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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. 

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sri Lanka withholding investment on research: Vitharana

Daily Mirror: 20/10/2007" Sri Lanka spends only 0.14% of its GDP on research by Raknish Wijewardene

Research in science and technology is absolutely vital for the development of a successful economy yet Sri Lanka currently spends only 0.14% of its GDP on research, the lowest rate in the world, claimed the Minister of science and technology Tissa Vitharana speaking at a forum organized by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL).
By comparison successful Asian economies such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan spend over 3% of their GDP on research. Even this year where the government under the Mahinda Chinthana pledged that spending on research would rise to 1% of GDP less than 0.2% of the budget was allocated for this purpose complained the Minster.

Further he lamented that even of these extremely limited funds only a fraction have been delivered as the treasury is, as a result of the conflict, currently withholding funding that was previously promised for the development of research.

Emphasizing that economic development is inconceivable without a strong domestic science and research base the minister insisted the nations iterated failure to undertake constructive scientific research was, no less than the war, a grave threat to the nation’s aspiration’s for prosperity and progress.

Speaking at the Key Persons forum organized by the FCCISL with the intention of promoting awareness of government policy issues among the business community, the minister said that scientific research must be made commercially viable.

Rather than being academic in focus he insisted the majority of research in Sri Lanka must be devoted to improving the economic situation of the country and focus on developing technologies related to value addition and maximizing profits in the agricultural and light industrial sectors.
While maintaining that the government was working through the national science foundation and village development programs to encourage research at every level of society the Minster claimed that the vast amounts of capital required to develop the infrastructure related to research and a critical lack of funds prevented his ministry from functioning effectively.

Ultimately he said that significant private sector investment and involvement was necessary to establish a viable research base and stressed that future research had to be conducted with a view to producing saleable products.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sri Lanka: Why Nanotechnology, and How?

The following is the abstarct of the paper presented by Dr. D. H. S. Maithripala at the first national level conference on Nanotechnology in Sri Lanka on the 16th of October 2007 at the BMICH. The theme of the conference was ``Nanotechnology for the Sustainable Development.'' A .pdf version of the abstract can be accessed by visiting the conference program or by clicking on this link.

Why Nanotechnology, and How?
D. H. S. Maithripala
Dept. of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Ruhuna.
E-mail: smaithri at mme.ruh.ac.lk

Nanotechnology is the study, design, creation, synthesis, and manipulation of structures at the scale of 1—100 nanometers and the use of such structures for applications. The ultimate goal of nanotechnology is to fabricate machines at the molecular level, that can replicate themselves, and manufacture larger structures atom-by-atom [5], [3], [4]. The ability to observe and manipulate individual atoms, facilitated by the development of the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM), is making it a reality much sooner than any body had ever expected. The enabling power of such a manufacturing capability is anticipated to usher in a technological revolution of unprecedented magnitude.

In order to compete successfully in global technology, investing in existing technology alone is not sufficient and a significant portion of the investment must focus on cutting-edge science and technology [10]. Key studies based on research publications and patents show that nanotechnology is the next frontier of science. Judging by the massive funding it is clear that, the developed countries such as, the US, Japan and the EU do not have any doubts about the transformative power of nanotechnology [3], [4]. What may be surprising though, is the leading interest taken by developing nations such as India, China, Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Philippines, and Thailand [6], [2], [7], [8], [9], [10]. They too have already invested a significant portion of their science and technology budgets to promote nanotechnology. The reasons seem two fold. First, they may see it as an opportunity to leap frog their technologies and economies to be par with that of developed countries. Second they may have realized the great potential of nanotechnology for solving their myriad pressing social needs.

Sociologists and economists around the world are pointing out that, if appropriately developed, nanotechnology may hold the key for sustainable socio-economic development [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]. They also point out the dangers of being left out. From a global perspective this danger amounts to a South-South divide. From Sri Lanka’s point of view the danger lies in ending up in the bottom half of the divide. Merely being nanotechnology proficient will only help us be users of the technology developed elsewhere. There is no reason to believe that such a technology will be tailored to cater to our socio-economic needs. Even if developed in such a way history tells us that it will not be cheap. In fact it may very well be completely unaffordable. Thus our objective in this race should be to become cutting edge nanotechnology developers focusing on building the technology that will carry us out of poverty.

