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Sunday, 28 June 2009





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Sri Lankan strategy to counter food crisis:

Increasing traditional food production

Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources at the traditional exhibition

Not all our green has yet been overtaken by concrete yet. Sri Lanka still has hope. And the Sri Lankan strategy to counter a potential food shortage is to encourage and strengthen local food production. What is required to achieve this objective is a precisely directed vision.

With these objectives on mind the Ministry of Environment with the collaboration of the Ministry of Agriculture had organized many events for the Food Week from June 22 to 28. The main purpose of these programs was to develop and popularize local food production.

Various lectures on popularization of traditional roots and tubers, biodiversity of local fruits were conducted over this week, of which the objective was the improvement of food habits. Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources attending an exhibition of traditional food last week said: "We are lucky as a nation. We have an impressive and extensive history of food culture."

Hulankeeriya (Arrow root)

Mahatha Angili Ala

He further explained that we possess 562 types of rice. "We used to have six to seven feet tall paddy" explained the minister. These were wild types that were resistant to drought. But this genetic diversity was lost due to the green revolution.

Sri Lanka is home to more than 20,000 plants of which more than 2600 are edible and 4000 have medicinal values. "This is unprecedented" said the minister. However the current forms of agriculture is now under threat.

As oil become more and more scarce and costly, agricultural chemicals, of which the major raw material is oil, are also under threat of elimination. Moreover the heavy metals in these chemicals lead to kidney diseases. The minister said that these sorts of problems did not occur during earlier methods of farming because of the existence of smaller scale irrigation systems that were home to plants such as lotus that extracts heavy metals.

The minister reiterated the importance of being self sufficient, since any global food crisis has an affect on local prices of imported goods. The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems.

As the minister explained, according to the ecological foot print, an American can utilize 10 hectares. "We can use one each. But we can utilize only 0.4 hectares" said the minister.

And explained that this can be overcome if Sri Lanka increases its food resources. For this engaging in studies of food science is of utmost importance. Sri Lanka is an island ideal for farming. The minister warned that it will not be long before Sri Lanka is forced to grow its own energy!

Roots and tubers replaced by imported food and GMOs

Local roots and tubers have been an important staple in the Sri Lankan diet. But as of late these invaluable varieties like Manyok, Raja Ala, Kiri Ala, Sweet Potato, Hingurala, Hulang Keeriya and Kahata Ala have been replaced by imported and genetically modified goods. Moreover their mere existence is threatened by fragmentation of land; lack of access to markets coupled the lack of motivation in the farmers to promote their produce.

Damayanthi Godamulla of the Community Development Centre of Aranayake said that their objective is to reintroduce 61 of the rarest of species to farmers, in order to improve the local food culture. The Aranayake Community Development Centre has started a farm in Kalwana, where anyone interested can observe and learn from. Community Development Centre of Aranayake has won the second place in the Equator prize, representing Sri Lanka.

Herbs lost due to lack of knowledge

Sri Lankans have grown wild plants for medicines for centuries. But with time knowledge of such vital traditional medicines have also diminished explained Dr. Mala Perera. "Plants like Embul Embiliya has been used as an herb that improves appetite, for many years. But this is often mistaken for grass. Batakirilla is used for worm problems", says Dr. Perera. Likewise many plants with medicinal values have been neglected out of mere negligence. Hathawariya, Katuwelbatu, Kiri Aguna, Iramusu, Thebu and Girapala are only few of the medicinal plants that Sri Lanka is blessed with.


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