Thursday, October 16, 2014

More on the CKDU story worth updating our memory banks!


From Ceylon Today 16 Oct 2014             Govt's  agriculture policy, cause of CKD –Academics By Ravi Ladduwahetty  three frontline university scientific experts blamed the government's agricultural policy as the cause for the Chronic Kidney disease which has engulfed the North Central Province and other geographical expanses of Sri Lanka.They attributed the use of excess and subsidized fertilizer as the cause, which flows down from the upcountry hills as Mahaweli waters and ends up in the paddy fields of the North Central Province and other areas, which areas now have a proliferation of the disease.Here, the three experts- University of Peradeniya Prof. Gamini Rajapaksa, former Director of Agriculture Dr. Chris Panabokke and founding Director of the Sugarcane Research Institute Dr. Nande Dharmawardena are in conversation with Ceylon Today.Th e difference between Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDU) The kidney is the principle end organ which participates in the elimination of liquid waste from the blood and helps maintain osmo regulation of the body. Kidney disease that manifests when its well-recognized causes (for example, diabetes, hypertension, and so forth) are absent is called Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDU). Urine-albumin excretion above standard threshold is usually the early clinical warning of CKDU.
 

Poor planning and inconclusive reports
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, speculators, non-scientists and newspaper columnists had a field day here on the subject while a plethora of studies carried out by various groups were besieged with poor planning, data gathering, required analytical skills, proper instrumentation and a wide knowledge on the subject areas under consideration, clouding the picture totally, spending millions of tax payer's money including those by the WHO and Ministry of Health here.
 

Groundwater Quality Atlas of Sri Lanka
One of the more systematic studies so far carried out is that by Prof. Tomonori Kawakami etal (2014) titled "Groundwater Quality Atlas of Sri Lanka" which fortunately has put a full stop to speculations on arsenic, cadmium, hardness of water and heavy metals in ground water. It implied fluoride as a contributing factor due to its incidence overlapping that of CKDU. But it failed to explain why some regions although having high fluoride do not have CKDU (for example Pulmoddai vs Medawachchiya; Ampara, Huruluwewa, Moneragala & Wellawaya). Hence, even if CKDU incidence overlaps the presence of fluoride, its presence does not imply CKDU. Studies elsewhere (for example, Rift valley in Ethiopia 2003) had found already that although 33% of the samples had high fluoride content but had no associated incidence of CKDU.
 

Thus it is evident that almost all the studies carried out on CKDU in Sri Lanka, tried to imply a known cause elsewhere in the world.
None dared to think out of the box prolonging the agony, making even the government panic with mounting costs, increasing CKDU burden, despair, hopelessness gripping horror stories from affected regions and national elections round the corner!
Scientific method and introductory facts on CKDU in SL
We trust this analysis using scientific methods will assist the authorities to bring lasting relief to the affected farming community in several farming areas in the country such as Girandurukotte in the Badulla District, Medawachchiya and Padaviya in the Anuradhapura District, Medirigiriya and Hingurakgoda in the Polonnaruwa District, Nickawewa in the Kurunegala District, where CKDU is prevalent (Figure 1).
 

Affected patients are mostly rice paddy farmers. The estimated age-standardized prevalence of the disease is 15%. According to the Ministry of Health, the estimated number of CKDU cases is 69,258 as of June 2014. Estimated death toll is 20,000.Affected patients were of age categories over 55 years. The age category is shifting towards younger ages. It has been predicted that even school children could be affected in the near future.
 

Main culprit is poor quality ground water
It is important to note that CKDU is absent in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa municipality areas where pipe borne water is available from National Water Supply & Drainage Board directly implying that main culprit is the poor quality ground water in the affected areas. Closer examination of main aquifer types in Sri Lanka shows that CKDU incidence overlaps regolith aquifer of hard rock region with small tank cascade. These dry zone metamorphic hard rock regolith aquifers are found in NCP, NWP, NP & SP regions of the country (Fig 2).
 

