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Sound policies a prerequisite for agriculture development –Prof. Marambe

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By Ifham Nizam

The new Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) developed by the Department of National Planning of Sri Lanka (still to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers) is considered a holistic approach to agriculture development covering eight major segments in the agricultural economy, namely, food crops, plantation crops, export agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, fisheries, agrarian services, irrigation, and Environment, and adequately covers climate change as a cross-cutting issue to support future development of agriculture, says Prof. Buddhi Marambe, Senior Professor-Weed Science, Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.

Professor Marambe is the President – Weed Science Society of Sri Lanka (WSSSL), Chairman, National Invasive Species Specialist Group (NISSG), Ministry of Environment and Member. National Experts Committee on Climate Change Adaptation (NECCCA), Ministry of Environment. In an interview with The Island he said that all in all, there were many initiatives by Sri Lanka to tackle issues related to climate change in Agriculture. “Researchers, scientists, academic private sector and practitioners in Sri Lanka have adopted such technologies introduced by the state and private sector agencies, which is encouraging. There is still more to be done. We need to keep the momentum, and review and assess what has been done in the past for the agriculture sector in tackling the dangerous climate change. The efforts that are technologically-sound should continue. With sound policies, all sectors related to agriculture should be in a position to streamline climate change concerns into their respective programmes and projects”.

Excerpts of the interview

The Island: Are you happy with the policy initiatives when it comes to climate change and adaptation on agricultural sector?

Professor: The answer is yes. Sri Lanka has laid a strong foundation to tackle issues related to climate change by adopting the National Climate Change Policy in 2012, which deals with both components in tackling climate change, i.e. adaptation (coping up) and mitigation [reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions]. Before the policy was adopted, we had a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2011-2016 based on the climate vulnerability mapping on the major economic sectors done in 2009-2010 period. Later the level of climate vulnerability was assessed for the agriculture sector at district level in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with the UNDP, with studies now being expanded to divisional secretariat level. Scientists from the Natural resource Management Center (NRMC) of the Department of Agriculture, led by the scientists like Dr. Ranjith Punyawardena, are currently involved in such studies with the support of scientists from the other agencies. The Climate Change Secretariat (CCS) of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources (MEWR) coordinates activities related to the climate change being the focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the National Designated Authority (NDA) to the Green Climate Fund. Two National Expert Committees on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation have been established by the CCS to advise the MEWR on policy level decision making in climate change related matters, including agriculture. The country has also prepared its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for climate change for the period 2016-2025, following the adoption of Paris Agreement in mid-2016, where agriculture and food security have been a priority consideration. The country has also developed the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) in 2016 and currently in the process of updating the same to identify actions even to minimize GHG emissions from agriculture. The Provincial Adaptation Plans to cover 9 provinces are now in the making. The state and private sector agencies that are responsible for agricultural development of the country have set their targets accordingly, giving due consideration to climate change scenarios. In the field of agriculture, adaptation is a priority to developing countries like Sri Lanka. Accordingly, promotion of climate-smart and precision agricultural technologies focusing mainly on productivity enhancement of crops under changing climate, development of ultra-short age rice varieties (maturating in about 80-85 days) which are drought tolerant or escaping drought, promoting mid-season cultivation of short-age drought tolerant food crops such as mung bean in paddy fields, adopting water saving techniques such as drip irrigation in selected crops, protected agriculture technologies, development of drought-tolerant tea cultivar TRI 5000 series to tackle climate change, crop-animal integrated farming to promote climate resilience in the agriculture systems are some examples to show that we as a country is prepared and moving forward in facing climate challenges. The new Government Policy Framework on “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” does not highlight the term climate change, however, adequate attention has been given to promote environmentally-friendly agriculture, which has direct implications on tackling climate change. The new Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) developed by the Department of National Planning of Sri Lanka (still to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers) has considered the holistic approach for agriculture development covering eight major segments in the agricultural economy, namely, food crops, plantation crops, export agricultural crops, livestock and poultry, fisheries, agrarian services, irrigation, and Environment, and adequately covers climate change as a cross cutting issue to support future development of agriculture. All in all, there are many initiatives that have been taken by Sri Lanka to tackle issues related to climate change in Agriculture. Researchers, scientists, academic private sector and practitioners in Sri Lanka as a whole have adopted such technologies introduced by the state and private sector agencies, which is encouraging. There is still more to be done. We need to keep the momentum, and review and assess what has been done in the past for the agriculture sector in tackling the dangerous climate change. The efforts that are technologically-sound should continue. With sound policies, all sectors related to agriculture should be in a position to streamline climate change concerns into their respective programmes and projects.

The Island: About 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population are engaged in agriculture, do you think successive governments have done enough for them?

