Largely because of changes in diet and lifestyle, the highly-developed super-power the United States has plunged into a deadly crisis where 30% of the natural deaths are instances of children dying before their parents.
Sri Lanka needs to be cautious of subtle moves whereby vested interests are trying to push us to follow or ape the US or western models of food and nutrition. This is similar to the calamity where we are now getting western experts to advise us on irrigation, forgetting or ignoring the fact that some 2000 years ago King Parakramabahu developed irrigation marvels such as the Parakrama Samudra and hundreds of wewas when the ancestors of the western experts were probably still on trees.
In Sri Lanka also we are reading an increasing number of obituaries where people are dying in their late 40s or early 50s while their parents are still alive. Changes in diet and lifestyle, air and water pollution and the regular intake of an increasing number of western medicinal drugs are known to be among the reasons why more people are falling sick more often, hospitals have become more crowded than market places and medicine itself to a large extent has become big business.
Before we go too far and it is too late, Sri Lanka needs to change its attitude and approach on these and related issues. Government media need to be utilized more to educate the people on such issues, instead of indulging in a continuing diet of propaganda at public expense for the ruling alliance.
For instance, Sri Lanka has been blessed with more than hundred nourishing varieties of vegetables and fruits besides rice and grains such as chick peas, green gram and cowpea. If the people are given the proper awareness, they could have a Sri Lankan diet at affordable prices and with little by way of negative side effects. When this happens, we could also stop the import of shiploads of food, some of which are unfit for human consumption though they are promoted as five-star items.
The latest move in the food area is disturbing. For thousands of years our farmers have worked hard to give us good varieties of rice and Sri Lanka was known as the rice bowl of Asia. Even now we are self-sufficient in rice. Last week President Mahinda Rajapaksa donated a large stock of rice to the World Food Programme (WFP) for distribution among hungry people in poor countries.
But now new legislation, known as the Seed Act is to be introduced. The root of these moves is that our farmers will be forced to buy so-called fortified or high-yielding seeds from transnational food or agri-business corporations. Those genetically-modified seeds may give a bigger first harvest, but the side-effects of the fortified rice are not known. Worse still, our farmers will have to continue buying seed paddy from the TNCs and may end up in mud holes as slaves of those foreign companies. A famous author once said our farmers, when the mud was washed off their backs were fit to be kings. But we are now trying to turn them into pawns of TNCs.
Instead of indulging in such jugglery or devilry, the better natural way in the highest national interest would be to promote organic farming of rice and other food items. This may seem to be the more difficult way and the benefits will come on a long-term basis, but most nature-friendly and people-friendly agriculture and nutrition experts say it is certainly the better way for the common good of our people. Besides giving our people nutritious Sri Lankan food at affordable prices, Sri Lanka will be able to save millions of dollars in foreign exchange by curbing the import of agro-chemicals and junk foods. On this issue, Indian physicist Vandana Shiva has written a famous book titled, “The stolen harvest”. Sri Lanka may be close to that calamity.