A novel exhibition opened by President Maithripala Sirisena concluded at the BMICH recently. Entitled ‘Wasa Wisa Nethi Jathika Pola’, it showcased Sri Lanka’s amazing diversity in organic fresh produce. With participants from every corner of largely rural Sri Lanka, the items on display had many visitors surprised at the large variety of organic products available.
The President delivered the keynote address at the opening of the National Programme – ‘A Toxin-Free Nation’. This programme was launched under a government initiative for ‘Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture’. An ardent campaigner of eradicating scourges such as Chronic Kidney Disease, Diabetes and Cardiovascular illnesses – side effects of the rampant use of chemical fertilizer, the President touched on very important issues concerning the farming community. He questioned the agricultural policies of successive governments since independence and if they had brought in tangible results.
In his address, the President questioned the wisdom of farmers demanding noxious chemical fertilizers at Rs. 350 a bag in total disregard for the long-term effects on soil, water and more importantly, to their health and wellbeing. The reasons were that the farmers were unable to purchase less toxic fertilizers at a higher price. The fact that farmers were indebted to banks and lived life on the edge of poverty also meant that our agriculture policy lacked direction.
The exhibition attracted throngs of people and was a fascinating demonstration of Sri Lanka’s affinity and awareness of healthy food consumption. Stallholders sold a variety of organically produced fresh and packaged items inviting consumers to purchase enthusiastically. Various grains, tubers, yams and seeds – many of them dating back to olden days, were on display. Very much in evidence was the impressive healthy food awareness of the Sri Lankan population.
Yet despite this awareness, there is a sense of lethargy when it comes to preparation of food that retains taste and nutrition. Weaning the population away from items such as sugar, oil, wheat flour, artificial flavourings and colouring is an uphill task. People are apathetic when it comes to reading labels on canned and packaged foods.
Sri Lanka has a wealth of produce for people who consume functional foods. Green tea for obesity is one such item. Persons suffering from gastrointestinal diseases consume items such as banana, avocado and kohila (Lasiaspinosa). Oily fish and bitter gourd are consumed by persons with cardiovascular illnesses and diabetics consume foods with a low glycaemic index such as brown rice and kurakkan (finger millet). New research also trumps up the benefits of pineapple for body aches and bitter gourd, maize and kathurumurunga (Sesbaniagrandiflora) for osteoporosis.
In recent times, healthy food awareness has been growing. Several heritage rice grains have been revitalized and these are freely available in the supermarkets. Heritage coffee beans have also been revitalised and in time, many valuable food items would make a grand re-entry to tickle our ever-fickle palates. Organic produce has a huge following both in supermarkets and in places such as The Good Market held at the Racecourse on Saturdays.
The Wasa Wisa Nethi Jathika Pola’s success was based on the increased following healthy food has at the moment. It was a novel concept that promoted Sri Lanka’s great knowledge and respect for healthy, endemic foods. It was obvious that such events attract large crowds and more of these kinds of events should be planned.
While obesity is still not a huge problem in Sri Lanka, the signs are ominous. There is a tendency for busy working people and schoolchildren to turn to the omnipresent takeaway counter. There are takeaway counters that do serve healthy food and that trend is growing. In the meantime, with the President himself steering the return to the healthy foods of our forefathers, and less reliance on chemical fertilizers, it would be prudent to follow his initiative in creating a healthy Sri Lanka that relies on foods free of chemical fertilizers.