A rebuttal to ‘Can we revert to traditional agriculture’


The letter under the above caption in The Island of Sept. 2 is full of assumptions that need to be countered. It is sad when someone with little knowledge attempts to bamboozle the public. I will deal with just a few of these assumptions to demonstrate the shallowness of the arguments presented.

The author of the article states:

1. 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.

But it is also a fact that if you exceed the capacity of our kidneys to flush out the contaminants we get sick and die. Try telling this to the 8000 odd farmers who are dying of kidney failure because the toxic load in the environment was too great for their kidneys to flush out, that their kidneys had not evolved enough.

2. 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. Can we reduce our population down to three million from the present 22 million?

What evidence does the author have in his claim that our population was only three million in the past ? There have been many other hypothesis that suggest much larger populations in the past. His is one of many and not the final word.

3. 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)?

In these days when motor cars are evolving away from fossil fuel, polluting fossil fuels are as old as a Bakki Karathaya in relative terms. Why should we go back to old technologies whether it be coal-fired power or gasoline driven cars when the new technologies work on solar, LED’s, Hydrogen, computer driven home energy management systems etc. ? Does the author want us to ignore these advances and go back to coal ?

4. 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.

Totally wrong ! Holland by virtue of it being situated in a delta and being located in the temperate zone, is far more fertile than the leached soils on our land.

5. 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.

When were traditional values ever at odds with modern methods of public health ? The author seems not to understand the difference between traditional values and traditional technologies. One does not pre-suppose the other !

6. 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’?

It would be wonderful if we can ‘train’ our kidneys’ like we train people to drive cars. It is an obvious fact that our farming population is suffering as a result of toxin concentration in the environment. There is no way you can train your body to exceed its biological capacity.

If the author is so interested in our well-being I challenge him to a public debate on this issue at any place of his choosing in Sri Lanka.

Ranil Senanayake

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