Saturday, February 14, 2009

The lifeblood of the nation

Sunset over the Minneriya Tank, the lifeblood of water for my paddy fields, for which I pay the state Rs500 a year(about US$4) as water taxes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Trees that are usually found in the home gardens in the Polonnaruwa District

I spent the whole morning yesterday, plucking the remaining mature mangos from the home gardens of my neighbors in Godabima, across the river from my place. Most of the people live in one or two acre properties with a “colony ge” constructed and given by the government decades ago, to attract settlers to the area. The homes were usually constructed in one or two designs, but as wood was plentiful, often Ebony and Satinwood was used for the rafters, and the roofs were tiled and a nice verandah was part of the design. Very few of these homes have been maintained, though various additions for kitchens and rooms have taken place. Actually they look rather decrepit.

Technically this home functions as the ‘Maha Ge’ and is therefore passed down to the youngest son or child if there are no male children, and the others given land for homes from agricultural land given by the government at time of the settlement creation. It is an interesting study in social anthropology to note that the inheritors of this property knew form a young age of this inheritance and did little to better themselves, usually falling into alcoholism by being the spoilt child, with whom the parents live till they pass away!

The trees that are now on the property are fully grown and it is almost completely shaded. Coconut forms the greater number, as there is enough for the family’s daily needs as well as sufficient to dry and mill for coconut oil as well. Then there are very tall Mango trees, which earn the homeowner between a thousand and three thousand a crop, when people offer for the tree and pluck and remove the mango. There are a collection of others that don’t give an income, namely, Jack and Del, Belli and Pomegranate, Katu Atha and Amberella, Pera and La ulu, Puwak and Siyambala, Woodapple and Orange and off course a lime tree for home use. If space permits there are a few Papaya, Banana and short term vegetable crops.

One of the comments I received was that if people are happy doing nothing then why should they improve their lot, to which I replied its fine if they purchased the means of livelihood and then made their choice. It is the state that provides, namely home, land, education, healthcare, water and electricity at minimal cost to them so that they can do nothing. That is the point. Is it any wonder that we are therefore known as the land of the “lotus eaters?”

Some of the homes of course have trees that are of value for timber, such as Teak, Mahogany, Ebony, Nadun, Halmilla, Kumbuk, and Kohomba. Some of the other trees mentioned earlier like Jack also has Timber value, then there are other trees that grow wild like Ahatu, Attikka, Bamboo, Wal kohomba, which is a type of willow, Madang, Buckmee, Cotta. I am sure I have not mentioned half of the wild species that grow unaided or unplanned.

While all these trees are accepted as quite normal to have, many of you readers, living in apartments or small homes in urban areas would nevertheless wish you were able to step out of your front door and walk amongst this veritable delight, with rare and beautiful birds singing their praises at such choice.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Making use of the Agricultural Extension Officers and Veterinary Resources

If one reads through this blog in detail one would realize that the knowledge required of a physician in General Practice pales in comparison with the knowledge required of a peasant farmer if he is to perform his tasks productively. Sadly the best brains in the country are streamed into Medicine, an area where we will soon have a surplus of, while those who are unable to do anything else are forced into fields of Agriculture, where we are desperately short of talent. Herein lies another of the predicaments I constantly try to expose. While a doctor has the training in Western Medicine or Ayurvedic Medicine, the farmer needs to know the diseases both plant borne and pest borne and know how to cure them by the use of chemicals and organic means. Having the knowledge in one only is not sufficient.

My 10acre farm is in Godagama, Meegoda, and so my nearest town for everything is Homagama 4 kilometers away. I first visited the vet to ask him about a foot injury a newly born calf has, and how I should treat it as the first aid administered of Iodex, the usual remedy had not worked. I then had to ask him about the cow whose uterus was washed, but despite 4 attempts at artificial insemination we failed to get a conception, so we on the due date will provide a bull to see if the natural method will work. I was pleased to see the construction in progress of a lab to test blood etc so that we can get immediate results of tests, rather than the time it takes currently to get it from Welisara.

