1964-68 batch of Agriculture graduates
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Author:  Guest [ Sun Dec 21, 2008 3:06 am ]
Post subject:  1964-68 batch of Agriculture graduates

1964-68 batch of Agriculture graduates - Univ. of Ceylon, Peradeniya
A unique group that graduated 40 years ago

At this point of time, when all members of the batch have passed three score years of their life, the majority is still professionally engaged gainfully, keeping themselves occupied. Some of those who opted for early retirement are strangely engaged in preoccupations totally unrelated to the professional training they had undergone.

by Bedgar Perera
Moragolla, Imbulgasdeniya

Way back in 1964, 23 youngsters (22 boys and one sweet solitary girl) entered the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, to read for their degree in Agriculture, some by choice and others owing to circumstances. As was usual at that time, they had to spend their first year in the Faculty of Science to qualify to enter the Faculty of Agriculture in the following year by getting through the General Science Qualifying (GSQ) Examination, offering Botany, Zoology and Chemistry. The 3-year stint at the Faculty of Agriculture constituted a very productive study period, during which the students were exposed to the relevant disciplines of Agriculture. It is noteworthy to state that almost every University vacation during these three years was taken up by "vacation training". These sessions provided the much needed practical exposure to the various aspects, and also helped the group to know each other intimately and work as a team, with increasing cohesiveness as time passed by. Apart from the usual discipline that prevailed at that time, the Lecturers in charge tolerated the fun that the students had. Perhaps, the Lecturers, too, would have enjoyed the fun ("Gonparts" according to campus jargon, then) the students had, although they pretended otherwise. Those days, graduates in Agriculture were hard to come by, since it was only the Peradeniya Campus that had a Faculty of Agriculture, unlike now, when you get them in seven campuses islandwide, possibly having close to or more than 100 students per batch, in each campus. The intention of recollecting our memories is to share them with our contemporaries, alumni of the Faculty and the readers of this prestigious newspaper in general.

The names of the members of the batch that passed out from the Faculty of Agriculture of the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1968, in alphabetical order are:

Amarasoma, Ariyaratne, Arulnandhy, Rex Clements, Lambert Dissanayake, Dhanpala, Jayasekara, Noble Jayasuriya, Kalika Jayawardana, Lecamwasam, Fuard Marikkar, Mahaboob, Munasinghe, Conrad Perera, Bedgar Perera, Gamini Pieris, Piyadasa, Puvendran, Kandasamy, Ratnayake, Pinnnaduwage Sathyapala, Nanda Senanayake, Edward Suraweera, Daya Wijayawardana, Geethanjali Wijepala ( the one and only girl), Wijesekara and Suranimala Wirasinghe.

During the current year, the above batch that passed out in 1968, completes 40 years after graduation. So, it was considered to be a great occasion and word was passed around that we need to get together. Prior to this milestone, the batch has been meeting every few years, sometimes individually and sometimes together with the families, since 1993, the year when they celebrated the silver jubilee of their graduation.

Out of the batch, H. P. Ariyaratne (former Director, Field Crops Research & Development Institute, Maha Iluppallama) and Kalika Jayawardana (former Chairman, National Livestock Development Board), who have since expired, are remembered with sincerity and the group carries happy memories of their association with them and misses them badly.

Some members of the batch have migrated to greener pastures, and we meet them occasionally during their visits here. In order to commemorate the 40th year since graduation, a get-together (organized painstakingly by Conrad and Ratnayake (Rata) with the able support of Noble) was held on January 13 and 14, 2008. This coincided with the availability in Sri Lanka, of batchmate, M. P. Dhanapala, Award winning Rice Breeder and Snr.Scientist, JICA, Tsukuba, Japan. The venue was the Sanmali Beach Hotel, Marawila, and almost all the batch mates who were in Sri Lanka at that time participated. While some came alone, others came with their spouses, and still others graced the occasion with their children (F1 generation) and two (Rata and Conrad) were fortunate enough to bring their F 2 generation members (grand children) as well.

As to be expected, it was a grand occasion for those who participated. The time together was well spent, reminiscing the pleasant period that they had had at the Peradeniya Campus and elsewhere for "vacation training", during the prime of their lives to start with. This was also a great opportunity to share experience gained during the working life in their different chosen fields, right down to retirement and post-retirement employment in the case of some. There was the usual camaraderie, with sing-song and dance and the everlasting Sinhala songs, which were sung in the Sixties and which still hold sway, were the order of the day. A small musical group called " Ahindas" ( meaning - picked from here and there) continued to be in attendance late into the night, courtesy Conrad. Meanwhile, the spouses of the group were engaged in chatting, sharing their experiences in dress making, cookery, and trying to source marriage partners for their children. During this time they also eavesdropped on what their husbands were muttering, and for obvious reasons kept on trying to decipher their communication in order to figure out what was really meant. After all this and a late dinner in the wee hours, and a good sleep, the following morning was set apart for the group to visit a factory in Nattandiya that one of the more adventurous members of the batch (Conrad) had set up with German collaboration. This factory manufactures hardboard out of waste material, for the local market as well as for export. While some left after breakfast, the others joined in the visit and later dispersed. All in all it was a memorable occasion and there was a firm resolve to meet every few years in the years ahead to the extent possible till such time the batch fades away, naturally as it always happens.

