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Manufacturing sector expands, service sector recovers in June (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
Manufacturing sector expands, service sector recovers in June According to the Sri Lanka Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) released by the Statistics Department of Central Bank on Monday, the industrial production in Sri Lanka expanded in June 2019 while services sector recovered after the April 21 terrorist attacks. Manufacturing activities expanded at a higher rate in June 2019, recording an index value of 53.9 which is an increase of 3.2 index points, compared to May 2019.
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29,123 dengue cases reported Island-wide (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
29,123 dengue cases reported Island-wide A total of 29,123 dengue cases and 58 dengue deaths had been reported from all parts of the country within this year by July 17th , the Epidemiology Unit sources said.According to the sources, the highest number of dengue cases, 6297 had been reported from the Colombo district while the second highest number, 3825 had been reported from the Gampaha district. The third highest number of dengue cases, 2724 had been reported from the Galle district.
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PMB purchased 11,642 MT of paddy from North (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
PMB purchased 11,642 MT of paddy from North The Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) has purchased 11,642 metric tons (MT) of paddy in the Northern Province under the government certified price at a cost of Rs. 447 million.A kilo of Samba paddy has been purchased for Rs. 41 and a kilo of Nadu for Rs. 38.
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Colombo to get an efficient water supply service (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
Colombo to get an efficient water supply service The Colombo Water Supply Service Improvement Project was launched by the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) with the assistance of the government and the Asian Development Bank. Under this project, Colombo will get an efficient water supply making the service financially viable, said Colombo Water Supply Project Director Engineer Abdul Razeed at a press briefing at the Water Supply Project office in Wellawatte recently.The Project Director said the project costs Rs. 40 billion and the pipe system in Colombo city is about 960km long, of which approximately 60 percent will be replaced with new pipes. Currently, there are about 600,000 people living in Colombo city and another 400,000 people travelling daily to Colombo for various purposes. Nearly 140,000 houses have pipe-borne water. However, the current water pipeline network which supplies drinking water to consumers is over 150 years old. It is also not sufficient to cater to current as well as future requirements of the city. People living in certain areas receive water only for six to ten hours a day and the supply is limited in off-peak hours. Approximately, 3,000,000 cubic metres of treated water is supplied to the city daily, of which, 33 percent is lost due to leakages in the distribution pipe system incurring a considerable loss to the NWSDB. This has posed a serious threat to the entire water supply system. Therefore, immediate and major renovation is required. Former City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem and the Finance Ministry initiated this project to address the existing challenges through a sustainable and lasting solution. With the completion of this project, an uninterrupted water supply will be maintained in Colombo with sufficient pressure as the main pipe that carries water to the city would be replaced with a durable pipe with high quality and higher capacity. The Geographic Information System (GIS) technology would provide better solutions for leaks and breaks in the pipe system. The Project Director requested cooperation from the public as during the short period of maintenance work, they may face inconveniences due to traffic congestions near the project areas, temporary road closures, limited parking facilities, and dust and noises generated by project activities. Colombo city was one of the few cities in Asia that was fortunate to get piped water supply during the late 1800s. The water supply to Colombo commenced with the construction of the reservoir at Labugama which is 45km away from Colombo, by the Colombo Municipal Council. This reservoir was formed by channelling the water of the Wak Oya, a tributary of the Kelani Ganga. Presently, the Colombo water supply covers the entire municipal area of Colombo city and receives water from the Ambatale, Labugama and Kalatuwawa Water Treatment Plants through transmission lines to meet the water demand of a population of approximately 750,000, both residing and commuting to Colombo daily for various purposes. The well-designed distribution network system was built in Colombo over 100 years ago. Since then, there have been many projects implemented to address the ever-increasing water demand, but unfortunately, no significant analysis was done to carry out periodic rehabilitation of the network due