An Epidemic yet to be conquered,
Posted on May 25th, 2014

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Michigan State University

I was stunned  to read  a news item stating that  youths from schools in. Anuradhapura are very likely to be the cannon fodder for renal disease. “Students in grades 10 to 12 in the North Central Province are prone to contact renal diseases…earlier it was people in the 30s and 40s.”(Daily Mirror (12/4)
Further a Presidential inquiry has been initiated

A few months ago I myself saw bowsers filling Arpico shells(water tanks) in the rural hinterland in the Anuradhapura District. The  Government for its part has taken it seriously.

It defies me that the spread of this chronic kidney disease has not yet been contained.

It is my opinion that this disease is the  direct cause of the excessive use of Inorganic fertiliser, insecticide and pesticides.

In the Agrarian Services Department from 1958 I was in the forefront in advocating the use of inorganic fertiliser, insecticides and pesticides. In the early Sixties I drafted the first island wide circular detailing the amounts of fertilizer to be used by paddy farmers. this was sent to all Divisional Offices and all our staff including Divisional Officers and Overseers had to know what to use and when. The department had established  Cultivation Committees where there was heightened activity in the use of fertilizer. The cultivation committees were very active in marshalling the farmers to use inorganic fertilizer, with high yielding varieties of paddy and we spared no pains. The  farmers actively participated to increase their incomes. On this task our overseers and divisional officers introduced the three different fertilizers and related them to plant growth, detailing the quantity and when each variety had to be used. It was an efficiently run  programme and the officers acquitted themselves in a marvellous manner. The overseers of the Department of Agriculture too played their part.  The programme increased the incomes of the  farmers immensley

I was in charge of the Anuradhapura District in 1962  to 1964 as the Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services and my remit was to implement the Paddy Lands Act.  
We established some two hundred and ninety six cultivation committees and every committee was active. There were three of us Assistant commissioners and a staff of ten Divisional Officers and around fifty overseers. Our main task was the introduction of fertilizer and high yielding varieties.

This Programme got a shot in the arm with Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in the late Sixties when the agricultural programme was brought into focus by bringing the Government Agents into the field of agricultural production. The Government Agents were gazetted as Deputy Commissioners of the Departments of Agriculture, Agrarian Services and Cooperatives to give them administrative powers over the officers of these departments that worked in the districts. Bringing the agricultural programme under the district administration gave a boost towards the introduction of new varieties of paddy through the use of inorganic fertiliser.

I can remember drafting a circular to emphazise the use of compost in 1962, but this was over ruled by the Ministry and at that time I did not have academic doctoral qualifications on agricultural economics to get my circular through,

Little did we know that in the next decade the cultivation committees will be no more with the abolition of the Paddy Lands Act. Thereafter the task of handling agriculture fell to the Overseers of the Agricultural Department, who worked in direct contact with farmers, there was no organization of the farmers to enable the people to actively participate.

Next,  the Agricultural Overseers vyied to become Grama Niladharis and President Premadasa promoted them. With this move the overseers who were trained in agriculture came to attend to administrative work in the villages, As a result, agricultural work at the village level was starved of any trained agriculturist. After a few years under the days of President Chandrika Kumaranatunge O Level qualified school leavers were appointed as niyamakas and they continue till now. They did not have any training in agriculture.

I came back to live in  Sri Lanka in 1995 and working on our small family farm at Kadawata had  the the opportunity to question the extension centre officials about the use of fertilizer. In my words,”
“I had the occasion to go again and again to the offices at Udupila and Mahara. The officers there did not know the exact amount of fertilizer one should use and when. 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 the top dressing.
I received a reply to the effect that the advice given to me was out of date. About a year later I went to one of these offices and even then the top dressing had not been incorporated.(“From my book: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka’ Godages)
Last  year I spoke to a practising farmer in Dambadeniya. He had used urea at the basal stage! which amounts to a waste. He confirmed my opinion that the Niyamakas know little of agriculture and also that proper instructions have not been provided even now. He added that the niyamakas are more collectors of statistics of paddy cultivation, than experts who can guide the farmers.

Sad  to say that up to date there is no proper agricultural extension service manned by trained officers at the village level. Today, the closest trained officer to the farmer is the Agricultural Instructor who works at the divisional level. This officer has the task of attending to guide thousands of farmers- at Weerawila and Yodakandiya the Agricultural Instructor had to guide thirteen thousand farmers, which is an impossible task. In the absence of  a village level institution like the cultivation committee an officer has no definite method of contacting the farmers in his  area.

Abandoning village level institutions in agricultural extension was masterminded by the World Bank and the IMF in the late Seventies. They came up with the Training and Visit System of Agricultural Extension, where the agricultural departments were advised to ignore all village level institutions and  grants were freely given to countries for realigning their extension system if they agreed. Sri Lanka too agreed and the agricultural staff ignored the village level institutions. At that time the newly independent colonies like Sri Lanka were developing at speed and their success caused stagflation- a mixture of unemployment and inflation in the Developed Countries as they could not sell their manufactures. Crippling the agricultural extension service was the first attempt to stop the progress.  In the annals of rural agricultural development, the progress made in the Comilla Programme of Rural Development brought unique results- doubling the yield of paddy and bringing about full employment in less than nine years. This was done through cooperatives as the farmer’s village level institution and the experts that guided this programme came from Michigan State University. This intrinsic development also highlights the necessity for a village level organization for agricultural extension.

We need an extension service that can guide the farmers. It does not depend on banning glyphosate or in  approving it. What is necessary is that the farmers know when to use it and how much has to be used.

May I suggest that immediate action be taken to train the niyamakas  and also the establishment of a farmer organization at the village level. This has to be done immediately as otherwise the chronic kidney disease will wipe out the population. Already the death toll is over 25,000 people.

While delivering water is of immediate importance it is also essential to find the real cause and plug it once and for all. Otherwise there will be no people  to distribute water..

Garvin Karunaratne
Former Government Agent, Matara
25/5 /2014

2 Responses to “An Epidemic yet to be conquered,”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Good article; Sri Lanka needs the American version of the Food and Drug administration (FDA) that overseas the quality of all products produced in the US and imported. Unfortunately the FDA has recently failed in this mission allowing toxic products to enter our grocery shelves.

    As Sri Lanka opens her economy to the world a good deal of food products will be imported from nations who continue to use chemicals harmful to our organs, unless Sri Lanka has an institute that screens all products the effort to stop the domestic use of certain chemicals will fail if imported products are not screened for them too. If Sri Lanka already has a version of the FDS then they should be doing their job to stop this.

  2. Ben Silva Says:

    Gavin please keep writing on the topic and do your best to alert the public. Sinhala Buddhista are decimated in the NCP and very few appear to care. The problem has to be taken more seriously. I al;so have the view that CKDu is caused by agrochemicals. Farmers need to be educated on the dangers of agrochemicals and need to be informed about safe handling of chemicals. Harmful agrochemicals should be banned to prevent the NCP farmers being wiped out.Rainwater harvesting as a source of pure water has to be considered.

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