16 November, 2018

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The Proposed “Gamperaliya” May Signal The End Of Village Tanks & Tank-Based Agriculture

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

According to the news item that appeared in the Daily Mirror, 15-July-2018, the government plans to “hand over” the maintenance of village tanks to villagers themselves. The Prime Minster is supposed to have said: 

we have decided to focus on villages. If we renovate tanks the villages will benefit from these projects. The contracts to desilt them will be given to the villagers themselves. The soil collected from desilting will be given to farmers. They can earn something from that. At the same time, the concessionary loans schemes will be launched for the rural people. The money would be pumped into the villages by these projects.

This could degenerate into  a scheme of handing over the tanks to selected political friends, who will immediately build houses on the tank bunds and other high ground. The village tanks  will be completely encroached (as it is mostly  the case) and natural habitat and tanks will be lost. The tanks will be lost for ever and replaced  by homesteads, asphalt and concrete. The present government has made many attempts to destroy agriculture in Sri Lanka, by its banning of pesticides (e.g., Glyphosate), control of fertilizers and telling farmers to not to use fertilizers (where by they end up with poor  harvests) because “they contain toxins”. The latter is a complete lie.  The government banned glyphosate  in 2015 succumbing to false propaganda that it was one of the causes of kidney disease prevalent in the North-Central Province, where as it is most likely caused by drinking stagnant well water containing fluorides and magnesium ions (found in hard water). 

This is a very misguided  proposal and signals the end of the village tanks which are already in bad shape. Their repair and  maintenance are  not a matter for amateurs, or for villagers who already find it hard to eke out an existence even at subsistence level. These tank cascades need a detailed plan taking account of their cascade structure. You may read Dr. Panabokke’s article about tank-cascade systems here.

The Prime Minster is proposing to use the silt at the bottom of tanks for making fertilizer. The silt at the bottom of tanks has a very high level of Cadmium (Cd) and other metal toxins, and their use in compost or as fertilizers for growing food is very dangerous, and smacks of  naive thinking typical of  Ven. Ratana, Asoka Abeygunawardana, Channa Jayasumana and others who talk of the “Toxin-free” (Vasha Visha Neathi) traditional agricultural program. The natural average Cd in the soils of  Sri Lanka are reported to range from 0.42 mg/kg in virgin forest soils, to values  as high as 5 mg/kg in  tank sediments [Chandrajith et al 2012].  These numbers are consistent with values found in the WHO-sponsored study {Jayatilleke et al , 2014}. For a detailed report on such toxins in fertilizers, soil and food, their bio-availability etc., please see my most recent research paper published in Environmental Geochemistry and Health (Springer Nature B.V. 2018)

More detailed comments.

1.  Scale of the work.

In the old days, there was a whole hierarchy of knowledgeable people, Wel Mudiyanses, Wel Widane’s, Wel peramukas, wel ralas, gama ralas etc. The emphasis was on the paddy fields (“wel”) as they were the key and the “Tank” was just the means of storing the water. There were even caste designations with assigned duties, and mandatory labour (Rajakariya) for repairing tanks or “waev”, “sorow, niyara”, etc. All those traditions and know-how are lost today. Rajakariya was abolished in the 19th century. Even scholars do  not know what was known, what was handed down etc. Organizing the needed labour to do this is a Herculean task in today’s political climate where forced labour (Rajakariya) or even paid labour  is impossible, with little  manual labour available in villages today. A more sensible solution would be to use the army, with its corp of engineers to guide the work.

2.  Tank cascades.

Today, given the state of the tanks, and the scale of the work, it is essential to use machinery and coordination of the work on tank cascades by knowledgeable irrigation engineers. One tank in  a tank cascade cannot be repaired without coordinating with what is done in another tank belonging to the same cascade. The water-feed from each tank is regulated to match what is needed downstream. This matching was done in the old days by trial and error as well as traditional knowledge, usually taking decades as these tanks were built gradually. Today, given the rapid pace of social change, nothing can await decades. Unless a master plan for each cascade is set up, and modern engineering principles are used, we will end up with a total mess.

