viyathmaga” may be quite “Viyaru”, let us hope that there are enough sane people to exercise restraint, and be cautious with the ever precarious food supply of a nation.

You do not cut your supplies without alternatives on hand. The proposed alternative, “organic manure” is in extreme short supply. A hectare of paddy yielding even a mere five tonnes of grain needs 75-100 kg of nitrogen (N) depending on the soil. If you put more manure, it is a waste and a pollutant since plants absorb only a certain limit.  Even a hungry man cannot eat beyond his fill. A plant denied of any fertilizer uses what ever nitrogen found naturally in the soil, giving a very low harvest until the soil becomes totally infertile in a few years. But it may last till the next election, and that is good enough for the politicians and NGOs.

Organic manure, e.g., good cow manure, may contain 1-2 kg of N per tonne. So, to get 100 kg of N per hectare we need 50-100 TONNES of organic fertilizer. The mineral fertilizer that you bring on your tractor now needs 50 lorry loads in a 2-ton truck. Once in the farm, 100 tonnes (100,000 kg) of manure must be distributed. So the cost of labor for organic farming is orders of magnitude MORE than for normal farming, to get less of a harvest. Organic agriculture today feeds the elite, while the poor will face hunger unless the food is subsidized.

Such large mounds of humus-based fertilizer get washed away and add to asphyxiation of aquatic life in waterways, as always found near organic farms.

Sir Lanka has imported about 300,000 metric tons/year of urea, and this amounts to some 120,000 tonnes of N. So we need some 120 MILLION tonnes of organic manure once the ban is in place. This is close to the current GLOBAL OUTPUT of organic  manure! 

The Minister Amaraweera “proposes to implement organic farming instead of toxic agriculture which has led to an increase in the number of kidney and cancer patients here”. Apparently, “All the rivers, streams, wells and ponds in Sri Lanka are polluted due to use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. No matter how much water there is, we cannot consume it without fear”. Minister Amaraweera has mentioned pesticides. Perhaps the ban includes pesticides like glyphosate! Again! 

Since the Lankan water is allegedly unsafe to drink, will the government import bottled water, perhaps from a European source like Perrier or Vittel? It may be cheaper to import water from the Holy Ganges, even with those floating cadavers, with its healing power imbibed by the Gods! 

But the scientists of the University of Tokyo, working with the Kandy Hospital scientists failed to find any of these toxins in the rivers, streams and ponds of Sri Lanka in their 2014 study?  Nanayakkara et al reported the work in 2014, in the Journal of Occupational Health 56:28–38, (2014). There were six Lankan scientists and nine Japanese scientists who diligently researched the matter. There was also the WHO study where near-threshold Cd was speculated upon. All these must be “Patta-Pal-Boru” Western Science!

There was the study led by SJP scientists and US scientists from North Carolina in 2016 (Levine et al., Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 2016). There were seven Lankan scientists and six US scientists collaborating in the study. Another report came in 2020 by roughly the same team of researchers.

These scientists DID NOT FIND the dire situation claimed by the Minster.

A hardly publicized study was the investigation of the water from rivers and other sources fed into reverse osmosis (RO) plants, conducted by Dr. Padmakumara Jayasinghe under the aegis of COSTI. This was an all Lankan team that revealed the embarrassing fact that this water did NOT NEED any RO to make the water drinkable – it was very safe. Interestingly, the study was shelved and  never published. It would have upset many who made money by promoting RO plants, claiming that rivers, streams and ponds are polluted!

Although the Jayasinghe-COSTI study was not published, a Japanese study by Professor Takizawa, jointly with Dr. Oguma and Dr. Imbulana studied the water that are input to these expensive RO plants. They compared areas with chronic Kidney disease (CKD), and healthy areas. They found specific evidence to establish that the water was NOT contaminated by agrochemicals.  Instead, the water in the CKD areas was rich in fluoride and magnesium of geological origin. This research appeared in the prestigious journal “Science of the Total Environment” in 2020 under the title “Evaluation of groundwater quality and reverse osmosis water treatment plants in the endemic areas of CKDu in Sri Lanka”.

There are many other crucial studies, e.g., from Dr. Wasana et al from the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Peradeniya, and from Dr. Rohana Chadrajith and other in the Dept. of geology. The interdisciplinary group CERTKID includes Kandy Hospital Kidney specialists and University Scientists. Their research clarified the origins of the Kidney disease which is no longer “of unknown aeteology”. It has no established correlation with agrochemicals. Furthermore, the trace amounts of toxic agrochemicals found in Lankan waters are well below the thresholds set by even the most strict environmental authorities in the world.