I then went next door to get some advice and also call upon the local agricultural advisor to visit the farm to give me some ideas of improvement to my current practices. I have for the first time, possibly due to the unseasonably dry conditions, seen a disease, borne by a small caterpillar affecting all my papaya plants. I grow them in organic conditions, but all my known methods have not worked. I discovered it was a virulent worm that attacks primarily papaya and manioc, both of which I have a number of plants, but also other vegetables. The only organic means is to destroy all affected plants, that means my whole crop, or else I have to use a pesticide to spray the affected plants and hope it kills the worm. I have chosen the latter, what would you chose? If your livelihood depended on it!

This leads me to the debate on organic foods. The most enthusiastic backers are those who have no idea how hard it is to grow truly organic. Even more surprising to them would be to know the real cost of growing that way will be completely out of reach of that person’s pocket. In the real world however well intentioned we are we have to take practical measures in combating emerging problems. I agree that much of the problems farmers face are as a result of the overuse of chemicals, cleverly marketed by MNC companies, which have destroyed some of the natural predators. However single farmers cannot combat this alone, and has to be done collectively, with close assistance from the non-profit sector if they are really serious about helping the rural low-income farmers. The government sector is lost in its own world of trying to find an agricultural policy, one which I intend coming up with before they can even get pen to paper.

It is apparent that for someone in a multi product enterprise like me, the tasks, hazards and challenges are constant, unpredictable and multifaceted.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Independence Day 2009

The meaning and significance of such a day differs from person to person based on his or her life experiences. I was born long after independence from Britain and so the significance of the word Independence from subjugation to rule from another nation does not have as much weight. On the other hand I have lived most of my life in the United Kingdom, and second most in Sri Lanka, closely followed by the 14 years spent in the United States so I am a person who has immersed himself deeply in three very different cultures. Apart from the last four years of life in Sri Lanka from which all my blog experiences have been born, it was only my pre-teenage years from birth, that I spent in Sri Lanka. Now as a peasant farmer in a village I speak Sinhala.

So when I view with awe on TV the arrival of guests, and members of government and the forces in very expensive gleaming vehicles, with spotless extravagant uniformed guard escorts and in attendance, if I was from outer space I would think this is the wealthiest place on earth. What grander place for the show than on Galle Face Green! Then the endless parade in immaculate dress of the different regiments of the forces, and the military hardware on show, and the sleek show of naval strength on the high seas with an even more impressive show of air force might, lead me to believe that we have the power to conquer lands outside our shores just as Britain did in years gone by.

While I believe unquestionably that this event was for home consumption, by the people gathered in front of their TVs as all channels were obliged to show this, no international TV channel would have felt it worthy of being shown in any other country. I was also saddened by the lack of the general public gathered to view the show live, as they were only permitted to see it on TV. It smacked of a private party for invited guests, making it an exclusive event for a few. I am told this is the first Independence or equivalent parade of any country in the history of the world where there were no members of the general public present at the proceedings.

The only other two events on the program were, the raising of the National Flag with the singing of the National anthem and the President’s address to the Nation. I am trying to be objective in my observations, so please tell me if I am being unfair. The President was asked to rotate a wheel to raise the flag, something only ever done in Sri Lanka, and the flag was not raised on a flag pole straight up but at angle like on the rear of a ship, which would be judged by perfectionists as an insult to the flag. Needless to say these minor details are lost amongst the organizers.

The President’s speech was too long, too political and not sufficiently unifying. He could easily have chosen the occasion to give a short, fiery speech of inclusion and entitlement where all the citizens of this country are called upon to serve the nation and motherland devoid of petty religious, racial, caste and language differences. He could have laid the gauntlet for a truly united nation where all people’s rights of freedom would be guaranteed in the constitution and we would have applauded. As he was making a party political broadcast, bearing in mind the provincial council elections in less than ten days, it was none of that, so it alienated half the nation, and for that I am truly disappointed.