To jot a further few lines about this unique batch of Agricolas (graduates in Agriculture) - as to be expected, they took up various professions upon graduation, based on the opportunities available at that time, which coincided with the "Green Revolution", and depending on their preferences. At that time, a graduate with a degree in Agriculture was hardly known by the top echelons in the public and private sector. So, these young graduates in blue denims and flashy T-shirts had to toil for survival. The "Food Drive" launched by Dudley Senanayake followed by the "Waga Sangramaya", initiated by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayaka, served as good springboards to show their capabilities by serving in the public sector as well as in the private sector. Many avenues opened up, initially with the Government allocating (in the late Sixties) large extents of jungle land in the heart of the Dry Zone, on long term lease to the private sector to establish extensive agricultural farms. The then Government’s expectation was to speed up food production by tapping the management skills and financial resources of some well-established companies. This was while also facilitating the support of the relevant state machinery towards the food production effort through streamlined provision of input supplies, extension services and the much needed marketing support. The private sector firms that got on to food production, although they had experience in growing tea and other plantation crops, selling agricultural machinery, tobacco industries and serving as visiting agencies, were lacking experience and expertise in the production of subsidiary and horticultural food crops. The established corporate firms, which invested heavily utilizing tax holidays, duty-free concessions etc. offered by the Government, quickly realised the need to fill the management gap. They eyed the young Agriculture graduates who had just passed out from the University, as having a deep understanding of modern agriculture. The first lot of these graduates recruited to run the company-owned farms soon fulfilled the expectations of the companies. (The author himself is one of those carrying these sentiments having spent two years in the then jungles of Ginnoruwa:Hembarawa; now a part of Mahaweli System C)

Incidentally, 40 years later, Sri Lanka and other countries worldwide are now in the " Food Drive" once again, this time with a global effort due to obvious reasons, perhaps, with better prospects for young graduates in Agriculture, and more importantly for the farming population. This is because, among all other human needs, the demand for food has to be somehow met at affordable costs for the mere survival of mankind.

In this connection, it is noteworthy to state in passing that there were a few Agriculture graduates who foresaw many years ago the hidden agenda of some of the multi- national companies and international donor/lending agencies andhad to fight a lonely battle. These donor/lending agencies were promoting growing of other crops as against the staple food crop in Asian countries. Fortunately, these agencies are now compelled through circumstances to be apologetic when thousands of Asians and Africans are starving, while in countries like Japan, growing of the staple food (rice) was and is given the top-most priority in a sustainable manner, with plenty of sustained policy support over the years.

Anyway, to get back to the subject proper, with the progress of their careers, the majority of the batch acquired post-graduate qualifications, ranging from Post Graduate Diplomas to Masters Degrees and PhDs from reputed universities abroad. The chosen specialties were diverse, viz. Agronomy, Plant Breeding, Population Genetics, Soil Microbiology, Animal Physiology, Dairy Technology, Agricultural Extension, Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Communication and Agricultural Engineering etc. Accordingly, the jobs chosen were also varied and they ultimately reached positions such as that of a University Vice chancellor, University Professors, Directors/ Dy.Directors/ Research Officers (in the Dept. of Agriculture/Ministry of Agriculture), Managers in Govt. Corporations, Managers in Private Companies/ Milk Industry, Chief Executive Officers (of Companies/ International Chamber of Commerce), Industrialists, Business Entrepreneurs, Agric. Consultant, Snr. Scientist, JICA/ UNAEA, Director/NSF ( National Science Foundation) etc.

At this point of time, when all members of the batch have passed three score years of their life, the majority is still professionally engaged gainfully, keeping themselves occupied. Some of those who opted for early retirement are strangely engaged in preoccupations totally unrelated to the professional training they had undergone. Some are now successful industrialists, horticulturists, planters managing their own properties, wild life and nature enthusiasts, photographers etc. Some have ventured into extreme fields like classical music, painting, floral decoration, cartoon drawing and theology etc.

All members of the batch owe their gratitude to the then Professors of the Faculty of Agriculture, who nurtured them and guided them to be what each one has turned out to be. The Professors who taught this batch of students at the Faculty of Agriculture were – Terrence Seneviratne, R. R. Appadurai, B. A. Baptist, Stanley Kalpage, Samaraweera, Karunajeewa, A. E. Wickramanayake, Y. D. A.Senanayake, T. Jogaratnam, Mervyn Pulle and also Kodituwakku, Peter Seneviratne and Silva from the Faculty of Veterinary Science plus George Thambiahpillai from the Geography Department, who taught Climatology. The batch also acknowledges the services rendered by the several Asst. Lecturers of the Faculty at that time, in conducting practical classes as well as "Vacation Training" and also the Laboratory and Technical staff, who were very cooperative.

Last but not least, the gratitude of the batch is also due to Professors B. A. Abeywickrama, R. N. de Fonseka, Balasubramaniam, Devendrarajah, Hilary Crusz, Sultan Bawa, Ariyaratne, Dias, Ramakrishna and Selvaratnam from the Faculty of Science, who provided them the much needed basic understanding in scientific fundamentals.

The whole group remembers all those academicians with much appreciation and veneration. What they inculcated in us has helped us immensely in what we are today in life, in general, as well as in our chosen areas of professional activity.

The writer wishes to acknowledge with thanks the inputs provided by Daya (Wijayawardana) and Rata (W. Ratnayake) in making valuable suggestions and painstakingly editing this article.

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