Agrochemicals contain micro-quantities of toxic materials like Cd, As, and also large (macro) quantities of phosphates and nitrates that nourish plants. What HAS been found in Sri Lankan waters is the presence of runoff phosphates and nitrates from excessive use of fertilizers, a problem caused by deregulation introduced since 1977 under the “open economy Mudalali” politics.

The market dismantled the scientific control on fertilizers and transferred it to the merchant. If a government cannot even impose controls on the USE of fertilizers, how can it successfully impose a ban? The country will be awash with smuggled substandard fertilizers, at a higher price, as we know not only from the ill-fated ban on glyphosate, but even from turmeric or cigarettes.

So, although excess phosphates in the water can cause algal bloom and environmental damage, they should not be confused with “heavy-metal toxins” that the self-styled “environmental warriors” talk about. They should instead note that organic manure contains significant amounts of heavy metal toxins because plants accumulate them from the soil during growth. Straw may contain 200 times more cadmium than the soil it is grown on. It transfers to manure when composted. An ostrich policy of not analyzing the organic manure before use is followed by most “organic’ farmers.

But then, the “Parisara” NGOs and politically active monks, the “Jathika chintahnaya’ people, the Ven.-Ratana-Nalin-de-Silva-HelaSuvaya-Natha-Deviyo-Arsenic click”, all  hold views diametrically opposite to most Scientists. They, like the anti-vaccine movements in the West, have infused the public with fear and won the publicity battle against evidence-based science condemned as “Patta-Pal-Boru”. Government scientists (e.g., of the agriculture Dept) have been side-lined and  muzzled, as only a ministry spokesman can speak on behalf of them.

Recently, stocks of fertilizer were held back on the grounds that the fertilizer exceeded the “safe” threshold for cadmium set by Lankan standards. This standard incredibly requires the fertilizer to have less than 5 parts per million of Cadmium. So, due to the dire need of fertilizers, the President approved it on a “one-time basis”. This may have prompted the President to vow to ban any future import of fertilizers.

Amazingly, the scientists at the Sri Lankan Standards Institute, or its Director did even not ask how such absurdly impossible low thresholds for Cadmium had been instituted in Lanka when most countries, e.g., Canada, allows up to 900 mg/kg of cadmium in its fertilizers as being perfectly safe? (See 8 April). The lentils grown in Canada with such fertilizers is exported to the whole world including India and Lanka.  The “Mansoor Parippu” is mostly re-labeled Canadian Lentils from Saskatchewan!

Unless saner counsel prevails, Lanka’s cash crops and its food supply will collapse under the ban. By then, the present rulers would have retired with their pensions and perks, and a new set of would be saviors may still “vow” to implement organic agriculture, even if they have to get the organic fertilizer from the moon!

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Latest comments

  • 17
    1

    It has been rumoured that the ostensible reasons given are only to camouflage the real ones of reducing the unbearable drain off of For EXch and a possible link to a large organic fertilizer plant by an acolyte. As in most cases, truth will emerge too late.

    • 12
      2

      “Sri Lanka has imported about 300,000 metric tons/year of urea, and this amounts to some 120,000 tonnes of N. So we need some 120 MILLION tonnes of organic manure once the ban is in place. This is close to the current GLOBAL OUTPUT of organic manure! “
      Hard for a reasonable person to argue with that. But ignorant Nandasena is not guided by science or reason. He is a misguided missile leaning for advice on Buddhist monks like Glyphosate Ratana. Ratana is a monk for a reason. He was trained from his youth to chant suttas. He is no trained scientist. All the stuff he spouts about agriculture is what he got off YouTube.
      As in the case of the Muslim burial issue, most local scientists will either keep quiet or toe Nandasena’s line if they know what’s good for them.

      • 6
        1

        OC,

        Let’s face it …… Gota’s only ability is deception: nothing else.

        We always fall for charismatic charlatans …….. or brothers, sons, wives of charismatic charlatans …… whose only proven ability is deception.

        But some other countries are fortunate/lucky enough to get few unlikely leaders now and then by accident.

        Biden is the least likely president; wouldn’t have even become the party nominee if not for Trump’s utter incompetence in handling the Covi-19 outbreak. Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t have become president if JFK didn’t get shot: had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected president in his own right.

        But both went/will-go on to become the most reformist leaders in US history with far reaching reforms ……… much more than charismatic talkers like Obama, Clinton, Reagan, JFK ………….

        FDR was long before my time ………. perhaps Native can relate some stories from his childhood.

