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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What price bumper harvests?

Daily News: 09/07/2005" by Afreeha Jawad

The misconception that artificial fertilizer applications give rise to consistent high yields is very apparent now. Bumper yields in coconut make growers feel all very smug about it but it has been growers' experience that such good news is only temporary. Sooner than later crop yields tend to decline.

Weedicides and pesticides application on coconut land have and all other ruined both soil and biodiversity which otherwise contribute heavily to increased productivity. In India studies have shown that in the long term, shade grown coffee plantations can be more productive than their full sun counterparts. The full sun plantation may achieve very high productivity levels for short periods but this requires high inputs of fertilizer and weedicides according to some Indian agriculturists. Generally, however, productivity declines after a relatively short period and trees must be replaced. In contrast, for example, coffee grown under shade remains productive over long time.

Support for productivity comes from interspersed trees, often leguminous varieties that supply a portion of the hydrogen requirements. In addition, the shade controls weed growth reducing the need for herbicide input and can also contribute to disease prevention.

In addition to reduced productivity in the long term arising out of inorganic chemical application, damage brought on the soil itself is tremendous. In both instances growers are compelled to grow short-term crop varieties which unlike the older plantations are genetically manoeuvred in a manner necessitating inorganic input decided by external sources.

Thus we see the constant demand for inorganic chemicals on the rise with inter-national chemical companies standing to gain.

A glaring example in damaged crop varieties, is paddy. Where have all the 'Pachcha Perumal,' 'Heenatihaal' and what not gone. Limited quantities of such today lie not in fields but neatly lodged in gene banks of to the Agriculture Department.

As this writer researched this subject's present status it was revealed how supposedly improved varieties have come in for purposes of "greater output" - a short-term reality and long-term myth.

The latest victim in this "greater output" exercise is the Red Lady papaw variety which has now been completely effaced and replaced by the exceptionally sweet yellow-coloured local papaw.

The fate befallen this local papaw variety is akin to what happened to Sri Lanka's traditional rice varieties. Many farmer attempts to cultivate traditional varieties has ended in failure. The soil is most irresponsive to its growth due to damage done by constant inorganic chemical application. Not a single paddy field in this country today retains soil originality and whether we like it or not we are compelled into inorganic chemical usage for all crops without the exception of even a single.

There is also a counter argument put forward which advocates the current trend in the agricultural layout. Traditional varieties it is said are most unconducive to feed rising numbers.

So which way do we go? Plantations with greater productivity in the short-term risking long-term effects on such or the traditional varieties with reduced output unable to feed the teeming millions. Having arrived at such crossroads the time has come for sustainability in agriculture.

A paradigm shift from agri-business to agro-sustainability, from pecuniary gain to sustenance is the hour's need.

Weaning even small time farmers away from inorganic chemicals is not going to be an easy task for all of them including even home gardeners firmly uphold the need to apply such. Its easy accessibility all neatly packeted is yet another reason for its preference over organic manure, the collection of which is time-consuming.

It is here that organizational intervention is needed in an islandwide collection of organic manure from large scale dairies similar to what supermarkets do in collecting glut produce. Small time dairy owners could even deliver their collection at collecting centres on their way to delivering milk.

Considering the smallness in size of this country soil contamination is most swift. To ignite and spread is not a herculean task unlike in a vast geographical expanse.

Farmer awareness on weed controlling and nutrient supplying plants and creepers such as glydicidia and Buttala, need to be popularised.

Seeking magic numbers in crop production alone would not suffice considering its long-term ill-effects on the soil and environment.


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