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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Dolled up humans share commonality with refined food



Sugar cane plantation in Uda Walawe.

Simplicity they say is the hallmark of greatness and if I may add to arrive at greatness, one cannot choose to ignore excellence. One then is necessarily linked to the other and in surfing the globe for great men one invariably cannot miss out on the extremely simple and uncomplicated lifestyles they have led.

It has been writer experience that the most dolled up of women and men suffer intellectual impoverishment. Women's painted faces (I hear even men are into it now) men's fancy for the lounge suit, the thirst for luxurious living are then sure signs of mean and narrow thinking - certainly no facilitator of greatness.

Quality remains intact only when originality is retained which is why all great men chose to overlook ostentatious living.

What then has this got to do with food?

Polished rice for instance is akin to the adorned man or woman. In as much as an adorned one loses greatness of character, any refined food item lessens its vitamins and minerals in the process of being polished.

Having set my mind in this direction I asked Sugar Cane Research Institute Chairman Dr. C. S. Weeraratna whether the unpolished dark brown sugar (currently off market) was more health friendly than the light brown sugar of today.

"Why not? In fact in its unrefined state, it bore all its nutrients and minerals. What's more in that state it was more diabetic friendly," he said.

This brought to writer mind why diabetologists recommend the unpolished rice variety to patients.

In his agenda towards developing Sri Lanka's sugar industry, Dr. Weeraratna also includes the re-introduction of this dark brown sugar which perhaps may not be palate friendly on the whole yet would certainly be a favourite of those into diabetes what with the sucrose in brown sugar being far less than in the refined one.

Currently Sri Lanka's annual sugar requirement is 550,000 metric tons out of which we produce about 50-60 metric thousand tons. Imports stand at 500,000 metric tons - the shortfall being 450,000 metric tons.

Local production comes off the Pelwatte and Sevanagala factories while on the cards is the rehabilitation of Hingurana and Kantale factories which regretfully have remained out of production for the past decade.

Sugar production in Sevanagala and Pelwatte has benefitted around 10,000 persons bringing enhanced income to the villagers. By-products like Bagasse (the residue following cane crushing) is used to generate electricity in the factory. Ethanol - a fuel additive - ten percent of which is mixed with petrol is also another by-product and strongly recommended for motor cars is being done in Brazil. Sevanagala presently produces twelve million litres of ethanol and is used for purposes other than fuel.

In working towards self sufficiency in sugar the Sugar Cane Research Institute has drawn up a comprehensive work programme. Current research involves developing pest and disease resistant varieties.

The Woolyephid - a sugar cane friendly pest is seen currently spreading in Moneragala and Badulla where farmers are being taught pest control by the department.

The high cost in fertilizer - Urea being Rs. 50,000 per ton is on the increase.

The Institute therefore is looking into the possibility of biological Nitrogen fixation. The atmospheric nitrogen which plants are unable to make use of could be absorbed by some organisms like bacteria and algae - all of which are found in rooted legumes - so very useful when applied into sugar cane cultivation. For instance glydicidia improves soil fertility which when planted in sugar cane fields would increase production.

The institute is also into by-products from sugar cane. For instance better quality alcohol would help in the paint and perfume industries, Arishta preparation and vinegar and organic compounds useful in chemical industries.

Extension services currently help farmers in pest control, fertilizer application and development of new varieties.

Labour increasingly is becoming a difficult factor as is the problem with the other agricultural sectors. Urbanization being a key puller of manpower from the agricultural sector has left this sector itself suffer dearth of labour which then is why technological input becomes a dire necessity. As in other countries Sri Lanka needs planned development. Urbanization's after effects are well handled over there with technological safeguards injected into areas of labour scarcity.

The institute is currently into small machinery to handle land preparation, fertilizer application and harvesting.

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