the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides is known to have caused major disasters in Sri Lanka’s farmer community and put millions of them into the mud hole of poverty.
In recent months the testing of the safety and quality of the food, milk and other products we consume has been given top priority in the aftermath of the Milkgate crisis. The issue was taken up at Cabinet level last week and seven ministers were appointed to a committee which has been asked to act urgently and submit a report within weeks. Among other issues, the ministers are likely to examine proposals made by the Government Medical Officers’ Association and people-friendly nutritionists to gradually reduce the import of powdered milk and other dairy products, while giving Sri Lankan farmers incentives and encouragement to revive the local liquid milk industry. As the GMOA pointed out the cost of imported milk powder and other dairy products over the past few decades has risen to a staggering Rs. 40 billion annually or Rs 136 million a day. Most nutritionists agree fresh milk is far more nutritious than any processed powdered milk and it is a tragedy or crime for Sri Lanka to spend so much on the import of powdered milk specially in the wake of disclosures that the chemical DCD is used in the production of powdered milk, while a potentially fatal bacteria had been found in the whey protein used for milk formulas given to infants who are less than one year.
While we hope the ministerial committee will come up with wide-ranging and effective proposals to revive the Sri Lankan liquid milk industry and reduce the quantity of imported milk powder, our sister paper, the Sunday Times reported a committee of experts had recommended to theAgriculture Ministry that immediate steps had to be taken to stop the unethical promotions of agro-chemicals among farmers. Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena is expected to seek Cabinet approval this week for these recommendations, which include the appointment of a statuary Technological Council to promote environmentally-friendly agriculture. This is clearly a move towards the restoration of organic farming with bio-fertilisers like cowdung instead of the expensive and sometimes toxic imported agro-chemicals.
For thousands of years, agriculture has been the heart of Sri Lanka and part of our civilisation. Words of wisdom that need to be planted in the minds of Sri Lankans include the widely-quoted proclamation from Robert Knox that Sri Lanka’s village farmer—when the mud is washed off his back—is fit to be a king. These farmers did not use imported agro-chemicals but they turned Sri Lanka into the rice bowl of Asia. Unfortunately after the globalised capitalist market economic policy was fully implemented in Sri Lanka, the easy way of using agro-chemicals spread far and wide. Today we see the disastrous and deadly consequences.
The pollution of the ground water in the North Central and neighbouring provinces is widely believed to have caused the deaths of some 20,000 farmers due to a chronic kidney disease. Several thousand other farmers, even the younger ones, are known to be suffering from this paralysing disease and we hope the government will act fast to reverse this trend. If we continue to sow the wind, we will reap a catastrophic whirlwind.