The “Senaa” Caterpillar invades the “Toxin-Free” nation!
Posted on January 23rd, 2019

Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

Sri Lanka has now woken up to the fact that the armyworm caterpillar, known locally as the Senaa caterpillar, has arrived in Sri Lanka and begun its march of devastation. This is what is known as a Grey Rhino” event – that is, an event whose coming  is  obvious but totally ignored because the attention is directed elsewhere. The armyworm arrived in Africa  by 2015-16  and  landed in India in 2016-17. It was obvious that  other neighbouring countries will follow suite.

However, in Sri Lanka scientific agriculture had been hijacked out of the agricultural and environmental scientists, and taken into the hands of  NGOs  and political ideologues.  They usually begin their Manthra by quoting what Rachel Carson wrote in the early 1970s in regard to the  consequences of the overuse of DDT in USA. They push for traditional agriculture” without any pesticides or even fertilizers.  They want traditional” gourmet seeds that yield only one tonne per hectare in six months, instead of the  hybrid seeds  popular with the common farmer that yield 5 tons per hectare in  four months!

Cutting out pesticides  is as naive as claiming that the nation does not need an army or police because we have universal Compassion” to all being and this should protect us from all evil. In reality, such extremes do not work, and the practicable alternative is the middle path”. Instead, an extreme position was thrust on the Sri Lankan Government. It adopted a toxin-Free Nation” policy and banned the well-known herbicide, glyphoste in 2015. Even a few parts of it per billion parts of water (or soil) was claimed to cause chronic kidney disease – a claim with no scientific support. Today we know, thanks to the work of scientists in Peradeniya and the Kidney specialists of the Kandy Hospital, that the disease is cause by consuming hard (kivul”) well water contaminated by fluoride of geological origin.

Once such a climate of opinion is created by powerful political monks and organs of the Presidential secretariat like the SEMA (“Strategic Enterprise Management Agency”) no agricultural scientists can have the courage  to ask for stocking up  the necessary pesticides and propose a program of anticipatory pest control. The political  thrust  is to get rid of all toxins (agrochemicals)  and use traditional solutions. Those invoke Kema”, Manthra”, traditional herbs like Madurutalaa”, plants like  Kohomba (Azadirachta indica) , and using   biodynamic and telluric forces” to fight pests. Rudof Steiner, the father of Western-style  organic Farming” was a great believer in telluric forces”. Our  Colombo elites have uncritically lapped it all up and become warriors of the local  Green movement”.

The attitude that prevails today, and the attempt to link all this with a moral imperative is seen in the propaganda put out by the SEMA project where toxin-free farming is attached to morality (the project has now been abandoned, after much damage).  One may find in the social media  (e.g.,facebook), a short film by Nalaka Wijerathne, and other similar clips. It may or may not be connected with SEMA, but it displays the level of public mis-information and naivety that drives the vasha-visha nathi ratak (toxin-free nation)” type of campaigns.

An elderly  farmer is shown to go to a stream, where he encounters a little boy fishing. He condemns the boy as a sinner”,  and washes out a 5-litre container that may be used for spraying pesticides.  The farmer returns to his home. A short while later the boy passes by the farmer’s house and gives him some fish. The farmer asks, do you want some money for the fish”? The boy says, No, it was you who killed them”.

The implications and messages conveyed here are multiple.  (i) Farmers are uneducated and do not know how to handle agrochemicals. (ii) The small amount of agrochemical residues that were in the container when added to the  river water were enough to kill the fish. (iii) So, if the fish are killed, you too will get sick by using this stuff in growing food.  All three items are actually grossly incorrect. Another subtle put down is the suggestion that farmers, having to  kill pests (be they Kapra Beetles or Army worms) are adharmishta” sinners.

Farmers have a fair understanding of agrochemicals, but they may misuse them, just as people misuse  medication  The release of agrochemicals should be done as with  pharmacy products, with an agricultural technician  writing the prescription” for each farm. Farmers do not wash their pesticide containers  in streams. Even if they did, a small amount of  glyphosate  in the tank (say 10 millilitres), when added to the river, gets diluted extensively, and also rapidly react with the green plants and algae and get  destroyed. To claim that fish would be killed within a short time, as depicted by the film is complete nonsense. Claims of increased deformed births, mutations etc., in the NCP made by Ven. Ratana in a TV interview (AdaDerana, April 2018)  are totally unsubstantiated and agree with the level of  mutations expected from cosmic and other radiation falling naturally on the earth.  A truly large chemical spill  is needed for killing the fish. However, small amounts added regularly over a long time need  to be tightly controlled, and this is why  the sale of agrochemicals should be monitored just as with pharmaceuticals. The precautionary principle consists in control and constraint, and not in banning and banishing.

Similarly, a recent press scare claimed that   common herbs like Gotukola”, Mukunuwenna” are laced with traces of insecticides and are too dangerous to eat. This  was  entirely unfounded as the writer confused maximum allowed  levels for good farming practice  with thresholds for health risks (see:

Toxic cocktail of myth and truth


Toxic cocktail of myth and truth

According to a news report, a scientific meeting of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) was held in Peradeniya o…

.  The amounts found are so small that you have to eat several kilograms of the herbs everyday, perhaps for a decade, for any type of chronic illness to set in.

Today, even DDT has been re-approved by the WHO (since 2006, after much research) for domestic use.  Far more advanced knowledge of pesticides, sustainable agriculture, and biotechnology  at the molecular level are in our hands. Minimal but optimal  use of fertilizers and herbicides by using crop rotation, no-tillage farming to cut down erosion,  and soil analysis to control agrochemical inputs etc ., are routine.     Instead, in Sri Lanka we have wealthy  Colombo-based groups who push for traditional agriculture devoid of any pesticides and even discourage the use of fertilizers. Their justification is multi-pronged:  heroic opposition to multinationals”,  unfounded fear of toxins in the food , and grand claims of  Sri Lanka being the  granary of the East” when it used  traditional agriculture. So,  we should revert back to traditional agriculture!.  They  are simple solution to a complex problem, like the five lessons of the JVP of the 1970s.

According to the Bible, Egypt was the granary of the world (Genesis 41), and  most ancient nations have such claims. Mesopotamia was claimed to be the granary of the world known to the Romans.  Sanskrit texts claim that Saptha Sindhu (today’s Panjab) was the granary of  Jambu Dveepa.  According to our Chronicles, Lanka exported rice on a number of occasions. But the Chronicles themselves,  and the records of rings in old tree trunks reveal a series of famines, pestilences  etc., that ravaged S-E Asia regularly. However,  most people have only heard of the Baeminitiyaa  Saaya”, a historic famine so severe that even the upper classes and monks had no food, and began to perish. Hence the surviving monks decided to write down the Buddha’s word, held by oral tradition up till then, on ola leaves at the Alu Vihara temple (1st Century BCE)..

Prof. Siriweera of the Rajarata University has researched and written about the precarious nature of food availability in Sri Lanka in medieval and ancient times. Even if traditional agriculture  sustained a small population (less than that of Colombo today), it  cannot even marginally meet  today’s  needs. The world’s output of organic” agriculture remains below 2% and increasing it even by 10-fold is a challenge and creates a two-tier food system.

We should remember that in recent times, the Soviet Union and also China tried out ideologically driven Marxist” agriculture, and produced record famines and much human suffering. China exported rice to Sri Lanka in the middle of a famine in China, hoping to be noted when China was just an international underdog. So, the occasional export of grain does not make a country a granary of the region even for that period!

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