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  

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 ( 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

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?


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!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It is time we treated WATER with more respect – not by charging though!

People in countries and states where water is scarce, know and practice the art of conserving and careful use of this scarce commodity. People are very used to going to great lengths to use as little as possible for their daily needs. Almost all homes in those countries have water meters and people are charged under different bases for water consumption. Few wash their cars at home, and go to car washes where water is used sparingly and reused as grey water. Grey water is used for gardens.

Colombo folk, now pay increasing charges for water and are more conscious of the cost; rarely do we see a maid watering the garden with a hose, and instead see them use watering cans to water specific areas of plants and flower beds, when there has been no rain for over 10 ten days. These days the rains are heavy and thoughts of water conservation are few, however it is now time to think of conserving a larger percentage of this rainwater, that now just flows down to the sea, without prior use.

All new rural water schemes come with a water-meter, and homesteads are charged for the water they use. It comes from a central source via the pipelines that are now increasingly being laid along the roads with outlets to each building plot. When the bills come people begin to realize the need to conserve and hence are careful in their use. Many homes that have this so called mains supply also have wells and therefore use the well water when needed or as necessary.

It is now dawning on people that the well water is not an unstoppable source of free water, and that the water table is affected by over use of well water, and sometimes can lead to permanent loss, where the ground water level does not refill.

I have to pay a standard fee per season for the use of water to my fields. It is a nominal charge, which does not take into account the true cost of supplying water via the system of channels and canals from the Minneriya Tank. I have stated before that I have perennial problems of non receipt of water, as I am the last in the channel and my neighbors who are further up take the water (more than their allocation) with none left for me, resulting in my having to pump water from the river to make up the shortfall. This incurs the ire of the authorities for so doing, as it is supposed to be water that is due further downstream harvested by a system of anicuts to paddy fields. Whilst excess water seeps into the river from field ahead of me, I am supposedly prevented from pumping that back for my fields!!!
The attempt recently to make an annual charge for the use of a well in one’s own property was greeted with horror. However whilst I agree at present it is best not to do so, it is still worthy of a reminder that the precious water MUST be conserved.