Despite all the marvels of modern technology, agriculture has been and will always be the root of Sri Lanka’s economic development because it is part of our culture and hallowed three thousand-year civilisation.
Yet in the past few decades and mainly after Sri Lanka, in 1978, swallowed what is good and bad, the wheat and the weeds in the globalised capitalist market economy, agriculture to a large extent has found itself rotting in a mud hole.
The excessive use of imported chemical fertilisers and pesticides is widely believed to be one of the main reasons why the heart of Sri Lanka’s economy has suffered a heart attack. The change of weather patterns due to environmental pollution and global warming resulting in devastating droughts and floods have added to the mess and misery plunging millions of farmer families into degradation and destitution.
After years of appeals by agriculture experts and empty promises by political leaders, the Agriculture Ministry announced over the week-end that a large-scale re-cultivation programme was being launched with the provision of bio-fertiliser free of charge to farmers. The bio-fertiliser will be made locally, thus saving hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign exchange spent on the import of agro-chemicals. The organic farming will be launched mainly in the North-Central and Uva Provinces, where in recent years, apparently due to the excessive use of agro-chemicals, the ground water itself has been polluted, and thousands of farmers and others are known to be suffering from kidney ailments with some of them even needing kidney transplants. The gradual change to organic farming will help overcome this crisis.
One of the negative aspects of the globalised market economy with the marvels of technology has been the tendency to choose the easier and quicker way for better results in the short-term. Yet often this comfortable or convenient way is not the best way as we have found in agriculture where the kings of the field have been pushed into becoming paupers in a pigsty.
Organic farming may be the more difficult way, with short-term harvests less than those that come through agro-chemical farming. But in the long-term, organic farming will produce much that is positive for lasting long-term development. These will include the saving of millions of dollars in foreign exchange, a major reduction of ground water pollution and, most importantly, the people of our country will be able to eat rice, vegetables, fruits and other food items that are not polluted or poisoned by the excessive use of agro-chemicals. Last month even the privileged kitchen in parliament could not file a motion for a breach of privilege when the MPs found that their kohila curry was contaminated with traces of arsenic, apparently from some agro-chemicals used on this vegetable.
In addition to organic farming, the Government needs to renew its mission to restore thousands of wewas – marvels of ancient irrigation engineering – so that even in times of drought the farmers will have enough water for cultivation.