Sri Lanka abandons organic farming 6 months after overnight ban on chemical fertilizer imports

Archive image of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa | Photo: Tharaka Basnayaka | Bloomberg

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New Delhi: Just six months after Sri Lanka turned overnight to complete organic farming and ban imports of chemical fertilizers, several stumbling blocks have caused the island nation to ultimately reject the policy.

Over the past few days, the Sri Lankan government has distributed a 3.1 million liter batch of nanourea fertilizer, which it imported from the Indian Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO) in India, to farmers in ‘Ampara, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa for the cultivation of rice.

IFFCO’s total shipment of nanourea is estimated to be around one million bottles.

According to local media reports, the country also imports 30,000 tonnes of potassium chloride from Lithuania and is in the process of shipping more ammonium sulfate from India.

The move came months after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government banned the import of all chemical agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides in an effort to achieve full organic farming.

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Concerns that drove the government

The Sri Lankan government has faced widespread protests and anger in agricultural districts across the country over the lack of time and availability of organic fertilizers for farmers to switch to full organic farming.

Concerns have also been expressed about the declining production of many export crops such as tea and rubber, as they depend on intensive use of chemical inputs for cultivation. The highest dependency is on paddy at 94 percent, followed by tea and rubber at 89 percent each.

Tea plants are a very chemically intensive crop because they need a constant application of fertilizer at least two to three times a year.

Sri Lanka‘s tea export earnings reach a turnover of around $ 3 billion per year.

Initially, the Sri Lankan government tried to contain the protests by importing organic fertilizers from China, as the country’s domestic production of organic fertilizers is appalling to meet its agricultural needs. However, it ended up creating a whole new crisis.

As reported by ThePrint, Sri Lanka rejected 99,000 metric tonnes of organic fertilizer imported at a cost of $ 63 million from Chinese company Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co Ltd, after samples were allegedly “contaminated” with microorganisms , pathogens and diseases harmful to soil, plants and humans.

The samples were also infected with Erwinia, a notorious plant pathogen that could have caused severe postharvest losses in crops, resulting in an agricultural disaster for Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan bank then withheld payment from the Chinese company Qingdao Seawin Biotech. The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka then said the state-owned People’s Bank of Sri Lanka had been blacklisted.

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