Misdeeds on seeds and weeds - Editorial

26 March 2014 05:13 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With an economic cold war erupting in the aftermath of the Russian Federation’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in neighbouring Ukraine, Sri Lanka needs to focus more on sophisticated economic neo-colonialism through which the rich countries and their trans-national corporations (TNCs) are continuing to plunder our resources including foreign exchange, while virtually forcing us to buy poison.

The latest of a multitude of such instances is the case of the weedicide which is known by its trade name Roundup and contains glyphosate, which many agriculture experts say is feared to be one of the causes of cancer, and the chronic kidney disease which has afflicted some 25,000 farmers and their families in the North Central Province and thrown them into a mud-hole as paupers. For hundreds of years these farmers were so noble that if the mud was washed off their backs they were fit to be kings.

About two weeks ago, Special Projects Minister S.M. Chandrasena told a news conference that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would ban the use of this weedicide because it had been found to be one of the main causes of ground water pollution and the kidney disease epidemic in the NCP which is the home base of the Minister.
But after this announcement, secret and powerful TNC lobby groups apparently launched a counter-offensive. Representatives of the plantations sector met Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and told him that if this weedicide was banned it might lead to the collapse of the planting sector including Ceylon Tea which is still well-known worldwide, though earnings from it have dropped.

The Agriculture Minister apparently took the case to the President. Our sister paper the Sunday Times reported that the Cabinet last week decided there would be no total ban on this dangerous weedicide, but it would not be used in areas where there was a kidney disease epidemic. The Cabinet also decided to appoint a committee of experts, but the people are sick and tired of what usually happens in such committees where there is lots of talk but little action.

Farmer-friendly agriculturists and nutritionists say they find it difficult to understand how a weedicide which is bad for some areas could not be so bad for other areas. Does this mean we also need to be careful about the tea we drink because it may contain a dangerous chemical - and what is the message we are sending to tea importing countries? Representatives of the plantations sector are reported to have said that if they used manual labour for weed control, it would be too costly and may adversely affect the sector.  For hundreds of years our farmers and other plantation sectors thrived without imported agro-chemicals and we see no reason why these chemicals are said to be essential now, other than to meet some profit-making agendas of TNCs and their agents here.

Nature-friendly agriculturists say the best way is to revive organic farming with the use of bio-fertilisers like cow dung and leaves. In doing this we could stop the pollution of rice, vegetables, fruits and other crops, and the pollution of ground water while saving millions of dollars in foreign exchange.

The JVP’s new leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in his comprehensive vision statement has pointed out that except for the farmer, all items in agriculture are imported. He has proposed the revival of organic agriculture with practical proposals to make it part of our civilisation and culture as it was before neo-colonialism put the weeds into the rice.

We also urge the Government to reconsider the Seed Act under which our farmers would be virtually forced to buy so-called high-yielding genetically modified seeds from TNCs. They call it terminator technology, and it would also terminate the freedom of the farmers who would become slaves of TNCs while Sri Lanka may become the latest chapter in Indian Physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva’s famous book “The stolen harvest”. This book was translated into Sinhala last week. The Government and its agriculture experts need to study these issues, lest they create the social conditions for our harvest also to be stolen.
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