Hiru Govi Sangarmaya – Another Tamasha to deceive the masses by those already deceived?
Posted on March 12th, 2020

By Chandre Dharmawardana

The event, Hiru Govi Sangraamaya -Thun Helayei Ranketh Udhaanaya” may be visited at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Own9TRzKUYw). A part of the title means Hiru farmer’s battle”. But what does Uddaana” mean? In Sanskrit, Uddaana implies the act of binding, fastening together”, while it also denotes the entry of the sun into a zodiacal sign. In Sinhalese  Uddaana Kaavya”, refers to lyric poetry, while in Buddhist literature Udaana” refers to a type of joy”. Perhaps the organizers used words that they thought may imply re-invigoration while ignoring the usage in Sinhala and in mother languages.

A writer who greatly admired the event says that it is to encourage the younger generation to take up to traditional paddy cultivation”,  and become a net exporter of higher quality organic rice”.  The  U-tube rendition claims that in the old days our vegetables, rice, and our own nishpaadhana” covered all our needs. One speaker becomes orgasmic about the smell of mud. The speakers preach an inward-looking, retrograde pastoral philosophy with no scientific or intellectual content.

This inward-looking approach wants the young villager to be satisfied with what the village can produce (its own nispaadhana”). However,  the villager is expected to produce organic rice” for the elites who also need their French wines, German-made BMWs, American made Apple I-pads and Italian marble for their homes! The back-to-the traditional life” is only an exhortation for the poor, while the  Elites have a very different set of aspirations with a hidden two-tier model of society that I have exposed before (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/moving-from-conventional-farming-to-organic-farming-jumping-from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire/).

There is not one word said about the actual problems of the farmer!
Why should the youth take up to farming when farmers commit suicide in droves?  The lack of means of marketing, lack of pre-market storage, the need to constantly improve seeds, fight new pathogens, reduce erosion, retain soil fertility, need for more land and water, climate change, etc., are never mentioned. Why grow more paddy if 30-50% of the produce rots?  

 A one-sided tale is evoked (or made up)  using nostalgic memories of a previous era. The tamasha is a deja vu” with the same type of politicians that plague the farmers in attendance. Surveying the historical aspect by a few well-known scholars like Dr. J. B. Disanayake is welcome. But the stark reality that transcends history to defeat the farmer  MUST also be faced.
Farming families toiled from the crack of dawn to the end of the day to produce food for his masters, monks and themselves. In the night, farmers sat in the vaadiya”  to oust pests, pigs and elephants. They had no time for education or leisure. Today too, the farmer toils for the loan sharks and the powerful politicians who control the market and finally commit suicide.

The marvelous hydraulic civilization that began in the Mahatheetha (Mannar) rice bowl of King Bhatiya, abandoned it for Anuradhapura, and then again for  Poron-nuwara (Polonnaruwa). The irrigation tank was both the strength and the Achilles heel of those civilizations when faced with invaders. Besides invaders, the loss of N, P, K from the soil forced the farming regions to move.   

The food situation in ancient times was precarious, in spite of occasional exports of rice. Many nations,  e.g., Egypt,  Lanka and Panjab claimed themselves to be the granary of the east”.  However, historians like Professor Siriweera and others have discussed the actual precarious food situation that prevailed ( http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/small-irrigation-tanks.pdf).
 One admirer of the event described  traditional paddy farming” as follows:
The only period that the paddy land is left fallow is for about a month following the harvesting. During that month the cut stumps of the paddy bushes are first allowed to dry and then flooded over weeks prior to the intended muddying using water buffaloes. This practice accelerates the decay of the Ipanella thereby creating its own natural compost containing N, P, K and other micronutrients within the liyadde”. The traditional farmer then prepares the wet soil ready for the spread of paddy seedlings using mamoties and wooden hoes as shown in that video… Then he hands spreads Geri katu pohora (powdered/crushed Cattle bones), mixed with crushed gendagam (Sulphur). By then the next seedling period of either the Yala or the Maha season is commenced.”.

Neither bone meal (Geri Katu”) nor Sulphur was used by the ancient farmers in Sri Lanka where cattle were not killed. Past edicts and stone inscriptions testify to the protection given,  not only to cows but to other animals as well.  With the need to feed  Indian workers,  the British restored tanks and rice cultivation. Ferguson’s directory, available from the 1830s, and archived records of imports show how 19th-century European agriculture based on bone-meal fertilizers, and pest control based on sulphur and arsenic were introduced to Sri Lanka. So, the attempt to revert to traditional farming” proposed by these Ran-keth speakers is nothing but reverting to 19th century British practices.    

