Fertiliser ban: Medical Point of View
Posted on July 13th, 2021

Dr CHANNA RATNATUNGA Courtesy The Island

The media, both print and electronic, are agog with news re the sudden ban on importation of chemical fertilisers including agro-chemicals to this country for the Maha kanna, with its alleged unavailability for this Yala. Attributed to hoarding by businessmen, a not unexpected result of being in a hurry. Being a Tea small holder, who has not been able to apply fertiliser, I anticipate a dwindling yield as far as leaf is concerned, and have been informed as to this reality already.

There may be a case, if the decision to this effect was made, that it is the country’s economy that cannot withstand the dollar needs for importation. The haste however is reprehensible. What is unfortunately being touted is that, such chemical fertiliser is responsible for the chronic kidney disease found in the North-Central, North-Western, Uva and Eastern provinces, is yet, not evidence based. Taking a stand ‘I will not retract such an order, under any circumstance’ smacks of a lack of flexibility for alternative strategies, a downright paucity of thought.

Upcountry tea growing areas, and even mid-country tea areas, have no chronic kidney disease despite heavy use of fertiliser and agro-chemicals. The labour costs to substitute for weedicide etc are prohibitive. Add this to a reduction in yield, the backbone of our ‘Ceylon Tea’ will be a ‘once upon a time’ memory once our markets are lost. The water quality in the deep water table in the affected areas may have something to do with this. Abyssinian wells driven in by a Danish project several decades ago in the dry zone, may have some bearing in my opinion as the initial cases were reported from Padaviya. Having a high-powered discussion with our local Association of Nephrologists, is bound to bring some sense to this controversial decision.

Discussing with independent professionals with a lifetime experience on the subject at hand, and a discussion with representatives of stake-holders, before any decision is made, would be the way to go. This decision has had such far-reaching consequences to so many cultivators.

I heard a few days ago a Minister of the current regime saying that the prevalence of cancer has increased and that the ban on fertiliser and agro-chemicals are justified. Governance requires pragmatic decision making, I am sure the Minister would agree. Cancer as he extrapolates, is not a subject you can mouth empirical platitudes. If the Minister is really interested in reducing the prevalence of cancer, why not mitigate or ban the rampant use of ‘Bulath, chunam and ericanut ‘ . The ‘hape’ is responsible for the number one cancer in the country, Mouth cancer, and also allegedly to be a contributing cause for cancer of the food-pipe, another cancer rampant locally.

In the last regime we had the President banning Asbestos as it is linked with cancer. Asbestos factory workers and those involved with refurbishing are at risk both of inhalation and cancer, Crocidolite, i.e. blue asbestos in particular have risks. When we consider that in Asia most roofs are constructed with Asbestos on account of its relatively low cost, banning would sound hasty. The cancer it is said to cause, is a Mesothelioma, is a very rare entity in Sri Lanka. Fortunately, a weevil in our tea exports jammed this injudicious ban.

The moral of the ‘story’ is, people who aspire to high office must be open to independent professional advice.

Dr CHANNA RATNATUNGA

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