Friday, January 25, 2008

organic vs non organic

When I started out on this venture, my aim was only to produce organic food. As time went by I learnt a few lessons and I am still learning and trying to improve my agricultural methods to maximise income whilst at the same time providing food that is as safe as is practical and by using the minimum amount of harmful chemical pesticides and weedicides as possible under the given circumstances for each crop. I am in the process of growing a multitude of crops and for one without the benefits of greenhouses, I am trying to do the impossible, and running into all manner of crop loss and low yield.

I note some of my experiences

a) my cost of production of organic foods, exceed the revenue I can currently generate. I have to improve on some of my techniques to reduce the levels of pests and control weeds and test organic means of controlling plant diseases.

b) the surest route to growing vegetables organically is under green house conditions, as you can control the pests, control the growing environment and therefore the susceptibility to diseases, control water and maximise yields.

c) it is much easier to grow organic spices, due to the nature of the plant and areas where it is grown. This also holds true for some fruit, like mango,orange, lime, wood apple, belli, banana, but for papaya and pineapple it is very difficult.

d) the environment in which it is grown is important, as the use of pesticides near you will attract the pests to you, if yours is organic. The massive destruction caused by birds, monkeys, elephants, mice, and sometimes elephants, applies to all growth outside of green houses.

e) Organic coconuts, will affect the yield significantly, and nutrients of fertilizers in plantation crops are a vital source of increasing yields, which is not possible with organic fertilizer. There are a few niche businesses that sell organic coconut milk and virgin coconut oil which can command a significant premium in price, but this is not possible for coconuts that are already expensive.

f) as the labor effort to grow is the same, using chemical fertilizers can increase yields substantially, more than twice as much, and this difference is not compensated at the moment by much higher prices of organic produce.

g) the significant increase in price of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will result in a reduction in their use and alternative methods adopted. This is good and environmentally beneficial, but not simply by going totally organic, more like use what is essential wisely and when necessary.

h) I am trying therefore to be product specific as far as organic is concerned, and try to grow leaves, like gotukola organically for people to make kola kanda devoid of any chemical additives, be it fertilizer or pesticides.

i) rice varieties have been developed to increase yield and feed the population. If one is to grow organic one has to grow some of the hard to find ancient and traditional varieties, which have a very special market at an extremely high price, as yields are substantially below those of new strains developed by the various countries to ensure self sufficiency in food.

j) in my experience, because I don't grow under greenhouse conditions, my vegetables are invariably attacked by all kinds of pests, and organic means of combating them are not effective and customers do not like vegetables that have obvious signs of pest attack, which I constantly have to remind customers means they are not sprayed! This means that many vegetables are not marketable, and therefore wastage is very high.

k) I believe people should attempt to grow some vegetables in their kitchen gardens in order to appreciate some of the realities of not having pesticides, then a greater appreciation, and hence higher price can be obtained with the visible marks left by numerous pest attacks.

Friday, January 18, 2008

what moulds a patriotic lawmaker?

Certainly not a patriotic front member or a lawyer, that should be said up front. Lawyers don't make good lawmakers and patriotic front members are an unpatriotic breed seeped in prejudice.

I notice that so many politicians are lawyers. I feel it is time that we either say no lawyers should go into politics, because the track record by itself should be a testament to their failure in guiding this country in what one could even remotely call the right direction. We either have lawyers or Johnny come lately in government. We also have professional politicians who should also be canned from politics, the President being one. He has been in politics so long he is the consummate insider able to soothe the ruffled feathers of his enemy, but that's all. His grasp of the deepest issues afflicting the people, his reliance on sycophants and henchman who play into his weaknesses traps him from being true to himself and is just a hostage to fortune. I am not commenting on his personable nature which I am sure is beyond blemish, but his track record and ability to address the ills of the nation effectively, rather than in Chinthana pronouncements is at best ineffective and at worst destructive.

The moral fabric of society needs leadership of an unblemished character at the top who sets an example. Even the man who is stealing coconuts, (half the coconuts sold in Colombo are stolen) justifies it saying if the people at the top can steal, whats wrong with me stealing a little to feed my family. That in essence is the problem. The war is an excuse. The generals given the proper tools and no interference can will battles, but winning the hearts and minds of the people is only possible for a true leader of the nation having the interests of all the citizens of this country, wherever they happen to be at present. Be they those who had to flee oppression, go to the middle east so that they can feed their extended families, or those who are in uncleared areas who are also under tyranny from both sides, trying to flee from LTTE on the one and being branded as sympathizers on the other with nowhere to turn.

