rtilizer CompaMinister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage said in Parliament recently that compost, bio-liquid fertilizer and potassium fertilizer would be provided prior to cultivation during the Maha season, scheduled to begin on October 15. The Minister said that stocks of Potassium fertilizer had arrived in Sri Lanka on October 5 and there were concerns regarding Nitrogen fertilizer, but it wouldn’t be a problem. This he said was because Nitrogen is given as an additional fertilizer. A spokesperson from the Ministry of Agriculture said that a group connected to this ministry was attempting to import Chinese organic fertilizer containing harmful microorganisms while importing the said stocks. The spokesman added that some individuals were trying to obtain a laboratory report from another country claiming that the harmful organic fertilizer is suitable for use.
It has been revealed that a test was conducted on the Chinese fertilizer stock only after it was loaded to the vessel. Plans have been made to bring down Chinse organic fertilizer together with other fertilizers.
“The Ministry of Agriculture called for sealed bids from qualified suppliers to import 99000 metric tons of organic fertilizer. The tenders were closed on 28 July 28 and selected suppliers were announced on August 11. Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Company receiving the tender. The general procedure to follow prior to forwarding a fertilizer tender is to have a sample of fertilizer from the qualified supplier tested. This is done with the objective of analyzing whether a certain stock of fertilizer meets the standards of the Fertilizer Secretariat of the Ministry of Agriculture and those of the Sri Lanka Standards Institute. The Chinese company has been given the tender without deciding on whether the fertilizer suits Sri Lanka, meets quality and suitability requirements without obtaining fertilizer samples. Several parties complain that the general procedure hasn’t been followed; hence favouring Chelinaa Capital Corporation Pvt Ltd, which is the local representative of the fertilizer manufacturing company. Honest officials of the Ministry of Agriculture do not voice against these happenings to keep their jobs. All this happens in a political background where the local company involved belongs to an individual who is a family friend of an official serving in the Prime Minister’s Office. The tender process has been carried out with the approval of the Cabinet,” he added.
The Fertilizer Secretariat handed over two samples of organic fertilizers to the National Plant Quarantine Service on August 31 for testing. It was confirmed that one sample contained in abundance Erwinia and Bacillus species and the other sample contained the Bacillus bacteria species. However the Ministry of Agriculture announced on September 14 that the news regarding the presence of microbes in Government imported chemical fertilizer was false and informed the public to use organic fertilizer without fear. Minister Aluthgamage said on September 17 that following a test conducted in an independent laboratory- named by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute- it was revealed that the imported fertilizer did not contain the said microorganisms and they were present instead in a fertilizer sample brought down unofficially by the department. However when testing another sample of Chinese organic fertilizer, which was brought down officially, the presence of harmful microbes was confirmed. The fertilizer contained several unrecognised bacteria species categorised as Gram positive and negative apart from Erwinia and Bacillus bacteria species. The report states that the fertilizer should not be brought down to the country for any reason.
By the time the test results were released the vessel containing the Chinese organic fertilizer had been ready to travel. The vessel was expected to reach Singapore on September 2 and later Sri Lanka within 3-4 days, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed. He said that the import of fertilizer was suspended temporarily after it was confirmed that harmful microorganisms were present in the fertilizer.
Colombo Commercial Fertilizers Ltd and Ceylon Fertilizer Company operate as the government party when importing and distributing fertilizer. The spokesperson said that plans have been made to import the harmful fertilizer somehow. “The Chinese company has signed an agreement with the Colombo Commercial Fertilizers Ltd and Ceylon Fertilizer Companies acknowledging the requirement to have the certificate of the National Plant Quarantine Service prior to importation.
Despite that the fertilizer has been imported and this should be thoroughly investigated. Even though a sample was not tested prior to loading the fertilizer to the vessel, the Ministry of Agriculture has said that the general procedure to follow prior to importing anything has been followed in this regard. Yet the National Plant Quarantine Service confirms that the said procedure has not been followed. Samples were tested after the vessel was loaded and the testing was done through an institute recommended by Sri Lanka Standards Institute.
These tests had not revealed all the information about harmful substances. The details in that report were sufficient to gant permission for the vessel to leave.
Chinese Ambassador unhappy
However that procedure isn’t in accordance with the law practised in Sri Lanka when importing fertilizer. According to that law the test should be conducted in the country. The National Plant of harmful microbes. The manufacturing company has informed the Government that they cannot accept the test reports and in turn requested to conduct a test through an independent institute; not connected to both countries. Fertilizer is imported under Cabinet approval after which a team is assigned to carry out the work. If by any chance the newly obtained international certificate confirms that there is no presence of harmful microorganisms the fertilizer will be brought to the country. The Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka had expressed his disapproval after the agriculture minister refused to accept the harmful organic fertilizer. Powerful Government officials are influencing officers at the Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture Department, testing this Chinese fertilizer, to refrain from opposing the import of the said fertilizer. Several bigwigs are trying to obtain approval to import fertilizer claiming that the country will face a massive food crisis if there is no fertilizer for the forthcoming Maha season; making their requests to use the fertilizer even if there are microbes,” he added.
