Time for a new Green Revolution

By Anuradha Yahampath | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 24 2020
Columns Time for a new Green Revolution

By Anuradha Yahampath

It was the ‘Green Revolution’ that came to our rescue immediately after World War II to increase global food production when famine was looming across the world.

The Global powers or winners of World War II knew another great depression may cause another world conflict.  Therefore,  it  was  important  to  take  every  step  to  overcome  the  food scarcity.  

Increasing  the  yields  of  crops  to  feed  the  surge  in  population  that  naturally increased with the end of the war was a challenge.

There was yet another important reason for the Green Revolution of the late 1940s.  As the two  main  global  powers  during  the  cold  war,  USA  and  USSR  were  ideologically different  and  their  competition  to  establish  individual  influence  in  the  world  was becoming aggressive. 

It was during this time that President Truman of USA came up with the plan of expending American foreign aid and transferring technology especially in the agriculture sector.  This  was  also  an  important  opportunity  for  USA to  spread capitalism  in  the  world  while  at  the  same  time,  USA  could  also  contain  USSR’s communist ideology. Most countries in the developing world and the countries in the third world welcomed the idea of implementing science and technology in agriculture. The ‘Green Revolution’ soon established itself throughout the world.

Mexico  became  the  birth  of  the  Green  Revolution,  which  was  more  an  experimental ground for the United States, using new technologies in seeds, irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides.  This  programme  was  backed  by  the  United  Nations  and  the  Food  and Agriculture Organisation. By the 1960s the Green Revolution started to transform Asian Traditional Agriculture practices into high technological and scientific practices. New high  yielding  rice  and  other  crop  varieties  were  introduced  doubling  the  agriculture production  but,  after  many  decades  of  such  practices,  effects  of  continuous  use  of agrochemicals  on  Earth  has  posed  a  threat  to  the  very  survival  of  humans,  all  other living species and the environment itself.

Human  beings  have  always  responded  and  recovered  from  crises  throughout  history, sometimes  with  a  long-term  vision,  sometimes  not.  Currently,  countries  are  fast adjusting  their  policies  and  trying  hard  to  respond  to  the  COVID-19  threat.  Out  of many lessons that could be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, the most critical is the evidence of the extent of pollution that was caused by humans; especially anthropogenic pollution in agriculture to air, water and land. Though this is already at a threatening level, very few actions are being taken by most countries.  But  during  this  pandemic, when  the  whole  world  was  under  quarantine,  the  Earth  gave  us  hope  by  quickly recovering back some of its natural splendour.

Post-Covid-19 era

Policy makers from all over the world have recognised the present era as a turning point in world affairs. They have already started planning a Post-Covid-19 era. Environmental issues are being taken into consideration more than ever. Inter-connectedness between countries in international trade or travel is becoming limited; therefore many countries including the European   Commission   are   changing   their   existing   plans   and   policies accordingly. These changes are bringing new phenomena to the liberal world.

Connectivity  has  been  the  key  in  the  world’s  agricultural  industry  for  centuries.  Last year,  around  four-fifths  of  food  has  been  imported  world-wide  spending  1.5  trillion dollars. The food industry has been global. Even in Sri Lanka only the farmer, the land and the water may be local; but seeds, fertilisers, machinery and fuel which is required to run them are imported. In addition to this Sri Lanka is still dependent on the importation of many staple food items.

The  current situation  has  shown  how  vital  it  is  for  countries  to  be  self- sufficient in food. This is not an easy task. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that can accomplish not only food self-sufficiency but also become an exporter of agricultural produce, if it uses its resources wisely.  It  has  to  be understood  that  food  self-sufficiency  at  any  point  does  not  work  in  countries  with  a closed economy. Sri Lanka had the experience of working towards self-sufficiency in the ‘70s but the closed economic policies failed the administration of that time. Options need  to  be  open  for  imports  as  well,  if  any  food  shortage  arises  due  to  climatic conditions or for food that does not grow in Sri Lanka. Of course, there will always be a niche market for luxury foods which too can be imported.

Green Agriculture

Food self-sufficiency is also the availability of food of nutritional value, to all. With the support of policy decisions, the country’s agriculture, fisheries and milk production can be improved to achieve this. Importance of food self-sufficiency is that it will not only bring economic advancement to the country but also will establish political sovereignty and national security. This is crucial for a sovereign country in this day and era.