3. Using the silt for fertilizer etc.

This is again a simplistic proposal with little knowledge behind it. The essential requirements of a fertilizer are the macro-constituents; namely, Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), and Phosphorous (P).  The micro-organisms in the soil also need these very same nutrients. They also need humus (decomposed plant matter) which should already be there in the soil, or supplemented with the fertilizer. If the soil is too acidic, or too alkaline, it  needs to be mixed with the right amount of  limestone, dolomite or acidifying agents. The fertilizer should be tailored to each soil, and not a mere matter of adding some tank silt mixed with decomposed straw and cow dung. Furthermore, cow-dung and such nutrients are in extreme short supply in the country. Both straw and cow dung contain high amounts of metal toxins due to phyto-accumulation.

4. Organic food.

The Department of Agriculture has issued a set of books, targeting each district, and specifying the type of fertilizer optimal for each soil. All that has been brushed aside and we have a destruction of scientific agriculture by Ven. Ratana and his followers. The monk says that Dr. Ranil Senanayake is a scientist who supports his views. However, Dr. Senanayake merely writes popular newspaper articles striking fear into the public mind about herbicides like glyphosate, but has not come up with any evidence against the use of such pesticides, or offered no practicable alternatives. When it is pointed out that “organic agriculture” produces such low yields that the product has to be priced at 3-5 times the normal product, Dr. Ranil Senanayake claimed in an Island newspaper article that “computer projections” show that organic agriculture can feed the world, if certain conditions are met.

That claim was also made by Dr. Adrian Mueller of the Swiss Organic Food Research Institute. He shows using  computer projections that organic agriculture can feed the world if the world population is sharply reduced, and if, say,  twice the amount of land and water were available. He proposed to make the land available by getting the whole world to becomes vegetarian, and stopping livestock farming. The latter suggestion is very welcome, but there is no likelihood of the world  population becoming vegetarian, or the population sharply reducing itself.  I have discussed these matters in detail in my article replying Mueller.  

Currently about 2% (or less) of the world’s food is produced using “organic methods”, and it serves to feed the frightened members of the elite class who believe that their health problems are due to the “commercial food” they eat. They refuse to admit that their decadent  life styles with high stress, no exercise, consumption of fast foods, sugar etc., are the main causes of their obesity and ill health.

To claim that fertilizers from tank silt (or, alternatively, composted urban waste) is safer than the use of conventional mineral fertilizers is to endanger the whole country from toxins in silt and in urban waste. Fertilizer from silt or urban waste  must be subject to a chemical analysis before use in growing food.

[The author pioneered the teaching of food science and environmental chemistry in Sri Lanka in the 1970s as part of the applied science program at Vidyodaya University, now known as the SJP university.]

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Cabinet reshuffle on a scientific basis! The guy who ruined agriculture was given the responsibility of irrigation. The guy who ruined fisheries sector was given agriculture. What the hell these two guys know about irrigation or agriculture?
    ——————————————–
    One guy talks about ‘Gamperaliya’, the other guy talks about ‘Grama Shakthi’. Do we have one government or two governments?

    • 3
      0

      When one is elected as an M>P> he becomes an expert in everything, Education, Engineering, Agriculture, Transport, Health and what not. Every qualified person in the respective field is eclipsed by the politicians. The qualified person also has to be blamed because once they are appointed to a ministry in a responsible position they play second fiddle to the ministers and go with their thinking for fear of losing the job or earning the ‘extras’ from various sources.

      • 2
        0

        This guy, Chandra D, is clearly paid by Monsanto to SPIN the yarn that Glyphosphate is gods gift to Farmers!
        Now he is worried that Tank Silt will reduce Glyphosphate sales..
        He is also trashing Dr. Ranil Senanayake who is world renouned for Analog re-forestry

        Long live miracle of Modaya.

        • 0
          0

          S Modaya,
          Are you so much of a brainwashed modaya that you don’t know that most Glyphosate comes from Russia and India?
          Much cheaper than Monsanto.

        • 0
          0

          What is Ranil Senanayke world renowned for?
          Search PubMed, citations index etc for the last 10 or 15 years and you will see he has NOT published EVEN ONE RESEARCH PAPER.

          • 0
            0

            So, how many research papers have you published, Mr Bodhi? Please tell us.

