Ratana Thera and failed agriculture sutta
Posted on June 23rd, 2017

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha Courtesy The Island


This refers to the news item in the Island of 19th June titled ‘Ratana Thera vows move to defeat glyphosate ban’.

I was full of admiration for Ven. Ratana for the active role he played in the Mavil Aru fiasco when the LTTE disrupted the water supply to the villages of Mutur , Seruvila and Ischachalampattu Divisional Secretariats by closing the sluice gates of the annicut. This deprived 15000 farming families water even for drinking and thousands of acres of paddy fields were also affected. In fact, this, among other circumstances, triggered the last Eelam war that finally culminated in the total annihilation of the LTTE in 2009 . He also dared to carry out substantial social work in the border villages which were frequently subjected to LTTE attacks, risking his own life which only a few, other than the armed forces, dared to do.

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By contrast, his ‘agriculture sutta’ have been totally irrational and ineffective causing serious losses to the farmer and the country at large. He was for a total ban of all agrochemicals over a period of two years from 2015. According to the publication released by the Presidential Secretariat in 2016 titled “A Toxin Free Nation” and spelling out the new agriculture policy and strategies, of which he is a leader, all chemical fertilizers are to be banned by the end of 2018. The date is soon approaching! In that mission apart from banning all chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers were to be replaced by organic and microbial fertilizers, for the production of which he set up the “Pivithuru Pohora” project with a factory at Jayanthipura, Welkanda. A fertilizer ‘concoction’ for rice was produced at this factory named “Rhizon”, of which even the manufacturers were unaware of the composition. (See picture). When enquiries were made of the chemical and /or microbial composition of Rhizon comprising four components, I was told, that there is no question of N PK (the usual main chemicals in fertilizer mixtures)or the microbial composition but that when applied to the soil it works! There are labels on instructions to use, but not giving the NPK content. I was also invited to visit Mahaweli System B where many farmers had, according to the informant, ‘successfully’ used Rhizon. Consequently, on my visit accompanied by two former extension directors of the Department Agriculture, last March, before the crop was harvested, several farmers whispered to us that following application of Rhizon the rice crop turned yellow and , hence, they surreptitiously applied urea! The paddy was eventually sold as ‘organic’ at a premium price! That’s the secret!

There is no evidence of the ‘Pivithuru Pohora’ been subjected to sound experimentation. In fact, it appears that the makers of this fertilizer are reticent of experimenting with it collaboratively with the Department of Agriculture.

According to the commercial leaflet just one quantity of this fertilizer is recommended to more than one million acres of rice grown in the whole country including Mannar, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Amparai, Udawalawe, Kalutara, Galle, Baddegama, Hambantota, Udawalawe, Amparai, Polonnaruwa. Anuradhapura and Mannar. The Department of Agriculture on the other hand has specific fertilizer recommendations for the “Govijana Seva Bala Predashas” based on the inherent soil fertility levels and other agro-ecological factors. I do not think that such a fake fertilizer has been produced and marketed anywhere else in the world!

Should not the Auditor General investigate the amount of public funds spent in hiring consultants, extension officers, purchase of vehicles, their maintenance and other expenses on a worthless fertilizer? Is that not as serious a matter as ‘the bond scam’!

This shows what happens when a person who has no knowledge or training in scientific agriculture misuses political power overriding the agricultural professionals. The “Hamuduruwo” should be asked to pay back to the country the millions and millions of rupees spent on this worthless exercise.

Last year when I argued in an article in the Lankadeepa that chemical fertilizers cannot be totally dispensed with, the Priest rejoined questioning me how forests grow without chemical fertilizers, displaying his knowledge in agriculture and ecology (Lankadeepa of 15th June 2016)! He is the chief of the ‘Toxin –Free Agriculture’ programme which, hitherto is a total failure! Everybody not towing his line is branded ‘agents of the multinationals’!

As for the glyphosate ban Ven Ratana’s argument that if paddy cultivation can do without this weed killer why cannot the tea growers, rings hollow in the face of facts! Paddy cultivation has impounding of water an alternative to kill weeds, but probably the Ven. Priest is not aware that 20% more water per crop is need to be used for paddy weed control and the water at a huge cost! It is not only the large plantations but also the smallholders who are badly affected by the ban of the weed killer. Whereas the plantation companies, according to the Chairman of the Planters’ Association, have lost some six billion rupees in 2015 due to the ban of glyphosate, severe labour shortages is afflicting the tea industry across all operations and weeding is one most affected. Weeds apart from competing with the crop is seriously hampering the plucking operation, leading to reduced per plucker yield, apart from the risk of snake bites etc. Tea cultivators, big or small, are now using smuggled glyphosate costing 3 -4 times more than the authentic product.

