Sugarcane cultivation and environment



The Island of 10 November carried a report quoting a study by the Centre for Environmental Justice on the undesirable impacts of sugar cane cultivation. It contains some factual errors.

Among the key issues raised are the following matters attributed to cane cultivation.

1.Loss of forest cover

2. Elevation of temperature

3. Drop in annual rainfall

4, Manufacture of fertiliser from sugar cane waste

5 human elephant conflict

6 kidney disease among inhabitants.

How frightening? Enough to give up the business.

Have they made a comparative study of other crops before ringing the alarm bells?

Can one start any plantation whatever the crop with the forest intact? It is common sense. These plantations are in rural settings and not in cities. Rainfall patterns have changed due to other factors and are not confined to sugar cane areas. Fertilizer is not manufactured using cane waste. Some time ago, an attempt was made to manufacture compost which is different from fertiliser. Paddy for example emits methane gas to the atmosphere

The human-elephant conflict is prevalent in paddy growing areas sometimes with loss of life and property. Sevanagala borders a wildlife sanctuary and there have been no such incidents reported. It is the same story with kidney diseases.

The writer has worked in all three sites mentioned and in fact started Sevanagala in 1980 clearing what was left of a jungle.

Look at the positive impacts too. Living conditions of not only farmers, employees but also of inhabitants of surrounding areas have vastly improved. Buttala is not what it was 50 years ago when it was a sleepy town. All because of Pelwatte sugar!

In 1980, we started a small primary school at Sevanagala. Today, it is a Maha Vidyalaya sending about 15 students to the medical and engineering faculties annually. Some of them are specialist doctors today. Their parents were poor subsistence farmers before we moved in; I can give many more similar examples.

One cannot even have a wayside boutique without it having some impact on the environment. Have we got to give up all kinds of agriculture?

Weigh the pros and cons.

Gamini Peiris