28 October, 2021


Climate Change Impacts, Agriculture & A Toxin Free Sri Lanka

By Rumal Siriwardena & Vositha Wijenayake

On March 6, 2016, the Government of Sri Lanka launched the ‘Vasa Visa Nethi Ratak‘ – a 3 year programme aimed at curbing the use of agrochemicals, and focusing instead on locally produced organic fertilizers. The government intends to prevent produce such as rice, vegetables and fruits from being tainted by toxic agrochemicals.farming - paddy

It has been widely reported that Sri Lanka annually imports approximately Rs 80 billion worth of agrochemicals. As Sri Lanka is a tropical country, this has alarming implications for its nitrogen dioxide emissions, since the humidity and heat cause higher amounts of Nitrogen Dioxide to be generated by the soil.

Harmful Impacts Nitrogen Dioxide

Carbon dioxide , produced primarily as a result of burning fossil fuels is the most dominant single source of greenhouse gas emission. Thus climate change policies and legislations across the world focus primarily on cutting down carbon emissions from industrial activities.

The detrimental effects of excess nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere however, has not been given the same meticulous attention as carbon dioxide’s impact. Although the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is considerably lower than that of carbon dioxide, the global warming potential of nitrous oxide is considered as being over 300 times greater. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for every 100 kg of nitrogen fertiliser applied to the soil, one kg ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O). Also, nitrogen dioxide is the world’s most powerful ozone depleting substance. Due to these reasons, ignoring the impacts of N2O on climate change is not an option, and the global warming effect of nitrous oxide could be considered as extremely harmful as well as greater than the same amount of Carbon Dioxide released to the atmosphere.

Agriculture and Nitrogen Dioxide Emissions

The vast majority of Nitrogen Dioxide released into the atmosphere is produced from farming, where industrial scale agriculture practices has led to excessive nitrogen being added to the farmland, causing excessive leakage of Nitrogen Dioxide from the land. Thus one of the most effective ways to curb emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide is to reduce the amount of nitrogen added to the soil via synthetic fertilizers.

The 17 % increase in the presence of Nitrogen Dioxide since the pre-industrial era has been attributed directly to the use of agrochemical fertilisers. The use of such fertilisers was truly globalised during the 1960s, with the advent of the “Green Revolution” programmes which introduced chemical fertilisers to Asia and Latin America. A report by GRAIN, non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems outlines two destructive trends:

  • That the use of chemical fertilizer is on the rise in topical regions, where the land produces higher rates of Nitrogen Dioxide
  • That the rate of emission of Nitrogen Dioxide increases exponentially as more fertliser is applied.

A very dangerous aspect of chemical fertilisers is that their efficiency is very limited, so farmers have to use increasing amounts of fertiliser every year in order to gain the same harvest. The Grain report estimates that over the past 4 decades, the efficiency of nitrogen fertilisers has decreased by two thirds but their use per hectare has increased sevenfold.

The Interrelated Nature of Agriculture and Climate Change

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization states that “the intersection between climate change and agriculture is crucial to understanding the role agriculture plays in contributing to and mitigating global warming”. The role of organic agriculture – the use of natural fertiliser, diversifying crop production etc. has been widely recognized for its potential to help farmers adjust to climate change. Globally, trials have indicated that organic fertilization can sequester Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than synthetic fertilizers.

A 2008 global study ( The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development ) an intergovernmental study spanning 3 years with input from over 400 scientists, sponsored by the World Bank and other UN Agencies, found that the use of agrochemical fertilisers can be stopped in favour of organic practices, without a reduction in crop yields.

The Powerful Fertilizer Lobby

According to GRAIN’s report ‘The Exxons of Agriculture’, the powerful lobbying efforts of the fertiliser industry must not be underestimated. The report states worryingly that 60 % of the private sector member of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture , are from the chemical fertiliser industry. The report contends that the alliance itself was established to halt any real action on agriculture and climate change. Certainly, the presence of the world’s most prominent fertiliser companies in this alliance is troubling.

