Can we revert to traditional agriculture

The Swarna Hansa Foundation has claimed that Ms Navi Pillai should investigate the Food and Agricultural Organization, presumably for approving modern agro-chemicals.

Various people have proposed that we stop eating Sri Lankan rice citing contamination. How contaminated? At most a few parts in a billion (let us say, 5 parts in a billion), and even this is questioned (see page 14 of the report) by a WHO-sponsored study led by Dr. Shanthi Mendis of the Medical Faculty, Colombo. They find less than two parts per billion of Arsenic or Cadmium.

According to Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana, rejecting local rice citing two parts in a billion contamination is like saying there are two terrorists in India (population is one billion), and saying it is very very dangerous to go to India.

Undoubtedly, if you go on eating even slightly polluted food, you run the risk of accumulating the contaminant in your body. The solution is to wash the food well, and then also drink enough water to let the kidney flush out any contamination. Everything in nature has some contamination, and so we have evolved kidneys.

Some say we should return to traditional agriculture. Traditional agricultural methods can at most support five million people, but more realistically three million, as in ancient times.

We harbour nostalgia for the past and fear of big business. Instead of paying lakhs of rupees per perch, we would like to pay the traditional amounts that we paid for land years ago. But human fecundity and reduced bay deaths have produced many many mouths to feed, and land has become scarce. In any case, in the old days a few feudal families lived well, and the poor worked the feudal land.

Can we reduce our population down to three million from the present 22 million? Can we get rid of the motor car with its polluting petrol or diesel and use a Bakki Karaththaya (Ox-cart)? Can we get rid of coal-fired electricity, hydro-electricity, fridges etc., and light our homes with a Pol-Thel-Pahana (palm-oil lamp)?

What was the life expectancy of the people in the 19th century or 8th century? Most families had large numbers of children, and only a FEW survived. Those very hardy ones who survived lived to a ripe age. If the average is taken over ALL those who were born, the life expectancy was VERY LOW.

Can we get rid of MODERN METHODS for the elimination of mosquitoes, filaria etc., and NOT use vaccinations for small pox, diphtheria, typhoid, hookworm, whooping cough, mumps, hepatitis A and B, etc., and allow malaria to re-engage in the country? Then indeed the mortality rate would go up and the population would dwindle back to "traditional" values.

We need roughly 10 times the acreage for getting the same harvests by traditional methods, "chena" (slash and burn) cultivation etc., especially in less fertile lands. Then the rich people would eat good "organic food", while the masses face mal-nutrition and disease.

This is not a compassionate approach. It is too ‘environment centered’ and not the middle path. We need an approach where ALL our people can be well nourished, healthy and energetic. The inherent weakness of the ancient civilization led to its fall under invasions from the Indian continent, leaving the Rajarata to the Malaria mosquito. Thanks to the efforts of D. S. Senanayake and others, we got rid of malaria. Today we are grappling with the Dengue Mosquito, spraying the whole country. Can we do without such spraying by saying there was no dengue in the old days - or that it is not good for the "environment" to spray (while we have no qualms about driving around in motor vehicles that belch out pollutants)?

Today Lanka has a population similar to that of Holland, and a similar land area. But our land is more fertile than Holland. We just have to educate ourselves and manage it properly to get healthy crops.

So, the solution to kidney disease etc., is training the farmers to USE fertilizers and insecticides correctly, just as we have to TRAIN people how best to drive cars. If we cannot do that, can we train these farmers to farm productively using ‘traditional methods’?

We must train our farmers to go for more and more "organic farming". But going the whole hog is catering only to the wealthy consumer. So we need to train and certify our farmers and use a mix of industrial and organic farming, instead of going to any extremes.

Bodhi Dhanapala

Quebec, Canada (

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