to the lack of capital investments. Having the same pipelines for many years created scaling of pipes and leaks in the network, ultimately deteriorating the water supply services to the city. The pressure reduction system reduces the water carrying capacity of the cast iron (CI) pipes significantly. The NWSDB was losing approximately 49 percent of treated water supplied to Colombo city (which was approximately 140,000 to147,000 cubic metres a day) without any revenue, through leaks in the pipes, illegal water use, authorised free water usage in tenement gardens and other administrative losses. Further, consumers in some areas in Colombo city receive water only during off-peak hours. The growing population, high commercial demand and accelerated post-war development have greatly increased water requirements of the city. At present, the NWSDB is facing extreme difficulties in satisfying the water demand of the city and its suburbs. As pipes were laid during different time periods, the detailed the Colombo water supply pipe network drawings are not fully available with the NWSDB causing difficulty in tracing the pipes for repair work and investigations. Further, to overcome the fluctuating or low-pressure issue, some areas of Colombo city are fed from the direct transmission mains which result in energy losses or efficiency reduction of pumps. Since Colombo is a key economic and administrative hub in the country, the government has taken action to develop and modernise water supply services to match international standards. An effective and efficient water supply system is necessary, not only for the growth, but also to attract foreign investment and sustain other development activities. Project formulation In order to address these issues, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) agreed to finance the project upon the request of the government. Both the ADB and the government are investing approximately Rs. 42 billion for the Colombo Water Supply Service Improvement Project which aims to deliver better urban water supply services effectively and efficiently by reducing the present water loss mainly in Colombo city. Rehabilitation and modernisation of the Colombo water supply system includes construction of a Water Loss Management Building; construction of an Area Engineer’s Office for Elie House in Pamankada; and construction of a state-of-the-art training centre for the NWSDB with a plumbers’ training yard and water metre testing benches. This ongoing project is expected to complete by 2022. The project was launched in 2015 by the then City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem and Power, Energy and Project Development Minister Ravi Karunanayake.   Project components The project was designed based on the following criteria: Pipe replacement Decayed or damaged pipes will be replaced with both HDPE and DI pipes and other accessories such as valves to minimise the leaks in the water supply system to the accepted international standard – water loss level below 18 percent. Approximately 700 kilometres of pipelines are expected to be replaced. Shifting of consumer metres Under a system rehabilitation contract, all the consumer metres (service connections) will be taken out of the premises and installed in a convenient location to enable the NWSDB metre reader to take the reading at any time. This will minimise commercial losses when calculating the Water Loss figure, as the shifting of metre location eliminates the estimated billing due to difficulty in reaching houses and inconvenience caused to customers. Under this project, they also intend to introduce a remote metering technology (water metres with NBIOT technology) which enables the NWSDB to monitor their customers’ water usage pattern and provide them with a better service in terms of water availability and pressure. Reservoir-based Zoning and District Metered Area (DMA) Establishment At present, the Colombo operation is running as a single system with 17 inlet points to supply water causing problems in the operation and maintenance of the water supply system. In order to ease the operation and maintenance of the water supply network, Colombo city operation is divided into four reservoir based zones and 79 subzones (DMA- District Metered Areas) with average service connections of 1,500. The DMAs have been designed in such a way with emergency interconnections enabling continuous water supply even when the particular ground reservoir, supplying water to the particular DMA is under repair or augmentation. Further, the System Input Volume metres (SIVs) will be replaced with modern flow metres that transmit signals about the volume of water supplying to the city, to the Water Loss Management Control Building automatically. Demand forecast and transmission improvement During the Western Province Metropolitan Area Water Supply Master Plan Update – 2013 (MPU-2013), it was noted that the capacity of the existing transmission lines are not sufficient to meet the increasing water demand of Colombo city as it is running at its optimum level at present. In order to improve the water carrying capacity of transmission lines, three separate transmission lines were proposed, of which two lines are being laid from the Ambatale Treatment Plant (1200mm