Viewpoint: The collapse of Sri Lanka’s organic farming experiment hasn’t shamed activist-philosopher Vandana Shiva and other proponents of GMO rejection

Sri Lanka conducted an evil experiment on its citizens last year. Under the sway of silly organic food activists, the government has banned imports of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as part of an effort to transition the country to all-organic farming, leaving the large majority of farmers without access to the vital tools they use to farm. the cultures on which their country depends. Polls taken at the time showed that most growers did not know how to farm organically.

The result of the Sri Lanka experience has been predictable and tragic: Around a third of the island nation’s farmland was left dormant in 2021; farmers lost hundreds of millions of dollars in needed income, and there was not enough food for everyone. As I explained last September, the government did what most governments do in times of crisis: it veered off course, blaming others for the deprivation his policies have caused:

The president appointed a former military general to serve as “General Commission for Essential Services» and confiscate agricultural products from « hoarders ». The government then established price controls for these goods “to protect consumers”, which has a well-documented history of provoking and worsening shortages. Good job, commissioner.

Farmers waiting to weigh rice at a store in Agbopura, Sri Lanka. Credit: Devjyot Ghoshal via Reuters

Swim in the President’s Pool

Hunger can drive people to drastic action, and the people of Sri Lanka illustrated that earlier this month. ‘Protesters swim in Sri Lankan president’s pool’, Sky News reported on July 11, “and warn that they will stay until he leaves office”. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country two days later. NBC News summarized the unfolding chaos hours later:

For six months now, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis – its worst since its independence from Britain in 1948 – has worsened by the day. Financial mismanagement, large amounts of foreign debt and economic shocks have left the South Asian island nation of 22 million people without enough money to pay imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods. Last month, the United Nations said it risked becoming a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.

BigThink Editor-in-Chief and ACSH Advisor Dr. Alex Berezow said so more bluntly:

Enter the organic apologists

Sri Lanka’s political instability goes beyond its agricultural policies, but we know this is a key aspect of the turmoil; double the price of staple foods tends to have a destabilizing effect. Nor have organic activist groups missed prominence. Like the country’s leaders, they were keen to deflect responsibility for the food shortages plaguing the country. The UK-based Soil Association, for example, tweeted:

We would say that an essential part of any significant transition is proper planning and the time required to make that transition. We would never advocate for a nation like this to go organic overnight. Lots of lessons to be learned from Sri Lanka, but “see, organic doesn’t work” isn’t one of them.

See, they didn’t do it right. If Sri Lanka had taken only a decade to train its farmers in organic production and prepare its citizens for the massive yield drops that come with the abandonment of modern agriculture, then they would be on their way to a green paradise.

Country Life Utopia 2048 Credit: AERROSCAPE


It’s a silly face-saving tale. Take 10 years or take 100 years; it does not matter. The problem is not the transition period, but the production methods that farmers are supposed to use. We know that organic farming alone cannot produce the amount of food we need to feed the world. Research has been done, evidence is in. All of this was known long before the events in Sri Lanka unfolded. Country agronomists I knew itand they were ignored.

Incidentally, no one said in Sri Lanka previously that their entirely organic experiment would end in disaster. It was anti-GMO”rock star” Vandana Shiva who encouraged the country to take the dramatic measures it has taken. And you’ll never guess who frequently collaborates with the Soil Association. Here is an association report featuring Shiva’s complaints about “industrial” agriculture. The group also sponsored a conference in June 2021, just before things in Sri Lanka started to take a nosedive, which featured Shiva argument that

Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.

Sri Lanka is just the latest example of what happens when technophobic activists are allowed to do politics: the world gets poorer and more people go hungry. Anti-pesticide groups and organic food advocates will continue to distance themselves from the ensuing chaos, but they must be held accountable for the consequences of their ideology.

Vandana Shiva studied philosophy but markets herself as a quantum physicist and environmental savior. Credit: Aditya Krishnamurthy

Farmers didn’t ask for a ban on agrochemicals, neither did the public – Vandana Shiva did. She and her allies owe the Sri Lankans an apology, and possibly several massive donations to help them rebuild their economy. After that, they should follow the example of the former president and find new jobs.

Cameron English is a writer, editor and co-host of the Science Facts and Fallacies podcast. Prior to joining ACSH, he was editor-in-chief of the Genetic Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization committed to assisting the public, media, and policy makers by promoting science literacy. You can visit Cameron’s website here

A version of this article originally appeared on American Council on Science and Health and is used here with permission. You can check out the American Council on Science and Health on Twitter @ACSHorg

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