Exactly ten days ago Sri Lanka celebrated its 71st Anniversary of Independence. But in the hustle and bustle and the pomp and pageantry of the Independence Day celebrations it appears that the life and times of our nation’s founding father, Don Stephen Senanayake, the most outstanding political leader ever produced by the country since Independence, had been glossed over.
It is essential that on Independence Day the rulers of this country re-commit themselves to his agricultural policy which was born out of his belief that Sri Lanka should be self-sufficient in its staple diet and not depend on foreign sources for our food supply. Equally important was his vision for a united Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, where peoples of whatever caste, creed or ethnicity could live in peace and harmony as brothers and sisters of a united Sri Lankan family.
But sadly though, successive governments appear to have moved away from the agricultural policy introduced by Mr. Senanayake. At a time when our farmers have been relentlessly ‘weather beaten’ as it were, with long periods of drought, floods and the ‘Sena’ caterpillar devastating large acreages of paddy lands and are struggling to make a living, indebted to banks and money lenders, some even committing suicide, we need to revisit the country’s agricultural policy, if we do have one, and wean our farmers away from depending on imported chemical fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides and return to our traditional, indigenous and the organic ‘vasa, visa nethi’ methods of farming.
At this point it would be appropriate to look towards India and its fighter for farmer’s rights, Vandana Shiva.
She is an Indian quantum physicist and social activist. In 1982 she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN), an organization devoted to developing sustainable methods of agriculture.
She was perhaps best known, however, as a critic of Asia’s Green Revolution, an international effort that began in the 1960s to increase food production in less-developed countries through higher-yielding seed stocks and the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. She maintained that the Green Revolution had led to pollution, a loss of indigenous seed diversity and traditional agricultural knowledge, and the troubling dependence of poor farmers on costly chemicals.
“So I stared ‘Navdanya’, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community ‘seed banks’ through which unique strains of seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members,” Vandana Shiva says.
She says the seed for the farmer is not merely the source of future plants and food, but the storage place of culture and history, an accumulation of tradition and the knowledge of how to work the seed.
“Free exchange of seed among farmers has been the basis of maintaining bio-diversity as well as food security. Free exchange among farmers goes beyond the mere exchange of seeds. It involves the exchange of ideas and knowledge of culture and heritage. This knowledge is based on the cultural, religious and gastronomic values the community accords to the seed and the plant it produces as well as qualities of drought, disease, pest-resistance and longevity among others,” Vandana Shiva says. “In saving seeds and biodiversity, we are protecting cultural diversity. ‘Navdanya’ means ‘nine seeds’ or ‘new gift’. We bring to our farmers the new gift of life in the face of the extinction of species and the elimination of small farmers.”
It is reminiscent of what D.S. Senanayake did during his 14-year-tenure as Minister of Agriculture in two State Councils. He transformed the pattern of peasant agriculture. He built or restored large and small tanks which helped water several hundred thousand acres, set up colonization schemes that established new towns, started research stations, promoted rural credit and cooperative marketing, encouraged extension work and sent trained personnel into the field to help the peasant farmer to improve his crops by the adoption of scientific methods.
Our farmers are vital stakeholders in the food production chain. The government must not dessert them nor leave them in the lurch and commit itself to continue the good work so selflessly and altruistically carried out by D.S. Senanayake, who never vacillated from doing what was just and right for this country and its people.