Dia DI Line) and Gothatuwa reservoir (1000mm Dia DI Line) under the French Development Agency (AFD) co-financed project. Procurement works are underway for the third line (Jubilee Transmission Main). In addition to the improvement of the transmission capacity, the MPU -2013 recommended to reduce the leaks in the Colombo supply system to save water. Modernising water supply infrastructure Under this project, a GIS-based asset management system will be established. The pipeline network with valves and the other important accessories’ location information (x, y and z) will be computerised using the Global Information System (GIS). This will enable operation and maintenance team and leak detection teams to easily locate the pipe with minimal time so that leaks and other issues can be handled with minimal disturbance to the public within a short time. Data collection for GIS update A dedicated state of the art building for the Water Loss Management office is being established in Maligakanda with a staff with advanced technology and equipment to carry out the water loss monitoring on daily basis and initiate actions to minimise the water loss below the minimum level during operations and maintenance. Fully equipped active leak control teams will be assembled to support the water loss management team in identifying invisible leaks that cause water losses. Improving the water supply system Under this project, a non-governmental organisation has been recruited to carry out social mobilisation programmes to educate people of the importance of water and payment to the water consumption and encourage them to obtain individual connections and reduce water wastage. Current status of the project Out of the planned 700km, 400km was repaired with the approved quality testing up to June 30. This has led to the completion of almost nine DMAs while the repair work of 36 other DMAs is in progress. Further, water loss management studies in the above completed DMAs (eg., DMA-30D and DMA-27A) indicate that water loss has reduced from more than 50 percent to below 10 percent. Initial water loss management studies in other DMAs which are in progress too indicate favourable results in the water loss of the particular DMA. Water loss reduction is expected to achieve in entire Colombo city during the project period. As expected, the water loss reduction in the completed DMAs and in other ongoing project areas has significantly contributed to reduce the overall Water Loss figure of Colombo city from 46 percent. The same trend is expected to continue in the future too. At present, approximately 100 rehabilitation teams are working in the four zones. Water losses are encountered through self-made damage by these teams at work. It is estimated that approximately four percent of the present NRW is due to the above mentioned self-made damage by the contractors. In a complex city like Colombo, such water loss is inevitable during the construction period. Leaving all these, up to date the project intervention has enabled the NWSDB to save 5,000 cubic metre water a day (i.e., 5,000,000 litres a day) and supply to customers with more revenue. Difficulties encountered in implementation This project is being implemented with the intention of improving the water supply service level to customers while minimising the leaks and losses in the system. Unlike the other water supply projects, this is quite different and challenging as the NWSDB has to carry out the system rehabilitation work while maintaining the water supply to consumers with minimum interruptions. The supply interruptions are inevitable when replacing the connection of an existing system with a new one. No pain no gain Rehabilitation work will improve the pressure in the water supply system supplying uninterrupted water connection throughout the day, while improving the water supply services in the high elevated areas and low-pressure zones in the city. The NWSDB is conducting various public awareness programmes such as the distribution of notices, newspaper advertisements and radio announcements to inform the public in advance about service interruptions and the roads in which construction work is in progress. This will enable the public to take necessary action to store water for the service interruption period and avoid using those roads during the construction period and reduce traffic congestion. In most of the places in Colombo city, all the utility lines are laid underground and congested in many places, causing problems in identifying suitable spaces to lay water lines that can be easily accessible for operation and maintenance. Labour shortage The construction industry is facing a serious shortage of experienced workers to carry out the tasks in the ground. In most of the roads, pipes are being laid at night to minimise traffic congestion resulting in low efficiency in the output compared to day time work. Social impact of the project Uninterrupted water supply reduces tension and conflicts in households. Housewives do not have to spend much time in collecting water and can spare more time for other productive activities. People can schedule their work when water is readily available. People spend less money on electricity (for water pumping), and other means of obtaining water.