        • 2
          4

          nimal Fernando,
          Tamils did fall for charismatic charlatans whose only proven ability is deception. Those guys promised Tamils in Yapanaya who are the descendants of Dravida coolies brought by Portuguese a dreamland called Eelam based on a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’ in North East of the country and asked them to take up arms to achieve that objective. So, Tamils took suicide bombs, claymore bombs, AK47s, chemical weapons and massacred Native Sinhalayo for three decades to grab their land and ended up in Nandikadal achieving nothing.
          —-
          “We always fall for charismatic charlatans …….. or brothers, sons, wives of charismatic charlatans …… whose only proven ability is deception.”

        • 3
          0

          Dear NF.
          I fear your admiration of LBJ is not really justified from an angle of world peace.
          “In foreign policy, Johnson escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted Johnson the power to use military force in Southeast Asia without having to ask for an official declaration of war.”
          Well with Biden it looks salutary but better wait and see to judge.

          • 2
            0

            MV,

            “I fear your admiration of LBJ is not really justified from an angle of world peace.”

            True. He escalated the war but he didn’t start it ……… he inherited it from the previous presidents – starting with Truman, I think (I had to read about it, now.) :))

            No leader is faultless ….. my comment was based not on his foreign policy but on the far-reaching reforms he enacted in his “Great Society.” ……… especially in civil rights.

            Sure, one can find faults in all of his programs ……….. but unlike others at least he made an effort on a grand scale. …….. similar to FDR’s “New Deal” ……… Australia’s Whitlam’s reforms.

            Biden in his own way, is trying to carry out many of what Bernie Sanders and his young supporters want ……. but unlike Bernie without offending many and has a better chance of getting things done.

            What reforms have our leaders done that benefit our own people?


            I didn’t have time to compose my comment well …… the idea I was trying to get across is that some lacklustre uncharismatic leaders have done better when given a chance than the charismatic leaders people tend to vote for.

            • 0
              0

              Nimal,
              “… the idea I was trying to get across is that some lacklustre uncharismatic leaders have done better when given a chance “
              I wouldn’t describe King Nandasena as charismatic or bright. Are you trying to deviously promote him?

            • 1
              0

              Yes very few Leaders can be considered totally pure.
              It is said of US : Obviously no president is perfect and even the best ones have their downsides. Indeed, few American presidents fall easily into the great or even really good category.
              Even LKY who did yeoman service to S’pore is criticised for his stern policies, even though it did yield results.
              Recently, Angela Merkel left office graciously on a high note.

  • 10
    2

    I doubt this scientific paper is not suitable for discussion in this from because this forum is not about science but it is about politics or religion. Most of the people have lost their confidence in science because politicians control scientists. We have seen how they were used science to cheat people in the case of Corona death Muslim burial ban in Sri Lanka and even the Corona vaccine imports of free vaccines. The import ban of fertilisers was determined for political purposes, not because of it poisonous impact.

    • 3
      0

      Ajith: “…….. because politicians control scientists”. It is half the truth. In today’s science and technology, the “Scientists” of all sorts are controlled by the “Pharmaceutical Mafia” and the “Fertilizer Mafia”. These “Mafia” Bosses know how to trap the “Politicians” into that “Circle”. I would like to hear the opinion of our “Professor” Channa Jayasumana turned “Politician” has to say on this subject of the “Use Of The Chemical Fertilizer”. He is in Parliament and an outspoken “Viyathmaga” member, I believe an “Advisor” to the President on this “Fertilizer Project”.

      • 1
        0

        Simon, You say all are mafia. Sumana is a big one. Viyathmaga advisors too control other’s thinking. So who is able to exercise his free will and not be decapitated. Most are trapped in the cycle through ignorance. Organised deception is gathering votes for the next election for the dynasty.

  • 3
    1

    “wonder if a prescient Euripides had Lanka’s successive rulers in mind”
    *
    Why drag in other rulers when the problem specifically concerns the present?

    • 7
      1

      S.J,
      Yahapalanaya, under the advice of the same expert monk, banned Glyphosate, with predictable consequences to the Tea industry. Now the mad monk has switched sides.

    • 0
      0

      Another of the doings of Gota being discussed here. I have yet to work out my thoughts on this. This meddling by the dictator could have serious consequences for our huge population.
      .
      I hope my digression isn’t going to become a distraction. However, having seen Euripides mentioned a second time, and being a VishramikaGambadaIngirisiIskoleMahattaya, I thought I’d better tell Chandare, that Euripides should be described as a “playwright“, just as a guy who makes carts is a cartwright, who subcontracts to a wheelwright.
      .
      All languages present problems, but English more than others.