To become nanotechnology experts we have to go a long way. The first thing that we should ask is: how far behind are we? Most of the developed countries such as the US, Japan and the EU, and developing countries such as India, China, and Brazil, began their respective nanotechnology initiatives only during this century. Thus, it is tempting to conclude that, time wise we do not seem to be that far behind. Before arriving at such a conclusion we have to take into account the existing scientific infrastructure and human resources of those countries. Comparatively what are our capabilities? To a large extent the answer lies in the observation that the field is at an embryonic stage where bulk of the research is still based on theoretical and simulation studies [1].

All three areas of natural science: Physics, Chemistry and Biology have now simultaneously arrived at the nanofrontier. Any person working at the molecular level in their respective scientific areas is a true nanotechnologist. At nanometer length scales all known classical macroscopic models breakdown, inertial effects become negligible, surface effects become prominent compared to bulk effects and quantum effects start becoming increasingly significant. These pervasive features provide an unescapable unifying theme to nanoscience. The bulk of today’s nanoscience research is focused on understanding and using these novel features for applications. Such aspects make nanoscience interesting and much more than mere miniaturization.

Much of the research is still at a theoretical and simulation level. In this context I believe that Sri Lanka does not lack the scientific human resources. However what we lack is an interaction between disciplines. Building such interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific activity is essential and may require a well planned out strategy. A tremendous hitherto untapped human resource potential is the expatriate scientific community. There is very little doubt about their enthusiasm to help. What is lacking is a mechanism. There are many renowned expatriate nanotechnologists spread out all over the world. Asking them to give up their highly successful careers, or in the least to dedicate a significant portion of their busy schedules, to come down here to Sri Lanka and run a nanotechnology program may be unrealistic. What may be realistic is collaborative research work and technical advisory. We should build a nanotechnology program centered around and run by local scientists working in close collaboration with the expatriate experts. Forging links and providing a common meeting ground will be the initial step towards such successful partnerships. The industry could play a crucial role in these efforts.

Having emphasized on the theoretical capabilities we should not down paly at any cost the monumental task played by real experiments. If we are to be serious contenders in the nanotechnology race we would eventually need to build up a solid experimental background to support the theoretical work. This in fact will be the most significant challenge that would face us due to the inadequate experimental capabilities available and the anticipated initial high cost involved in establishing such infrastructure. Nevertheless the only way to achieve this may be to exploit our strengths, theory and simulations, and then gradually build on experimental capability. Given the small size of the country and the short supply of existing nanotechnology studies a single AFM, and associated equipment like those needed for a clean room, may look like more than sufficient for us to get started. Even such modest requirements may run into several millions of US dollars.

In conclusion it is highly plausible that we are in fact more than capable. How soon we plan out, phase out and implement an appropriate strategy to identify the immediate applications of nanotechnology for the many social problems of Sri Lanka, the existing capabilities of the country’s scientists, a mechanism for interdisciplinary collaborative work, and a mechanism for collaborative work with expatriates will determine how far behind we are in the race to harness the great powers of nanotechnology.