A true patriot is one who can unite this deeply divided country, where mistrust is the order of the day. Even in my little village neighbors, sometimes brothers mistrust each other so it is not just a Tamil Sinhala fight, it is fight for forgiveness, humility, rebuilding breaking down barriers that have been created due to mistrust. If this is done, LTTE will fall without a fight, as they will not have any fighters left and the hardcore can then be just snipered out, mostly by their own and not having to waste the blood of heroes the sacrifice that has to be borne by the families who are left behind once they are gone.

The word patriot is so abused by the unpatriotic to brand patriots as such, that people are in fear of speaking up for justice and common sense, and a sense of what is right and wrong. The examples that are set today for young people is very bad. They are the future, on whose shoulders peace has to be built.It cannot be done until hatred is extinguished and an olive branch extended.This is all that is needed, as the rest of the world is breaking down barriers and we insist on building more.

Those with a modicum of English knowledge are streaking away from the pack in terms of opportunities in life, and those who don't are only painfully aware of this fact.No one dares admit this for fear of I don't know who, but they are doing a great injustice by creating a bigger class distinction greater than Tamil, Sinhala conflict. So lets own up to the problem and look at a way to solve them

From my perspective, the two biggest problems to progress and greater opportunity for all to improve themselves, especially the youth is the lack of English knowledge and thereby access to the Internet with all its levelling of class barriers, and the alcohol dependence of a great section of our population with nothing being done to prevent youth from following in the footsteps of their fathers.

A patriotic is lawmaker therefore is one whose roots are firmly on terra firma, understanding how one has to live on one's own hard work, and the real hardships that are faced by 95% of the people. He needs common sense to tackle the problems which only seem insurmountable because we try to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Above all he needs charisma, which exudes humility and not prone to making bombastic promises. He needs to think global and act local so that everyone is given an opportunity to succeed without prejudice. The education of the youth on moral and ethical values should be an integral part of the curriculum from a young age and he needs above all to live so that it is an example for others to follow. There are people of this character and they should take a leadership role rather than not even try due to the current status quo.

evenings in the village at kumbuk thuduwa

A frequently asked question is what I do in the evenings when I am in Hingurakgoda. Usually these questions are asked by friends in Colombo, who have a full social calendar and try to juggle more than one event in the evenings.

Having lived overseas most of my life, and to a large extent alone, I have learnt to occupy myself, either by reading, writing, watching TV or pottering about the house having to complete a chore like washing and ironing clothes.I often cooked, when I was lazy to get out to bring a takeout. Yes, I always thought going out for a takeaway was an effort and calling in a pizza always, meant I got something to fill my belly and not something tasty. All tasty foods for me, were cooked by myself.

Interestingly, as I type this on my laptop in the dark but for a small kerosene open lamp by my side, I have ordered flat spaghetti(the pack says tagliatelle) for my dinner, cooked by my staff in the new kitchen, firewood of course and under cadjan. This is my treat today, as I can eat a 500g Italian green or white flat spaghetti my favorite, in three sittings. The packet costs 180/- at food city. For 60/- I can have a meal, and the homemade tomato ketchup is all I eat it with. No parmesan or pesto, but I have some basil seeds so I may grow and make my own pesto!

Getting back to the point of what I do in the evenings in my desolate 5 acre plot, firstly a bit of background by way of explanation: I do not have electricity, which is a major limiting factor and reduces one’s options. I don’t have a petromax lamp at the moment(those high powered kerosene lamps), so in a practical sense I cannot curl down with a book, to while away the time( I have unread books here). It is not easy to sit all evening in my veranda at my desk, or in my planter's chair overlooking the river listening to the sounds of the night, which are varied and many, and the occasional moonlight, to type into the computer. I guess in one sense, it is inspiring to type in the dark, when there is nothing to distract except the occasional sound of Chuti Nangi’s voice carrying from across the river about 100 meters away, my nearest neighbor. I have been meaning to get a radio for the staff to at least listen to some music, which they like and at that point they will no doubt have the channel of their choice. My neighbours have electricity so sometimes they go there to watch TV leaving me alone, to cover the bed with a mosquito net and go to sleep.

