For centuries agriculture has been the foundation of Sri Lanka’s economy and also a vital part of our hallowed ancient civilisation. The farmer was looked upon as a king, so much so that a famous British writer said that the farmer, when the mud was washed off his back, was fit to be a king. During the past few decades, and more so in recent years, both the farmer and agriculture have been put into a mud hole with priority being given these days to factors such as tourism which is not only variable and vulnerable, but also carries with it vices that could worsen the moral bankruptcy in Sri Lanka.
The unprecedented drought this year devastated or destroyed thousands of acres of paddy and other crops leaving thousands of farmer families as paupers with huge unpaid loans.
During the past few decades the excessive use of agro chemicals has had devastating effects in several districts. The WHO experts and others say about 20,000 people in the rice bowl districts have died of kidney ailments and more than 40,000 others are under treatment largely due to the pollution of the ground water because of the excessive use of agro-chemicals.
Last Monday Jathika Hela Urumaya Parliamentary group leader the Ven. Athureliye Rathna Thera and other monks staged a satyagraha urging the government to stop the excessive use of agro chemicals which are known to contain arsenic and heavy metals.
The situation in the North is believed to be worse. In addition to the excessive use of agro chemicals, the ground water has been further polluted through heavy bombardment and landmine explosions during the 30-year war. Most people in the North are paying about Rs.50 for a bottle of drinking water which is not quality tested and may be from a roadside tap.
The long-term and sustainable solution to the agriculture crisis is to encourage farmers and give them incentives to turn to bio or organic farming. This is a more difficult method, but without doubt it is a better and safer way. The excessive use of agro-chemicals is not only polluting the ground water, but also polluting the rice, vegetables and other items that we eat. That means most of us are eating polluted if not poisoned food, and it may be the reason why many people are falling sick more often, despite the marvels of modern medical technology.
While farmers turn to bio-farming, the government also needs to make people aware of the wisdom in going back to the good old home garden concept. State media organisations, instead of being used for crude and sickening political propaganda, need to be used for more practical purposes to make the people aware that if they want food that is not polluted or poisoned, they need to grow it in their home gardens.