The government has not focused on the standards explained by Sri Lanka Standards Institute by SLS: 1704:2021 considering the international standards when importing fertilizer. The standards indicate that organic fertilizer should be without smell, is breakable and wet”
-K. B. Goonarathne Former Director General of Agriculture
Former Director General of Agriculture K. B. Goonarathne said that the organic fertilizer manufacturing company in China is famous for supplying organic fertilizers to many countries. “However the Sri Lankan representatives have tried to import waste organic fertilizer containing microbes to Sri Lanka. A sample test is conducted prior to giving fertilizer tenders to test the standard of fertilizer and this process has not been followed in this situation. The government has not focused on the standards explained by Sri Lanka Standards Institute by SLS: 1704:2021 considering the international standards when importing fertilizer. The standards indicate that organic fertilizer should be without smell, is breakable and wet. The ingredients used cannot contain prohibited or infectous substances and should be compatible with SLS 1324. Factory waste, human waste, municipal waste, clinical waste cannot be used as waste material. Organic fertilizer should not spread diseases. Properly sterilized animal waste can be used. Acidity, conductivity, percentage of sand and the amount of particles in ingredients which should be present in the production of organic fertilizer are clearly explained. The chemical requirement should be 5% nitrogen, 1% phosphate, 2% potassium, 0.5% magnesium and 15% carbonic carbon. Biuret and melamine (a type of urea) are indicated as added ingredients. The fertilizer should be free of any kind of microorganism. When it comes to poisonous materials, the amounts per kilogram are; cadmium 1.5 mg, chromium 50 mg, lead 30 mg, mercury 0.5 mg, arsenic 3 mg and nickel 40 mg per kg. There cannot be antibiotic waste, any organic waste, plastic waste or pesticides. Despite these standards being specified, the government is trying to import harmful Chinese organic fertilizers. There are plans to misplace agreements, cabinet approvals and tender reports related to the import of organic fertilizer; in the same way NMRA data were deleted.” he added.
‘Made specially for Sri Lanka’
Even though the manufacturing company supplies organic fertilizer to many countries it is sending Chinese wastes to Sri Lanka. They will be brought down under the label “Manufactured specifically for Sri Lanka”
- Nayanaka Ranwella Environmentalist
Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella said that what is imported as Chinese organic fertilizer is Chinese waste and wastes containing heavy metals. “Even though the manufacturing company supplies organic fertilizer to many countries it is sending Chinese wastes to Sri Lanka. They will be brought down under the label “Manufactured specifically for Sri Lanka”. These wastes from China, brought after deceiving the people, has landed agriculture in a crisis. A company producing high quality manufacturing fertilizer-specifically for Sri Lanka-raises suspicition. Plans are being made to import the fertilizer and officers of the Agriculture Department and the Ministry of Agriculture are influenced for the said purpose.” he added.
A Letter of Credit has been opened through a state bank to import the fertilizer stock and this sum will have to be paid to China whether the stock is brought or not because of the agreements made beforehand. The government is planning to import harmful fertilizer in that manner”
-Anuradha Thennakoon Chairman of the All Island Farmers’ Collective
Chairman of the All Island Farmers’ Collective Anuradha Thennakoon said that plans have been made to import harmful fertilizer to Sri Lanka through other methods after changing laboratory reports and officers are manipulated to do so. “A Letter of Credit has been opened through a state bank to import the fertilizer stock and this sum will have to be paid to China whether the stock is brought or not because of the agreements made beforehand. The government is planning to import harmful fertilizer in that manner.” he added.
Colombo Commercial Fertilizer Ltd General Director Dr. Jayantha Weerarathna said that the vessel containing Chinese fertilizer would not arrive and plans have been made to import Potassium and other fertilizers. Ceylon Fertilizer Company Chairman Janath Widanage said that the Chinese company requested to conduct another laboratory test on the fertilizer. “On October 5 the satellite technology indicated that the vessel Hippo Spirit bringing fertilizer was anchored in China sea and it has remained there for 10 days since September 25. Baseless accusations were made that fertilizers were discreetly brought to the country on October 5 and 6. On October 10 a vessel carrying Potassium fertilizer will reach Colombo Port and the fertilizer will be distributed by October 12,” he added.
Even though a Letter of Credit was opened before importing fertilizer, there is no need to make payments unless the deal has been completed. I have informed the Chinese company about the low quality fertilizer and have requested for high quality fertilizer”
- Dr. Ajantha de Silva Agriculture Department Director General
Agriculture Department Director General Dr. Ajantha de Silva said that any organic fertilizer containing microorganism cannot be brought to Sri Lanka. “The Plant Protection Act does not provide for such import of fertilizer. Even though a Letter of Credit was opened before importing fertilizer, there is no need to make payments unless the deal has been completed. I have informed the Chinese company about the low quality fertilizer and have requested for high quality fertilizer. Any organic fertilizer brought to Sri Lanka is tested in a laboratory according to the Plant Protection Act and even if Chinese fertilizer is brought again that will be tested and there is no way fertilizer will be brought down without conducting tests. No officer in the Ministry of Agriculture or the Agriculture Department has been manipulated to permit import of fertilizer after samples were approved.” he added.