The ancient civilizations were in the dry zone. The dense forest of the wet zone, impenetrable without steel tools remained intact. The ancient dry zone farmer did not use composting or geri-katu”.  Instead, he moved his farm  from one Hena ( Chena”) to another, letting the parana-kumbura” and parana-hena” fallow for a period and burn the growth to yield some minerals. Today there is no land for such slash-and-burn methods.

No one should believe that the ipanel” (stumps of paddy bushes) provide the needed micro-nutrients to the soil to any extent. Also, too much recycling of ipanel”,  straw and husk via composting is bad as plants accumulate metal toxins during growth.  The straw may contain some 200 times more cadmium, arsenic or lead than found naturally in the soil. Putting it back to the soil should be done with caution.

The 19th-century practice of using sulphur, arsenic or red lead as pesticides is dangerous to human and environmental health. Organic-food activists militated against glyphosate (used in extreme dilution for a few days of the year by paddy farmers) but what about the sulphur of the traditionalist?  Although not significantly present in the soil, water, or blood of farmers affected by kidney disease  (See WHO study, 2014)   the herbicide was banned!  Activists like Venerable Ratana,  Ms. Senanayake, and others championed for a so-called Toxin-free nation”.  Ms. Senanayake is allegedly engaged in marketing organic rice via  Hela saviya” or Hela suvaya”. Their agents attempted to sell their rice in Ontario, after claiming that Lankan rice contains arsenic, cadmium and such toxins  unlike their own produce. Chemical analysis of the standard  Lankan rice does NOT show higher levels of cadmium or arsenic when compared with other rice.  Standard Lankan rice has a high amount of zinc. Zinc  mitigates any bad effects, if any, from the traces of cadmium found in the rice. Sri Lankan rice is quite safe to eat, contrary to the propaganda of the organic-rice” bandwagon.  

The need of the hour is not increasing the land under paddy, but returning the land back to forests, or to natural wetlands. The populations of pollinating insects, wild bees, etc. have dwindled drastically – a global phenomenon caused by human encroachment of wilderness. The farmed area can be REDUCED  and yet the paddy harvest can be increased by saving the 30-40% destroyed by weevils etc., and by using modern technology, no-till agriculture etc (i.e, no mud,  no erosion, less labor, and less water). The ultimate is to beyond the methods of the green revolution (see .http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2019/02/26/beyond-the-green-revolution-how-humanity-needs-cutting-edge-technology-to-save-itself).    

In rural homes, the grain is stored in the Duma”, a shelf above the wood-burning kitchen fire.  Dum” (smoke)  keeps the grain relatively safe from humidity, weevils, insects, etc. The kitchen smoke pervades the interior. Additionally, a smoke pan (Dum Kabala”) is used against mosquitoes. Rice husk  (Dahaiyya”) is often used for this purpose.  The resulting heightened levels of nitric oxides, sulphurous fumes, acrolein like substances,  sub-micron particulate dust, are often a thousand times higher than those gazetted in August 2008 (for PM10 and PM2.5).  The rice husk may contain 200 times the cadmium present naturally in the soil. When it is burnt, such metal toxins are released into the air.  Toxins are efficiently absorbed by the lungs, unlike from the gut. These rural homes have more particulate dust and noxious chemicals than busy Colombo streets (see Samarakkody et al. 2007, and Lankathilka et al. 2000).   Allergies, asthmas  (peenasa” and aeduma”)  and weakened immune systems are the result.

The danger of air pollution is ignored by our politicians who invest in coal, LNG and other fossil fuels.  Those who envisage the setting up of vast smokestacks (Dum madu) to store paddy are in the same league as those who believe in  Dandu Monedra Flying machines” of yore.

The urban intellectuals want the youth to go back to the traditional villager with its tank and temple to produce the organic food for them, but the villager wants to escape manual labour and move to a city! The tank-temple-village model” is inapplicable to a 22 million population given the need to stop further habitat encroachment.   

The speakers at the Hiru event make no mention of the yeoman contribution of Lankan scientists who created new, high-yielding, fast-growing hybrids from traditional seeds. They averted famines in Lanka with its post-WWII demographic bulge.  Ranketh Udaanaya, if successful,   may produce a miserable 1-1.5 metric tonnes of organic”  rice per hectare for the elite, and hunger for the masses.

[The author was instrumental in initiating university courses in food science and in introducing course units on environmental studies during his tenure as a professor of chemistry, and President of the Vidyodaya campus -i.e., Sri Jayawardena Pura  university -in the mid-1970s.]

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