The government is likely to allow the importation of 800,000 litres of the weed killer glyphosate essential for tea plantations starting from the next two to three months, Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake said recently at the Planters’ Association of Ceylon Annual General Meeting.
“I’m sure maybe in two months, three months, I can have a formula in place,” he said.
An executive order banned the importation of glyphosate last year, under the rationale that the chemical is carcinogenic and caused the chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu), though the name of the disease itself describes the unknown origin of the disease.
“While you can talk about CKDu and all these other issues which I’m also aware of, the president is committed to a more holistic and more organic agriculture base. That is his view; that is his policy, (but) we, in the tea industry, must also emphasise the fact that all of a sudden this rude shock should not be given,” Dissanayake said.
He said that he had spoken to the president, prime minister and ‘powerful voices’ that wanted glyphosate banned, about the crucial need of weed killers for tea and other large-scale
“I have had two rounds of discussions with those powerful forces—I cannot mention names—and I’m confident of working out a formula, where the basic minimum of 800,000 litres that was imported in 2015 will be allowed to come in,” Dissanayake said.
However, he noted that there will be controls and monitoring implemented by the Tea Research Institute (TRI) and that the import volumes will be brought down over time.
“Systematically over a period of time, maybe 15-20 percent per month per year, the amount would have to be brought down, so that you have to give time for large-scale commercial agriculture companies to adjust to this sudden shock that we’re trying to put,” he said.
However, even alternative chemicals to glyphosate aren’t likely to be imported soon, since the TRI takes over 15 years to test the advantages and disadvantages of chemicals and give the approval. Manually weeding tea plantations takes four times more labour per hectare and has to be done more frequently than spraying two litres of glyphosate per hectare twice a year, as recommended by the TRI.
The regional plantation companies alone had incurred losses of Rs.2.5 billion, stemming directly from the glyphosate ban. The tea smallholders, who make up 70 percent of tea production, had also used the weed killer, though the industry experts note that the smallholders are more liberal with their glyphosate use. Meanwhile, Dissanayake said that the government would not allow for glyphosate to be used in paddy farming or other food products.
Around 15 percent of the adult population in the paddy farming-heavy North Central Province and Uva Province are suffering from CKDu. The tea planters hold the view that glyphosate has no adverse effect if used properly with the proper quantity, as there are no CKDu victims in the tea plantation areas since glyphosate becomes inactive once it comes into contact with the soil. They believe that the paddy farmers use excessive amounts of pesticides and weed killers due to the lack of education on the subject and the chemicals remain on the water-covered paddy fields for months, leading to complications.
Research conducted by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Europe Food Safety Agency and US Environmental Protection Agency, among other foreign agencies have pointed towards the finding that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic.
However, the world’s largest agrochemical companies are also situated in the western world and are now attempting to find alternatives for glyphosate due to increasing pressure against the chemical globally. (CW)