V. Ravichandran (GFN, India) on his farm
By V. Ravichandran
globalfarmernetwork.org: Sri Lanka partially reversed a hasty decision to experiment with agriculture, but the country and its citizens are already paying for this serious mistake in the form of a food crisis.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa this spring announced a plan to make Sri Lanka the first country in the world to ban inorganic fertilizers and crop protection products that control pests. This week, he changed his mind.
Yet, as we commemorate World Food Day this month, we know Sri Lanka is suffering from its quirky and anti-scientific choice: the government recently declared a food emergency, imposing price controls and a strict rationing. He forced farmers to sell their rice to a state agency and seized supplies from private warehouses. Meanwhile, Sri Lankans stand in line for hours to receive their portions of rice, sugar, powdered milk and other staples.
This is what happens when a government pushes anti-science ideas on farmers and consumers.
I’ve never visited Sri Lanka, which hangs like a tear off the southern coast of my native India, but it holds a special place in my daily routine: I drink its delicious tea every morning as I start. to work on my farm.
Sri Lankan tea is perhaps the best in the world, due to the island nation’s favorable climate and its long history of production. The country’s economy depends on these exports.
They are now threatened, even if the president’s turnaround may soften the blow. Organic tea is much more expensive to produce. Under mandate, yields will drop, and these producers will suffer serious consequences because of this disastrous policy.
Yet this crisis goes far beyond tea: it has affected all sectors of Sri Lanka’s agricultural economy, effectively crippling the small farmers who produce much of Sri Lanka’s rice, vegetables and fruit. Even its production of natural rubber could decline. The government of Sri Lanka has decided to fall back into primitivism at a time when farmers around the world are leaping forward with new technologies that are helping us grow more food on less land than ever before. Through remarkable advancements in everything from plant genetics to precision irrigation to satellite imagery, we have become better and more sustainable growers.
If we were to apply Sri Lanka’s odd thinking on agriculture to communications, for example, we would forgo our cell phones and turn to carrier pigeons. Instead of emails, we sent handwritten letters. Rather than hearing the news from televisions and radios, we would wait a long time for the news to reach us and maybe not hear it at all.
When President Rajapaksa introduced his organic farming rules, he boasted that no other country had ever tried such a thing. What he failed to understand was that most other countries already knew this was a flawed and unscientific idea expressed by anti-development activists.
At least now he’s starting to understand his mistake.
Sri Lanka’s organic farming blunder could not have come at a worse time. COVID-19 has hurt economies everywhere, and it has taken particular havoc on those who depend on tourism. After exploding in the first part of this century, tourism to Sri Lanka has fallen sharply. This is partly the result of the terrorist attacks against Christians in 2019, but mostly because of the pandemic. Foreigners have stopped flocking to its beaches, scuba diving destinations and natural beauty.
The value of its currency has also fallen, making it more difficult for Sri Lankans to purchase the goods and services they need from their international trading partners.
The problem is compounded by the deadlock in the global supply chain, as container ships are located outside of ports. Everything from semiconductors to medical devices is in short supply. The most tragic aspect of Sri Lanka’s food crisis, however, is that much of it was preventable. By choosing to postpone its agricultural mandates, the government has refused to heed the warnings of farmers.
I know my farm couldn’t operate under Sri Lanka’s ridiculous rules. My yields of rice, cotton and other crops would drop dramatically. The result would be quite simply disastrous.
If India’s population of over one billion were ordered to pass the organic regulations imposed on Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, we would witness a catastrophe of malnutrition and famine unlike any other in the world. has never seen. Our economy would collapse and we would deplete our foreign exchange resources to feed our huge population, diverting our national wealth and blocking all other development activities. Finally, we should expand our arable land by converting forest land for agriculture, cutting down countless trees and causing global warming.
I don’t even want to imagine such appalling conditions.
It only took six months for Sri Lanka to begin to recognize that its organic farming mandates are a massive failure. The lesson is to let farmers use organic and chemical inputs wisely, used in combination with other important technological options such as integrated pest, water and disease management practices. Trust science and technology to stop its farmers and citizens from paying a price they cannot afford.
May policy makers in all other nations understand the realities of the man-made disaster in Sri Lanka.