The ban on agrochemicals and its implications
Posted on June 9th, 2021

By Prof. ROHAN RAJAPAKSE Courtesy The Island

‘The best option available is to use a mixture of both synthetic and carbonic fertilizers, benefiting from their advantages to help farmers increase the agricultural output.’

Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology University of Ruhuna and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

The Cabinet of ministers last month approved President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s proposal to ban the importation of chemical fertilisers. In addition to synthetic fertilisers, the importation of synthetic pesticides whether they are CLASS 1A or Class1B (Toxic) or Class 2 Less toxic is also banned. The reasons for the ban are listed according to our knowledge

The President has emphasised that despite the claim that the use of chemical fertilisers leads to a better harvest, their adverse effects on human lives through the pollution of lakes, canals, and groundwater outweigh the benefits and profit. State expenditure on treating patients with non-communicable diseases caused by these chemical fertilisers remains high.

Saying that organic fertiliser will be provided instead of subsidised fertiliser to farmers, the President has stressed that USD 400 million is spent on fertiliser imports and it could be used to uplift the lives of the farmers.

The Agriculture Ministry has undertaken to convert the state-owned Ceylon Fertiliser Company Ltd. into an institution that would produce, supply, and distribute organic fertiliser with the help of local government institutions.

Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage says the government will do everything in its power to increase the use of organic fertiliser for the cultivation of paddy and other crops up to 30% within the next three years. Accordingly, private companies that come forward to manufacture organic fertiliser will be provided tax concessions, technology and technical expertise, land and raw materials.

It has also been reported that the government has turned away two shipments of 18,000 MT of chemical fertilisers for paddy and other crops.

Political decision not practical?

Does the country have the capacity and capability to produce a large amount of organic fertilisers in the short-run for next Maha season. Secondly, the methodology as regards the application of such a huge quantity of natural fertilisers has not been defined. Farmers across the country are already facing a shortage of fertilisers and pesticides for the current Yala season although the authorities claim adequate stocks are available.

In this respect, one may recall that the previous government launched the politically-motivated non-toxic agriculture” project in 2016, and it failed and the Strategic Enterprise Management Institute (SEMA) established to implement that programme was closed down in 2018.

Such experiences in the past are the reasons why farmers are uncertain and confused as regards the ban on the import of agrochemicals.

Dr Warshi Dandeniya Head of the Department of Soil Science University of Peradeniya has disclosed why and how agrochemicals have become such a big problem in Sri Lanka, One of the major problems in Sri Lankan agriculture is the application of fertilsers outside the fertiliser recommendations. Farmers misuse or overuse fertilisers. When more fertiliser is applied, they can be washed away and added to water sources. The relevant nutrient content may be greater than the amount a plant actually needs. When used sparingly, the plants may not get proper nutrition, which can lead to many diseases. Both of these methods cause damage. Also, soil degradation is accelerated as the soil contributes as much as possible to the plant with less fertiliser application.”

It is thus clear that a proper assessment of soils is necessary before fertiliser application.A similar situation has arisen as regards pesticides. With the devolution of power, the subject of agricultural extension which had been under the Department of Agriculture was devolved and brought under the Provincial Ministries of Agriculture. NGOs like Sarvodaya, private sector pesticide companies and leading farmers started advising farmers on crop protection and fertiliser applications creating much confusion. Farmers anticipating higher profits use higher amounts of agrochemicals. Cocktails of pesticides result in toxic problems for themselves and the environment. The Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) has stated recently that it has performed well in January and February this year, earning Rs 41 billion in export revenue, compared to the beginning of last year. The total tea production too has increased when compared to last year, it has said.

According to the SLTB statistics, tea exports in 2021 amounted to Rs 41 billion, as compared to the beginning of last year, when the revenue was Rs 38 billion. The price of FOB (Full on Board) had increased from Rs. 832 to Rs 932.

The SLTB expects to export 295 – 300 mn kg of tea this year, and more than 100 countries are importing Ceylon tea. The SLTB is planning to promote artisanal teas such as Ceylon green tea and organic teas to very specific markets segments.

Sri Lankan planters use urea as a synthetic fertiliser to promote vegetative growth of tea.

With the fertilizer ban it may be not possible to achieve the targets’ of SLTB

No country in the world depends entirely on organic agriculture for crop production as the plant varieties bred after green revolution in 1960s are fertilizer responsive and will give the maximum yield only with correct fertilizer application. The ban on synthetic fertilizer have a drastic effect on tea and rice yields.

Here are some major pros and cons of organic and synthetic fertilizers:

Organic fertilizers

Advantages

Retention capacity of water is high No toxin buildup

Fosters a sustainable ecosystem for plants and organisms alike and improves plant structure

.Can breakdown contaminants

Disadvantages

It takes lot of time to show results

Natural fertilizers can be messy and difficult to apply precisely 

The number of nutrients and microorganisms in the soil can vary 

Synthetic fertilizers

Advantages

The synthetic products act fast

Easy to handle and available everywhere

Inexpensive when compared with organic products in the long run

Disadvantages

The majority don’t contain micronutrient organisms

Can easily be over-applied or less

Can release nutrients too quickly or too slowly

The best option available is to use a mixture of both synthetic and carbonic fertilizers, benefiting from their advantages to help the farmers to increase the agricultural output.

One Response to “The ban on agrochemicals and its implications”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Does the country have the capacity and capability to produce a large number of organic fertilizers in the short run for the next Maha season? Secondly, the methodology as regards the application of such a huge quantity of natural fertilizers has not been defined. Farmers across the country are already facing a shortage of fertilizers and pesticides for the current Yala season although the authorities claim adequate stocks are available.

    In this respect, one may recall that the previous government launched the politically motivated non-toxic agriculture” project in 2016, and it failed and the Strategic Enterprise Management Institute (SEMA) established to implement that program was closed down in 2018.

    Now Gota is trying to reinvent the wheel. End result of this foolish program of Gota is the inevitable resurfacing of old UNP bandvagon with corruptions under their sleeves.

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