The Dum Muttuya is burning at the moment, and that literally translated means, smoke pot, Margosa( also known as Neem or Kohomba) leaves are burning in the pot giving out a smell that repels the mosquitoes, is my way of keeping the mossies at bay.(there is a photo of this smoking pot elsewhere in this blog)

This January 15, 2008 day was very hot and sunny, but now at 8 pm after dinner, it is cold enough to sleep under a sheet and to be covered up. Another misnomer and myth that is prevalent is that it is hot in the dry zone. I have not felt the need for an electric fan all the time I have lived here and the only instant it comes in handy is when one uses it instead of a mosquito net to drive out the mosquitoes, so I shall shortly retire to bed, most likely be fast asleep by nine pm ready for an early start before 5 tomorrow.

I admit to one thing though, and that is irrespective of where one lives, to have someone with you to share your thoughts and ideas, a companion. The path I have taken makes it very difficult to imagine that there would be someone willing to undergo some of the inconveniences of life in this alternative lifestyle.

I have also investigated the possibility of getting on line on a wireless remote link, and I think it would be just a matter of time before I can be wired up to the world of Internet despite my lack of power and also wireless telephony, except for my mobile phone, which works well here. That however adds another dimension to life where time is taken away from one due to the endless possibilities that keeps one occupied well into the night, keeping in touch with news and friends including using skype and facebook.

This last option is one to tread carefully, as I would give up some of what is peaceful to get back to the world of news and views and people.

Friday, January 11, 2008

a new way to look at life

"""My pair of spectacles finally gave way, and I had no option but to wear my old pair from school days in Cambridge, England, bought with toughened glass and curved sides to go tightly over my ears in order to play cricket without them slipping and falling.They are 35 years old, and I can see with them without any problem.
I went to a wedding the following day, and I was greeted as if I had started a new fashion. Another person would have been most embarrassed to have even worn them in company of friends and acquaintances and risk derision. I had not the slightest hesitation."""
BTW my suit is about 20 years old and the tie not much less, the ones in the pic.


It occurred to me this morning,that I have now passed my grace period of living in Sri Lanka and have no intention of leaving the shores again. Everyone I know who leads what I call a conventional life, however find it very hard to live under very difficult conditions and many are in the process of making plans to have some kind of exit valve out of here.
I have therefore concluded that the secret to living in Sri Lanka and enjoying what the country has to offer without regrets, one has to lead an unconventional life which takes account of what is good about the country and try to avoid being in contact with what is bad.
I have had a few nasty interactions with people this week, where out of a sense of conventional behaviour, I was found at fault, but I did not care a rats ass about what they said as their views were exactly reflective of what is wrong in this society. They are bound by how things are done here, call it tradition, call it practice, call it other peoples expectations. When one lives without questioning whether that is actually better or worse for ones personal well being, and the well being of ones intentions, then you make a choice as to whether to adhere to it or change from it, by making a rational assessment.
Only those who make this rational evaluation can come to a balance of how to live within one's own principals compromising only where necessary for the greater good.
I have therefore made a resolution for the year to further assess my actions to determine if they are rational or just reactive ones following expectations and conventions, and then determine the course of action to follow. This is inevitably going mean I may come into conflict with those who do not like the choice I have made, but I can only explain why I make that decision and then stick to it.
This practice makes others also evaluate what they have hitherto done out of habit and not out of conscious willingness. I believe I have achieved a modicum of success if I can get others to think similarly so they are aware of the choices they make, and why they make it.
I know this all sounds very philosophical, but this is the only way to live in chaos. Our society today has conflict, and danger lurking in every corner and normal activities in other countries are quite an effort here.We cannot foresee if or when this condition will change, but we have to live in these times and making this assessment helps us to give purpose to this life, and not live in a fatalistic way as most people, especially Buddhist do.
Fulfillment and happiness should be goals to live by, and that is possible in every society,even those that are dangerous, unpredictable and violent, when we take an alternative approach to our lives, not following a norm.
In my interaction with people I find those living an unconventional life appear to live more contentedly.They are not bothered by what people think of them for living this way, nor are they questioning their lifestyle. They are just living life to the fullest, in the best way they can given their circumstances.Its not all fun and games, it is full of obstacles, but it is a more palatable way of facing these hurdles and hopefully overcoming them at some point.
I am therefore declaring that I too have followed that philosophy and this Eureka moment today, confirm finally why I am what I am and living like I do, and the reason for it. The alternatives for me are too hard to even contemplate.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