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Showery and windy conditions enhance till 19th (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
Showery and windy conditions enhance till 19th Showery and windy conditions are likely to enhance over South-western part of the island till 19th July 2019. Cloudy skies can be expected in the southern half of the island today.Fairly strong gusty winds up to (40-50) kmph are likely over the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa provinces and along the North-western coastal areas.Showers or thundershowers will occur at times in Sabaragamuwa, Central, Western, Southern and North-Western provinces. Showers or thundershowers will occur at several places in Uva, Eastern and North-Central provinces.Heavy falls about 100 mm are likely at some places in Western, Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces and in Galle and Matara districts.There may be temporary localized strong winds during thundershowers. General public is kindly requested to take adequate precautions to minimize damages caused by lightning activity
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Easter Sunday attackers may get death sentences: Prez (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
Easter Sunday attackers may get death sentences: Prez President Maithripala Sirisena said yesterday that everyone connected to the Easter Sunday attack may get death sentence according to thelaw as there was clear evidence against them.Addressing a gathering of the public and Maha Sangha at the Pelanda Rajamaha Viharaya, in the Kalutara District, yesterday afternoon after ceremonially declaring open the new Dhatu Mandiraya, the Library and the Dharma Mandiraya of the temple. The President further said" the investigations into those involved in the Easter Sunday attack was continuing,”
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DIALOGUE ON COUNTER TERRORISM COOPERATION WITH EU IN COLOMBO (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
DIALOGUE ON COUNTER TERRORISM COOPERATION WITH EU IN COLOMBO Issuing a Media Releases the Foreign Ministry said that a delegation led by EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove visited Sri Lanka from 11 – 16 July 2019 for the EU- Sri Lanka Ad Hoc Dialogue on Counter Terrorism Cooperation.The Ad Hoc Dialogue, co-chaired by Actg Secretary/Foreign Affairs Ahmed A Jawad and EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator de Kerchove, covered recent counter terrorism measures, countering radicalization and violent extremism, security cooperation, capacity building and the listing of the LTTE by the EU. Discussions centered around sharing of information, experiences, technical assistance and creating platforms to learn from best practices, as well as setting up of mutually beneficial cooperation among security and law enforcement agencies of Sri Lanka and the EU.
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Foundation laid for Cancer Treatment Centre at Karapitiya Hospital (Tue, 16 Jul 2019)
Foundation laid for Cancer Treatment Centre at Karapitiya Hospital The foundation stone for the Cancer Treatment Centre which is constructed with the contribution of labour given by naval personnel, was ceremonially laid yesterday (15th July 2019 ).This centre which is expected to cater for the cancer patients island wide to spend their elderly time there, is constructed by the funds provided by Sri Lanka Cancer Association and donors and with the naval labour. The constructions were commenced today after religious rituals.Galle District Secretary Mr.Somarathna Vidanapathirana, Commander Southern Naval Area Rear Admiral Kassapa Paul, Director Karapitiya Teaching Hospital Dr. G. Wijesooriya, government servants, members of the Cancer Association and hospital staff were present on the occasion .
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'Sakura' Thrills Jaffna Civilians (Tue, 16 Jul 2019)
'Sakura' Thrills Jaffna Civilians With the intention of promoting reconciliation and confidence-building between the civil community and Army troops in the Jaffna peninsula, the Forward Maintenance Area (North) troops of the SFHQ-Jaffna organized a mega musical bash in Jaffna.
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Why soil is disappearing from farms (Tue, 16 Jul 2019)
Why soil is disappearing from farms The dirt beneath our feet is getting poorer and on many farms worldwide, there is less and less of it.Without sufficient soil, our ability to grow food is threatened.In Iowa they call it “black gold” – a fertile blanket covering the landlocked Midwestern state. Thousands of years of prairie grass growth, death and decomposition have left a thick layer of dark, organic matter on the vast plains. When European-American settlers first began ploughing in Iowa, they found the weather and local geology had combined this organic mulch with sand and silt to form a nutrient-rich type of soil called loam. It gave Iowa one of the most fertile soils on the planet and enabled it to become one of the largest producers of corn, soybeans and oats in the United States over the last 160 or so years. But beneath the feet of Iowa’s farmers, a crisis is unfolding. The average topsoil depth in Iowa decreased from around 14-18 inches (35-45cm) at the start of the 20th Century to 6-8 inches (15-20cm) by its end. Relentless tilling and disturbance from farm vehicles have