Can the CDKU- the Kidney Disease be eradicated
Posted on January 4th, 2016
By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D
The other day when I was in Anuradhapura, my mind lingered to the 25,000 farmers of the North Central Province who have succumbed to the CDKu- the Kidney Disease. Some of them may have been the young farmers with whom I worked in the 300 cultivation committees I set up in 1962. Then there was a hive of activity- the thrust of it was to use high yielding varieties and supplement with fertilizer. This was accomplished.
Sad to say, some two decades later certain administrative changes that were made did decimate the very effective agricultural extension system that we had. The agricultural overseers at the village level who formed the king pin that guided fertilizer and weedicde use at the village level were promoted as Grama Niladharis and till today no extension overseer with any training has taken their place. In addition with the abolition of the Paddy Lands Act in the Eighties, the agrarian services with its overseers at the village level ceased to exist.
To my mind this lacuna in the agricultural extension system is the main cause for the misuse of fertilizer and weedicides that has caused the kidney disease. We have taken many steps, like providing clean water in barrels, establishing water treatment plants, having kidney dialysis machines at hospitals but these do not touch the core cause.
Guiding famers to use the essential fertilizer, weedicides and pesticides is the key, In paddy cultivation we have high yielding varieties that require a fertilizer input. This matter cannot be settled until we have a trained overseer at the village level and also buiuld up a vibrant agricultural extension system. Left to themselves without any technical input the farmers misuse fertilizer, using the wrong fertilier and unnecessarily large doses of it. The massive subsidy given for fertilizer helped the misuse of fertilizer.
To those who require more details I reproduced an article I wrote in 2013 which provides full details:
It is my opinion that in addition to all other factors that have been identified the excessive use of fertilizer is a major cause.
The problem with the use of fertilizer is that there are three varieties, phosphate, potash and sulphate. Each fertilizer has to be used at different stages of the paddy plant and can have negative results if misused. Further the effect of some varieties like ammonium sulphate and urea is easily visible which make farmers use this variety only and ignore the rest. Thus for best results a vibrant extension service is essential.
Let me draw on my experience as an administrative officer. I handled fertilizer distribution to the entire island in 1962 in the Agrarian Services Department and was instrumental in sending out the first island wide circular which detailed the amount of fertilizer to be used, which fertilizer and at what stage. At that time farmers used very little fertilizer and the green revolution was pursued apace with the introduction of new varieties of paddy that had a high response to inorganic fertilizer.
Later in 1962 to 1964, I was implementing the Paddy Lands Act in the Anuradhapura District, establishing cultivation committees and planning the use of fertilizer and high yielding varieties. The farmers were very enthusiastic and there was great progress.
The use of fertilizer proceeded apace and Sri Lanka almost reached self sufficiency whilst implementing the rice ration scheme, issuing rice at reduced rates by 1970.
During these years of expansion- I was working in Sri Lanka till 1973 and even for another decade later there was no major problem about the negative use of fertilizer.
At that time there were two major Departments that attended to agricultural extension. The long standing department was the Department of Agriculture, which was well staffed with qualified officers. At the District level there were District Agricultural Extension Officers(DAEO) who were authorities in the use of fertilizer. Under them in each District there were Agricultural Instructors at the Divisional level. They had studied agriculture for two years. I have met them again and again on my visits and I was always impressed with their knowledge. Each Agricultural Instructor had a number of Krushikarma Vyapti Sevakas(KVSs)- Field Assistants who were posted at the village level. These officers had an years training in paddy cultivation.
With the establishment of the Agrarian Services Department in 1958, to implement the Paddy Lands Act a boost was given to paddy cultivation by the establishment of cultivation committees. Each District was headed by an Assistant Commissioner and under him there were District Officers who had around half a dozen Field Assistants. The Field Assistants were trained in agriculture. This staff guided the work of the cultivation committees and we got down to planning the use of fertilizer at the village level. The KVSs of the Agricultural Departments also worked with the cultivation committees. Peoples participation was foremost in the working of the cultivation committees and this combined strength of the Department of Agriculture and Agrarian Services did create wonders in increasing paddy production.
However this efficient extension service went through four major changes from the Seventies.
Firstly the Agrarian Services Department which was following the socialist concept of people’s participation was given less and less prominence and ultimately the cultivation committees were disbanded with the abolition of the paddy lands act. Though the Agrarian Services yet has petty offices at the divisional level, these offices have hardly any tasks and their work today is a fraction of the work we did in the Sixties and early Seventies.
The Department of Agriculture which was the technical department with specialist officers had a major shake up when President Premadasa decided to absorb all KVSs as Grama Sevakas. Out went the qualified officers who were working at the village level guiding the farmers. For a few years there was no agriculture staff at the village level under the Agricultural Instructors, till President Kumaranatunge created the Samurdhi Niyamakas.O Level qualified youths were appointed and they knew no agriculture. Till today these Niyamakas continue. Some of them have of their own accord mastered something in agriculture due to their enthusiasm but unfortunately to date they have never been trained.
