Let professionals handle the ‘sena’ attack


How the ban on Glyphosate helped the Army-worm caterpillar - The country has been invaded by the army-worm caterpillar local known as the "Senaa Dalambuwa". All kinds of conspiracy theories are being spun, and some of it was played out in Parliament. Claims are that the caterpillar has been "deliberately introduced", or it is the lack of attention at the airport customs, or that big multinationals have sent their agents with bags of worm eggs to capture the tiny market for pesticides in Sri Lanka! The facts are much simpler and patently clear.

It came in with black-market Indian products

The truth is much simpler than that. I was in Sri Lanka in early 2018, when the ban on the popular herbicide glyphosate was in full force. As I had relatives living in the North Central Province (NCP) I visited my uncle's village which is a rural farming community. My uncle himself runs a small grocery business where he sells everything from Chick Peas ("Kadala") to coconuts and cement. Many people grow maize while others engage in paddy farming (where work is limited to a few weeks in each season), then they go to towns and work in many odd jobs during the rest of the year.

The ban on glyphosate had little effect on the paddy farmers whose need for the herbicide is minimal and restricted to a few days in each season. However, the herbicide is crucial to the maize farmers whose product was devastated by its ban. Manual weeding is totally impossible given the hot climate, many serpents, and the harsh, deep-roots, and weeds that develop rapidly. So many maize farmers had NO OTHER RECOURSE except to buy the black-market glyphosate smuggled from India. This glyphosate was available in plenty, and came into the country from both the Eastern sea board as well as the North-western coast. Some may have also come through Jaffna, but what I learnt was that most of the glyphosate available came from coastal operations nearby. The black market glyphosate was what enabled many families to cultivate at least a portion of their "iringu hena" (Maize plot). It was not just glyphosate that was being smuggled to Sri Lanka from India. Many smuggled items, be it sarees, "ayurvedic products" or cheap engine parts, routinely come to our rural areas as the need has to be fulfilled.

The sena caterpillar had ALREADY arrived in India in 2017 and was thriving there. As glyphosate is a very harmless pesticide, it has no effect whatsoever on the Sena caterpillar's eggs. So it is a simpler matter to understand that a lot of Sena contamination would have come to the maize growing areas by way of smuggled products from India.

If glyphosate had NOT been banned, only approved products from known sources would have arrived in the country. In banning the product, the short-sighted legislators opened the flood gates to questionable products. So it is not surprising that Maize was the first crop that was hit by the senaa caterpillar. Even today, glyphsoate is only allowed for tea and rubber, while maize and vegetable farmers etc. have to use the unsafe the black-market product. That this black market product is widely used is well known, since even an ex-minister admitted on TV that he used black-market glyphosate on his 30-acre estate.

Using Kohomba (Neem) pesticide to eliminate Sena caterpillar

Venerable Ratana, speaking at the Sadaham Sevena, stated that he could kill these thousands of Sena caterpillars using an insecticide based on Kohomba (Azadirachta indica), a plant well known to Sri Lankans. It is indeed painful to see a Buddhist monk talking of taking life at a "Sadaham Center" and engaging in agriculture, when the Vinaya forbids a monk to even run a small vegetable garden in the Temple yard. That is the work left to the lay supporters (Dayakayas) of the temple. But then, in Sri Lanka, politicized Buddhist monks have eliminated not just thousands of caterpillars, but even assassinated prime ministers. However, the imposition of the Vinaya is a matter for Buddhist elders. Here we will examine if indeed the use of Kohomba-insecticides on a large scale is safe.

Extensive Fields tests needed

If the Kohomba preparation can kill the caterpillar, it can also kill every other beneficial bug that is in the soil, in plants and the environment, be they earthworms or bees. A broad-spectrum insecticide with the powers attributed to it by Ven. Rathana is an extremely dangerous substance.

The agrochemicals and insecticides sold by large licensed companies have to prove their efficiency and safety before they are approved for use in the public domain. Such tests usually need at least five years of testing, and continued testing before the FDA or the EPA give them a license to sell to the public. Contrary to the widespread belief that agrochemical companies are not to be trusted, the bigger companies are the most trustworthy because they are the most scrutinized, and they alone have the research money needed. But their products are independently tested by the US health department, or various research institutes in different countries. Rothamstead in England, or MahaIlluppallama in Sri Lanka, undertake such studies. Thus glyphosate, introduced in 1974, continues to be reviewed every five years. The US department of health followed the health of 90,000 farmers over a period of 25 years, and concluded that there is NO increased risk of cancer or any other non-communicable disease resulting from its use (reports of this study were published in the interim, and a final report was published in November 2017). In Sri Lanka, it seems that glyphosate was tested at the TRI and CRI from 1997-2000 before it was released to the public from 2000 onwards. And yet the public is correct to be constantly vigilant about these products. However, this same vigilance should be directed at so-called "organic" or "natural" products, which are pushed by Organic-Food super market chains that make dubious claims of these foods being more healthy and better for the environment. They are in fact not so, but a rip off of the unwary consumer.

The new products touted by Ven. Rathana with boasts can kill the caterpillar in a mere minutes are products untested for their safety in the long run. Many powerful toxins come from nature. The products made from the Kohomba plant, the rubber plant, or Niyagala, or vaha-Kaduru, or Aththana, are extremely toxic. A substance does not become non-toxic to humans simply because it is "natural". We should not allow self-appointed agricultural "experts" like Ven. Rathana to destroy the nation’s agriculture so painstakingly nurtured over decades, guided by the professionals of the tea-rubber-coconut research institutes (TRI, RRI, CRI), and those of the Department of Agriculture (DOI) which runs Gannoruwa, Kundasale, Bathalagoda, Maha-illuppallama and many other research stations. It is these scientists who have created new hybrids to feed the rapid increase in Sri Lanka's population, and combated the diseases that came upon our cash crops.

The agricultural-political lobby group founded by Ven. Rathana was installed in the Presidential Secretariat of President Sirisena under the name of SEMA, and this touted a bio-fertilizer which was subsequently shown to be a fraud which had no fertilizer effect, but took the money of the farmer. The devastation and expense caused by SEMA, and the banning of glyphosate (which led to the near collapse of the Tea export industry) were instigated by this "no-toxins in Sri Lanka" movement. Now, by unleashing a hither-to untested substance on the environment, we are allowing fools to rush in where angels fear to tread.

Rathana Thera banned glyphosate claiming that it causes CKDu. It does not do so. And if you get CKDu, you do not go to Rathana Thera but to the Kidney specialists.

For heaven’s sake, let the professionals handle the matter.


Quebec, Canada

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