Regolith aquifer of hard rock region with small tank cascades in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are affected by fertilizer runoff from Mahaweli system as well as intensive overuse of synthetic fertilisers in these areas, due to poor replenishment of their ground waters by fresh supplies caused by erratic weather patterns. Vavuniya and Hambantota have escaped this threatas yet as there are no feeder channels from high fertilizer runoff areas such as Mahaweli systems to those areas. Thus future irrigation schemes planned to divert waters from the hills to such areas
(for example Planned Uma Oya diversion to Hambantota) should carefully monitor water quality to prevent them acting as conduits of dissolved ions from excess synthetic fertilizers, their overuse and other sources polluting the hard rock regolith aquifer in those regions. Otherwise, CKDU is a distinct possibility in those areas too.
 

Proposed causal factors
CKDU is a disease of as yet unknown origin, which reared its ugly head first in the mid-1990s in the NCP. Since then, many causal factors such as fluoride from drinking water and in combination with aluminum in cooking pots/pans, cadmium in rice and fish, cadmium, iron and lead in reservoir waters, arsenic in hard waters and toxins from...
 

(Contd. on Page 13)
...cyanobacteria and chemically impossible glyphosate-arsenic association were proposed by various workers here. Perhaps, the ionicity hypothesis of Professor Chandre Dharmawardena et al explains satisfactorily most of the available data on CKDU in Sri Lanka. (Environ. Geochem.Health vol 34 no 4 August 2014 on line edition).
 

Causal Factors of CKDU
All the available data on the subject up-to-date, since early fifties, when analyzed scientifically show that, main culprit is the high ionicity of NCP ground waters in certain areas together with dehydration/insufficient intake of potable water under hot sunny stressful work conditions and routine alcohol consumption habits of the farming community in place of potable water during long working hours in the sun together with changes in weather patterns especially higher day time temperature with erratic precipitation due to climate changes here have failed to replenish the high ionicity waters in regolith aquifers of the NCP as they are constantly replenished by high ionicity waters from Mahaweli channels as well as frequent oxidation-reduction of those regolith aquifers releasing increasing quantities of ions to water table in the area making even dug well waters in certain areas not within safe ionicity for human consumption. They all contribute synergistically to CKDU.
 

Speculators misleading the Government- root cause not eliminated
As basic sciences of CKDU root cause have been clouded by speculations, the latest being the glyphosate-Arsenic association which is chemically impossible in NCP soils, efforts of the government in eliminating the root cause of the problem is delayed as government is totally mislead by speculators. Since the root cause is not eliminated, NCP farming community in affected areas continue to suffer unnecessarily. In the meanwhile Dialysis, Kidney transplantation, Reverse Osmosis and supply of potable water have become thriving businesses for some.
 

CKDU could be eliminated by practicing good science
CKDU has become a roaring business for some and for others it has become a topic for cheap popularity while the poor farming community is at the receiving end of this great circus. CKDU which could be eliminated by practicing good science has come to be viewed as a terminal incurable disease; a disease of as yet unknown origin, and the latest threat is the imaginary association between one of the well-known, time-tested green plant specific weedicide used all over the world including Europe, USA and Australia known commonly as "Round up" or chemically as glyphosate and a metalloid called arsenic species, combination of which is not favoured chemically! It is very well known that glyphosate only acts on photosynthetic tissues, it inhibits Shikimic acid pathways specific to green plants as the key enzyme is located in the chloroplast ("green tissue") only.
 

It has no effect on animals and microbes even at concentration five times the recommended dose. Glyphosate is inactivated as soon as it comes in contact with soil or even water containing debris. Thus farmers are adviced to use clean water in their knapsap sprayers to avoid inactivation. If proponent of glyphosate-arsenic association knew geometry theorem called Reductio ad Absurdum of Euclid, he would touch neither glyphosate nor arsenic in CKDU context here. Thus hasty banning of glyphosate which has no connection to CKDU will not lessen the CKDU burden in the country, but certainly it would aggravate food production problems here.
Our country is blessed by Nature to have minimum levels of arsenic when compared to the same in the South East and South Asian countries. If the rice production is declined due to ill advised agriculture policy decisions such as glyphosate banning, country will be compelled to import increasing amounts of rice from other countries; rice grown in soils naturally containing excessive amounts of arsenic, such as those prevailing in Bangladesh, which would lead to many other health problems such as cancers as arsenic species are well known carcinogens (cancer causing agents).
 

