Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa Reiterates 'Green Agriculture' Policy Even As Govt Partially Lifts Ban On Use Of Chemical Fertilisers
Sri Lankan government has partially lifted the ban on chemical fertilisers by granting exemption to producers of commercial cash crops such as tea, rubber and coconut to import them. However the ban on use of chemical fertilisers remains for rice and vegetable cultivators who mostly tend to be small producers depending on government supplies.
In May, President Rajapaksa imposed a total ban on agrochemicals- based fertilisers. The president said that it was done to address the country's chronic health problems like kidney disorders and cancer. He cited ecological destruction wrought by agrochemicals.
Sri Lankan government has partially lifted the ban on chemical fertilisers by granting exemption to producers of commercial cash crops such as tea, rubber and coconut to import them. Specialist fertilisers needed for greenhouse cultivation has also been exempted from the import ban. However the ban on use of chemical fertilisers remains for rice and vegetable cultivators who mostly tend to be small producers depending on government supplies.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday (Nov 22) reiterated that green agriculture continues to be a key policy goal of his government and it would never reverse the decision.
The President clarified that agrochemicals can be imported by the private players on demand but would never be supported by any government subsidy scheme.
In April this year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that only organic farming would be allowed in Sri Lanka, aiming to become the first in the world to have 100 percent organic farming.
In May, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a total ban on agrochemicals- based fertilisers. The president said that it was done to address the country's chronic health problems like kidney disorders and cancer. He cited ecological destruction wrought by agrochemicals.
Some political observers have also linked the ban decision to a campaign by Buddhist monk, Athuraliye Rathana claiming that kidney and other non-communicable diseases were caused by agro-chemicals.
The president also said that the move will help save around $200 million incurred on importing agrochemicals. Sri Lanka’s chemical fertiliser import in 2020 was 1.26 million tonne
Agriculture experts had strongly criticised the move as “ill-advised” and “unscientific”. The farming community expressed fears that such drastic policy shift could result in steep drop in yield. Paddy farmers anticipate a 25% production slump, while growers of tea, which is a key foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka, fear a likely 40 - 60% fall in output. While organic fertilisers may be appropriate for traditional crops, the yield will be significantly lower.
In Oct, Sri Lankan government dismissed the country’s top agricultural scientist for publicly warning that Gotabaya Rajapaksa government ban on agrochemicals will lead to shortfalls in food output and exacerbate the economic crisis in the pandemic-hit Island.
Professor Buddhi Marambe, the top advisor on agriculture, was sacked from all his government positions after his criticism of the sudden ban on chemical fertilisers, the Agricultural ministry said in a statement.
Sri Lanka is also reeling under a pandemic-induced economic crisis, with a rising foreign debt, depleted foreign exchange reserves and a devaluing currency. A severe food shortage has made things worse. The ban on chemical fertilisers and pesticides also triggered hoarding by traders and companies, leading to black-marketing
Rajpakse government had assured that there are ample fertiliser stocks to be distributed till September and that farmers would receive organic fertiliser by the beginning of the Maha season. There are two cultivation seasons in Sri Lanka — Yala (April-May to August-September) and Maha (September-October to February-March). However assurances were not fulfilled. Famers took to the streets demanding the government to give them fertiliser as promised.
As farmers protests grew and scientists warned of a looming disaster, the government signalled willingness to life a part of the fertilizer ban.
The government planned to import a consignment of organic fertiliser from China but the process had to be halted when standards institutions detected harmful pathogens in these samples.
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