Education, culture and health of our rural population compromised – The Island

Another Open Letter to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Minister,

It appears that you are being lobbied by various individuals with an eye of promoting toxins and fossil additives into agriculture with seemingly no concern to the well being of our population. The writer quotes, ‘This has been best put by Bombastus Paracelsus (1493 -1541), the father of the science of pharmacology. He postulated that “all substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. It is the dosage that differentiates poison and remedy”. This saying has been used by proponents of agrotoxins to justify their use in farming. But what has been ignored is the reality of biological magnification.

Biological magnification, or biomagnification, is the increasing buildup of toxic substances within organisms that happens at each stage of the food chain. I do hope that the Doctor promoting Glyphosate has done some studies in biology. If he did, he would know the reality of biological magnification (fig 1)

He claims that the Yahapalana President was wrongly convinced that glyphosate was the cause of CKDu and banned it. This, he states is wrong, because, “It is now known that the aetiolating agent of CKDu is hard water and fluoride in dug wells on high ground. Those who drank river or tank (surface) water did not contaminate the disease.

This statement flies in the face of current research that shows, those who drank water from the irrigation system loaded with agrotoxins, suffer a much higher CKDu burden than those who drank from wells and springs. Their data suggests that it is the irrigation water from upstream that brought the toxins into the drinking water of communities of the lowlands.

Yes, it is true that the phenomenal success in value adding to our export crops through certified organic product, grew from 50 hectares of certified organic land to 49,000 ha in under 22 years, without any support from the Government. An entirely successful private enterprise initiative that was highjacked by the government. The sycophants and bureaucrats hoping to save foreign funds by advising a naïve President to ban agrochemicals. But in no way does the Presidential fiasco have an impact on the international market for certified organic product. In these desperate times when every dollar of foreign exchange earned is critical, It is amusing to see the promoters of chemical farming attempting to justify their trade by putting down organic production.

What any intelligent person needs to do now is to address the human health issue in agriculture and ask when non-communicable diseases (NCDs) began to increase among the farming community. It will be seen that this was a phenomenon that began in the early ‘70s. Then ask the question did we change any thing in the management of our farming systems at this time? Yes, we did, we brought the ‘Green Revolution’ system of fossil subsidised agriculture and changed our traditional farming systems. There is a strong correlation between the onset of the NCD’s and chemical farming, but no one seems to want to wake up this beast.

Chemical Farming provides an insidious way for chemical manufacturers to get humanity hooked onto their products. It was back in the ‘70s when chemical farming was being promoted, honest researchers pointed out the addictive nature of the system. To produce double the food, you needed ten or fifteen times more energy (in kilocalories), than before and that energy comes from fossil fuel. Further, when you add fossil derived chemicals into the soil, they tend to destroy the soil ecosystem until the farm will not produce without these chemicals. The soil of the farm has become addicted to the chemicals, without which they cannot produce.

This is why the nation is in such a quandary, we are addicted and as the Doctor says, “The country, or for that matter, the world cannot move away from conventional farming and agrochemical”. True, but this is due to addiction. If his education was a little broader, He would know that the world, including agriculture is facing a crisis, with the onset of climate change. He should know that it is the fossil driven agriculture being promoted by him is one of the major reasons for the crisis. Advocating the pouring of gasoline onto a burning planet is not the best advice.

Another significant statement is “Farmers claim that they have to invest three to four times more for manual weeding after the glyphosate ban.” So is the only benefit of using Glyphosate is the give the farmer the free time from manual weeding? Maybe the Doctor, was too young to remember the ‘Paddy Weeding Campaign” of the ’60 where the government facilitated urban kids to assist the farmer in the task of manual weeding. The National Geographic reported on a 200% crop increase. It was an amazing national effort, until the politicians felt threatened and disbanded it.

A weed, is merely a plant out of place in any system, therefore Glyphosate has to be toxic to a wide spectrum of plants to be a weedicide. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to microorganisms which are essential for soil health as well as for the proper functioning of the gut in most animals. The damage this chemical does to the soil ecosystem and human health by destroying many of the beneficial microorganisms, has still to be addressed.

Mr. Minister, the following statement from the Farmers of Sri Lanka made o the Meeting of the CGIAR Brasilia May 1998 could not be clearer:

“We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.”

We are at a time when personal agendas trump national agendas, when glyphosate is promoted, by people called conservationists who kill great numbers of endangered species to be recognised. When the agenda on sales of chemicals begins to trump public health and biodiversity conservation issues. When doctors promote toxins.

Mr. Minister, our founding father the Rt Hon D. S. Senanayake spoke of his vision for the nation as one of ‘educated, gentlemen farmers.’

But the intervening years have seen education, culture and now the very health of our rural population compromised. As the occupant of that august chair, will you act?

Dr. Ranil Senanayake

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