By DR. Chandrasiri Kudagamage
Insect pests cause substantial damage to our food crops. Insecticides are normally applied to combat them. However, dependency solely on insecticide for pest management has resulted in various undesirable environmental and human health problems. Human health is affected by the consumption of food with insecticidal residues. Also, the destruction of friendly insects such as pollinators, predators and parasites, is among some of environmental effects of indiscriminate use of insecticides. Long-term persistence of some chemicals in the environment and frequent exposure to these chemicals may also result in different forms of cancers. Sri Lanka ranks very high as regards pesticide-related health hazards and around 20,000 poisoning cases are reported per year and of them 1,600 are fatal. Seventy percent of them were related to suicide. (Registrar of Pesticide)
With the development of herbicide resistant crops like soya bean, corn and wheat the use of total weed killer glyphosate has increased and become most widely used herbicides in history. Farmers, in 2014, sprayed enough of the chemical to cover every acre of cropland in the entire world with nearly a half- pound of the herbicide, according to a 2016 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe. With this intensity of use glyphosate is likely to cause problems and as a result, this herbicide is being increasingly scrutinised for human health impacts. Scientists say it also could be altering the wildlife and organisms at the base of the food chain.
DDT was a widely used insecticide during post world war times. The popularity of this insecticide was due to it less acute toxicity. However, it was subsequently known that this insecticide accumulated in the fat layer of fish and mammals. It was banned in 1970s in our country. However, the use of insecticides continued and many farmers believed chemicals are important input for reducing yield losses.
Undesirable effects of chemicals came to be realised worldwide shortly after the wide use of agro-chemicals in post-world war times. Famous environmentalist and a marine biologist by profession, Rachel Carson in her book, ‘Silent Spring 1962’ highlighted the bad effects of indiscriminate use of chemicals. This inspired grass root environmental movements and others to highlight these effects in various forums. Carson did not anticipate a total ban on pesticide. However, she predicted consequences of over use of chemicals on biodiversity and target pests developing pesticide resistance etc. This led to establishment of environmental protection agency(1970) by an executive order from US President Richard Nixon. The purpose of this agency was to protect human health and environment. Similar legislature also being adopted in our country. The pesticide law 33 of 1980 was enacted to regulate import, manufacture, distribution and use of agro-chemicals in Sri Lanka.
To address the above issues new concept of pest management popularly known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM was launched and it evolved into an Eco-friendly and economical pest management tool. This approach has been recognised as a policy for the management of pests by successive governments. However, enough funding in the form of manpower, funding for conducting research, laboratory and analytical facilities has been limiting. This has slowed the progress of IPM in pest management in several crops.
The primary objective of IPM is to develop an economical eco-friendly pest management package where pesticides are used as the last resort when other control measures fail and the pest population exceed a certain threshold called the economic threshold. IPM integrate well with other available control methods and can be applied to any ecosystem such as crop based, home garden, greenhouses and domestic pest control.
Following globalisation and transboundary movements of food and with the increase of demand for diverse food, there has been a concern for contamination of food with various pathogens and chemical residues. Hence agriculture practices need to be introduced to minimise these effects. Recently-introduced Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) fulfil this requirement and goes beyond the scope of IPM.
IPM has various components such as mechanical control (use of bags for fruit fly control), use of resistant varieties, biocontrol (use of predators, parasites and microorganism) and legislative and quarantine (banning of imports from infested country).
IPM experience with major food crops
There are about five or six major insect pests in our staple crop rice. These pests infest different stages of the crop. Among the pests, rice brown planthopper (BPH) and rice gall-midge play an important role causing low to high of damage depending on the prevailing climate. Due to the cultivation of resistant varieties the incidence of rice gall-midge was very low compared to the times when susceptible varieties were cultivated. With respect to rice brown planhopper , the first resistant variety was introduced to farmers in 1980s. Although resistant varieties are ideal as an insect management method, evolution of new strains that can attack these resistant varieties remain a problem. This has happened with respect to gall-midge resistance where resistance broke down in rice varieties cultivated in the 1980s. However, rice breeders and entomologists were able to introduce a new resistant variety by 1984. There are reports of breaking down of this resistance in the recent times. This indicates importance of constant attention in monitoring resistance, management of resistance and finding new sources of resistance. The availability of molecular genetic tools make it easy for the incorporation novel forms of resistance, which is more stable.