Nearly a century of scraping the tea soils with implements such as the ‘sorandiya’ has caused huge soil and fertility losses over the years which have drastically affected crop growth and yield. This has over the years led to abandonment of large tracts of land, especially from the mid country, coupled with lower prices than for the high and low-grown teas. It is the chemical control of weeds from the 1960s that substantially reduced soil erosion. The weed killer then most widely used for over 20 years in all crops was paraquat

(Gramoxone) including rice and tea, but over a hundred times more toxic than glyphosate! It, however, killed only those who ingested it voluntarily, and largely for this reason banned in 2007. On the other hand, the lethal toxic doze of glyphosate is as over 85 ml which is about 17 teaspoons!

The glyphosate ban in Sri Lanka was instigated by a faulty hypothesis propounded by a few scientists that glyphosate in hard water prevalent in the Rajarata was probably responsible for the chronic kidney disease of uncertain aetiology (CKDu). This hypothesis has been ‘torn to bits’ by several reputed scientists including several senior professors of chemistry at the Peradeniya University. No other subsequent research has supported this hypothesis. In fact at a meeting at which the ban was discussed, chaired by the President, one of the professors when trying to explain matters was shouted down by the Priest resulting in all the professionals attending the meeting keeping mum! This is how professional decisions are made in this country! In India, for example, this matter would have gone before the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the decision would have been the responsibility of main stream professionals in the field and not of extremist professionals and politicians as often happens here. The NPC was set up by Sri Nehru in 1946, soon after achieving independence. It is now known by a different name (the National Technology Commission of India?) under Premier Modi, but its structure and functions have hardly changed.. Modi wanted to give priority to technology policy making therein; hence the name change. It is high time we follow suit.

Neither the 2013 WHO study on CKDu nor the International Expert Consultation on CKDu held in Sri Lanka in 2016 in any way implicated glyphosate in the causation of CKDu. There is no other study that implicates glyphosate in this disease when used in dosages as recommended for weed control. Global concern about glyphosate was aroused by a 2015 report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which declared that glyphosate was” probably cancer causing”. The IARC report has been heavily criticised by numerous scientists and highly reputed scientific associations. In May 2016 the Joint Meeting for Pesticide Residues of the FAO & WHO proclaimed that there is no evidence of glyphosate causing carcinogenicity or genotoxicity. In addition many other countries, following in-depth studies on glyphosate, has cleared it as being a safe herbicide. It is today the most widely used pesticide globally. This is exemplified by the frequency of urine glyphosate residues in countries where it is widely used: over 40% of Europians are reported to have some glyphosate residues in their urine whereas the figure is over 90% for people of Malta. But no country in the world has banned glyphosate other than Sri Lanka. After much deliberation as a sequel to the re-classification of glyphosate as regards carcinogenicity, the Europian Union has recently extended the permit for glyphosate use for a further eight years.

Nowhere else in the world has there been any concern of glyphosate causing kidney damage when used as prescribed. With all pesticides what is needed is judicious and safe use, and our extension services have failed to convey this message to farmers effectively. As for the use of both drugs and pesticides the famous saying of the father of the science of pharmacology, Bombastus Paracelsus (149s-1541) as also professor of chemistry, of physics and of pharmacology of the University of Basel, concurrently, is opportune here: “All substances are poisons; there is nothing which is not a poison; it is the dosage that differentiates poison and remedy” Someone had, incidentally, remarked on this saying that even spring water can be dangerous, if you jump into it and cannot swim!

One Response to “Ratana Thera and failed agriculture sutta”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    I AGREE Ratana is WRONG but SL should NOT blindly allow use of GLYPHOSATE.

    Like EU, SL should allow it for a set number of years before reviewing it.

    Endia is not all for it.

    “Roundup herbicide, which is meant to kill farm weeds, “poses the risk of serious human health hazards including cancer”, says a new study by the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR).”

    “http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/new-indian-study-points-to-carcinogenic-potential-of-roundup-herbicide/article5370017.ece”

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