The “Toxin-Free Nation” is a serious and path-breaking policy decision of the government with wide repercussions for the country, its citizens and its economic and social development thinking. It is aimed at righting the entire agrarian sector which has hitherto been stood on its head by reductionist, poisonous, nation debilitating reductionist methods. It is important, nay, critical that a thoughtful and thought provoking national dialogue is initiated as to whether this move will guide us to global glory or if it will set us off on a road to doom. It is important to note that some media organizations have not only provide wide exposure to the topic but have also been highly critical of these efforts on the part of the government. However, it is clear by the various features that have appeared in some newspapers that most of the detractors seem not to have even read the strategy document despite it being freely and widely available in all three languages. Therefore, I believe that it is my duty as one of the formulators of this strategy to clarify the various issues that have come up.
A toxin-free world
In some articles, it has been articulated that this program has been formulated by a group of traditionalist, nationalist, island trapped frogs-in-the-well with no clue on what modern science says about the subject. The fact of the matter is that this strategy is rapidly being mainstreamed across the planet to ensure the sustainable continuity of the whole of human civilization. It is common knowledge that the industrial revolution 200 years ago completely changed the development direction of mankind as well as changed thinking on what is good and what is bad, what is growth and what is stunting of nations and peoples. The speed of change escalated rapidly, people started to believe that economic development and social environments were the only factors worth considering and that everything that had gone on before was not only dumb but retroactive to the future of the world. Wearing pink tinted spectacles, the world careened onwards towards… paradise? Of course not! Civilization went straight from heaven to hell and the planet when from self-sustenance to self-destruction and is currently teetering on the brink of complete annihilation. Who says this? Traditionalists? No! Scientists! Freeing the world of this mad drive to doom and setting ourselves on the path of righteous, equitable development of people and nations should have occurred about 5 decades ago. However, we became the victims of capital and multination corporations pawned mankind’s future for a brief burst of profit today.
This destructive paradigm has not resulted in irreversible damage to some sectors critical for the continuance of life. Two of these that have been subject to much discussion are the destruction of biodiversity and the advent of rapid climate change. Loss of biodiversity is directly bound to agriculture and climate change is equally firmly tied into the burning of fossil fuels. Even now, the planet has warmed up by an average of 1 degree Celsius. Mankind cannot now prevent it rising by a further degree.
The Rio summit of 1992 and the biodiversity convention and the climate change framework convention are seen as responses to these threats. 25 years later, in 2015, the COP 21 agreements aimed to neutralize the perennial tug-of-war between southern and northern states and embark on a collective thrust to sustainability on the part of all of mankind. We are therefore now in a transmission state from a destructive development paradigm to a sustainable one. The decision to reject fossil fuels and move en-masse to renewables has already been taken globally and this shift can no longer be stopped by the petrodollars of the fossil fuel mafia. Similarly, the shift from agrochemical based food production to organics has already occurred globally creating a massive demand for this type of produce worldwide. The thirst for organics can no longer be stopped by the agro-dollars of the fertilizer and pesticide mafia.
Reductionism vs holism
Science is not the gospel. As knowledge expands, so too, the conclusions and proofs of science. About a century ago, mainstream scientific thought revolved around reductionism within which the way mankind the principles of nature was by breaking a complex system down into component parts. Although modern agriculture was the result of investments and developments during world war II, these ideas were released to the planet via a reductionist agrarian paradigm centered on optimizing the profit of a given parcel of land. As a result of shifting away from multi-cropping to mono-cropping, all plants that were not directly considered profitable were classified as weeds. What was previously considered a tasting, nutrition food plants was now relegated to being “a weed”. The serried application of toxins to eradicate these plants was the hallmark of reductionism.
The scientific basis of holism is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Holism therefore rejects the idea of studying components to understand the whole as scientifically untenable but that the entire system has to be studied as a single unit in order to properly understand it. Reductionism maintains that changes in nature are linear but holism understands its fundamental cyclic nature. The basic principle of it is that nature exists in a dynamic state of stability. We must remember that we are living in 2010-2020 and not in the 50s. The scientific world rejected reductionism over five decades ago. Unfortunately, are so-called scientists are still regurgitating a rejected, outdated, outmoded development paradigm while laughably claiming that it is “modern” and sneering at the more recent scientific thinking.
The Ten Point plan
The reason why those who articulate their views on the toxin-free nation program are groping in the dark is clear. It is simply this: They have not taken either the time or the effort to read the ten point plan of the strategy, choosing to sound off on assumptions and thereby committed scientific perjury in the process. Picking up bits and pieces here and there and using those to sling mud is not going to benefit the country. Therefore, I earnestly urge the nay-sayers to read the plan in full before they sound off on the issues involved. It can be freely obtained in all three languages from www.sema.gov.lk. It is not a complete or comprehensive strategy plan but rather a foundation document. Therefore, it is possible to modify it based on constructive criticism.
