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"Grow it Right"

Launch of Book on Sustainable Home Gardens
Keynote Address of Justice Mrs. Shiranee Tilakawardane at the Gandhi Centre


by Lionel Weerakoon
on 6th February 2012

Sustainability is the endurance by humans to live within the carrying capacity of the earth, and was put succinctly by Gandhi when he said "there is more than enough for man’s need but not for man’s greed." More recently the Brundtland Commission in defining the development integrating economic, social and development pillars in a development pyramid, defined sustainable development as " meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

But mostly sustainability should be about prosperity in a world where well being and happiness is equitably distributed amongst all, including contentment and peaceful cohabitation for all.

As fellow residents of a shared planet all of us are truly privileged as we have three full meals a day. There is, therefore, an onus (burden) upon us to educate ourselves, arm ourselves with skills and tools, and change our attitudes if we are to truly comprehend our individual as well as our collective roles in upholding the rule of law, and our duties with regard to the environment.

The Constitution sets this out with great clarity in article 3, 4 and article 28. Article 3 states that in the Republic of Sri Lanka the sovereignty, that is, the legislative power, executive power and judicial power of the people, is in the people, and is unalienable. Sovereignty includes the power of government, fundamental rights and the franchise. For convenience, such power shall be exercised by organs of state, the judicial, the executive and the legislative through elected officials, under the doctrine of public trust, that is with accountability and a strong sense of responsibility assuring careful, optimum and equitable use of the resources, without its exploitation and/or destruction, such use being for public or common good, through good, efficient and fair governance.

I said that the people are also assured of protection of their fundamental rights. What is this? All people are born equal and the assurance of equality must be our loadstar or goal, as a 21st century civilization. The Charter of Human rights sets this out and it simply means no one can be discriminated against, and we are equal and worthy of equal respect whatever our status may be. The power vested in those who are privileged to be wealthy or occupying the higher echelons of society or who wield powers of any kind, should be mindful to carefully use their power , in an unselfish manner , to empower the disempowered, the marginalized and the poor in order to assure them also a level playing field. The strength of any society is measured by the rights enjoyed by the least amongst us.

I spoke about fundamental rights, but you must also know. that whilst the Constitution safeguards and guarantees your rights, article 28 imposes a set of duties on us, which includes to " protect nature and conserve its riches", i.e. preserve, save, protect, keep and safeguard our natural resources including its fauna and flora.

When we talk of natural resources, one of the first that we focus on is land, and its ownership. Only about 17 % of land used to be privately owned in Sri Lanka and the rest belonged to the State, in a census done several years ago. Over the years of handling Civil Appellate Court work, and working on the various and many faceted disputes over land, I have come to realize that people love land much more than they even love their families. It always saddens me to see the bitterness and hatred displayed by members of one family against each other simply because of disputes over land. However much our religions say that we do not take our earth property with us when we die, it seems that the love of things of value is dominant and paramount to most people, perhaps due to some deep insecurity which is difficult to understand.

So, getting back to land, we know that land has value and today this value is rapidly changing. Exploitation of the land with the intention of optimizing crop production through genetically modified seed, insecticides for pest control, and optimal use by over cultivation, including climate change, is causing concerns.

In the book "One Straw Revolution", Masanobu Fukuoka, a scientist, proved that chemical and machinery use in agriculture are not necessary to harvest good yielding crops, but it was better to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible with considerable emphasis on maintaining diversity. A ground cover of white clover grown under the grain plant, provides nitrogen, weeds are cut and laid on the ground to return nutrients into the soil, ducks are let into the grain plot and specific insectivorous carp are introduced into rice paddy fields to eat the slugs. The previous crop is used as ‘mulch’ and each crop was sown before the other one was harvested by mixing seeds into small balls of clay, compost and manure. The result was a denser crop of smaller but highly productive and stronger plants. This kind of "Right Livelihood" is critically important, and only correct attitudes and intelligence will bring about this urgently needed change.

Right livelihood, is to learn that whilst everyone wants to live on a mountain top, all the happiness and growth takes place while you are climbing it!

Fundamentally, it is about understanding and appreciating the health of our land and the desire within us to be living this right livelihood, livelihoods that are not harmful or exploitative, and to understand that in the near future wars will not be about politics but about water and food security.

