ECONOMYNEXT – A top Sri Lanka agricultural scientist who was sacked for publicly raising concerns over agrochemical ban said he had worked for the private sector due to his technical knowledge and he had never influenced the government on behalf of the private firm.
Professor Buddhi Marambe, 59, was sacked from all his government positions including the top advisor on agriculture after his criticism of the agro-chemical ban.
Agriculture Minister Mahindanada Aluthgamage said Marambe was sacked due to a conflict of interest in his role as warnings of most experts over the sudden shift into organic fertilizer materialized.
“He has been raising his criticism of almost all the government policies including nano nitrogen,” Aluthgamage told reporters.
“Meantime I got complaints from a number of environmental organizations saying that he had served as a director of a chemical fertilizer company.
“Also there was a letter to me with information that he had worked against glyphosate ban by the Maithripala Sirisena government and as a consultant of private companies.”
“That is why I advised the secretary to remove him from all the posts.”
In Sri Lanka, ad hominem attacks are common in politics. An ad hominem (circumstantial) attack attempts to show the bias of the proponent of a position in a bid to sway listeners, without actually dealing with the merits of the case and trying to ascertain whether the facts of the argument itself are correct or not.
As a result, ad hominem attacks – also known as mud-slinging – are considered to be an informal logical fallacy.
Aluthgamage also said he was ready to withdraw his decision and to render a public apology to Marambe if the Professor of the University of Peradeniya proves he had not worked for the private sector agrochemical firm.
“What is said by the Hon Minister is correct – that I have provided services, being on the board of private sector company etc.,” Marambe told EconomyNext.
“When an agriculture-based private sector organization requests my support in their operations through proper channels, what are we to do as Sri Lankans and technically competent people?”
“Are we to ask those companies to obtain services from a Buddhist monk or a medical practitioner?” he questioned.
“I think we have to be happy when both state and private sector organizations invite us to serve them and technically support them in addition to what we offer.”
Looming Food Shortage
Marambe, a former Dean of Agriculture Faculty at the University of Peradeniya had been warning in recent newspaper articles that an overnight shift to organic fertilizer could lead to crop declines that in turn cause huge food shortages within months.
He cautioned that a crop failure would force the government to import food at a time when money printing has created a forex shortage.
In an article titled “A tragedy of relying on misinformation”, he said Sri Lanka is likely to import a major portion of basic food needs, such as rice, adding to external woes and reducing the domestic generation of value.
“I just can’t work out what is wrong in those if my scientific explanation is correct,” he said.
“If I brought in that agency for the discussion and forced their name on for any financial gains for the said company, then I do understand the basis for this allegation. So the Hon Minister needs not to apologize in public.”
“We have to empower all stakeholders in the agriculture sector in this country.
“As the case of the farming community, the private sector is important and their technical capacities should be built through continuing programmes.
“If we are not going to do that, especially when invited, who else will do that? That has been my position in the past, is now, and will be in the future.”
He also responded to the minister’s allegation over him being the reason to stop the ban on glyphosate, which was also banned citing it was causing chronic kidney disease.
“In the case of glyphosate, I went against the procedure adopted to ban the same.
“Previous government decided later, based on my presentation with others, to lift the ban for 36 months for tea and rubber thus providing an opportunity for the producers to have a gradual transition,” he said.
“Moreover, I did not object when the government allowed the importation of glyphosate through the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. My effort was to safeguard the tea industry mainly though the rubber sector also got the benefit.”
He said the situation present regarding organic agriculture is the same.
“All are sudden decisions without assessing the scientific facts and continue to make blunders one after the other,” Marambe said.
“So indeed there are similarities in the efforts I made on two policy decisions taken by the government,”
“When I fought for the glyphosate issue, where the company in which I was in as a non-executive Director (while continuing to work in the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya) did have the benefit.
“I did not even bother because the end result is that the tea and rubber sectors got the benefits.”
“If I had cried foul asking the government to give such a tender to the said company, then, of course, I would have been a person who had worked with a conflict of interest.”
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April banned all the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides when the entire country was not ready to adopt only organic agriculture.
The administration has said chemicals were triggering non-communicable diseases including kidney disease and the move would save around 200 million dollars spent on imports.
However, as farmers’ protests grew with burning effigies of Aluthgamage with two horns and scientists warned of a looming disaster of food shortage, the government has relaxed a part of the fertilizer ban.
“In the present case, when the Ministry repeatedly made errors with a definite negative impact on agriculture, I cannot keep my mouth shut, and so did the others,” Marambe said.
“Our effort was to get the government in the correct course. The concept is noble but the operational mechanism is full of blunders.” (Colombo/Nov01/2021)