[1] R. N. Kostoff, J. A. Stump, D. Johnson, J. S. Murday, C. G. Y. Lau, W. M. Tolles, "The Structure and Infrastructure of the Global Nanotechnology Literature", Journal of Nanoparticle Research, Springer Science, Vol 8, Issue 1, 2006.
[2] Bai, Chunli, "Ascent of Nanoscience in China", Science, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5731/61 Vol. 309. no. 5731, pp. 61 — 63, 1st July 2005.
[3] "Nanotechnology Research Directions: IWGN report", Eds. M. C. Roco, R. S. Williams and P. Alivisatos, http://itri.loyola.edu/nano/IWGN.Research.Directions/, September 1999.
[4] "A Matter of Size: Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative’, Committee to Review the National Nanotechnology Initiative, National Research Council, http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11752.html, 2006.
[5] K. E. Drexler, "Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation", John Wiley, 1992.
[6] Bryan Bruns, "Applying Nanotechnology to the Challenges of Global Poverty: Strategies for Accessible Abundance," First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology: Research Applications and Policy, Washington D.C., Oct 22—24 2004.
[7] F. Salamanca-Buentello, D. L. Persad, E. B. Court, D. K. Martin, A. S. Daar, and P. A. Singer, "Nanotechnology and the Developing World," PloS Medicine, http://medicine.plosjournals.org, Vol 2, Issue 5, May 2005.
[8] "Nanofrontiers, Developing Story: Nanotechnology and Low-Income Nations" Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, http://www.nanotechproject.org/, Issue 7, May 2007.
[9] D. Maclurcan, "Nanotechnology and Developing Countries Part 2: What Realities?," Journal of Nanotechnology Online, http://www.azonano.com/Details.asp?ArticleID=1429, 2005.
[10] Mohamed H.A. Hassan, "Small Things and Big Changes in the Developing World," SCIENCE, Vol 309, 1st July 2005.

PDF Version

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Nanotechnology for Sustainable Development

The first ever national level conference on nanotechnology was successfully concluded at the BMICH on the 16th of October 2007. The theme of the conference was ``Nanotechnology for the Sustainable Development'' and was organized by the IESL Techno 2007 with the full support of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The Hon. Minister of Science and Technology Prof. Tissa Vitharana was one of the conference speakers. The conference hosted eight other speakers from various backgrounds ranging from the Industry, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering. A complete program and abstracts may be accessed by following this link. The session was concluded by a panel discussion. The panel consisted of distinguished personnel from the Industry, Academia, and the Ministry. The panel focussed on discussing what immediate steps needed to be taken if Sri Lanka were to join the global race to harness the enabling power of nanotechnology. The conference was attended only by invitation. The well attended audience consisted of about 100 industry leaders, 100 academia from all the universities in Sri Lanka, 25 policy makers and 25 students. For more information please visit the conference website at http://www.techno.lk/conf

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IPS Releases Publication on “Disaster Management”

Daily Mirror: 18/10/2007"

The repeated tsunami alerts issued on September 12 and 13 of 2007 in a number of Indian Ocean countries, including Sri Lanka, is a reminder that the country continues to be vulnerable to natural disasters of increasing frequency and magnitude. Most importantly, it highlights the need for an effective disaster management system for Sri Lanka. However, developing an effective disaster management mechanism requires reliable scientific information on physical, social, and policy aspects. Currently, a significant information gap exists on disaster related issues in Sri Lanka.

To fill this gap IPS has released a publication on “Disaster Management Policy and Practice in Sri Lanka: Sharing Lessons among Government, Civil Society and Private Sector.” The publication was prepared by IPS as an outcome of a study that the Institute undertook in collaboration with Oxfam America.

The publication provides recommendations in formulating best practices and improving policy on disaster management. It contains a comprehensive analysis based on secondary information and interviews with all stakeholders, including government, NGOs, private sector, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and local communities. The publication highlights the need to take a multi-hazard approach rather than a tsunami only approach, with greater emphasis on mitigation and prevention.

Mitigation and prevention are deemed to be more cost-effective in improving disaster management practices compared to post-disaster responses.

The publication also recommends the adoption of location specific approaches, focusing on coping strategies. In addition, the need to ensure that adequate attention is paid to vulnerable groups and implementation is coordinated effectively is emphasized. Policy makers, NGOs and CBOs working in the field of disaster management in Sri Lanka may find the publication useful.

The Executive Summary of the publication is available online at: http://www.ips.lk/publications/latest_publications.html.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Farmers keen on soil testing to reduce fertiliser cost

Daily News: 17/10/2007" Anjana Samarasinghe in Dambulla

Local farmers are now more on to soil testing to reduce the fertiliser cost in different cultivations.

Laboratory, Quality Control and Location Manager of the CIC Agri Business Centre Pelwehera Priyanga Dematawa said they have noticed a considerable growth in soil testing in their lab.
"Many tea smallholders are keen on doing soil testing before they cultivate. There is an increased interest in vegetable and fruit farmers to go for soil testing.