Prof: The labour force in agriculture in Sri Lanka has reduced from 50% in 1980 to 25.5% in 2018. The labour productivity in agriculture has been positive since 1980, which reached LKR 0.3 million in 2017 and LKR 0.33 million in 2018 (per labour unit per year). The labour involvement in agriculture has decreased owing to many reasons, specifically migration to urban and other economic sectors and mechanization in agriculture. Youth moving away from agriculture has been a popularly known reason and modernization of the sector with novel and affordable technology is the key for further improvement of labour productivity in agriculture and retention of the young and skilled labour that is attracted to agriculture. As for doing justice to the farming community by the government of Sri Lanka – I have mixed feelings. Since independence, successive governments have given priority to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice with more investments in research and development. However, other crop sectors and animal production sector have not received the same treatment. Our farming community have been struggling to feed the nation. They need tangible support, not political pledges. More attention need to be paid to infuse new technology and making the technology affordable to those in the sector, to ensure increase in labour productivity and to support the livelihood of the farming community. Provision of subsidies (such as for fertilizer), price controls, and insurance schemes to support the agriculture production and productivity in the country have been key interventions by the government of Sri Lanka, to support livelihood of the practitioners in agriculture. However, timely availability of such inputs, including good quality seeds and planting material, is a must to reap richer harvests without affecting the livelihood of the practitioners. There is no need of rocket science to decide on imports of agricultural inputs depending on the seasonality of crops. What the dedicated farmers in Sri Lanka require is to have timely supply of inputs (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and organic matter) and an effective market mechanism. The agricultural practitioners have been flooded with many promises by successive governments, but they have been taken on a ride continuously. Since 1978, the country has been more inclined to import food requirements despite the potential of producing certain food and feed crops such maize, mung bean, green chilli, etc., and dairy cattle in the case of animal production. We have undermined our genetic potential in and biodiversity. In the food crops, with our scientists been able to develop the hybrids and improved production technologies, we are in a position to boost the productivity levels of food crops and animals considering limitations to expand land availability for agriculture. Unfortunately, limited attention have been paid to improve the livestock sector. Private-public partnership is a must to achieve productivity targets with assured local and export markets for the agricultural products. Import restrictions imposed for some food crops in crisis situations would assist in this effort however, will not be a good practice in scenarios where international trade plays a major role.

The Island: Your thoughts on food losses as waste during COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the agricultural sector?

Prof: COVID-19 made many issues that the agriculture sector has faced over many years, to surface at a magnitude that many of us did not even dreamt of. The food supply chain collapsed in the country at least for a shorter time period, not only leaving producers at a precarious position, but leaving many agencies still wondering what to be done. Closure of markets, national and regional lockdowns, issues related to transport, etc. during the COVID-19 pandemic rendered the situation more difficult to handle. The private sector itself, despite their contribution to the agricultural development of the country, was taken by surprise indicating that the so-called “engine of growth” is not prepared in order to face such a crisis. This was true for both crop and animal products, affecting both the industries badly. The government made a valiant attempt to intervene, by means of permitting food transport and agricultural operations amidst islandwide curfew and lockdown, but still failed to cope up with the situation owing to the complexity of the food supply chain, as we learned from many media reports. Panic buying resulting in empty shelves in the markets certainly would have increased food losses due to excess storage of food in homesteads, though scientifically valid analysis on this matter is not available yet. In contrary less food demand at later stages also would have contributed to food losses to a certain extent. When any supply chain collapses, it is natural that both the producers and consumers (not to forget the other players) feel the impact.

The Island: What about the perishables and 20 to 40 per cent harvest losses?

Prof: This has been a long-discussed topic with limited success in terms of practical solutions. The disruption to the food supply chain, as was evident in the COVID-19 pandemic, has only cautioned us further to look into this matter deeper in finding a long-lasting sustainable solution. Unfortunate part is that the whole society speaks of the need for reducing post harvest losses when there is a glut in the market. It is always too late – as the society including the researchers and academia, and the industry, we are not prepared to meet the challenges. We plan our cultivation well, but we do not plan for the post-harvest operations and value addition in the same manner. This is the key issue. Once again, the state and private sector organizations should chip-in at early stages of cultivation and plan for the future to support the agriculture community. Special analysis is not required to conclude that there is a glut of food products in the markets during specific time period of the year such as December, March-April and July-August. This depends on the seasonality of the crops and the way farmers carry out their cultivation aiming at harvests at times when there is a high demand for the crop produce. We cannot start thinking what to do with the excess food at the time when we have a surplus. This can only be addressed through proper planning. Enough lessons are learned from repeated mistakes. Efforts have been made to educate practitioners on the quantities required in the case of different food products during different time periods of the year. The Department of Agriculture has developed a mobile app to educate the farming community in Sri Lanka regarding the requirements and market potential of different vegetable crops, which is upgraded twice a month (every 6th and 21st day of the month). Finally it is a matter of imposing certain rules and regulations to make sure what is required, including for post-harvest processing, being produced. Proper land use planning and directives based on market mechanisms are a must to overcome such problems in the future.

Asking farmers to do value addition for a better export price will not solve the issue at all, unless the mechanism is set to support product marketing at national and global levels.

 


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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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.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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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!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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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!

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