ucanews.com reporter, ColomboUpdated: December 16, 2012 10:48 PM GMT
Hundreds of farmers marched on Friday in the capital to protest risks to their livelihoods including arsenic poisoning from chemical pesticides and threats from land confiscation and increased urbanization.
The protest, which drew about 400 farmers, priests and activists, was organized by the Center for Society and Religion.
“We urge authorities to stop the use of pesticides and chemical products harmful to the environment and to return to natural and sustainable agriculture,” said Matilda Adikaram, president of the People’s Forum in Anuradhapura, who participated in the march.
Environmental groups have argued that more than 20,000 farmers have died as a result of commonly used pesticides, which contain high levels of cyanide, mercury and arsenic that have leeched into groundwater supplies.
A report by the World Health Organization published in August said that chemical pollutants in groundwater have affected about 15 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 70.
“Follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization on Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology,” said Adikaram, adding that the government should strengthen water purification schemes in farming areas.
According to the report, “the majority of men and women suffering from this disease excrete raised levels of arsenic and/or cadmium in their urine.”
Dr Channa Sudath Jayasumana, a member of the medical faculty of Rajarata University, said the government should follow WHO recommendations.
“The general public should be made aware of the risks and it is important to apply safety and control measures,” he said.
Protesting farmers also called attention to the impact of new development projects on farmland and the failure to provide protection from the encroachment of wild animals, specifically the threats posed by wild elephant populations.