03 September 2013

Let us resolve to detox right now

Roll back the years.  Say 20 years.  Those of you who were, say, over 10 years old, try to remember if you knew about something called ‘Chronic Kidney Disease’.  Try to remember how many times you heard of an illness called ‘Diabetes’.  Did we worry about food contamination? 

The historical record shows that without any chemical inputs, those who peopled this land lived healthy lives.  They built sophisticated irrigation systems.  Their architecture and engineering feats astound engineers and architects of the modern era.  Perhaps five hundred years of colonial subjugation crafted into the national DNA servility of the kind that takes anything coming from the West as ‘good’ and not requiring of query.  Perhaps it taught us to spit on our ancestors and blindly expose our children to poisons neatly packaged and exquisitely advertised. 
Experts, so-called, fed us huge doses of policy. We got the ‘Green Revolution’.  We were told to think ‘agribusiness’, high yielding varieties, high value crops and so on.  We were advised to decentralize agricultural research and our policy makers were nudged (through ‘incentives’) or arm-twisted with aid (‘we give, but you implement OUR policy’) to replace agriculture extension personnel with peddlers of poison. 

And yet, it must be mentioned, not everyone purchased the rubbish.  There were and are scientists who are not swayed by incentive nor lacking in compulsion to use critical faculties.  There were and are on-the-ground practitioners who had the wisdom to understand the superior worth of traditional practices.  And so, all is not lost.  Against heavy odds which include even legislation that rebels against traditional agriculture and massive investment to persuade policy-makers, academics, farmers and consumers to embrace poisons and draw them away from more wholesome practices, there are people who keep their feet firmly planted in the soil of wisdom and science, who love the earth they stand on and draw from the best that culture and heritage can offer.
Last week, I received two books.  The first is by Mathugama Seneviruwan, indefatigable environmentalist, champion and grower of traditional seeds (especially rice) and traditional practices, tireless campaigner against short-sighted intrusions on all economic spheres that have long-term ill effects on the people.  ‘Thel pora osse mihi mavata vasa’ (Poisoning Mother Earth through fertilizer and other chemical inputs), comes not just with criticism but answers too.  

Seneviruwan offers a reading of the ‘development’ that was taken as ‘good’ without any investigation of claims and with hardly any appraisal during implementation.  He unpacks all the myths of chemical inputs.  He makes an excellent case for a return to the drawing board and indeed draws up a blueprint for recovery. 
May he be read and read widely.  May his words take wing and sing in the hearts of the generation who will have to work out the poisons that have been implanted in mind and injected into body so that they will return to the earth and tread gently thereafter.

The second is a re-print of Wasanthaya Nihandaya by Chandi Rajapakse.  The first print of her translation of Rachel Carson’s classic, ‘Silent Spring’ came out in 2002.  I remember Chandi, who is professor in the Agriculture Faculty, University of Peradeniya, a soil scientist in fact, lamenting around the time the translation came out that people were reading her book all wrong.  Perhaps that is inevitable.  On the other hand, there will be those who get her message right too.  Seneviruwan, for example, is inspired by many sources and one of them is ‘Silent Spring’. 
Chandi, in a lengthy ‘translator’s note’ encapsulates the distance we have come (or rather, gone back), and describes where exactly we are now, ‘thanks’ to chemical fertilizers.   A single book (or even two) will not change things or cause an overnight abandonment of policies and practices that have made some people, powerful people to be precise, very rich.  On the other hand, we are quickly reaching a junction called ‘No Other Choice’.  That’s sad, but then again, in a world where there are no magnificent victories or tragic defeats (all things considered), there is certainly reason to hope. 

There are people who live their lives as though they are lamps.  Matugama Seneviruwan is one. Prof. Chandi Rajapakse is another.  They make us rich by pointing out our poverties and by throwing light on the pathways that lead out of poverty.
We have to roll back the years.  Roll back policy that poisoned the good earth in ways that the poison percolated into our bodies and our minds.  Significant sections of our population are dying of Chronic Kidney Disease.  Half the population is plagued by Diabetes. Our children need not be.