    • 0
      0

      “The present government has made many attempts to destroy agriculture in Sri Lanka”

      And the president often starts his speech with “My father was a farmer, and I am a farmer”

  • 5
    1

    Very timely article.
    Amateur meddling in agriculture, and in everything else, are the problems faced by this country. When a minster or some VIP hears something from some one at a wedding or an alms giving, that becomes the fact. Hard science and evidence have no place.

    instead, revelations by God Natha become science. Even a California doctor (Dr. Sanath Gunatilleke) was ready to embrace that stuff and the God-Natha lady is an author of the “scientific” article written by Sanath Gunatilleke and Channa Jayasumana claiming nonsense about the origin of kidney disease in the NCP.

    In effect, health science and agricultural science in Sri lanka have dropped to the very bottom and become non-science. With this Gam Peraliya, another layer of politics, in addition to that of Ven. Ratana, is being added to the unholy mix.

    • 2
      1

      Bodhi, tell your alter ego that the recent corrupt Gazette notification to remove glyphosate ban will do more to destroy our tanks by loosening the soil and incresded silting.

      By the way, both your purses will be thick these days, after the SL reversal?

  • 7
    0

    Dr.Dharmawardena, Very sensible article.These ideas do not tally with those idiots who governed this country through 1977.The bloody Buddhist monks are no better. All of them are out for a quick buck.

  • 5
    2

    Excellent article. Its a pity professionals like you have no place in Sri Lanka now as politicians are the know all of everything, and the ruination of the country. The PM in his usual impulsive and irrational style has woken up to the fact that the rural population needs help after ignoring them for 3 years. However, the path he has chosen is such that it might be better for villages to stay where they are rather than get led to a disastrous future under someone who has no clue about what is needed in villages.

  • 3
    0

    Thank you for the thought provoking article.
    One issue is glyphosate.It is carcinogen according to the WHO. And glyphosate stays in soil for about 22 long years. That is disastrous compared to paraquat which gets destroyed immediately on touching soil. Even if there is a very mild effect from glyphosate, that would be accumulative and when some diseases including CKDU is mapped, it correlates with glyphosate use and hard water. So both must be there. We are dealing with lives of millions and when in doubt, it’s better to get rid of the chemical altogether.

    • 2
      0

      To BalaN,

      Glyphosate doe not stay for 22 years in the soil.
      Check your reference again for the right numbers.

      In a tropical climate like Sr Lanka, it has less than 8 hours half life. The monsoon rains also wash it off. If there is any glyphosate in the water, it will act on the green algae, moss and water plants. But our water bodies are full of “Japan Jabara (water hyacinth) , Penda (algae) ” and other green matter showing that there is NOT an iota of glyphosate in the water.

      See the articles on glyphosate http://www.dailynews.lk/2018/05/04/features/150018/glommed-glyphosate (Kindey specialist Dr. Mahadeva’s article in the Daily News)

      2. Glyphsate does NOT cause cancer. The IARC proposed that it “probabaly causes cancer” and classified it as a class-II (b) carcinogen. This is now out dated due to subsequent work disproving uit/ Any way, what did it mean? The even more dangerous Class-I classification includes red meat, sausages, citronella oil, cloves etc.
      So try to understand what the classification means. It means that if huge amounts are consumed, you might get cancer.
      The health of 90,000 farmers in Minnesota who regularly use glypohsate was followed for a quater century, with monitoring of urine, blood, heart condition, oncogenetic tests etc., with attention to some 200 types of cancer and the research, conducted by the University of Minnesota and the US ministry of Health found NO EVIDENCE of any increased propensitiy to cancer, or any other health risks. See the Daily News article http://www.dailynews.lk/2018/04/19/features/148615/glyphosate-ban-has-gmoa-studied-research

      Glyphosate is a very safe substance, with toxicity less than that of Life Buoy soap. The Minnesota study shows beyond all doubt that it has NO chronic toxicity as well.
      [ that is, no cumulative toxicity due to long term use, contrary to the propaganda by the “Organic Food” supermarket chains]

  • 0
    0

    Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana,

    Relax, not to worry or be taken serious, it comes from our PM (period)

  • 0
    0

    Thank you Chandre Dharmawardana for your thoughts.
    Bigger village tanks can be used for irrigation.
    Smaller ones can serve a purpose. Hindu temples have a tank which are used for certain rites performed. These are in a state of disrepair. Buddhist temples may be encouraged to build tanks to grow flowers. These tanks can be used to conserve rain water. Water tables will rise. Heavy metals and like contamination occur in deep wells.

