The same problem was faced by the trio when they met for their weekly ‘gossip’ under the margosa tree. Despite the lockdown, the three – all living in the same lane – had gathered to enjoy a cup of tea and chat. Just as I was preparing to warn them that gatherings of this nature are not allowed under quarantine rules, I hesitated because the conversation was too interesting to interrupt.
The discussion also revolved around the import ban on fertilizers, which we wrote about three weeks ago, but forced to reconsider the issue due to its seriousness in the national economy which can lead to food shortages, forcing the imports because yields would drop sharply.
“Meka wera-di. Eih pohora pita-ratin gena eka thahanam kare (That’s wrong. Why have they banned fertilizer imports?) ”, Asked Kussi Amma Sera. “Kattiya kiyanawa, rasayanika pohora monkey soukya-yata honda-ne kiyala (They say chemical fertilizers are harmful to our health), ”Serapina said. “Eth kohomada ape goviyo jeevathwenna. Egollo avurudu gananavak rasayanika pohora pavichchi kara-la thiyanawa-ne. Prashnayak ethiwela-nane (But how will our farmers survive? They have been applying chemical fertilizers for many years now and there has been no problem), ”said Mabel Rasthiyadu.
The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is firm that the ban will continue; in fact, at the first meeting of the new 45-member committee to move towards a green economy and end the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, it was expressly stated that the import ban decision does not will not be changed in any way.
Most experts are skeptical that this move would pay dividends the way the government wants it to – maintain the same production yields and ensure that no harm is done to the population through the use of fertilizers. chemicals which have been used for decades. On the other hand, experts agree that at some point Sri Lanka should move towards organic farming, but stress that the process should be phased over a period of time – not a sudden halt in imports of organic farming. ‘fertilizer.
As I pondered these questions, there was a call. It was Pedris appo, short for Appuhamy, a retired agricultural expert who does farming, online. He spoke to me a few weeks ago on the same subject.
“It looks like the government is unwilling to revoke the ban on imported chemical fertilizers,” he said, adding that there would be “serious repercussions.”
“I think there are influential parties behind this decision which convinced the president that this is the best course of action towards a green economy,” I said, adding that there were also criticisms that it was weighing on farmers amid COVID. -19 pandemic.
“As a farmer, I know this is a reckless decision because organic fertilizers provide only a small percentage of nitrogen compared to chemical fertilizers. Plus, adjusting soils to organic fertilizers takes time and cannot be done overnight, ”he said, discussing many other national issues before closing the conversation.
The need to rethink the import ban policy is making itself felt in the development landscape, with many experts expressing concern about the impact on production yields. Here are three expert views:
Eminent economist Dr WA Wijewardena, in his widely read weekly column, asks whether the decision is fertile ground for hunger riots. He says that today farmers are growing hybrid varieties that depend on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maintain production levels. Therefore, when these two inputs are denied to farmers, a sudden drop in production is inevitable. It seriously threatens food security, on the one hand, and causes losses to farmers, on the other. It is fertile ground for hunger riots and farmer unrest, he said, adding that Sri Lanka is unlikely to gain an immediate net gain from the ban.
The Sri Lankan Agricultural Economics Association hailed the decision to switch to organic farming from a chemical fertilizer-based model, but raised concerns over its application without giving it any thought.
He predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses in the absence of suitable substitutes for chemical fertilizers and pesticides with the implementation of the import ban on fertilizers and pesticides. The immediate negative effects on food security, farm incomes, foreign exchange earnings and rural poverty can be detrimental to the achievement of long-term cherished goals.
Wicky Wickramatunga, an agro-entrepreneur with extensive experience in global and local agricultural sectors, says Sri Lanka spends nearly Rs. 60 billion a year to give a fertilizer subsidy to farmers and imports of conventional fertilizers generation such as urea, triple super phosphate and muriate of potash cost the country nearly $ 300 million a year.
But the problem is that second or third generation fertilizers of guaranteed quality, such as the compound, slow release and controlled release types, are hardly imported into the country.
“In addition, most of the first generation fertilizers are imported through tendering procedures and it is not surprising that the cheapest and lower quality fertilizers are supplied to the farming community in as part of the grant program. Second and third generation fertilizers do not fall under the subsidy scheme and therefore a credible comparison of high quality fertilizers and conventional types cannot be made. There is no doubt that farmers use too much fertilizer volumes for two reasons; on the one hand because it is given at a heavily subsidized price and on the other hand because the fertilizers supplied are of very poor quality. This prompted us to use 287.2 kg of fertilizer per hectare of cultivated land, the highest in the region, ”he said.
A group of tea plantation experts also recommended
a gradual reduction in imported fertilizers, instead of
As I prepared to complete the chronicle, Kussi Amma Sera entered the room with a second cup of tea. Pointing at her, I cautioned her not to meet her friends in the garden due to COVID-19 restrictions. She smirked sheepishly in response and as I took a sip of tea, I hoped the government would consider the experts’ proposals and ensure a gradual reduction in fertilizer imports, overturning an earlier decision.