What is the earthly purpose of embarking on a plan for organic cultivation and then destroying paddy cultivation as a result of it only to import inorganic rice that we were producing here in the first place?


By

Rajpal Abeynayake

The wewa-dagoba concept has been central to Sri Lanka’s political discourse since ancient times, and this is a very ancient country of course, that earned the epithet “Granary of the East” many aeons back during the reign of the Sinhala kings.

Though much has happened since that time, when we weren’t a fractured polity and Saubhagya was a reality and not a slogan, we have to also ask ourselves why the recent past caused many of the glories of the ancient epoch to face this fractured fate. Colonialism happened, no doubt, and then we were caught up in globalisation, which entailed travel at high speeds and connectivity of an order that was never dreamed of during the bucolic past of the wewas and the dagobas.

However, through all this fracturing that happened, even post-colonialism, the country was wedded to the wewa-dagoba concept. On many occasions, our agricultural policy went haywire, and yes, there were several instances in recent history when rice, though our staple, had to be imported.

But that was largely seen as an aberration, as we very soon went back to the default position, which was self-sufficiency in rice – i.e the wewa-dagoba concept was very much alive. The wewa is central to the idea of self-sufficiency in rice, and of course the dagoba needs no explanation.

The fact that we have to import, or avail ourselves of a generous Chinese gift of rice varieties that are not cultivated under organic conditions, has now fractured the wewa-dagoba concept once more, and it is absurd that a nationalist Government is at the root of all this.

Why has this nationalist Government fractured this our most important cultural legacy – wewa-dagoba – that we cherished even though colonialism fractured what else was left of our cultural heritage many years ago?

What is the earthly purpose of embarking on a plan for organic cultivation and then destroying paddy cultivation as a result of it, only to import inorganic rice that we were producing here in the first place?

It is true that the President in his address to Parliament referred to mistakes with regard to the organic fertiliser project, and though he did not refer to a dialling back as such, a backpedalling at least on some aspects of the project was implied.

But, the essential undoing of the wewa component of the wewa-dagoba cultural legacy will not sit well on a Government that is supposed to be nationalist. At the moment, this regime has, it seems, the organic – no pun intended – backing of the Buddhist bhikkhu base in this country, and that had no doubt offered a measure of comfort for a dispensation that has been feeling increasingly besieged amid the problems stemming from an economy facing all kinds of trouble.

However, the attack on the wewa due to the organic fertiliser project and the undermining of the rural farmer and our self-sufficiency status as a rice growing country has wide-ranging implications that may fracture the dagoba concept along with the symbolism of the wewa in the future.

The ill-thought out implementation trajectory of the organic fertiliser project has created an enormous amount of dissent among the rural farming community, which may spill over to the arena of religion through the rural community’s organic links with the culture associated with the Buddhist monks and the village temple. This could spell more trouble for the Government than it ever bargained for.

Truth be told, the risk that the entire Buddhist bhikkhu (sangha) community will turn against this regime is very remote. As stated, the organic links between the progressive left-of-centre political cohort, of which the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is a part, and the Buddhist sangha veda community is too strong for it to be torn asunder by the mere fracturing of the wewa concept.

But that notwithstanding, “fracture” being the operative word, it is possible that at least some of that support base may see fissures if this organic fertiliser issue persists and the cultivators feel that they have no room to manoeuvre with a Government that is not exactly open to change on the fertiliser issue, despite the protestations to the contrary.

The President cannot turn around and say to those of us who advocate a gradual change to organic fertiliser that we are lobbyists on behalf of a chemical fertiliser mafia. This retort is untenable, because it is agreed that organic agriculture is excellent, except that a rapid transition of the type we are having now is disastrous to our crops, which is of course self-evident.

Of course it would be contended by the regime – especially for reasons of history when the tales of this era are written about for the chronicles – that fracturing the wewa concept was not at the heart of the organic fertiliser project. No, of course not. However, that has been the consequence, and it has some bearing on national pride, etc., that nationalists are so conscious of.

Reversing years of self-sufficiency in rice is not a joke – it’s sad and it hurts national pride and it was not necessary, which is why the wewa concept seems so badly fractured in reality even though the original reason may have been collateral – i.e. nobody intended to fracture the wewa concept; the consequences were entirely unintentional.

But intended or otherwise, the consequences are tangible, and it is unlikely the regime may be entirely forgiven for its actions. With luck, the regime may be able to extricate itself from this mess over time, but at the moment, the odds seem to be stacked against that probability.

It was the nationalist lobby that gave most impetus to the organic fertiliser call – at least identifiable sections of it – over the so-called CKD or chronic kidney disease issue. These sections of the community were certain that organic agriculture would end kidney disease (CKD) and they had some personal stake invested in the idea as well, due to the historical antecedents of that issue and how it was covered in the media.

But, the plan was ill-thought out and quickly undermined the entire agricultural process revolving round the wewa, i.e. paddy cultivation. CKD killed people no doubt, but it was a relatively minor issue in comparison with the total sabotaging of the core of our country’s rural agriculture through the ill-thought-out, badly implemented organic fertiliser project.

That the rural paddy cultivating community feels hard done by is not surprising. Someone may turn around and say how ironic, what has the wewa got to do with the chemical fertilisers that these paddy cultivators are using – how is the wewa concept sustained by Harcross (the name of a popular insecticide) in other words?

The reality is that when chemical fertilisers and insecticides were first introduced to the country, the paddy cultivators were up in arms as well. They had never used this stuff and thought that it would spell the end of their crops. Now the tables have turned, and when cultivators are asked abruptly to get back to their old ways, they are unable to cope because their entire output was dependent on chemical fertilisers.

No doubt that was an unhealthy dependency syndrome, but can one point to a country in which large-scale crop output is not sustained by chemical fertiliser? Good or bad, the organic fertiliser project could not be carried out abruptly, and that was obvious, and now the Government’s reluctance to substantially dial back is threatening its very base of support.

The dagoba is still intact, however, and it is possible that the regime would be rescued by the Buddhist lobby, which, it still appears, is invested in the idea that the regime alone would protect the Sinhala-Buddhist heritage.

But for the rural cultivator, practical considerations trump everything, and it is still possible that they – the hewers of wood and drawers or water that in fact keep the rural economy going – and not the deities of the dagoba, would decide the ultimate fate of this Government.

Courtesy:The Morning