Sri Lanka abandons plan to become world’s first fully organic farming country

Leaving aside pesticides and other agrochemical farm inputs, often associated with soil degradation and other environmental problems, seemed like a great idea. Sri Lanka is said to have become the first country in the world to do so, switching to fully organic agricultural production. But it turns out the time was not yet.

Tea production in Sri Lanka. Image credit: Flickr / Pavel Dobrovsky

On Sunday, the government abandoned its quest and lifted import bans on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, ahead of planned protests by farmers in the nation’s capital. Ministry secretary Udith Jayasinghe told local media the decision was made “to ensure food safety and because pesticides were” urgently needed. “

When enacted, the ban was justified as a way to promote healthier farming practices, making agriculture more sustainable. “The challenge is to use modern scientific techniques and practices to improve agricultural production without causing environmental degradation,” Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said at COP26.

Nevertheless, the effort did not last long. In October, the government relaxed its import ban last month, allowing the import of bottles of potassium chloride and liquid nano-nitrogen from India. These are used during the rice growing season and were in great demand. Along with tea and rubber, rice is one of Sri Lanka’s main agricultural exports.

Rice farmers have complained that they cannot grow Sri Lanka’s staple food due to lack of fertilizer, with some complaining that their crop size has shrunk due to pests and weed attacks. The same concerns were shared by the rubber and tea farms. The country’s Tea Factory Owners Association even predicted massive unemployment in the industry.

The real reasons for the move

While the government has touted the transition to organic farming as an environmentally friendly policy, it came as Sri Lanka faced big economic problems amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s economy relies on tourism and foreign worker remittances, largely on the decline due to the pandemic.

In a context of declining foreign currency reserves, the country is facing a borrowing crisis. In July, he paid off a bond of $ 1 billion in foreign currency debt, but two more payments are due in 2022 and 2023. This prompted authorities to try to save foreign currency last year, ranging even up to shutting down an oil refinery due to a lack of crude. imports.

However, Sri Lanka’s experience does not mean that a transition to organic farming is necessarily a bad idea. This is something worth exploring, but knowing in advance that it will take some time to get there. In fact, a survey in Sri Lanka showed that farmers supported the switch to organic, but asked for help to make the switch.

Organic farming is generally associated with environmental benefits, such as greater biodiversity and better soil quality, as well as health benefits – studies revealing organic crops contain more antioxidants and less of pesticide residues. But the switch from conventional crops is not really easy, as we have now seen in Sri Lanka. It remains to be seen whether other countries can implement the change more successfully.

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