Implications of Cadmium
According to WHO reports, large amounts of cadmium ions have been added to our soils from imported triple superphosphate (TSP) fertilizers. Some reports point to possibilities of high amounts of cadmium in rice, cereals, lotus roots and inland fish, but their validity is doubtful as subsequent analyses which are reproducible have shown that cadmium levels in those food stuffs are below the WHO recommended levels. "Groundwater Quality Atlas of Sri Lanka" by Prof. Kawakami et al (2014) show that the values for arsenic and cadmium are extremely low and way below the stipulated standards which implies that arsenic and cadmium in ground water have no relation to CKDU prevalence in SriLanka.
 

However, if ingested, cadmium ions use the body's built in mechanism to go to kidneys from the liver. It is possible that excessive dehydration would concentrate these toxic materials in the blood of hard working farmers and chronic exposure will accumulate ions such as cadmium which can certainly damage kidneys as proven in the case of ItaiItai disease prevailing in the Toyama Prefecture of Japan.
 

High Ionicity of drinking waters and protein denaturation by Hofmeister mechanism
One of the more conceivable hypotheses for CKDU is that several ions being collectively responsible for denaturing of proteins as given by the Hofmeister series where fluoride ion is at the top in anions and ammonium is at the top in cations. These ions are readily available in excess amounts which are much higher than WHO recommended levels in these drinking waters.
 

Mahaweli waters acting as
conduits
The accelerated Mahaweli Project also brings in dissolved synthetic fertilizers that are applied to tea and vegetable cultivations in increasing amounts in the hill-country leading to increased iconicity in these particular areas where fluoride and ions derived from fertilizer are also abundant. This distinguishes between the drinking water quality of this particular area from those of other paddy growing areas, such as Ampara and Hambantota, and other areas of the Island. Hot environmental conditions prevailing in these areas concentrate both the so called "non-toxic ions" and "toxic ions" which can contribute to CKDU. Dehydration of farmers due to hard work under hot sun and also due to alcohol some of them routinely consume, together with inadequate water intake, will concentrate everything in blood; both apparently non-toxic ions and nephrotoxic (toxic to kidneys) ions.
 

This proposal by Dharmawardene et al. (Chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology and ground water iconicity: Study based on Sri Lanka, 14 August 2014 In: Environ. Geochem. Healthvolume 34, No 4, available on line) fits very well with the facts available on CKDU in SriLanka. As such, the excessive usage of contaminated fertilizer and dehydration should be the most likely causative factors of CKDU.
 

Dehydration
A recent study by fourteen scientists of USA suggests that dehydration aggressively activates some biochemical pathways and thereby produce excessive amounts of unwanted materials some of which are toxic to kidneys. This study further supports the fact that dehydration to be the most likely causative factor of CKDU. The authors of this highly reputed publication have very correctly identified that global warming leads to the emergence of new diseases. Their study is based on CKDU in Central America but they have recognized that there is a concern that kidney diseases are increasing in other hot agricultural countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Ecuador and Egypt.
 

Conclusion
Attempts to link arsenic, cadmium, fluoride, algal toxins and glyphosate with CKDU in Sri Lanka are not only inconclusive but have no valid scientific basis as they cannot explain the CKDU data for Sri Lanka.
 

On the other hand, high incidence of CKDU in Sri Lanka is shown to correlate with the presence of irrigation works and rivers that bring-in nonpoint source fertilizer runoff from intensive agriculture regions using excessive amounts of cheap synthetic fertilizers. Increased iconicity of drinking waters due to fertilizer runoff into river systems, frequent redox processes in hard rock regolith aquifers in tank cascades releasing more ions into these waters due to erratic weather patterns have jointly caused the CKDU. The consequent chronic exposure to high iconicity in drinking ground water together with dehydration under hot conditions debilitates the kidneys leading to CKDU.
 

