Paddy farming, organic versus agrochemical based methods.

Chandre Dharmawardana

The amount, 3.2 metric tonnes/ha claimed in a Sinhala article by Upali de Sarem (Jan 2023) using modern fertilizer is still very low compared to the usual yields in Sri Lanka (4-5 metric tonnes/ha).

Furthermore, if optimal agronomy is used (as in Batalagoda or MahaIlluppallama research stations), 6-8 metric tonnesor more  may be achieve with the right variety of seed, with less water and no-tilling or ploughing (but using benign herbicides) to remove weeds. 

Comparisons of organic paddy and modern fertilizer-based farming outputs, costs etc., were done about a decade ago in the Agricultural Research Stations and also at Peradenitya University (Bandara et al).

I discussed one of those in detail in Newspaper articles, and in the Colombo Telegraph in 2015. If I remember correct, various writers who are prominent in Lanka web, and linked with Ven. Ratana criticized me, and Mr. Dilrook Kannangara sided largely with them. He re-iterated his position when I criticized the Hiru-Govi Sangramaya sponsor by Hiru TV, eulogizing traditional agriculture.

There too Dr. Ivan Amarasinghe (IA) stated how he even now cultivates his paddy lands in a traditional way using only “Gerikatu pohora (bone emal)” and “gendagam” (sulphur, a toxin used by organic farmers). The same line of thinking led them to claim that the Corona virus and the Covid-19 pandemic can be treated using traditional herbal cures. Jayasumana went on TV supporting the Dhammika Paeniya.

IA used to end his email messages with the slogan Prof. Jayasmana will have the last laugh”.

We don’t have to go to Egypt to learn about the best paddy cultivation practices. There are 24 booklets issued by the agriculture Dept. for the 24 districts, giving the best approach, depending on the soil type, based on recommendations from the Agricultural research Institutes.

 All the leading scientists of the world, be them from USA or Egypt or Japan and India, made pilgrimages to Maha Illuppallama and Batalagoda (as they were must vsit” places), until about the late 1980s, early 1990, as they had become world famous for their rice research.

But in Sri lanka we don’t value the work of SL scientists, instead even a bit of idiocy, if it comes from somewhere else, is held to be better, esp. by the NGO green lobby. The research stations declined due to increasing lack of government support, with the JRJ government leaving everything to the Free Market.

Then came the nationalists Ven. Ratana, Nalin de Silva, Jayasumana types talking about ancient agriculture and some other nationalists pushing “traditional seeds” claiming that they have “immense health and nutrient benefit” –  it is exactly that myth that people like Malinda Seneviratne had also picked up, at least in part.

But one must by now see that these so-called huge nutritional benefits” are mere deviations of the order of a few percent found for in vitro chemical analysis, and NOT from clinical trials. At the food preparation level under heating, washing etc, and with several foods on the plate, these differences get wiped out even with rice being the staple. 

What matters is the difference among raw rice, par-boiled rice, and polished rice, irrespective of the variety. The rice which is less polished and most fresh is nutritionally the better rice. The variations in fats, anti-oxidants, and carbohydrate level, vitamins etc., are too small to mount to anything significant in the overall diet unless strong fortification is used by genetic modification as in Golden rice, a GMO rice developed in India.

Vanadana Shiva, the Indian equivalent of Nalin de Silva-Ratana cabal, prevented the use of Golden rice for decades, and at last it has been approved for use.

Today, the controversial Arhath” Samanthabadhra with his followers have also popularized a false model, show casing Umandawa, where he claims that he can produce crops without fertilizers. It is this sort of nonsense that misleads ignorant politicians and even educated members of the public who may know little about agriculture, but think they know it as if by instinct!

If tonnes of harvest (made up of nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon etc., are removed from the field, they should be put back if the soil is to remain productive. That is why fertilizers are added. If not, after a few harvests, the land has to be left fallow (for a significant length of time) for it to recover. In the olden days people left the land to fallow for a few years and opened up a new chena by burning up forest (that produced mineral fertilizer as ash), but today we don’t have land to engage in such wasteful types of agriculture.

This ensures that soil nutrients are not washed off by water (used to flood the paddy fields to kill weeds, a practice used in organic and traditional farming. Filling up the kumbura” with water also encourages anaerobic microbial processes and produces excess Green House Gases like Methane which is 30 times worse than CO2. So organic farming is BAD for the environment, contrary what Eco-extremists and Western funded NGO, so-called “Environmental Justice” and MONLAR activists say. They are uncritically following the completely unscientific, politically motivated erroneous policies of the European Green Deal popular in the EU.

Chandre Dharmawardana

Date: 31-Jan-2023