Sri lanka tragedy – Diyanath Samarasinghe
A Rambutan tree I know produced well over 5000 fruits in the 2014 season. This year it managed to produce probably half that number. Oddly though, there were more fruits to eat and to share this year. This is as strange as tobacco company profits increasing despite cigarette sales declining a phenomenon we’ve seen over the last 5 years or so.
In the case of the tobacco company profits, the explanation is simply that the then government quietly reduced the amount it levied as excise tax. The levy was adjusted, at every price increase, to favour the tobacco company hugely. So, the trade was allowed an increasing percentage of the turnover, to more than compensate for the diminishing sales. The bureaucrats and politicians of the time sacrificed state revenue, to allow the tobacco trade to garner increasing profits, despite the drop in cigarette sales.
So the rise in revenue of the tobacco company, despite its sales declining, was because the politicians and officials of the Ministry of Finance were either inept or corrupt. But how do we explain the increased harvest from that rambutan tree this year, despite the smaller yield? The mechanism is similar to the one underlying the tobacco profit paradox. More fruits were available this year because birds were taking a smaller share. I had failed to notice what was visible in plain sight. Parakeets or parrots constantly inhabited this tree last year. Having decided to count their numbers this year, we discovered that there were none. The flock that habitually descended last year had evaporated within 12 months.
Associated with this tragedy are other things that have now become evident, on more careful observation. Bird song, especially at dawn, has diminished narrowed in variety and reduced in size of chorus. No more barbets, orioles and drongos. These species are gone altogether or far reduced in number this year. Visitors to a bird-bath are down dramatically. The calls of the lapwing no longer pierce the Battaramulla night. Where have all our local birds gone? Or are they still here, hiding somewhere, no longer given to song? A few species do remain: crows, koels, doves and the red-vented konda-kurullas. The habitat here has not changed as far as I can see. Are we experiencing the local reflection of a global event, as reported on BBC at http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33209548?