allowed wind and water to whisk away this priceless resource. The same picture is seen on farms worldwide. Soils are becoming severely degraded due to a combination of intensive farming practices and natural processes. As the layer of fertile topsoil thins, it gets increasingly difficult to grow crops for food. Without altering agricultural practices and urgently finding ways to preserve soil, the global food supply starts to look precarious. Even in Iowa’s still-fertile fields, the loss of soil is concerning. In just one spring in 2014, Iowa lost nearly 14 million tonnes of soil from its cropland in a series of storms, according to environmental groups. A study of 82 sites in 21 counties by Iowa State University showed that in the 50 years from 1959, soil structure and levels of organic matter had degraded while acidity had increased. “Erosion from the wind is not as bad as it used to be in the dust bowl era, but in the past 20 years the rainfall pattern has changed,” says Paula Ellis, a farmer in south-east Iowa’s Lee County. “We used to get one to two inches of rain every other week, but now we are getting bigger rain events where six inches fall and that hits the soil on farms.” The problems facing Iowa are by no means unique. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), a third of the world’s soil is now moderately to highly degraded.The processes that generate high-quality, fertile topsoil can take centuries. But the world is ploughing through that resource at an alarming rate. About 40% of the world's land has already been taken over by agriculture, while livestock grazing and expanding urban areas are taking further chunks out of what is left over. At first glance, it might seem that there is no shortage of mud and dirt around the world. But it's the quality that really counts. “Many types of soil degradation are invisible,” says Ronald Vargas, secretary of the global soil partnership at the FAO in Rome. “You just don’t see the loss of organic carbon from soils or pollution building up in it until you try to plant crops there.” Erosion, compaction, nutrient imbalance, pollution, acidification, water logging, loss of soil biodiversity and increasing salinity have been affecting soil across the globe, reducing its ability to support plant life and so grow crops. At the most extreme end, 12 million hectares of land – an area that could produce the equivalent of 20 tonnes of grain annually – are lost to desertification every year. Meanwhile, the spread of our towns, cities and road networks are sealing soils out of reach beneath layers of asphalt and concrete. According to some estimates, between one billion and six billion hectares of land are now considered to be degraded. But the problems vary greatly from region to region. In a handful of places, this degradation has happened naturally, says Vargas. “There are some places where the landscape can be compared to the Moon,” he says. “But human activity has led to unsustainable levels of degradation.” Climate change, the spread of intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrial activity have accelerated the loss of soils in almost every country in the world. Farming practices such as tilling break up the soil and destroy its natural structure, killing many of the vital bacteria and fungi that live there and leaving it vulnerable to being washed away. “Soil is not just useful for helping us grow food,” says Vargas. “[Soils] are key for storing water – good soil is like a sponge that soaks up the rain and keeps it there. It is important for recycling nutrients and storing carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.” If we want to continue enjoying the riches of our soils in the future, something urgently needs to be done. 00:01 / 02:12 Rachel Stoer points to two crops growing side by side. Both are types of wheat, each with the characteristic stiff, grassy stems and ears heavy with seeds. To the untrained eye, perhaps the only difference is that one appears stockier and is tipped with a denser head of grain. Underground, however, the differences are more apparent. One of the grasses produces a slender tendril of roots that penetrates barely a couple of feet (0.5m) beneath the surface. The other is a thick, intertwined mat extending nearly 10ft (3m) down. This second wheat is a domesticated variety of wild wheatgrass known as Thinopyrum intermedium, which can be found growing naturally across central Europe and western Asia. It is rangier than conventional wheat and it has smaller seeds packed less densely in a far more elongated head. The biggest difference, however, is that it is perennial. This means that unlike conventional wheat, which dies off each year and so needs to be replanted with fresh seeds before each growing season, this wheatgrass will regrow without having to be re-sown. It could be a solution to one of the major causes of soil degradation. “Anytime you till the soil, it destroys the natural ecosystem that exists in it,” says Stroer, chief strategy officer at the Land Institute, an agricultural research organisation based in Salina, Kansas, which has been domesticating wild wheatgrass into a product called Kernza. “With perennial plants, there is far less need to till.” There are other benefits too. Established perennial grasses provide less opportunities for weeds to grow in a field, says Stroer. “Tilling the soil loosens it and serves as a welcome mat for weeds,” she says. With their extensive root networks, perennials are often more able to cope with periods of drought and can help to hold the soil together, preventing erosion of this precious resource. “We believe that perennial planting is the closest we can come to restoring the soil to a state that has existed for millions of years on our planet,” says Stroer. “Every native landscape on the planet has a mixture of perennials growing on it for good reason.” The Land Institute is attempting to develop a new generation of perennial crops that can supplement and even replace our existing annual crops. In addition to Kernza, it is also developing perennial rice, legumes and sorghum, a popular grain in Africa and South Asia.   