Sri Lanka has a long history of ‘Green Agriculture,’ unfortunately forgotten by many in recent years. The concept  Wevai Dagabai of  Sri  Lanka  which  is  the  foundation of a 2,500 year old civilisation where the agriculture practices based on an intricate irrigation system are not only an economic practice but also a practice of sustainable livelihood which protect the environment and all beings living in that environment. The concepts of ‘do no harm’ or ‘live and let live’ or ‘every life matters’ are being familiarised by environmentalists as the basis of such practices.

The environmental harm by age-old, traditional agricultural practices is minimal.  The sustainable practices of precision irrigation and water management, precision agriculture and organic farming need   to   be   the   global   standard   for sustainability in the Post-COVID-19 world. If Sri Lanka uses its inherited knowledge with Science and Technology that ‘do no harm’, Sri Lanka can be one of the pioneers of the next “Green Revolution”; but this revolution should be green; in the true sense and not only for its name.

Food production in the world using the technology which was introduced after World War II  has  resulted  in  air,  water  and  soil  pollution  causing  global  warming. This  has caused  climate  change  which  results  in  devastating  floods  and  droughts  in  every continent.  The  agriculture  industry  that  came  to  light  as  the  ‘Green  Revolution’ has contributed  drastically  to  climate  change  by  anthropogenic  emissions  of  greenhouse gases, by its continuous use of chemicals as fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides. Also, loss of biodiversity is a result of excessive land clearing. Therefore, the limited arable land needs to be managed by precision agriculture with good practices.

Reaching food self-sufficiency using ‘Green Agriculture’  will  require  identifying opportunities for sustainable energy efficient investments in agriculture, working hand-in-hand with traditional  precision  agriculture  and  a  revival  of the ancient irrigation system. It also requires the fostering of “agro-ecology” the integration of agricultural practices  with  ecological, environmentally  friendly  processes. Our  traditional  home garden (or what  we  had  seen  generations  ago  in  most  of  our  grandmother’s  home gardens), is the best example where food required is produced in a balanced ecological environment.

Good agricultural practices

This is a marvellous opportunity for Sri Lanka to embrace good agricultural practices which  rely  on  natural  fertilisers  and  native  strains  of  crops  rather  than  genetically modified ones in its farming. This would ensure that people have healthy food to eat and make our agricultural products attractive to foreign countries which are desperately looking for such alternatives.

The  ‘Green  Recovery  Package’  introduced  by  the  European  Commission  for  the recovery  of  COVID-19  ravaged  economies,  emphasises  countries  to  adhere  by  the green oath ‘do no harm’ when investing in economic recovery projects. The European Commission is investing in plans that lead to the use of sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, organic farming, agro-ecology, agro-forestry and stricter animal welfare standards. This is very much in line with traditional agricultural practices of Sri Lanka. For example, we speak of a Amba Wanaya (mango forest) during the rule of the King’s,  where  mango  orchards  were  integrated  in  to  the  existing  natural  forest.  Thus protecting the existing ecology whilst fulfilling the agricultural requirement.

Furthermore,  the  European  Commission  by  its  ‘Green  Recovery  Package’  is  taking steps  to  make  consumers  better  informed  about  the  quality  of  food  they  purchase,  its nutritional value, and its environmental footprint. This is an important step to provide safer food to the consumer. Food security also means safe food consumption which in Sri Lanka most unfortunately has been the given least priority. Some of the chemicals which are used by the agriculture industry have proven to have resulted in long term health related issues.

Sustainable food consumption and affordable healthy food for all has to be the normal practice in this forthcoming ‘green revolution’.  Traditional  varieties  of  agricultural products  which  are  available  in  Sri  Lanka  with  high  nutritional  value  have  to  be presented to the consumer as new innovative products. Virgin coconut oil and jackfruit are good examples. Whilst encouraging such innovations, the environmental impact of food   processing,   transport,   storage,   packaging   etc.   Have   to   be   considered.  The relationship  between  the  farmer  and  the  end  consumer  needs  to  closer  and  of  more understanding to gain more confidence between the two.

In  Sri  Lanka  it  is  possible  to  achieve  the  energy  required  for  the  food  Industry  by renewable energy which has not yet been harvested fully. Identifying opportunities for sustainable, energy efficient  investments in agriculture, hand-in-hand with  traditional precision agriculture and irrigation systems is the new green revolution. This will ensure safe,  healthy  and  affordable  food  to  every  person, whilst  reducing  environmental impacts of the overall food industry; which will bring Sri Lanka back to the golden era of Parakum Yugaya. Sri Lanka has the knowledge and the resources to become the pioneers of the new green revolution and make it greener.

(Anuradha Yahampath is the Governor of the Eastern Province)

By Anuradha Yahampath | Published: 2:00 AM Jun 24 2020

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