Mess in fertiliser sector
Posted on September 10th, 2021

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna Courtesy The Island

The importation of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum dated April 27, 2021 to promote the use of organic fertilisers and natural pesticides. Accordingly, the Department of Import and Export Control started to regulate the import of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce.

The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, (SSSSL) the membership of which includes soil scientists representing the university academia, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Export Agriculture, research institutes and the private sector, and Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association (SAEA) a professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka indicated that banning import of inorganic fertilisers will have disastrous effects on the crop sector. A number of scientist in the field of agronomy, soil science, entomology in articles published in newspapers highlighted the undesirable effects of banning agrochemicals on food security, farm incomes, foreign exchange earnings and rural poverty. Farmers too protested over non-availability of inorganic fertilisers, especially urea.

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. As a result, according to media reports, yields of food crops were reduced and the quantity and quality of export crops, specially tea which is Sri Lanka’s biggest single export, bringing in more than US $ 1.25 billion a year — accounting for about 10 percent of the country’s export income, were affected to a considerable extent.

The Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted the manufacture of organic fertilizers but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. An attempt was made to establish one organic fertiliser manufacturing centre per each Divisional Secretariat covering 29 Divisional Secretariats in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. All these attempts failed. At a weekly media briefing held at the Presidential Media Centre, on 2 Sept. in view of the shortage of organic fertilisers and synthetic pesticides, it was revealed that arrangements will be made to import organic fertiliser of high international standard to address any shortage and also bio-pesticides. According to media reports Sri Lanka’s two state fertiliser companies have signed an agreement with a Chinese fertiliser supplier. A stock of 96,000 MT of organic fertiliser inputs in granular form, containing 10 per cent of Nitrogen and 3,000 MT of amino acid containing 15 percent of Nitrogen, will be imported for the forthcoming Maha season. Based on these decisions, the MOA need to make the people, especially those associated with the agriculture sector aware of the following:

(a) What has been added to the organic fertiliser to increase its N content to 10% ? Generally organic fertilizer contains only upto 5 % N.

(b) What amino acids containing 15% N will be imported ? and how these amino acids are going to be used?

(C) What are the bio-pesticides to be used?

Imported organic fertilisers pose a high risk of contaminating our soils and water resources. Even if they are sterilised it may have dormant weed seeds , pathogenic bacteria, and fungi which may cause disease outbreaks among crops, livestock and humans leading to heavy economic losses. Once the pollutants enter into our eco-system, it is not easy to recover from the damage. It is the people of the country who will have to face the brunt of this undesirable activity of the Ministry of Agriculture.

At the weekly briefing held on 2 Sept, at the Presidential Media Centre, it was revealed that financial incentives of Rs. 12,500 per hectare, up to a maximum of two hectares will be provided to farmers to encourage organic fertiliser production. Who will analyze the organic fertiliser produced by the farmers before Rs. 12,500 per ha is paid ? What are the specifications? Will Rs. 12,500 be paid irrespective of the nutrient content of the organic fertilizer? These data are important as the composition of O. Fertiliser could vary considerably depending on the raw material used. A few weeks ago it was revealed that the agric. Ministry will get all the soil samples of cropping areas analysed before the beginning of the Maha season, may be for N,P and K. Has this being done?

Probably the Finance minister, having realised the utter foolishness of banning the import of inorganic fertilisers and synthetic pesticides lifted the ban and issued a gazette notification on 3 August re-authorising the import of several types of chemical fertilisers to be used in the forthcoming Maha season. According to this gazette notification, permission has been granted theoretically for the importation of virtually all the chemical fertilisers, under import control licenses although the government has claimed that there is no shift in its organic agriculture policy!

The relaxation follows widespread concerns over the ban of inorganic fertilisers and its impact on short to medium term viability of the agriculture sector. Those who have been allowed to import inorganic fertilisers will be permitted to import ammonium nitrate with calcium carbonate. (Note : Most of the nitrate will be lost due to leaching and will result in many undesirable effects such as eutrophication. We have enough calcium carbonate in the country, why import?)

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
csweera@sltnet.lk

2 Responses to “Mess in fertiliser sector”

  1. aloy Says:

    Late Sunil Perera’s somg “Lankawe ehema enne eiye” comes to mind!.

    We all know that our country’s soil has special qualities. The spices produced here are far more superior to those produces elsewhere. Cinnamon is the best example (this has been found even in pyramids of Egypt). Instead of taking advantage of it, we allow some minorities to exploit it by importing cheap substitutes from other countries and reexport, thereby ruining our market at the same time. And we now see those guys who did that trying to promote their leader in the revolving coin in the TV screens. Wait and see we will be in a bigger disaster than we are now in is the useless guy comes to power.

    Now to an another matter not connected with agriculture but we are all immersed in these day’s: the game of cricket.
    Our country has discovered two guys who are giving us some sort of happiness in this Corona gloom.
    I would like to put my two cents worth as a keen observer. When Theekshana was bowling the commenters (probably foreigners) were analyzing in minute details about his actions and giving away all the secrets to the batsmen who were yet to face him. It was seen that they were seen glued to the screen taking all those finer points. It was very much like coaching in public. How fair is this to our guy.
    My other observation is that we are not making use of C. Karunaratne who can stand up to the bowler and clear the rope very easily. This was how Jayasuriya came to the fore. But when this guy is brought to bat, it is too late and the horse has bolted. It is clear to me that the people who are in the scene do not want even to display his name. Why?. It is like throwing away an uncut gem!. The coach is also responsible for this. The other thing is that some of the guys in the top order are pint sized, and not only they cannot connect, but when connected the ball will not travel more than a few meters (unlike in the case of Angelo and Tisara). Take a cue from the SA team. The opening guys are hefty fellows who can clear the ropes easily. Compare the number of missing wild swing of our guys and those of opposition. I was ashamed to watch.

  2. aloy Says:

    Sorry to use this thread( but I know there is a corollary). After facing so many dot balls, when SL’s opener got out, the SA team cellebrated. It was infact we who got a sigh of relief. I think they wanted to give the impression that, that guy is the dangerous one so that we will try him again giving them an advantage. I am only talking about limited over formats here.

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