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Sri Lanka mired in the fertilizer muddle

Modi backtracks in India

25 November 2021 02:07 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


After a year of unprecedented protests by thousands of farmers camping on the borders of Delhi since last November and after more than a dozen deaths from the heat, cold and COVID, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a surprising announcement said on Friday he would repeal the three controversial farm laws introduced in September last year. 

A Reuters report said, the combative leader’s decision was a significant climb-down and came amid looming state elections in politically important Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, which have a strong farmer base.

Farmers, fearing the laws would cut the price they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from India and beyond, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna.
“Today I have come to tell you and the whole country that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation. “I urge farmers to return to their homes, their farms and their families and request them to start afresh.” He said the government would repeal the laws at the new session of parliament starting this month while protesting farmers, many of whom are Sikh -- camping out in their thousands alongside the main roads around the capital, New Delhi -- celebrated Modi’s backtrack.

The protests took a violent turn on January 26, India’s Republic Day, when farmers overwhelmed the police and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks. 
Having admitted that the government had failed to win the argument, Prime Minister Modi announced the scrapping of the laws in a speech marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. However, Raj Singh Chaudhary, a 99-year-old protester, had told BBC’s Salman Ravi that they had no faith in verbal promises and would stay here until they saw in writing that the laws had actually been repealed.

Meanwhile, amid the U-turn by Sri Lanka’s giant neighbour, India; the Sri Lankan government has abandoned its quest of becoming the world’s first completely organic farming country and appears to have second thoughts on its fertilizer policy, which led to an arbitrary ban being imposed overnight on the import and use of chemical fertilizers and weedicides. This ill-advised and hasty decision had brought thousands of farmers to the streets urging the government to provide them with sufficient quantities of fertilizer so they could continue with their farming activities during the Maha Season, which began in September.

Authorities had already relaxed restrictions last month on fertilizer imports for tea, the country’s main export earner amid an ongoing tussle with China after a ship-load of organic fertilizer imported from Qingdao Seawin Biotech Co. Ltd. was rejected when samples removed from the consignment of fertilizer were found to be contaminated.
Sri Lanka’s agricultural ministry said last week it would end a broader ban on all agrochemicals, including herbicides and pesticides. “We will now allow chemical inputs that are urgently needed,” Agriculture Ministry Secretary Udith Jayasinghe told a private TV network. “We have taken this decision considering the need to ensure food security.”

Vast tracts of farmland were abandoned after the import ban was first introduced in May with shortages having worsened in the past week, with prices of rice, vegetables and other market staples having doubled and trebled across Sri Lanka.

Be that as it may, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who met officials on Monday reiterated that the import of chemical fertilizers would be completely stopped in the near future and said that though the use of chemical fertilizers had led to a better harvest, the negative consequences caused to human lives far outweigh the profits and that measures would be taken to ensure that only organic fertilizer would be used in the agriculture sector in the future. 

Adding further to the current state of uncertainty, media reports on Tuesday said an Extraordinary Gazette had been issued by the Registrar of Pesticides revoking a 2014 Gazette, which prohibited the use and sale of five pesticides -- Propanil, Carbaryl, Cholopyrifos, Carbofuran and Glyphosate, prompting some to ask how come these pesticides have been permitted when chemical fertilizers have been banned.   

One can imagine the plight of the farmers in the midst of all this confusion, while the powers that be try to save face by using words that mean little or nothing to those paying the price for a decision that should have been best implemented in stages and that too after consultations with all stakeholders, especially the toiling farmers, who are the experts on the ground. 


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