The pests that attack at the seedling stages such as thrips are best approached by following correct planting time as heavy infestation is observed in late planted crop. With respect to rice bug which infest crop after flowering, use similar planting time in a Yaya, weeding around the bunds before weeds flower are important non-chemical methods
Although IPM in rice is fairly successful, it is not widely applied in vegetables and other crops. A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) in four major vegetable growing Districts in Sri Lanka showed that 85% of farmers in the Badulla District applied pesticides to their crops before the appearance of any pests or symptoms. In the Nuwara-Eliya District this was recorded at 66%. This shows that chemical controls are used even before pest damage has exceeded economic threshold levels and the use of pesticides as a precautionary measure has become common.
Cucurbit fruitfly and melon fly infestation is the most common limiting factor in the cultivation of cucurbit crops for local consumption and export. The melon fly lays eggs deep inside the fruit. The emerging larvae feed inside the soft tissue. This results in fruit dropping and decay. The larvae pupate in soil. Insecticide control is difficult since larvae feed inside the fruit and avoid direct contact with insecticide. In the export consignment, if a single larva is present the whole consignment can get rejected. Therefore, alternative control strategy based on IPM concepts are required. There are several strategies such as bagging of fruits, collection of crop residues and decaying and fallen fruits into a black polythene bag which help to destroy the larvae due to heat developed inside the bag. Together with these cultural methods, application of protein bait is an innovative approach to control this pest. The female flies are attracted to protein substance and consumption of protein help to mature their eggs. Proteinous material prepared from locally available substances are mixed with soft insecticide and applied to leaves instead of fruits. To reduce the amount of insecticide used application to few spots of the crop is sufficient to reduce the female melon fly population. For more effective results these IPM methods need to be applied on wide area basis such as Yaya or cropping area.
Mealy bug was reported to infest papaya fruits in different parts of the country in the late 1980s. This insect is a invasive pest rapidly infesting many species crops. However, main host is papaya. Due to its rapid multiplication rate and wide host range insecticide control is not successful. In other countries where this insect was found, the population of mealy bug is kept at lower level because of the action of the predators and parasite. DOA has already released a effective parasite obtained from United State Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service parasite rearing facility, in areas where this pest was found.
In Dec. 2018, another pest Fall Army Worm was observed infesting maize in all major maize growing areas. It was also found to infest sugar cane. This pest is native to America. Outside its native habitat it was first found in Central and Western Africa in 2016, and then quickly spread to sub Saharan Africa and in 2018 it was reported from many Indian states. It is a good example of trans boundary movement as the adult moth is capable of flying hundred of kilometres per night. Also, in the absence of native parasites and predators, other control methods based on IPM concepts need to be developed. Initially, experience of small farmers of South America, where the pest is endemic will be valuable tool for the development of control methods. However, research and farmer awareness programme is of paramount importance to develop more realistic management programme for this new pest.
Taking IPM into farmers’ fields
Many believe the concepts developed in IPM is too complex for the average farmer to understand because it involves counting, record keeping and various calculation for economic threshold determination. Hence, farmers need to be introduced to simpler approach to study the crop growth, pest infestation and natural enemy abundance. This is achieved by a group-based learning process. This is known as the Farmers’ Field School. According to this method around 20- 25 rice farmer groups collectively, study the progress of their crop from establishment to harvesting. For this farmers meet together once a week and observe their fields and share their experience with respect to growth of the crops and those factors that limit the growth including the action of pests, and abundance of natural enemies, etc. Depending on the outcome of the observation of their fields, decision will be taken to take action if the pest population grows up. This is a learner centred process where the agriculture instructor is only a facilitator. The impact of this programme was felt by the increases in yield, reduced insecticide use and favourable bio-diversity factors like abundance of predators and parasites.