What is a right livelihood in this context? Who leads such a life? We have in Dr. Lionel Weerakoon, an eminently qualified Biologist and Agriculturist. It is not his qualifications that makes him unique or a person to be emulated and looked up to, it is his pioneering work on conservation farming, agro- forestry , and the use of nitrogen fixing plants to improve soil quality that has made him a motivator and pioneer in sustainable agriculture. He has not just used his knowledge and experience in acquiring accolades for himself but has utilized this knowledge and expertise to transform and transcend the narrow paradigms of the lives and livelihood of ordinary, everyday, common people. He moved out of his air-conditioned comfortable office space to mingle with farmers, work with them, and transmit his own skills of optimizing the proper use of land in cultivation to change forever the life pattern of the simple, poor farmer, whose hard work is the backbone of our nation and our own food supply.

His unique work was embodied in his first a book titled "Sustainable Small Farmer Agriculture and Food Security." This was followed by the book entitled simply as "Sustainable Home Garden Development in Sri Lanka", a book that is very inclusive, and encourages all of us to "Grow It Right" whether it be in our estates, in our gardens or in our flower pots.

Dr. Weerakoon recognized that the present system of global economy and of trade does not allow for the inclusion of about 2/3rd the population of the globe. Dr. Lionel Weerakoon’s work began with providing for the marginalized poor. His work intrinsically discloses his religious reverence for eternal regeneration - the manner that man was provided for in the bygone era. Dr. Weerakoon is a builder creating a network of strong forces in the farming community. In implementing the process of Sustainable Agricultural Research and development programs (SARD) he contributed to the enhancement of livelihood of small farmers in Sri Lanka.

He has achieved a strong Movement for Land and Agricultural Reforms (MONLAR) forming a network of organizations engaged in alternative agriculture, thereby empowering this relatively poor sector of the people, to participate and promote alternative agriculture and influence the government for policy changes in response to the negative impact on small agriculture by vicious national and international forces.

His objective has not been to amass wealth and power and privilege for himself but rather, to have the objective of empowering small holder farmers and their organizations to resist changes that endanger their rights over land, water seeds and food security and strengthen and ensure their own rights. The knowledge, skills and attitudinal change that he has brought about through his awareness programs carried out though his own exhaustive efforts, have assured sustainable agricultural practices for more and more farmers. He recognized that economic advancement is not the same as human progress. For this human progress he contributed his invaluable knowledge on integrating natural and regenerative processes, such as nutrient recycling, nitrogen fixation, soil regeneration, and natural enemies of pests into food production processes thereby seeking to make the best use of nature’s goods and services whilst not damaging the environment - ie farming through sustainable agriculture.

Dr. Lionel Weerakoon, your life’s contribution is undoubtedly most appreciated by the small holder sector. This would have been possible only through the intrinsic qualities I have discovered in you, as a friend, qualities that ensure compassion, caring and sacrificial love - your strong sacrificial love for those who are in need and on the peripheries of our so called "society".

We often talk about the horrors committed by the bad people in this world, but these are only possible because of our own deafening sound of silence, which tacitly condone such acts. You have not only stood up and spoken through this book but contributed greatly to the improvement of the lives of all our less advantaged brothers and sisters living in the agricultural fields of our beloved nation. You have, not only through this book, but through your cumulative efforts been a unique role model, worthy of emulation but above all you are recognizing the talent in all of us to understand the need even in our home gardens preserve the moisture of the top soil through water harvesting, pitcher irrigation and pond farming to micro manage our own home gardens utilizing simple methods of mixed cropping or polyculture, wind breaking and shade management, and you teach us all how to improve the soil fertility and nurture mother nature.

In a clear succinct and easy to grasp method you not only advise us to move away from pesticides, but teach us about what fertilizer we should use in liquid form and the use of microbial culture in our own home gardens, like fish tonic, fruit tonic, wormy wash and jeewamuruthu for this microbial culture.

Dr. Weerakoon you are a person we salute, a person we are proud to call our own dear friend and colleague. All of join together in wishing you good luck in the sale of this book, good health and May the Divine Blessings be upon you and your loved ones.

"Grow it right" is a book authored by Dr. Lionel Weerakoon and serves as a handbook for sustainable home garden development in Sri Lanka. It is published by the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR). The book was launched on the 6th of February at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre, 22/17 Kalyani Road Colombo 6. The Chief Guest was Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane

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