The ban on Chemical fertilizer and pesticide on April 22 has already started its impact on the farmers, not favourable, but adversely. Vegetable farmers in the up-country and paddy farmers in the North Central Province have started to express their frustration as the decision has already had a crippling effect on their crops in the current season. Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed the officials of the Agriculture Ministry to supply sufficient amounts of organic fertilizer for the farmers for the Maha Season.
Prior to this on May 11, the President appointed a 46-member Presidential Task Force to transform the country into a green socio-economy. One of the main responsibilities of this Presidential Task Force was to “prepare the roadmap for the complete transition of the agriculture sector from the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides, to the use of organic fertilizer products.” It must be noted that even before the Task Force was appointed, decision to totally ban chemical fertilizer had been taken.
This and the President’s instruction to supply organic fertilizer for the Maha season ignoring the current season show that the timing of the decision to ban chemical fertilizer and pesticides has not been set after a careful study on the immediate impact of it on the food production. It also shows that the process has not been properly planned. Media showed how paddy fields in the North Western Province and vegetable farmlands in the Up-country have been affected by the shortage of fertilizer – chemical or organic.
The decision to ban chemical fertilizer keeps an election pledge by the President made during his campaign for the Presidency in 2019. His manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” said “The usage of chemical fertilizers leads to a better harvest. However, the negative consequences caused on human lives through pollution of lakes, canals, and groundwater due to the chemical fertilizers outweighs the profit. The health sector has pointed out that the effects of chemical fertilizers have led to a number of non-communicable diseases, including kidney diseases. The expenses to treat these patients and the impact on human lives caused by these chemical fertilizers remain high. In order to produce a healthy and productive citizenry, the Government must ensure the right of the people to access a non-toxic and balanced diet. President Rajapaksa said that measures will be taken to ensure that only organic fertilizer would be used in the agriculture sector in the country in the future.” Hence, nobody would doubt the government’s intention, despite some experts in the agricultural sector being unconvinced of the success of the programme.
Originally, the government seemed to have decided to produce organic fertilizer within the country, but now the leaders of the government say that organic fertilizer would be imported. Again this points lack of planning in the process. And the decision to import organic fertilizer annuls the government’s ambitious plan to “save annually foreign exchange amounting to about US$ 400 million used for importing inorganic fertilizers” and to” use that money for uplifting the lives of people.”
Some supporters of the government who toiled to bring the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to power such as Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara and the Nuwara-Eliya District National Freedom Front (NFF) Parliamentarian Nimal Piyatissa have already openly at odds with the government over the decision to import organic fertilizer. In fact they too are critical of lack of planning in the process, and not of the government’s intention.
Transforming agriculture from inorganic to organic must be a gradual process which has to be planned in such a way that it must go through several pilot projects which could identify the shortcomings of the process. The viability of the programme might vary in respect of paddy, vegetable, tea, rubber and coconut. Hence, it should be assessed and corrective measures have to be taken separately. Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank W.A. Wijewardena in an article published in the Daily FT of May 24 pointed out that the Sri Lanka’s yield levels in all agri-products such as rice, tea, rubber and coconut are below those of world’s better performers. And the COVID 19 has already affected the economy drastically. Against this backdrop, radical decisions, however much they seem to be progressive must be taken after careful and thorough thinking. The end does not always justify the means.