Recommendations
• Management of water-table in hard rock regolith aquifer
Management of water table in hard rock regolith aquifer to be within potable quality standard is the principle intervention required to eliminate the root cause of CKDU. In addition, educating farming community on adequate consumption of good quality drinking water, prevention of dehydration and alcoholism are the other salutary practices.
• Free availability of good quality drinking water supplies
Dehydration increases concentration of all ions in blood and speedily drives biochemical pathways generating species which are toxic to kidneys. As such, supply of good-quality drinking water for the CKDU endemic areas is mandatory to eradicate this disease.
• Immediate review of Agriculture and hill country farming policy.
 

Banning of excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and monitoring their use in hill country are important. Resorting to organic farming in hill country through crop livestock integration, use of fertilizer efficient varieties, restricting cultivations of hills and practicing intensive cultivation of plains, subsidizing organic fertilizer and the supply of good-quality drinking waters to the affected areas would contribute to permanent solutions to the problem of CKDU. As a short term measure, drinking water derived from reverse osmosis would be an immediate solution but it should not be the permanent solution. Regolith and Mahaweli channels should be constantly monitored for excessive fertilizer runoff.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Did you know the Breadfruit ( DEL ) is unbelievably nutritous

I do not wish to go into detail, but the link below will take you to a new item, that explains the wonder food, that  we know as DEL and the different ways of cooking it in addition to how we prepare it at home here in Sri Lanka.

So let us see how we can promote the growth of this easily planted tree in most parts of Sri Lanka   

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2675002/Is-new-wonder-food-Breadfruit-high-protein-experts-say-potential-feed-world.html  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let us educate our homeowners to be ecologically sensitive as our need to keep up with the Joneses increases.

It is quite surprising that the United States in ONLY NOW waking up to the fact that weekend gardeners especially in Spring when they begin to clean up and get ready for the new season of flowering, and grass cutting, that they are using 10 times the pesticides and harmful chemicals on their yards, per sq ft than farmers use, primarily due to the smaller allotments.

As the link below in the New York Times attests, it is time to realize the huge negative effects on health by this practice, and learn from this and take steps to MINIMIZE their use, as it has long term harmful effects on the water supply and public health.


Thankfully we have not got to this state yet as far as homeowners are concerned, but as farmers we of course have a problem in our practices which we find hard to change. Nevertheless this issue of Chemical Contamination of the Ground water is a Universal Problem, and I will not be surprised if there are international conventions covering the use of such, before long.

The main thing is Education (repeat the word as much as you want!) as until our citizens, most especially the young who are easier to convince and begin a life time of good practice, realize their duty to their fellow man in preserving their country for future generations, we will have an increasing problem.

Water therefore needs a special place in our psyche. We must value it, store it preserve, protect it from harmful toxins, and do whatever we can to use it wisely in both home and agricultural practices in our daily lives.


Let us begin my mandating water conservation methods and rainwater harvesting as part of building codes and requirements for new constructions. This has to be tied in with Dengue prevention methods too, to ensure we do not compromise that effort by careless storage methods for water. If we view water as precious, especially as many of our citizens have been in the Middle East where they can see its importance, and its value, we will then take steps to include these practices without delay. It is better to start now, so when the problem really begins to bite, our preparedness will save us from misery!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is this the answer - how to combat CKDU?

