35 vie for Lanka’s President post

Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defense chief Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (L) and his brother, former president and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, show victory signs as they gesture at supporters after handing over nominations papers at the election commission ahead of Sri Lanka's presidential election, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 October 2019

35 vie for Lanka’s President post

  • The nominations were processed under tight security in the city of Colombo

COLOMBO: Thirty-five out of the 41 candidates who paid their deposits to contest the island’s Presidential elections were accepted by the Elections Commission in Colombo on Monday.

The incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena did not contest for the second time for the President’s post. His party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) did not nominate anyone for the election, which shocked voters since the Bandaranaike clan, so long the dominant political force in the country, will not be backing any political party in the election.

The candidates include the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, United National Front Candidate (UNF) Sajith Premadasa, National People’s Power (NPP) Candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake and former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake.

The nominations were processed under tight security in the city of Colombo. Some of the schools close to the headquarters of the Elections Commission were closed during the day, roads were blocked and more than 1,200 policemen and 500 members of the special forces were deployed in the capital to ensure a calm nomination day. Processions and demonstrations were banned on Monday.

Sri Lanka police said that the displaying of posters, banners and cut-outs related to the forthcoming presidential election is prohibited with effect from Monday. Police spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said as per the provisions of the Presidential Elections Act, the displaying of posters, banners and cut-outs will be prohibited from Monday subject to certain exceptions. According to the provisions in the act election-related parades, including vehicle parades and processions of people, will also be prohibited from today, he said, adding that these regulations apply to the entire island.

Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya said that out of the 41 candidates who had paid their deposits, were from 19 recognized political parties,19 from independent parties and three from other political parties.

Deshapriya said that the cost of the elections would be at least 10 million rupees ($55,000) which is an increase over the previous elections. “This is due to the increased number of candidates, the rise in stationery costs and the increase in the number of polling stations,” he added. He said that there were two objections raised against the candidacy of the nominees during the nominations and they were dismissed since they were baseless.

The chairman also urged all trade unions to call off their strikes during the election period till November 16 to ensure a smooth election without violence and disturbances.

Western Province Governor A.J.M.Muzammil received one of the main contenders, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, at the Wijerama Temple in Colombo following the nominations. Najeeb Mowlana, a prominent social worker who was present at the temple, said that Rajapaksa is an independent who will serve all communities without any discrimination.

National Unity Alliance Leader and former Governor of the Western Province Azath Salley said on Monday that 29 out of the 35 candidates are from the majority community and they all are vying for the 70 percent majority community votes. “The votes from the majority community will be divided among the first four contenders and they have to depend on the minority votes to win the election,” Salley said.

M.R.M.Waseem, political journalist from a reputed local daily, said that the absence of SLFP candidate in the presidential polls, is a major drawback. “President Maithripala Sirisena is from SLFP and it was founded by late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and had ruled the country for decades,” Waseem said, lamenting that its absence in the election will lead to the natural death of the powerful party.

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 57 min 4 sec ago

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally

MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”