In the fiery days of the cold war, some South American countries were known as banana republics because of their close links with the United States. That was in a figurative sense, but Sri Lanka appears to be going that way in a literal sense because it may be on slippery ground in view of the growing role being given to certain companies producing genetically modified bananas. On large tracts of land down south and elsewhere such varieties are being cultivated. Using the multi-million dollar money power of these companies they have created sales chains where people are encouraged to buy these varieties instead of the time-tested local varieties like the nourishing ‘koli kuttu’ or the ‘ambul’ and the ‘anamalu’. The GM products and other fruits or vegetables are produced in the terminator technology process where there is no germination and new seeds need to be bought for every plant. The Trans National Companies involved have patent rights over these genetically modified seeds where the fruits are big and therefore attractive, but there are serious questions about not only their nutritional value, but also their safety. What effect such varieties will have on human health is not known.
Sri Lanka, as a tropical paradise, has more than 60 varieties of edible and nourishing fruit including mangoes, avocadoes, pears, naminam, and amberallas. Then what was the need to bring in questionable genetically modified fruits, other than a profit motive for the TNCs with kickbacks for politicians and officials.
Even where local fruits are concerned, the people need to take effective steps to prevent the excessive use of imported chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides. It is the duty of the people and especially the farmer community to act wisely and the Government to be cautious without just giving into the interests of the TNCs.
Action should be taken so that the consumer and especially children do not fall victim to eating a little bit of poison with every meal. The healthy and long-term solution is the good old organic farming which provided safe food for Sri Lanka for thousands of years, till the globalised capitalist market economic system brought in loads of agro-chemicals, GM products and other agricultural devices of economic colonialism.
Some local entrepreneurs and other patriotic people have launched organic farms with the use of safer and freely obtainable biofertilizer like cowdung. Creative and innovative people are even working on the concept of producing non-toxic “gomma gas”. They work on the concept of “be Lankan and buy Lankan”, in the hallowed principle of one of the 20th century’s greatest activists and freedom fighters Mahathma Gandhi.
The world is changing and Sri Lanka needs to make full use of the potential in information and communication technology, bio technology and the latest in nano-technology. But we cannot and must not abandon or undermine time-honoured principles which have carried us through for thousands of years in the fields of agriculture, food and nutrition.