as appeared in Colombo Telegraph of Dec 17th 2013

Solving Kidney Disease In Dry Zone


Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana
Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana
Reverse osmosis, and bio-scavengers for cleaning the water and soil in areas affected by Kidney disease
When kidney disease of uncertain origin (CKDU) appeared in the North-central province in the mid-1990s, some commentators hastened to claim that this was bio-terrorism associated with the Eelam wars. Today, a variety of opinions are touted regarding the origin and prevention of  the CKDU epidemic. News reports tell us that cases have been noted in other `dry zone’  ares like Hambantota and Jaffna. Places like Jaffna and other dry-zone towns are extremely vulnerable because of the rapidly increasing population while the water table remains limited.
A number of authors have raised the possibility of using special plants that accumulate metal toxins as a means of purifying the water.  Others have suggested using reverse osmosis.
Last October when I was in Colombo I gave several talks in symposia on Kidney disease, e.g., one of them  was at the Gannoruwa Institute of agriculture, while another symposium was at the Professional Institute in Colombo. I also raised this question of water hayacinth-like plants (water hayacynth, Japan jabara, lotus root etc), or even Murunga, and their capacity to extract and concentrate toxins from polluted water. This point has been raised by many others as well. Also, many of the relevant plans are listed in the Sri Lankan plants website (http://dh-web.org/place.names/bot2sinhala.html) that I maintain.
MapIn principle, such plants can be used to “clean the water”. In practice this is NOT TRUE.  What do you do with the plants that have now collected all the toxic  heavy metals? Are you going to put the plants back into the soil, or disperse them in the ecosphere, or burn them? None of them will work as the pollution will just go back to the water table. You have to physically bury them in deep pits, or compound them in bitumen, or drop them in the ocean — all costly steps.
The same issue of getting rid of the waste matter arises with the reverse-osmosis process advocated in seminars by various  people and put in place by various NGOs like Sarvodaya. When 1000 litres of water are purified using reverse osmosis, 200 litres of highly polluted water remain in the reverse-osmosis machine. Now, where do you dump that water ? Do you dump it back to the soil? That will not help.
What we need to do is to cut the problem at the source. The source is the fertilizer runoff from the hill country, coming along the Mahaweli, and polluting all the water bodies connected to the mahaweli via the “accelerated mahaweli” project, and other similar irrigation projects which link agriculture and drinking water.
These problems did not exist prior to 1977. After the “open economy”, fertilizer sales became unregulated. The problem is not with the fertilizer, but with excess use where 5 to 10 times the required amount is used, and this gets washed off to our rivers like the Mahaweli, and end up in the drinking water. Testing for cadmium, arsenic etc in the drinking water shows no significant amounts of these ions, (as the WHO study found), because the culprit is not the presence of a few parts per billion of metal toxins. It is the excessive fertilizer run-off made up of phosphate, potassium, nitrate etc., that is causing the trouble. The WHO did not look at those ions, treating them as `benign’.
The fertilizer runoff adds to the already hard water in the Rajarata. The resulting high ionicity (brackishness or salinity)  of  the water destroys the inner layers of the kidney, just as brackish water corrodes anything it touches. Once the kidney is corroded, the small amounts of As, Cd etc., that are always found in any environment enter the body, and the human body accumulates them, just as many living organisms and plants do. The resulting kidney disease ultimately kills the patients. When you analyse their organs, they too are found to have accumulated As, Cd, etc, just as some plants (that do not have the capacity to filter out the toxins) do.
I have constructed a map of the areas stricken by Kidney disease of `uncertain origin’, and also drawn the river system on it. It is clear that the most affected ares are just those linked to the highly agricultural regions (e.g., the hill country and the Mahaweli) by rivers which bring in the excess fertilizer runoff. It is well known that most of our reservoirs are full of algae because of this fertilzer runoff. Furthermore, the benign algae that used to live in our tanks have, under the stress of excess phosphates etc., evolved into toxic varieties that did not exist in earlier times (e.g, 1960) in our tanks.
So the answe is clear. The fertilizer sales should be strictly controlled by the agriculture department. The government should issue  to the farmers only the recommended amount of fertilizer (as was done in the 1970s, prior to the `open economy’ ) and stop the free sale of fertilizers and agro-chemicals. Then, after a few monsoons, the soil will be clear of the contamination.
The majority of plants don’t have special fitration mechanisms like the kidneys. So such plants can be used as a means of monitoring the water as it is easy to analyse the in the laboratory the more concentrated toxin present in the plant. I pointed this out in my talks at Gannoruwa and Colombo, and of course, this is not a completely new idea and I am sure other have thought of it. But trying to use them for cleaning all the water in the rajarata ecosystem is, in my view, not feasible and extremely expensive. In any case, we want to grow paddy or vegetables, and not ‘Japan-jabara’ or Salvinia. If we grow such plants to as bio-clensers, we will need to work hard to clean up the Japan-Jabara itself, perhaps with powerful weedicides?
The sale of fertilizers should be controlled, and fertilizer subsidies should also be stopped. The money saved can be used to help the affected farmers. If the excess use of fertilizer is stopped, we also save foreign exchange, and will regain our pure water table in a few years. The digging and selling of  Eppawala phosphates should be stopped as the soil is already utterly saturated with phosphate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

No Wonder!