Perennial crops are far from a perfect solution though. The oldest strands of Kernza in the Land Institute’s test fields are 10 years old. They now produce little in the way of seeds. “Yields begin to tail off after about three to four years,” says Stroer. It means the plants would need to be replaced after that point to ensure decent crop yields. “It is something we are working on. “But we have seen some perennial rice crops in China that have lasted five years and given 10 harvests. That kind of time frame can make a big difference to the soil.” The real test, of course, will be how consumers accept these new crops. There are already some promising signs. Although Kernza tastes more like rye than traditional wheat flour, it has attracted a following from those making artisan bread, while a number of food producers have begun using it to make pasta and pizza bases. It has even been adopted in craft beer brewing, producing an ale with a nutty flavour. “Currently it works well when mixed with conventional wheat,” says Stroer. “But we are hoping through our breeding programme to get it to be more like wheat has been for the past 100 years or so.” In the interim, there are other approaches that could help to restore some of the vitality that is being stripped from farmland soils. “It is about careful husbandry, which involves paying attention to the chemical, physical and biological aspects of the soil so they are kept in balance,” says Elizabeth Stockdale, head of farming systems at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, UK. She has been developing tools to help farmers assess and improve the health of their soils. “We want to increase the proportion of the year that the soil actively has roots in it and plants growing above it,” says Stockdale. It might sound counterintuitive at first, but planting vegetation in soil between crops can help to hold it together to prevent erosion. It can also provide vital nutrients to the organisms living in the earth. “The photosynthesis from cover crops and intercropping helps to feed the soil system and keep the biology there active.” But while this works in areas that still retain some of their original fertility, what do you do in areas where the soil has become completely exhausted? Living systems Soil is largely made up of grains of weathered rock and the remains of dead, decayed plants. But it is far from an inert, lifeless substance. Soil is a living system bursting with microbes, fungi, insects, worms and other invertebrates. These all play important roles in breaking down material, delivering nutrients to plants and maintaining soil fertility. Pump in pesticides or excessive amounts of inorganic fertilisers – which often contain heavy metals that can accumulate in the soil – and this living system begins to suffer. Matthew Wallenstein, head of crop soil science at Colorado State University, thinks he may have a way of tackling this problem. With the help of modern robotics, he and his colleagues have been screening millions of microbes found naturally in soils from around the globe to identify bacteria that can bring degraded soils back to life. “Many agricultural soils contain huge amounts of phosphorous that has been added in fertilisers and then locked away,” he says. “My group has identified microbes that are especially good at making this phosphorous in soil available to plants.” They have found a mixture of microbes that can enhance the natural rhizosphere – the communities of microorganisms that live in the soil around plant roots, gobbling up secretions from the plants and serving up nutrients to them in return. This invisible ecosystem is an often-overlooked aspect of plant growth and most plants cannot grow without it. Wallenstein and his colleagues have set up a company called Growcentia that is developing cocktails of soil microbes to enhance soils and improve plant health. “These microbial products could jump start the processes that lead to regeneration,” says Wallenstein. One company taking this approach a step further is Indigo Agriculture. The Boston-based firm coats seeds in beneficial microbes in the hope of giving young plants their own ready-made microbiome that will boost the nutrients they receive as they grow, while also acting as a first line of defence against diseases. Coating seeds with pesticides or micronutrients is already a fairly common, if relatively new, approach in the agricultural industry. But adding microorganisms is more unusual, partly because they have a limited shelf life. Indigo claims that by drying the microbes and mixing them with a polymer on the surface of the seeds, they can be stored for months, if not years, before they are sown. So far, the