looking forward to 2008

I am looking forward to this year.I start this year desperately searching for a good diary, as I want a page for each day, as I have a lot of content to journal due to the life I lead and the different paths they take each day. In fact I need a few other regular desk diaries for my staff at different locations to record their work flow and rain fall and planting schedules, like when nursery is seeded and also details of daily harvest, and method of disposal so they are aware of their productivity. Even the shop needs one to record daily activity.It is actually quite a complex series of data that is easier to log on diary than in other formats in the absence of computers.

I have a very hectic planting schedule, and I have to complete a store to keep paddy so I do not run out of rice for my shop, like I have at present. I am planning to use the existing foundation of a house to build this to store about 1800 bushels of rice paddy.I also need to arrange for funds to purchase paddy from farmers immediately on harvest before they sell to others like they did last season and I did not have the wherewithall to purchase them.

I am also ambitious enough to attempt to plant three seasons on my land, something no one here has attempted. So once I do back to back paddy cultivation, I want to have produced sufficient compost to immediately spread at the end of the second harvest and then plant vegetables in the dry season the time prices are about three times current market price due to shortages. Much depends on the reliability of the staff and the enthusiasm they show to follow my plan, so I have to motivate them.

The extra commitment to get part time work, to supplement my resources will put added pressure on me to work even harder, but the need to have my forest cabin ready for occupancy, and the attendant costs leave for another tough belt tightening year.

i was thinking

When I was stealthily walking a few nights ago, about 11pm along the path in our neighbourhood, to divert water to our fields, I could not help noticing, how all the houses had their lights on inside. and all their windows firmly shut and TVs blaring the sound emanating from the open grill above, that no amount of noise I made, nor the barking of the dogs would disturb these avid tv addicts. I could not help wondering with the men asleep after the regular kasippu shots, what these women and older children were watching.

When I visit my neighbours, (they have electricity and I don't)they do not have any reading matter on view.They have photographs and the mandatory wedding one and now the all consuming TV set with some having a stereo system too.

Sri Lanka claims a high level of literacy, but I really do not notice anyone reading, or for that matter writing. We generally confine ourselves to upper middle class homes where education and books form an important part of our lives, but the masses of this country do not appear as interested or is it just the rural people and not the urban folk?

I therefore have come to the conclusion that TV has immense power as those glued to this in the evening invariably believe what is said without analysis.The education system rarely teaches one to think for oneself, and therefore opinion formation is influenced unduly by television. This dependence on TV for all entertainment while keeping people out of mischief can also be harmful as the content of many channels are not educational, but light hearted soaps mostly imported from India and dubbed into Sinhala. The shallow lives of the story line is then emulated as the one to aspire to, and this breeds contempt for the lives they now lead.This further hurtles them(primarily the female audience) towards the middle east so they have a chance of living this life.

I would like to see a more critical and objective view in the press of this issue and to an extent bring out this social phenomenon to the fore so people can make some educated decisions on the merits.

On a lighter vein what happened to the people who went to bed at dusk and rose when the cock crows to get about their business. No wonder the women have now become fat as a result of the couch potato syndrome. The working farmer is generally still thin, as alcohol dependency and smoking keeps them that way too. In the west it is the wives who complain that the husbands are the couch potatoes holding onto the remote when they come from work and fall asleep with the dinner plate on their lap.

Not trying to be sexist, the women still exclusively do all the housework in villages and gather firewood to cook and therefore look forward to their relaxation once their husbands are fed after their drink and they pass out.

This point is for the press, not to let their prejudices overwhelm them, but look objectively at lives of the different people in this country, and try to bring about an awareness and understanding so that a commonsense choice can be made. They should not just report news items as news, but try to improve social conditions of the people.