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Monday, 10 May 2010

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Ensuring food security

Sri Lanka weathered the worst period of the world food crisis when rice prices sky-rocketed in the world market amidst an on setting world financial crisis.

The success is largely due to the food production drive of the Government. The opening of new lands in the North East for paddy cultivation was also a contributory factor. However, there are no grounds to be complacent. There are no grounds, however, for complacency due to a multiplicity of factors.

The world rice market is not stable yet. Though the high prices found in 2008 have declined they are likely to remain volatile and high for years to come, according to a report of the Asian Development Bank.

A disturbing feature is the decline in paddy production yields throughout Asia. Rice yield growth is slower than the growth of population. Besides demand for rice is growing due to increase in population as well as more people switching over to rice as a staple diet. The population of Asia is growing at a rate of over 100,000 a day. More than half the demand for food will come from Asia as a result.

With global fuel prices again taking an upward trend fertilizer prices tend to escalate. Countries like ours which import fertilizer will have to pay more for their imports causing paddy production costs to escalate further.

Despite the success of the food drive Sri Lanka is yet to reach the illusive goal of self-sufficiency in rice. The reason being the existence of too many variables on which paddy production is dependent. First of all it depends on weather as rain water fed cultivation is predominant. There is no guarantee against drought. On the other hand the probability of floods destroying the crop is also considerable with no tangible flood protection in place.

The high price of fertilizer is yet another burden. Though the State provides subsidized fertilizer it does not even then guarantee a sizeable profit to the paddy farmer. Long-term use of chemical fertilizers has caused a decline in soil fertility. Besides it has also caused contamination of groundwater with several toxic chemicals. The effects of such water contamination are not known or researched yet. The possibility of the mysterious kidney disease that has afflicted the population in the North Central Province being due to contaminated water or contaminated food is also not ruled out.

Global warming has disturbed the weather patterns in most Asian countries including Sri Lanka. They are more susceptible to droughts and floods. Paddy crop is affected by both.

From the foregoing it is clear that much effort is needed to secure stable paddy harvests and food security. The paddy farmer could not be liberated from his present plight of barely making ends meet unless new high yielding, water resistant and drought resistant varieties of paddy are found. This involves a greater allocation of resources for research. Much research in this sphere has been done in India and in other countries including some in Africa.

It is also necessary to develop organic farming and gradually phase out the use of chemical fertilizers. Organic farming improves the soil and it could recover the soil that was degraded by chemical fertilizer usage. As a low cost method it could increase the profit margin for the cultivators and make farming attractive for youth.

Making paddy production profitable to the farmer by itself would not be adequate. The benefits of agriculture as well as industry should be equitably distributed. Though paddy yields did increase during the past few years it has been accompanied by an increase in malnutrition, especially in the rural and estate population.

Though no one was literally hungry malnutrition is also a form of hunger or a consequence of it. The incidence of malnutrition, if not addressed now could continue even after attaining self sufficiency in rice. What is necessary is to make food available and accessible to the poor. Complete food security wood be achieved on the day when malnutrition could be banished from this land of ours.

New strategies to strengthen health sector:

No bitter pills

The problem of storing drugs and dengue fever are two main issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. The very first task I did soon after commencing work is taking immediate steps to provide essential drugs. Within the next three months the drug shortage will completely end.

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Pyromaniac, thy manuscript will not burn!

It is called ‘biblioclasm’ or ‘libricide’. It is censorship in its most brutal, visible and intimidating form. It is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other material in public, typically motivated by moral, religious or political objection. Famous cases of libricide include the torching of the Library of Alexandra and the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and Catholic priests.

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Towards a nuclear weapons free world

In recent weeks and months, the issues of nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation have assumed a new urgency on the world stage. Energetic diplomatic efforts are heralding long overdue progress on nuclear weapons issues in the postCold War era.

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