  • 4
    0

    Here goes Glysophate Chandre D once again.He scooted away from Sri Lanka in the early 70s in search of greener pastures never to return. The bond he signed with Sr Jayawardenapura University for 250,000 remains unpaid to date despite many reminders.Once in a way he pops his ugly head with that aboriginal nose and talks utter rubbish.Thats all what this ageing Johnny knows to do.

  • 3
    0

    Shame on you Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana for not paying $250,000 that you owe Sri Lanka, shame on you.

  • 3
    0

    Dear Chandare,

    You are a millionaire in Canada, surely you can pay back money you owe mother Lanka

  • 0
    0

    Earning money selling Glyphosate as a safe totoal Weedicide is academic dishonesty and FRAUD.. Even when Mahaweli came they desteoyed lot of Small taniks in the feeding area of the new water comng from Polgolla. they later understood that wasy wrong and built some of those tanks. Because, there was a need to retain the water in different places. Only problem is the Minister is the expert. iF THE MINISTER GETS DONATIONS FROM THE special interest group his expertise changes to suit that group’s needs. sri lankan political is corrupt and had been adjusted to make the politician thrive. mathripala, or rajapakse it won’t change. ONLY THING THEY SAY. Come and do it and we do the best and it is not easy so shup. Which means their capabilities and leadership are not there.

  • 0
    0

    Glyphosate is a Artifical chemical. IT is proven the adjuvent added to that is highly toxic and the glyphosate at very low levels that is the level that exist in the environment too is also toxic. Glyphosate destroy microscopic clage and smaller fish and animals in the water. that is proven.

    • 0
      0

      Jimmy,
      I heard that Glyphosate enlarges the brain. Please do try it.

    • 0
      0

      Jim Sfoty feeds Urea to his cows and eats grass, and doesn’t like the taste and he thinks it is due to glyphosate.
      Poor fellow has to find some excuse. I don’t know in what country he lives? Masy be it is Borneo or some such country not advanced enough to sell glypoosate.

      He should check if glypohsate with its adjuvants is sold there or not, and use it for gargling. It is milder than most gargles.

      After all, the adjuvents used in glyphosate formulations are the same as those added to gargles, toothpaste, shampoos, and hair conditioners, but Roundup (glyphosate formulation) contains only 2-5% of adjuvants, while shampoos etc may contain 15 % of the same stuff.

  • 0
    0

    Chandre the all-knowing goes at it again!

    There is just one truth in this article full of untruths, and that is that silt dredged from tanks contains toxic material, mainly heavy metals such as cadmium, which causes chronic kidney disease.

    One must ask, where does this cadmium come from? Now Chandre will say there is naturally-occurring cadmium everywhere on earth’s surface, which in and of itself is not untrue, but thinking people who can rise up above the shenangians of the agro-chemical companies’ pocketbooks know that the greatest amount of anthropogenic (i.e. sourced from human activities) cadmium comes from fertiliser, mostly from TSP, triple super phosphate. Doubters, please check this out.

    Now all of us over 50 should know that Sri Lanka has a history of loading farmers with subsidised fertiliser ever since the green revolution and need for self-sufficiency in rice was announced in the late 60-s to the 70-s (which interestingly coincides with Chandre’s stint at Vidyodaya and his much boasted about introduction of a food science program – not bad for a theoretical chemist like Chandre, no?!).

    Unfortunately, this facet has escaped the angry professor’s grasp, as well as the fact that the mahaweli diversion scheme brings fertiliser residues from the hill country and adds to the heavy metal load in reservoirs in the rajarata region, thereby resulting in rice paddies accumulating cadmium which is known to cause chronic kidney disease, evidenced starkly by the major epidemic now sweeping the region and decimating Sri lanka’s farmers.

    The jury is still out on glyphosate, but many feel that it is unsafe to use and it is not wrong for Sri Lanka to await safety clearance from major regulatory bodies before readopting its widespread use.

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