Ministry of Agriculture Secretary M.N Ranasinghe when asked whether officers in the Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture Department are manipulated to obtain approval for harmful fertilizer and whether fertilizer would be imported again, responded by saying that he was at an urgent meeting. All efforts made to contact him later proved futile.
National Plant Quarantine Service Director Dr. Thushara Wikramasooriya said that there is no influence from higher officials and added that he was not aware of Chinese organic fertilizer and that their samples had failed the test. He said that he was only aware of fertilizer for which permits were issued.
This isn’t a problem between the two countries
“If the fertilizer meets the standards we would import it. We will not import any fertilizer harmful to our plants”
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage speaking to the Daily Mirror said that he did not receive any letter from the Chinese Embassy expressing disapproval. “The Third Officer of the Chinese Embassy sent a letter asking for an explanation regarding this and we replied. This isn’t a problem between the two countries, but one about the quality of fertilizer,” the minister said. When asked about the vessel anchored in the China Sea he said that there is no such vessel and even inquired from us whether we had seen it.
Following are excerpts of an interview done with Aluthgamage.
Journalist - Satellite technology shows that Hippo Spirit is anchored in the China Sea.
Minister: No, no, the vessel has returned.
Journalist- But the satellites show the vessel.
Minister: No, no that’s a lie. The company said that it will take back the vessel.
Journalist- But isn’t Hippo Spirit still in the China Sea?
Minister: I do not know about that. The company said the vessel would return. The vessel arrived at Singapore. It made its return journey.
Journalist- Will Chinese fertilizer be brought after conducting the new test report?
Minister: If the fertilizer meets the standards we would import it. We will not import any fertilizer harmful to our plants.
Journalist- There are accusations that officers are manipulated to grant approval without questioning on the quality of fertilizer.
Minister: No, no one is threatened. It is a lie.
If the vessel has returned according to the Minister the satellite visuals should be unreal.
However Ceylon Fertilizer Company President confirmed that the vessel is already anchored in the China Sea.
Chinese Company Contradicts Stories on harmful
bacteria in its organic fertilizer
- The Sri Lanka National Plant Quarantine Services(NPQS) claims that the sample received contained harmful bacteria including Erwinia, after 3days of tests and analysis
- Says Sri Lankan authorities should cooperate on the principles of respecting science and facts and the spirit of contract
- Decision made by the authorities to reject Seawin’s organic fertilizer based on the NPQS report is not only questionable but also causing great financial loss to the Chinese Company
In response to controversy surrounding organic fertilizer samples imported from China, the Chinese embassy in Colombo said both the Chinese company and the Sri Lankan authorities should cooperate on the principles of respecting science and facts and the spirit of contract with the view to resolving this issue promptly, and address differences through dialogue in good faith for the mutual benefits of the China-Sri Lanka cooperation.
The Embassy would like to clarify as follows:
1.Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd.(here after referred to as Seawin),is a high-tech enterprise focusing in the production of new-type seaweed organic fertilizer, found in 2000 with a registered capital of 132 million RMB (approximately 4.1billion LKR).It’s products, which have passed the EUECOCERT Organic Certification, OMRI Certification, REACH Certification, and Australian Organic Input Certification etc., have been exported to more than 50 countries and regions in the world, including Europe and the United States. It also set up oversea branch companies in the U.S. and Australia.
2. Seawin was selected by the Ministry of Agriculture of Sri Lanka through open tender to supply the urgently needed organic fertilizer.
3.The company has undertaken obligations strictly in accordance with the signed contract. In their production process, the organic fertilizer must be sterilized at 600 °C, thus all harmful microorganisms are killed by the high temperature, which is in line with the standards required in the bidding documents, the contract, the letters of credit as well as the widely accepted international standards for organic fertilizers.
4.In the process of enforcing the contract, however, the Sri Lanka National Plant Quarantine Services(NPQS) claimed that the sample received contained harmful bacteria including Erwinia, after only THREE(3)days of test and analysis, which lead to the above-mentioned news reports. It is noted that, according to the International Plant Protection Convention, it will take at least SIX (6) days to detect Erwinia. The hasty conclusion made by NPQS is lack of scientific basis. As such, the decision made by the authorities to reject Seawin’s organic fertilizer based on the NPQS report is not only questionable but also causing great financial loss to the company.
5.Therefore,theEmbassy hopes that the related parties in Sri Lankan side and the Chinese company could coordinate on the principles of respecting science and facts and the spirit of contract with the view to resolving this issue promptly, and address differences through dialogue in good faith for the mutual benefits of the China-Sri Lanka cooperation.