company says the results have been good. “We have seen a 14% increase in cotton and 13% improvement in wheat,” says Geoff von Maltzahn, Indigo’s chief executive at Indigo. “The crops require less input from farmers too, which creates less waste and pollutants in the system.” Adding microbes and nutrients can only rejuvenate soil if there is still some left on the ground. What happens if water and wind has swept away the soil completely? New ground In the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains, about 24 miles (38km) north of Tucson, Arizona, is a vast glass structure. The glazed domes and pyramids look like they have been transplanted into the arid mountain foothills from a science fiction film set. Outside the buildings grow the characteristic barrel cactus and prickly pear that stud the dry Arizona landscape. Inside, however, rainforests, mangroves, savannah grassland and even a coral reef flourish in their own separate biospheres. Built in the early 1990s, the structure – known as Biosphere 2 – was originally designed to test whether humans could survive in a closed ecosystem like those that might be needed to colonise other planets. Today it is owned and managed by the University of Arizona. Here scientists are studying the conditions that are needed to create new soil in an experiment called the Landscape Evolution Observatory. Three independent landscapes, each created from 500 tonnes of crushed basalt rock that was extracted from a volcanic crater in northern Arizona, have been created inside the Biosphere. Devoid of organisms, these landscapes are a blank canvas for the researchers. Each one covers an area of 3,500 sq ft (325 sq m) and has a 10-degree slope that converges into a gully – a landscape similar to those found in the uplands of the south-western US. More than 1,800 sensors and sampling devices are installed on, above and within the landscape to monitor the physical and chemical changes in each of them. Overhead sprinkler systems mimic rainfall and weathering of the bare basalt soil. Over time the scientists will add microorganisms and plants to the soil to watch how their roots, leaf litter and decaying material changes the soil. They hope to understand how landscapes and their soils evolve over time under different climatic conditions. They are also hoping to measure how much carbon dioxide soils are able to absorb as they weather. “The evolution of a fertile soil, either from parent rock material or from a degraded system, is mediated by a complex set of tightly interwoven hydrological, geochemical, geomorphic and biological processes,” says John Adams, deputy director of Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona. Understanding these from the microscopic to landscape scale over a few seconds to millennia, is key to “eco-engineering” degraded soils, he says. Back in Iowa, many farmers are attempting to protect and rebuild their precious black gold. Researchers at Iowa State University have been working with farmers to plant “prairie strips” on part of their fields. In return for a subsidy, farmers dedicate 10% of each crop field to native perennial grasses and plants that providing a valuable habitat for wildlife and pollinators. The strips also seem to help restore the soil. Research has shown that the prairie strips can generate a 20-fold reduction in the amount of sediment being washed off fields. They also retain more nitrogen and phosphorous by helping to reduce the amount of water from running off the surface. “The basic idea behind prairie strips is using the Midwest’s native ecosystem to improve our currently dominant corn-soybean agroecosystems,” says Lisa Schulte-Moore, co-leader of the project trialling their use. Around 600 acres (242 hectares) of prairie strips have been created on around 65 farms in Iowa and some surrounding states. To create a prairie strip, farmers plant a mixture of plant species on part of their fields and leave it for two or three years to take root. After this they have to actively maintain the integrity of the prairie by burning, mowing or grazing to help prevent annual weeds and invasive woody plants from taking over.The researchers are now monitoring how the strips of prairie may alter soil health in the longer term. “If a farmer terminates a prairie strip after it has been in place for five to 10 years, we know the soil health has been improved. But we want to know whether the crop will benefit from this and how long will that last,” says Rick Cruse, an expert in soil management at Iowa State University who is also involved in the project. “What we envisage is that the farmer would move the strip to another part of the field and that would then be enriched. It could be a gamechanger for some farmers.” On Paula Ellis’s farm in Iowa’s Lee County, she and her husband have been continuing a no-till farming approach that her father started almost 40 years ago. They also use cover crops like rye to keep plants growing on the soil at all times and have buffer strips similar to the prairie strips close to the creeks in their fields to help reduce run-off. “You can really see a difference in the healthiness of the soil,” says Ellis. “It has a better structure. On the farms nearby that work up their ground all the time, you just don’t see that nice rich soil and it turns really hard and rocky.“There is still a lot of work to be done. We have to do everything we can to keep our soil.”