"Soil testing allows growers to identify whether the cultivation they have chosen is suitable for the soil. "If the cultivation is not suitable for growers, they have to spend large amounts of money for fertiliser, which will increase the production cost of the harvest.

"Through soil testing we advise growers on the kind of cultivations they should use and the ingredients they need to add for better harvesting, Dematawa said.

"We handle 22 samples and we could provide the test result within a short period of time at our soil plant and water analytical Laboratory in the Pelwehera farm. We provide these testing facilities at a subsidised rate, Dematawa said. Most of the farmers believe that nutrient deficiency of the soil is a disease in their plantation. Farmers need to identify these nutrient deficiencies and put necessary nutrients into the cultivation.

'The Sri Lankan agriculture sector has been subsidised for urea and plants need other nutrition for better harvest.

The Soil, Plant and Water Analytical Laboratory was opened in 2003 with the technical support of the Phosphate and Potash Institute of Canada.

Pelwehera farm also has a tissue culture laboratory for production of tissue culture planting material on a commercial scale. High quality planting material of fruits and ornamental plants are produced at this laboratory.

Dematawa said this laboratory provides over two million plants per year specially banana plants.

The farm is also equipped with a seed-testing laboratory. All seeds and planting material produced in the farm as well as throughout-growers are subject to stringent quality tests at the lab.

The other facilities at the Pelwehera farm include agri-techno parks and it has a variety of plants and endangered species. Green houses and drip irrigation too are demonstrated at the park.

The farm also produces paddy, coconut and big onion seeds for the local agricultural sector. Poultry and fresh water prawn farms are also located in the Pelwehera farm. There is a huge demand for agriculture tourism in Sri Lanka and the company expects to develop an agriculture tourism site inside the farm, he said.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Enhancing opportunities for rural youth; ICTA joins hands with EDEX

Daily Mirror: 15/10/2007"

While many organisations have difficulties in recruiting the right talent to join their winning teams, many applicants on the other hand, apply for vacancies not being fully aware of the exact expectations of the organisation or the competency requirements to fulfil the tasks assigned effectively.

Although the free education system was introduced in Sri Lanka over 5 decades ago, it could be concluded that even with billions of Rupees of public funds being allocated annually, our youth particularly its rural counterparts are yet to show any remarkable improvement. It is no secret, how on a number of occasions these youth who continuously suffered from a protracted ‘opportunity divide’ reacted violently, whilst many passionately debated issues of the Digital Divide on a global front.

With a vision ‘To empower the Sri Lankan youth to be globally competitive’, EDEX along with the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) is now concentrating on the rural youth of the country. This strategic partnership paves the way for a better focused strategy to enhance opportunities for the rural community.

ICTA’s Nenasala programme is now gaining momentum with over 400 IT kiosks dotting even remote villages islandwide. This program is incrementally making inroads to enhancing IT literacy, which is increasingly becoming a key skill in demand. It is reported that over 10,000 mostly rural youth access Internet and other IT resources online everyday via the Nenasala network.

Benefiting from the synergies the ‘Nenasala’ and ICTA offer, EDEX – National Higher Education and Careers EXPO has decided to offer the benefits of the recently re-launched EDEX web portal www.edex.lk for the benefit of these rural youth.

Synergies derived from this initiative are expected to be a real boon to the aspiring youth in the country specially those in rural areas. Bringing these rural youth a few steps closer to the opportunities that exist both within and outside the country, the EDEX web portal will offer them with invaluable online resources in higher education, skills development and employment in terms of guidance as well as placements.

Such rare exposure and access to related information will enable the out-of school young men and women to make informed decisions on choices, options and opportunities available.
EDEX is acclaimed to be the most comprehensive and the largest Education and Careers Fair in the country. It has managed to create new standards in the exhibitions arena with its novelty/ value addition programmes such as seminars and workshops, on site job interviews, scholarship offers, greater coverage of relevant sectors representing both local and overseas participants and other special features, the pinnacle of which are the twin EDEX Exhibitions held in Colombo and Kandy in January each year.

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