It should be noted that the full import of that strategy cannot be completely outlined in a short piece like this. However, I consider it my responsibility to provide the reader with a brief on the sectors and thrusts that are covered therein. These include methods of providing crops with toxin-free fertilizer, organic pest control methods, irrigation aimed at optimizing natural agriculture and methods for designing future water supply projects, the manufacture and ready provision of new equipment for natural agriculture and post-harvest activities, storage and retail methods, loss minimizing transportation systems, land reform for toxin-free agriculture, acceleration of research into these agrarian systems, the protection of gene and intellectual rights related to organics and demand side awareness on optimizing cooking techniques and consumption patterns are all explained succinctly in this foundation plan.
The fertilizer subsidy
One of the main reasons for the weakening of organic agriculture in the country was the step-motherly treatment afforded to it that resulted in a decades long ostracism of the organic farmer and the vanguard of this marginalization was the fact that subsidies were only provided to those engaged in agrochemical farming. The organic farmer did not even have a farmers’ insurance. This was a totally unacceptable situation.
Against that backdrop, organic agricultural practice was limited to the growing of indigenous varieties which by nature yielded lower ratcheting up the price of this produce and creating an idea that toxin-full produce was for the poor and toxin-free produce was for the rich. Thus, although farmers engaged in organics obtained a higher price for their produce the consumer was afforded no possibility of purchasing these. One of the key decisions of the government was to eradicate this inequity and afford the subsidy to all farmers. This allowed the farmer to make a choice on which type of agro-inputs to go for. Neither is there any cause for fertilizer manufacturers to be alarmed. Contrary to the claims made by the henchmen and yay-sayers of the multinational corporates, no chemical fertilizer that adheres to the proper standards has been or will be banned.
Standing organic agriculture on its own feet
With the conversion of the fertilizer subsidy into a farmer subsidy, organic agriculture can now be expanded to improved varieties as well. The strapline of this initiative is “the same nutrition for the same price” means that the organic farmer can now produce the same yield at the same price and enables the consumer to pay similar prices for organics as then currently pay for non-organics. This in turn eliminates the fear that the country will be plunged into a food shortage.
The key to organics coming into their own is to ensure that they get the right type of nutrients in the right proportions. Agro-toxins have destroyed the soil as well as microbes vital for nutrient absorption by plants. Small commercial farmers cannot use tons of organic fertilizer so the government plans to use modern technology to improve the entire ecosystem as a whole through modern farming techniques to improve soil fertility, technology for the replenishment of microbes and the removal of barriers for the production of organic fertilizer. In lieu of bringing in a few foreign fertilizer manufacturers, the government plans to create more than 100,000 local entrepreneurs to provide these vital inputs.
Some so-called agronomists pontificate that agriculture is not possible without imported urea. However, any scientist who knows the nitrogen cycle of nature will never spread such fallacies in the name of science. The claim that atmospheric nitrogen can only be absorbed by plants mixed with heavy metals and fossil fuels is an earth shattering lie. Microbes that live with legume plants can do this extremely well. Modern science simply speeds up this process.
The Kidney disease disaster
Chronic kidney disease is driving farmers away from traditional farm lands and the suffering of families whose members have succumbed to the disease is a woeful national tragedy. Therefore a key responsibility of the government is eradicating all factors that are at the root of this. Multinationals, fronted by so-called scientists are currently conducting an aggressive campaign to spread the historic lie that there is no connection between agrochemicals and kidney disease when WHO reports have clearly stated that agrochemicals are one of its key contributors.
The myth of glyphosate
Before the advent of this horror toxin, the farmer cleared the land for cultivation by a grass-cropper, weeder or tractor. Glyphosate has caused more damage to the soil than the earlier slash-and burn practice of farmers. Glyphosate is used before cultivation. Pests infest a parcel of land after cultivation. Therefore, glyphosate is not a pesticide. It causes the utter destruction of many animals and microbes that support farmed crops. Such is the destructive havoc caused by glyphosate that the ban on it is comparable to the ban on dynamiting fish.
It is the rice plant that finds it difficult to compete with weeds but it’s been proven that it can grow without glyphosate. If rice can be grown without it, then, tougher crops such as maize and tea should not have any problem at all. All that is required is a mindset change in farmers in soil preparation while protecting themselves.
A new value to agriculture
Agriculture in Sri Lanka has come to the brink of its own destruction with the chronic use of agro-toxins rapidly decreasing the contribution of this sector to the national economy. The family-economy of farming families collapsed completely. Female members of farming families were forced to go to the middle-east to provide unskilled labor and the children had to offer themselves to the temporary unskilled labor market of the construction industry in urban centers.
The toxin-free nation program offers a high impact path towards regenerating the agrarian sector. Further to achieving self-sufficiency in toxin-free foods, our farmers will be able to go to the lucrative global market for high quality organics with their produce and products under the brand “If it is Sri Lankan, it is toxin-free!”. The profit of these exercises is for immediate enjoyment of both farmers and consumers.