Another change was devolving Agriculture and Agrarian Services to the Provincial Councils by the 13 th Amendment to our Constitution. Thenceforth the efficiency depended on the whims and fancies of the Provincial Minister of Agriculture.
A fourth force was the IMF and the World Bank which came up with their Training & Visit System of Agricultural Extension which did away with the use of peoples institutions- cooperatives and in Sri Lanka, cultivation committees and instead drafted a direct role for the Departments of Agriculture. This did away with popular participation. There is room to think that this move of the World Bank was aimed at crippling the development in agriculture that was taking place apace in the Developing Countries. One will be convinced of this sabotage only when one learns about the ill effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme which the IMF introduced to our countries in the next few years, which I have detailed in my book: “How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka: (Godages)
In 1995 I came back to Sri Lanka and working on my small family farm, I had the occasion to go again and again to the extension offices at Udupila and Kadawata. I have narrated my experience in my book: “How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka”.
“The officers there did not know the exact amount of fertilizer I should use and relate it to the high yielding varieties of paddy. At my insistence they raked their files and provided me with details. The circular advised the use of ammonium sulphate and urea at the basal stage and no mention was made of its use as the top dressing.. I brought this to the notice of the Secretary to the Ministry and .months later I got a reply to the effect that the advice given to me was out of date by half a dozen years. About a year later I dropped into one of these Centers and to my amazement I found that even then the top dressing had not been incorporated into the advice. There is not a single farmer who does not know that ammonium sulphate/urea has to be used as the top dressing.
What this illustrates is a total break down in agricultural extension. This corroborated by Agricultural Officer Cecil Dharmasena in his very insightful article in The Island of 22/4/13, he states,
The lack of an organized and coordinated extension and advisor system today as we had in the past(prior to the Provincial Council Administration System), where the Department of Agriculture through its comprehensive island wide extension division provided an efficient service appears to be the biggest drawback in agriculture at present.
He refers to both the decision of President Premadasa to make all KVSs Grama Niladharis leaving a gap at the village level as well as the decision based on the 13 th Amendment to our Constitution to devolve the subject of agriculture to the Provincial Council as the cause. He even states that today “all types of agencies of the Provincial Council and private sector offer confusing services.
These details about the lacuna in the extension services is further corroborated by another Agricultural Officer, Ranjith Mulleriyawa in The Island of 4/6/13, where he states that after the promotion of the KVSs- the Field Assistants at the village level to become Grama Niladhari, the Agricultural Instructors had to supervise and offer extension services to as much as 13,000 farmers at Yodakandiya and 3,500 farmers at Ranoruwa. Covering even 500 farmers is a major task for a single officer and covering thousands mean that the service will be severely crippled. Even today the Agricultural Instructors cannot offer a proper service as their assistants are the Niyamakas who in their ignorance of agriculture are actually the laughing stock of the farmers. Having met a few farmers here and there on my annual visits I can definitely corroborate with both Ranjith Mulleriyawa as well as Cecil Dharmasena for the total breakdown of agricultural extension. The heading of Ranjith Mulleriyawa’s article itself“Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Messing up Agriculture” speaks volumes.
In fact I was convinced for long about the fact that the extension system had broken down with fertilizer being misused but I wanted definite corroboration and this paper emerged after reading their insightful comments. I am most thankful to them.
The fact that the extension service is broken up is also clearly evident because the planting of paddy is now not adhering to the rainfall pattern, though the bulk of paddy cultivation is rainfed. In the earlier system under the Vel Vidanes of the days when the Government Agents handled minor irrigation and later when the cultivation committees handled paddy cultivation there was a definite system where the farmers met at Kanna meetings at the beginning of each season and decided when to cultivate, what seed to use and when to harvest etc. Even fines were decided which was strictly enforced by courts of law. After the cultivation committees were disbanded these Kanna meetings are not held systematically, with the result that late cultivation is common and the harvest gets damaged by the oncoming rains.
It would augur well for our Ministry of Agriculture to please consider establishing a people’s institution like the cultivation committee to handle paddy cultivation and the use of fertilizer could be attend to by this organization. This is a prime requirement today.
With the breakdown of the extension service the farmers are left to their own devices. I have spoken to a few farmers on my visit last year and they were using ammonium sulphate and urea at the basal stage, Every one research paper I have read of fertilizer use tells me that ammonium sulphate or urea if used at the basal stage just leaches into the soil in the absence of a standing crop to absorb it. To my thinking this misuse of fertilizer is one of the main causes for the CDUK disease. I have no doubts about it.
Further the Niyamakas have to be trained and may I suggest that this be taken up immediately- at least a months’ crash course in paddy plantation.
I fear that the neglect in agricultural extension which is key to neglect in the use of fertilizer if not corrected will lead to the kidney disease spreading in Sri Lanka which may kill perhaps millions. Let that predicament not happen to my motherland. We do have the ability to avoid it.
Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D
Author of “How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka & Alternate Programs of Success, Godages.
Former SLAS-Senior Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services. & Govt Agent, Matara District