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New Jaffna Commander assumes duties (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Major General Ruwan Wanigasooriya of the Sri Lanka Artillery Regiment has assumed office as the Commander, Security Forces – Jaffna on Monday. A simple ceremony was held at the Security Force Headquarters in Jaffna amid religious observances and military formalities, the Army said. He succeeds Major General Darshana Hettiarachchi who retires from the Army to take up a new appointment in the Ministry of Defence shortly, the release further read. Major General…
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UN envoy to assess right to freedom of assembly in Sri Lanka (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – UN Special Rapporteur Clément Nyaletsossi Voule will visit Sri Lanka from 18 to 26 July 2019 to assess rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the country. “We have seen a commendable effort to expand civic space in Sri Lanka, the establishment of strong and independent institutions, and noticeable strides towards truth and reconciliation in the country,” Voule said. “I hope that my visit will aid in the further…
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Minister requests trade unions to postpone postal strike until Friday (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Minister of Postal Services & Muslim Religious Affairs M H A Haleem has requested the postal trade unions to postpone their strike until Friday. The Minister says that steps have been taken to address the issues that have led to the strike. Postal trade unions have launched a two-day token strike from 4 pm Tuesday (16) demanding the government to find solutions to the issues raised due to the 6/2016 circular. Speaking…
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Paddy purchasing in Northern Province begins (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – The Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) has purchased 11,642 metric tons (MT) of paddy in the Northern Province under the government certified price at a cost of Rs. 447 million. A kilo of Samba paddy has been purchased for Rs. 41 and a kilo of Nadu for Rs. 38. The total quantity purchased from the Kilinochchi District is 3,185 metric tons. The expenditure incurred was Rs. 122 million. From farmers in Vavuniya district…
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Term of Presidential Commission probing corruption and fraud extended (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – President Maithripala Sirisena in an Extraordinary Gazette notification has announced that the term of the Presidential Commission probing corruption and fraud was extended by two and a half months from 14th July. The gazette notification said the President enlarged the time for rendition of the final report on completion of the tasks assigned to the Commission. The Commission of Inquiry was appointed by President Sirisena on 17th January to “investigate and inquire…
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Price of bread to be increased (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – The price of a loaf of bread will be increased from midnight tonight, the All Ceylon Bakery Owners Association said. Accordingly, the price of a loaf of bread will be increased by Rs. 5 from midnight tonight. Earlier, the price of wheat flour was increased by Rs 8.00 per kilo.
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Several Ruhuna Univeristy faculties reopen today (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Several faculties of the University of Ruhuna in the Wellamadama region which were closed due to ragging and other conflicts will reopen for academic activity today. Accordingly the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Marine Biology, Faculty of Technology and the Faculty of Post-Graduate Studies will recommence academic activities today. Moreover, the Faculties of Management and Finance will recommence on the 22nd of July, while the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences will…
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3,493 drunk drivers arrested within 12 days (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – A total of 3,493 persons have been arrested over the past 12 days, under the special operation to arrest motorists for driving while under the influence. Police said 139 drunk drivers were arrested over the past 24 hours. Police Headquarters commenced a month long operation on the 5th of July to arrest motorists driving under the influence. The objective of the operation, which is being carried out island-wide, is to crackdown on…
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Sri Lanka Technology Revolution – Shilpasena Exposition (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –The Shilpasena Exposition, the first in a series of expositions, being organized by the Ministry of Science Technology & Research, under the directions of Hon. Sujeewa Senasinghe, aimed at bridging the gap between Science, Technology & innovation sector and the general public is scheduled at the BMICH premises from the 18th to 21st July. Today, Science, Technology and innovation has become a pioneering factor in the economic development process. Sri Lanka ranks 88th…
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Ursula von der Leyen elected first female European commission president (Wed, 17 Jul 2019)
(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Ursula von der Leyen has been confirmed as the European commission’s first female president and the first German in the job for more than 50 years. In a secret ballot, MEPs voted narrowly to support the German defence minister as a replacement for Jean-Claude Juncker when he steps down on 31 October. She won the support of 383 MEPs, nine votes more than required to secure an absolute majority but below the 400…
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