Uva-Wellassa Sugar and MOLNAR.
Posted on July 5th, 2017

by Bodhi Dhanapala. Quebec, Canada

I usually read the articles on “environment and society” written By Dr. Prasana Cooray (Dr. PC) for the Island and usually find that they are reasonably well researched and informative. However, I found Dr. PC’s write up (July 3rd 2017) in the Island regarding the “Bibile sugarcane cultivation project” quite one-sided, and in fact questionable from what I gleaned out by making some very simple inquiries. In fact, what made me suspicious was  Dr. PC’s mention of MOLNAR, the so-called “Movement for Land and Agricultural Reforms”. Clearly, Dr. PC has simply taken what MOLNAR had presented, where as further inquire (perhaps from University academics, or from the Bibile sugar company officials themselves) should have been undertaken.

I have known quite a bit about MOLNAR since “Comrade” Sarath J Fernando and other  early  members, doctrinaire Trotskyites,   believed that this organization can be used as a vehicle for radicalizing our farmers and making them a part of the organized labour that can be used in a revolutionary uprising. After all, the Left in Sri Lanka had organized-labor support in the cities, but little or  no rural support.  The formula adopted by Sarath Fernando and others was to laud “traditional agriculture” against modern agriculture that they could  daub as being  in the hands of “Capitalist Multi-national business”. The cry for “traditional agriculture” appealed to some leading Buddhist monks, and Sarath Fernando and “comrades” were  able to rope in several distinguished Buddhists  monks to their side. Lional Bopage of the 1971 JVP Putsch who absconded to Australia without facing the music  was a fellow traveler of  Sarath Fernado at the Peradeniya university.  Sarath Fernando and “Comrades”  began  a movement for the rejection of  high-yielding, low-water consuming,  hybrid varieties of rice. This totally anti-environmental program was successfully presented both as being “environment friendly” and as being “sustainable”. Secondly, MOLNAR also took advantage of the un-informed public fear of genetically modified organisms (i.e., GM seeds giving  GMO foods) and began a program of anti-GMO activity widely supported by the Colombo-7 elite. Many of them  get their ideas from “back to nature” internet sites that thrive on the public fear based on claims of an environment full of toxins. GMO foods are claimed by them to be “Franken foods”. The “Toxin-free nation” policy promulgated by Venerable Ratana, and embraced by the “Yahapalanaya” government is just another facet of this anti-scientific and anti-rationalist movement. They have successfully banned the use of glyphosate in Sri Lanka, the safest and most effective herbicide available, already bringing the Sri Lankan tea industry to its knees.

As part of  MOLNAR’s  opposition to  genetically modified organisms (GMO), e.g., hybrid seeds, they were instrumental in inviting  Shiva Vandana, an Indian activist who claims to be a scientist knowledgeable about agriculture, while in fact she had done a degree in an arcane area of physics in Canada and returned to India, claiming to be knowledgeable enough about modern agricultural  to be able to “reject it outright”. This of course was a clarion call to Indian traditionalists who wanted to reject everything “Western”. Today she is one of the most powerful “environmental” lobby figures in India, charging  huge sums of money for public speaking engagements. Organizations linked to her managed to ban the use of “golden rice” in India. Golden rice is a hybrid variety of rice crossed with carrots and hence it provides Vitamin A directly in the rice plate. It has been estimated that the onset of blindness in millions of Indians could have been averted if golden rice had been introduced to India. Unfortunately, the doctrinaire opposition to GMO foods (i.e., purely because they are GMO), was sufficient for Shiva Vandana and her followers. It is  also sufficient for organizations like MOLNAR to oppose it. In effect, this is not any more rational than a traditional Muslim’s opposition to eating anything “non-halal”.

So, when Dr. PC mentioned that the opposition to the Bibile sugar project was orchestrated by MOLNAR, I decided to investigate the actual scientific  facts  associated with the project. An article carried by  the well-known columnist D. B. S. Jeyaraj sin May 2017  stated that most university academics of the agricultural faculties supported the Bibile sugar project as being environmentally sound. Professor B. Marambe of the Peradeniya University’s Agriculture Dept has said the crop does not use up ground water for growth. Sugarcane belongs to the grass family, just like rice, maize and sorghum and, unlike rice, grows well in the highlands. Rice, on the other hand, is extensively cultivated in the lowlands and uses up plenty of water, while sugarcane, comparatively, uses less water,…., as the root system is fibrous, it cannot reach down to the ground water.”

Further inquiry revealed that Dr. Panabokke, the leading hydrologist of Sri Lanka, had been consulted  by the Bibile Sugar project since 2008 and proper environmental Impact statements had been filed during the previous regime and also under the new Yahapalanaya government. Furthermore,  sugarcane is known to be a plant which uses the so-called C4 pathway for photosynthesis which is drought-resistant and hopefully better suited to face  global warming. Most common plants, grasses and paddy use the less efficient, and more water demanding C3 pathway. Projects  to grow oranges etc., in the Uva-Wellassa had been attempted for at least a century and no significant progress has been achieved. Given the threat of global  warming, need to conserve water, and the need for refrigeration and treatment plants for any modern citrus industry, citrus is no longer an option for Uva-Wellasa. Furthermore, the huge expenditure faced by the country in buying sugar, and the potential for sugar to be used also for making energy  makes it one of the most attractive areas to invest in. It is labour intensive and for the first time it will provide steady jobs to the rural people in Uva-Wellassa.

But science and systematic knowledge  are of little import to an organization like MOLNAR whose original motive was the organization and unionizing of rural workers for the purpose of a revolutionary  struggle. Their message is based on appeal to fear and public misinformation in the name of “traditional agriculture, anti-GMO activism, use of no fertilizers and no pesticides”. However, I am sure that Dr. Prassana Cooray is not someone who glibly accepts all that, and I invite him to consult the agricultural specialists of the country regarding the these sugar projects that have been proposed to the government in recent times.

Of course, MOLNAR activists will dismiss all professional scientists by imply claiming that they are paid agents of multinational companies, while MOLNAR  alone are the saviors of the people.

Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada.

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