  • 4
    1

    ” Canada, allows up to 900 mg/kg of cadmium in its fertilizers as being perfectly safe”
    *
    Restrictions on Cadmium in Fertilizers
    Netherlands 17.5
    European Union 60 >> 40 >> 20
    Finland 21.5
    Sweden 44
    Denmark 48
    Belgium 90
    Austria 120
    Australia 131
    Japan 148
    California* 400 (by rule 4 ppm per %)
    Oregon* 750 (by rule 7.5 per %)
    Washington** 889 (by rule 0.079 lbs/acre)
    Canada** 889 (by rule 0.079 lbs/acre)
    [From
    https://pprc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Cd-in-Fertilizer_Limits-and-Laws_Final_7-17-17.pdf%5D
    *
    It looks like Canada and some states in the US takes far bigger risks than others.
    Europe reputedly has more concern for human health than N. America, and has banned several GM foods.
    *
    Whose lead do we follow?

    • 1
      5

      S.J,
      The incidence of cancer in various countries should indicate the risk. However, till the 60’s, toothpaste tubes were made of Lead ! It didn’t significantly reduce the population.

      • 2
        1

        OC
        There were I guess other strong competitors to lead for killing people.
        Some toxins ruin health but not kill in a hurry.

  • 5
    1

    My little experience with home gardening is you can GROW with organic mànure but you cannot PROTECT the yield without chemical incecticides and pesticides.
    Absolutely no way for large scale farming.

    Soma

    • 1
      4

      soma,

      Yes you can grow plants with organic manure even without insecticides and pesticides. Before 1970s every house had animals (cows, Bulls, Goats, Chicken) and Rice and other crops were cultivated without chemicals. That is not the problem. Land and water are limited resources. Population is on the increase and Yield/unit area has to be increased to meet the requirements of the population increase. This is where chemicals and breeding and technology come into the picture. Too much of chemicals means too much of pest and diseases as well. Like (virus) Corona variants , Bacterias and funguses also become resistant to chemicals. In Sri Lanka excessive use of chemicals results in poisoning of water and animals including the humans.

    • 8
      0

      ,,,,,,cannot PROTECT the yield without chemical insecticides and pesticides…………
      This is quite true – leave aside chemical fertilizer.
      Even now, we see so much agricultural produce ruined by pests and insects in these tropical regions, even after the use of these sprays.

    • 8
      0

      S
      One cannot switch even to a most feasible system without a well planned and phasing of the transition.
      I hope that sanity will soon be restored.

    • 0
      1

      Then eat poison. Same thing.

      • 0
        0

        A2.0
        The way things are going, you may be making a suggestion that may be the best option for many in this country, unless they decide to stop the rot.

  • 4
    2

    soman

    “you cannot PROTECT the yield without chemical incecticides and pesticides.”

    Have you done any research on organic pesticides?
    What are state functionaries attached to different department such as Agricultural, Forestry, Mahaweli, ….. doing to produce organic pesticides?

    Now that your distant cousin M K Stalin has been elected as the Chief Minister of Thamil Nadu you better feel free to demand help from him as JR demanded Kamarajar in the late 1940s. In fact Kamarajar indeed obliged.

    Please watch these clips where you will find interesting information:
    How to prepare organic pesticide at Home for Terrace Garden / Organic Pesticide for Home Gardening
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ff9X5ECYm4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yMHVlmTM1g
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZyTb5vqEvo

    • 0
      0

      NV
      Thanks for the valuable references.

      Soma

  • 5
    0

    have to agree with the author.

    This is a topic that should be based on science not feelings. I am not so sure about the facts in this case,

    is Gota banning all fertilizer for all or is he just banning the fertilizer imported for subsidy for paddy farmers?

    Can private companies import and provide fertilizer?

    Does this apply to Tea Rubber and Coconut farms too?

    Why is he not talking about pesticides? just fertilizer.

    Maybe the locals already know the answers? but I’m a little in the dark.

    But from my point of view governing by decree is a really bad way to do this type of thing. The better way is to provide incentives to shift behaviors.

    I feel that this is something that he will have to walk himself back on. a little bit like the beef issue or the palm oil issue.

  • 4
    0

    ….How to prepare organic pesticide at Home for Terrace Garden / Organic Pesticide for Home Gardening…….
    Yes for home gardening, organic fertilizer and pesticides are enough and indeed the best.
    But in large scale farming, this is not economical. It is a matter of scale.
    May be with biotech and genetic engineering of seeds, it may come a time when pest and insect resistant plants will come about like Canola.
    ………..”Canadian scientists used traditional plant breeding in the 1960s to practically eliminate two undesirable components of rapeseed — erucic acid from oil and glucosinolates from meal — to create “canola,” a contraction of “Canadian”
    and “ola.”…. Because of the elimination of the “acid” and Canadian origin, it is also considered as Can (ada) o (oil) la (low acid).

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