Groundviews

The Green Revolution and Rio

It has been many years of writing in the Sri Lankan media of the stupidity of the so-called Green Revolution that successive governments in Sri Lanka aided by their ‘knowledgeable ‘ scientists and bureaucrats have promoted. As it has been pointed out many times, the only winners in this deadly game were those who sold fertilizers, agrochemicals and the politicians and bureaucrats who received kickbacks from this lucrative trade. But the price that we pay as a nation is heavy, last year the fertilizer subsidy alone was over 50 billion rupees. Yet this same mob will now go to Rio to crow over what a wonderful job they have done for our nation and for the world. One supposes that being a Sri Lankan in Sri Lanka today is much like a North Korean in that country. The view of the public is totally disregarded, only the so-called ‘leaders ‘have the brains and the vision’ to take us forward. I wonder what they will make of other world figures like Prince Charles of England whose statement to Rio+20 conference confirms what we the members of the public have been pointing out for so long. He states that:

“We continue to ignore the painful lessons of the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in India by intensifying our food production methods in such blinkered, chemically and technologically based ways, the land an d the oceans are now both beginning to fail.”

There was scientific evidence to show that the risks and potential consequences could no longer be ignored, he said.

“Like a sleepwalker, we seem unable to wake up to the fact that so many of the catastrophic consequences of carrying on with ‘business-as-usual’ are bearing down on us faster than we think, already dragging many millions more people into poverty and dangerously weakening global food, water and energy security for the future.”

Of course our bureaucrats might say ‘What does he know about Sri Lanka’ and the politicians might say ‘who does he think he is to lecture us? We are the almighty leaders and we know better’. But we ordinary Sri Lankans know when the emperors have no clothes, irrespective of their pompous strutting.

So we go to Rio, having made our farmers totally dependent on the ‘Green Revolution’ approach, Burning more fossil fuel than ever before to increase our GDP and planning for massive constructions that require huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide expensive concrete and massive amounts of fossil fuel or their up keep.

At Rio, the mood of the attending delegates reflected the disillusion of the attendees.  “We don’t need the heads of state here, frankly,” Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group, an Ottawa-based environmental organization stated, “Quite honestly the grandstanding around some of these treaties, was nonsense and we knew it was nonsense at the time.”   Hank Venema of the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development stated:  “The expectation was that a lot of formal top-down multilateral agreements are going to pave the way, no one believes that any more, The hope is basically that the bottom up, the regional initiatives, the local stories, can be scaled up and replicated,”

The 100 or so heads of states attending Rio have all kept their delegations to an absolute minimum to demonstrate their commitment to reduce recourses keeping them as low as possible taking only the experts who could contribute to the debate. Guess which country is the exception?  Yes we have the traveling grand thamasha that has all sorts of people whose only expertise is in being ‘yes’ men.  Further, It was lost on no one that while President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Los Cabos, Mexico, for the G20 summit of the world’s biggest economies this week, none of them wanted to make it to Rio.

So what will the Sri Lankan delegation to Rio do? What will they propose?  Will they have a position that attracts global attention as the one taken by Bhutan?   What ’local stories’ do we have? Or will we feed them our grandiose ideas of growth and DGP increase at any social and environmental cost?  For this is what we in Sri Lanka have been made to believe in.   Api Wawamu, Divi Neguma and all such programs that have been implemented ostensibly to improve our lot, have done nothing more than mire us into further addiction to the ‘Green Revolution’ package of dependence on fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. While the quantum of production might increase it is only because of external energy into the production system. Not only are these inputs increasingly expensive, they are also damaging to our health.

The tragedy is that while there is a frightening increase in Cancers, Renal failures etc. in the rural population there is also a similar rise in Diabetes, Asthma etc. in the urban population. There is enough evidence that these ills are brought about by avoidable environmental toxins, however, there is hardly anyone to discuss and challenge these issues at the national level. None of this will of course be presented in Rio.

Julius Cesar once famously said ‘panem et circusenses’ when asked how he could control the people. Translated, it means ‘bread and circuses’. Give the people something to eat and provide circuses to entertain them and you could do anything, the people will not care. In today’s context it means a rice packet (maybe kaum) and commercialized Cricket. As J.C.Weliamuna points out, even that is dished out today with anti democratic nepotism to make it truly Sri Lankan in style.

The statement of Prince Charles that “by intensifying our food production methods in such blinkered, chemically and technologically based ways, the land and the oceans are now both beginning to fail”, if looked at with the latest data released by Scientific American on Ocean pollution globally, should make us pause (see map). The Ocean around Sri Lanka is ringed with heavy pollution, much more than India, Africa or South America.  This red halo around our island is indeed a cause for alarm.  This year the fishery off Trinco failed for the second time.

Google Earth screenshot of A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems, courtesy National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

We are an Island nation and all of the abuse that we foist on our land will eventually wind up in the ocean around us. We need to find a way out of the ‘Green Revolution’ trap that we have been pushed into. We need to look at the toxins that we are exposing our population to in a critical manner. We need to protect the quality of our drinking water, so that the next generation will not be forced to pay for their drinking water to preserve their health.

Until we decide to get out of the fossil addiction trap ourselves, until we place a high value on the health of our people and control the cavalier use of toxins in our food production, no Rio will help us. Tragically, all that our Government seems to want to do is grandstand about ‘development’ and borrow money to fund their white elephants. When will we learn?  When will we stop being the willing fools to the multinational corporations and lenders? In Sri Lanka a colloquialism for fools is ‘Gobbaya’ maybe that is what we have governing us, the Gobbayas of Sri Lanka or GoSL.

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