Sri Lanka is the world's highest user of Agro Chemicals and Pesticides

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=94148

1    Is it a wonder that our food costs soo much?

2    Is it a wonder that our food is so full of poison?

3    Is it a wonder that our food is so overcooked?

4    Is it a wonder that we have an exponential  increase in cancers?

5    Is it a wonder that that the Kidney Disease (CKDU) is spreading all over the country, unabated.

6    Is it a wonder that the people, especially the farmers voted for this Government that promised low cost Chemical Fertilizer?

7   Is it a wonder that our Education system does not lead us to rationalize or think?

8   Is it a wonder that we believe whatever we are told?

9   Is it a wonder that we deserve this Government?

WE VOTED THEM IN OVERWHELMINGLY, SO THAT THEY CAN QUIETLY KILL US WITHOUT OUR EVEN BEING AWARE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US AND OUR ENVIRONMENT

Shame in you citizen Sri Lankan for being so greedy and thinking what is in it for you, and not what is better for the general well being of all.

Don't be fooled, don't believe what you read, hear or see without rationalizing the likelihood of the accuracy of that observation.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Do we want Monsanto in Sri Lanka – We already have Round Up!



The link below talks of the fact that in the last ten years, Argentina has had 18million hectares, that is three times the surface area of Sri Lanka planted with GM Soya Bean. This GM Soya seed has been produced so it is resistant to Round Up the herbicide, we also use in Sri Lanka to kill all weeds including Illuk.


Whilst we do not have many wealthy farmers who have expropriated land from the poor peasants, to grow their crops in a large scale we have a worse scenario, where we have the pesticide use, the worst in South Asia with NO productivity to show for it. In that sense we are much worse than Argentina.

I was at the Cancer Hospital in Maharagama the other day for a Charity event where there were 40+ famous local singers, singing on a stage for the benefit of the inmates, who were wheeled down to watch and others who could not be taken from their beds could only hear the music through their broadcast speaker systems.

Here we in Sri Lanka have also seen a huge rise in Childhood Cancers. I have personally known of a child in Polonnaruwa who has died of it. So what are we doing about it as a country? At least Argentina has had an export boom in Soya, with highest growth rates in South America and has made many people wealthy and provided billions to the economy. Our farming has not produced one farmer millionaire, and instead made our farmers dependant on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with NO long term benefit to them to the country, or to other citizens.

The sooner we take a look at what it is we wish to see, do and establish in Sri Lanka as a national agricultural policy that is better able to provide nutrition to our citizens, and reduce the incidence of illnesses cancers, and other chemical fallout resulting diseases the better it is for the long term health of the nation.

There is NO action by this government led by brainless, charlatans to counter the impending doom. All the noise in the media which has completely mesmerized the ignorant and impressionable citizens into a false sense of security MUST be challenged if we are to stop in this track and take the right steps. It may hurt us for a few years to get the poison out of our lands, as it takes 5 to 10 years of non use to clean up the water supply and other contamination that is already at high levels.

The short term price is worth the long term gain in eliminating the country from the pests of the likes of Monsanto. Remember its most famous product, Round Up is used extensively in Sri Lanka! To what damage?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Onion Conundrum – a peculiarly Sri Lankan odyssey



Sri Lanka grows big onions only seasonally and harvests 90% of its local production in the months August to October, before the October rains. Therefore the Government in order to help the local onion producer had slapped an import levy of Rs50/kg in August satisfying the local farmers as imports would create an oversupply.

Those traders who knew about the import levy, were able to purchase and land their onions in the country on time, so despite them not needing to pay the higher duty, they were nevertheless able to retail their stocks at the higher prices, before the full effect of the harvest and its surplus came to the market, thereby profiting handsomely.

There is a slight difference in taste between the local onions and the generally drier and larger Indian Variety. Also I believe the Indian variety stores better and can be kept for a lot longer than the local variety and is also generally larger in size.