Apart from government extension, NGOs such as Sarvodaya, CARE and Sri Lanka Red Cross have provided their support on IPM by conducting training programmes on IPM, but, focusing mainly on paddy.
A comprehensive pesticide control procedure in the form of pesticide law 33 of 1981 is in existence in the country, but enforcement is low due to several reasons. Often advice regarding pesticide selection was given by the pesticide seller in the village. As a result farmers may select the wrong pesticide, Over use of pesticide is common. They do not use correct dose and dilution. Often they apply pesticide even before appearance of the pest. Also, they do not follow correct post harvest interval. Although, provisions are available to mitigate these shortcomings via the pesticide law, the best way to tackle is through farmer training based on a good extension program.
Under the pesticide law, every product imported to the country has to be registered. Further field monitoring and enforcement of correct use, laboratory testing for quality and residues, imports regulations in the form of banning and restricting the pesticide are carried out. Over the years, the use of WHO Class1 pesticides has been prohibited and these products banned.
Instead of conventional pesticide, there are several specific pesticide registered in the country having low toxicity to humans. Some of these products affect insect hormone system and hence specific to them. Also, available in the market are several neem based botanical pesticide which are effective particularly on caterpillar pests. Additionally, there are bacterial insecticides which result in gastric problems in insects. Insect become sick and die when they consume leaves treated with these insecticide. These insecticides act on few species of insects and easily break down when exposed to light and other environmental factors. Hence, these products are not very popular with farmers although they are safe and environmentally friendly. For these specific pesticides, there are opportunities for use in home gardens and in greenhouses
Future development and promotion of IPM
There are several shortcomings in the development and implementation of IPM. There is a dearth of trained extension workers to deal with large number of farmers involved in crop production. To address this issue, leader farmers can be trained in IPM methods and they can be used to train other farmers in a Yaya or in a village. The government extension workers can be facilitators in this training programme as explained above with respect to Farmers’ Field School method of training. However, more intensive training programme for extension workers covering many aspects of IPM and successful experience of IPM particularly from rice IPM programme needs to be integrated into their training curriculum. Farmer field school programme has been adopted in many countries the world over and the knowledge is shared in the form of reports, videos, manuals, field guides and podcasts. Hence there is lot of avenues to incorporate relevant information in the training curriculum of the extension workers in our country.
Consumer awareness of environmental and health hazards of pesticides and particularly of the persistence in the environment needs to be created to reject food contaminated with pesticides. For this facilities for pesticide residue analysis needs to be improved.
Field demonstration of IPM methods with the involvement of researchers, extension workers and farmers needs to be established. By following IPM methods used in these demonstration, farmers can pick up the most appropriate IPM methods to test in their fields. More investment is needed to promote innovative research such as melon fly control as explained above. Participatory IPM trials and development of simplified IPM packages for major pests and diseases are also necessary for popularising IPM among farmers.
Globalisation of trade and travel, and introduction of improved planting materials can cause accidental introduction of pests. Papaya mealy bug and fall army worm are recent examples of such pest introduction. Facilities available at the plant quarantine station need to be improved for identification of pests of quarantine significance.
There is also an increasing interest in utilising information technology in agriculture to help extension advisers and other intermediaries in delivering up to date information to farmers to manage their crops. Development Mobile Apps that work offline for early warning and surveillance of pests helps farmers make quick decisions for the management of pests.
Author is Former Entomologist, FAO Rice IPM project’s Research coordinator, Director Horticulture Research and Development Institute and Director General Department of Agriculture
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!