RE-ORGANIZING AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH IN SRI LANKA
I have made several visits to Sri Lanka and have met the Presidents and Prime Ministers in office at that time. All of them have been very cordial
In 1974, when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was in her second term as Prime Minister, she chaired my lecture on ‘100 Years of Rubber in Sri Lanka’
I was at IRRI when JR Jayewardene, who was then the President of the country, invited me to give a report on the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme (AMP) which he had implemented in 1977 to speed up the very big Mahaweli irrigation development project. I gave them a report on how to utilise, preserve and conserve their water resources efficiently, which farming system is best suited for their landscape and climatic condition. I coined the term “more crop per drop” at that time. I got funding through the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Jayewardene made me a Trustee of the Mahaweli project and also the chairman of the International Dumbala Institute.
I was appointed as the Chairman of the Board of IWMI in 1992, when the decisions were made to have the IWMI headquarters in Sri Lanka. I went there and met President Premadasa. He readily agreed to allot a building near the Parliament. We invited him to inaugurate the building. I will never forget that day. It was the 6th December 1992. During the inaugural function, a security person came to Premadasa and gave a slip of paper. He looked at it and read, and then he passed it on to me. I was wondering what it was about and it was the news about the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. I was extremely upset. President Premadasa took me home and he wanted to know what the implications would be. Would there be communal clashes between Muslims and Hindus? To me, it was a major blot on our country’s tradition of religious harmony. I have always quoted what the President of the University in Israel had once told me, that I came from the only country that had never persecuted Jews in 2000 years of history. It was most unfortunate that the very old mosque had been damaged that way.
Ranil Wickremasinghe is a good friend, and a great supporter of agricultural research and education, he asked me to chair a committee to reorganise agricultural research in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has developed very good varieties of rice using agronomic methods. But the civil war was going on and I had a problem. I was a Tamilian. Although in Sri Lanka it did not make any difference, in Tamil Nadu there was an agitation that I should not help Sri Lanka. So I did not go in person but sent my blueprint which held the development schemes I had made for both agriculture and pisciculture. India supported the project and my guidance was taken on the release of funds. We invited Ranil to MSSRF in 2003. He inaugurated the National Virtual Academy and admitted the first few Fellows of the Academy. He spent a whole day with us. And even recently when I went there after the ceasefire agreement, he specially allotted time to meet me.