I do not wish to go into the intricacies of onion storage except to say that it requires some purpose built shelves, to keep out moisture and preserve dryness, something that the Indians are far better at.

So when imported onions with the lower Rs15/kg was in the market in August, the price was around Rs60/kg retail, where the landed cost to the importer at the port before the duty is around Rs30/kg, if he buys in huge quantities. Then the local variety flooded the market as soon as the harvest was sent to the market, the Govt. increased the Tax to Rs50/kg, an increase of Rs35/kg.

At that point imports stopped, as the local was retailed at about Rs60/kg, when the farmer was only given around Rs35/kg, the rest being made by the intermediate players known as middle men, who also had a stock of the cheaper imports to sell off as mentioned above. The Rs35/kg farm gate price was less than the cost of production to the farmer, and many farmers were demonstrating about it. No amount of duty increase was going to help them at that stage, merely because the supply exceeds demand, and large scale storage is not possible.

If one takes a reasonable view, the product is demand inelastic as the consumption pattern as a food item is pretty steady all year round, and the price will only affect consumption marginally. The farmers are not sufficiently sophisticated in terms of numbers to store this until prices rise, when supply weakens, and therefore they receive a low price. Middle men cannot buy and store until prices rise, as the special storage is needed just for a few months and the attendant risk of spoilage,  and due to the type of onions we have. The lack of proper storage facilities that are unique to onions, and where long life cannot be assured, as one is unable to look at a sack of onions and determine if it was harvested without being subject to a recent rain or some such moisture inducing event thereby closing that option.

After a while, when the supply reduced, the price began to rise to around Rs90/kg where farmers who were able to store it were able to sell their stock at about Rs65/kg to Rs70/kg. I must mention at this time that the Lak Sathosa outlets of the Govt. owned retail stores around the country had purchased directly from farmers at Rs60 and sold at Rs65 to the customers. There were problems in disposal and Lak Sathosa had to throw away a lot as it was cheaper in the open market!

I must say when I looked at the quality of those onions in those stores, there was a lot to be desired, as their quality was bad, and only about 75% of what one bought could be used. So no wonder trying to manipulate the free market ended up costing this State owned enterprise a lot.

Now that the price reached Rs90/kg, supply being short, and a Rs50/kg import tax which also corresponded to the retail price of imports also being at that level, the consumer was left paying a much higher price. So now the consumer rights overtook the farmers.

The Govt. suddenly and without warning, reduced the duty back to Rs15/kg. It was the same for potatoes, and the duty on Red Onions was also reduced by less, as this harvest also has now ceased.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the importers knew that the tax would be reduced as there was no way the local market could supply the needful, so they desisted from imports to only the minimal amounts ahead of the duty reduction. As usual again, the onion farmers who were sophisticated enough to be able to store the onions to get a higher price, were only releasing stock that was likely to go bad, and held onto the balance to sell at the top.

With the duty reduced, the market price must fall by at least the reduction in the duty, and the farmers who held on hoping this price level would continue have begun to dump their onions in the market before the imports arrive. Now they cannot even sell their lovingly and carefully stored onions for Rs30/kg as traders are now taking advantage of their distress and making a bigger margin as middlemen!

The farmers are now agitating, saying if they were given three weeks notice, they would have released their stocks to the market in anticipation of the import duty reduction. In this example one can clearly see the lack of a coherent policy ALWAYS affects the farmer, however clever or versatile he may be in the knowledge of storage methods, to keep his onions for a longer period.

The farmer is not powerful as a group to affect the price, leaving it to the Trader to do the needful.

Sri Lanka will not produce enough onions for local consumption, and cannot produce it all year long, so we MUST import it. The govt is encouraging more onion cultivation which will ADD to the seasonal woes not reduce it unless long term storage facilities can be set up at local level, but has to be done by individuals and not collectively as it is difficult to manage in a cooperative way. 

The Govt takes in a lot of tax from imports during the year to fund its other activities. Nothing will prevent the temporary price dive in August and September when the harvest comes in, as there is no way to store the excess by anyone other than the farmer who grows it who knows the quality of his own stock, store-able or not!