It is important that in order to address climate change, and also to ensure a healthy life for the global population, the fertilizer companies and the private sector contributes to the efforts to mitigate the emissions of N2O, and the green house gases, and support the organic and healthy farming practices.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    FAO estimates the global use of fertilizer by 2018 at 200 million tons. Organic will be a mere trifle. Let the toxin allergic and detoxifying enthusiasts reduce the current 28 kg per capita per annum use and relate a tale of success in production sufficiency and farmer acceptance.

    The Sri Lankan farmers’ robust protest is lesson enough. When the non agriculturists became over-enthusiastic it was anticipated that the naive in governance will swallow it and wallow in the mess.

    If there be a propensity to get into further morass, let enthusiasm extend to agro chemicals and GM seeds and foods.

    • 0

      Sri Lanka is poisoning itself with so called mega development projects, and port cities and mega cities, which will generate mega pollution and environmental and social DISASTERS.

      The Colombo port city for Chinese Oligarchs is a classic case of development disaster in the making given sea level rise, where will the rocks and soil come from? A crater on Mars?!

      Sri Lanka is already in massive debt to China because of bad Chinese loans to Mahidna Jarapassa – who China was building up as the military dictators of Lanka to control Indian Ocean.

      Now the interlecutally and morally bankrupt Sira-Wickramasinghe govt. want to let China build more WHITE ELEPHANT projects in Sri Lanka, this time in already polluted and smog filled Colombo, rather than asking China to make the Hambantota projects viable and ask for DEBT CANCELLATION. Once again dancing to China’s dirty tunes as to India’s Coal plant in Sampur. All these so called development projects are environmental and social disaster projects that Sri Lankans will pay the price of in the future.

      Colombo Civil Society and environmental groups must go to the Human Rights Commission to stop the Colombo port city and more Chinese debt and environmental destruction in Sri Lanka.
      China and India have poisoned themselves and now in the name of development are exporting their pollution and poison.

  • 1

    The toxin free agriculture was the Agriculture that Sri lanka practised.

    Then multinational and United nations (FAO) followed those and they wanted to use Agricultural chemicals, and fertiliser. these both industries will; be influential in Developing countries as the petroleum industry is still alive.

    All high fertilizer requiring improved varieties and short day lived and short in height varieties are just destructive. Because, those varieties are also highly vulnerable to diseases.

    West was trying to develop another way to internationalize their currancies over that. Many poor countries got caught in it.

    I don’t know how climate impact toxin free country except tropical region where monsoon rains are frequent floods wash away fertile soil.

    Actually, most people in the west look for grains and vegetables grown in the way how OLd Sinhale grew up crops. they pay a primium price for that.

    Sri lanka will have more diseases and more cancer years to come because people are used to eat toxic food and live in the toxic environment.

    I think, Nitrogen Oxides and sulphur oxides which come from coal will come down to earth as acids. Acids make soil nutrients wash away, plants burn because of acids, small soil living animals to die etc ., those things happened in those so called developed countries.

  • 2

    To get organic agriculture going, we have to stop playing around with global money-making games.

    Last thing we need is to increase the hectares of farmland for Lankan agriculture to feed large belts of India.

    It has to be a time of austerity, nationalism and religion, and a strict adherence of all political parties towards patriotism of Motherland.

  • 2

    /* According to GRAIN’s report ‘The Exxons of Agriculture’, the powerful lobbying efforts of the fertiliser industry must not be underestimated. The report states worryingly that 60 % of the private sector member of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture , are from the chemical fertiliser industry. */

    Indeed, this is troublesome. However, the strategy to counter them is for one single country to wipe their slate clean of anything to do with anything that is toxic in agriculture. The rest of the world will follow suite. At COP 21, precisely that has been declared by President Maithripala Sirisena. If we win through and I do not see a reason why that should’t be, then Sri Lanka immediately goes to the forefront of the fight for reclaiming our world back from the privateers (a few centuries ago, “privateer” was another word for “pirate” and that basic definition has really not changed all that much right up to the present day).

  • 0

    Just the way countries successfully sued the tobacco companies, govts should be able to sur chemical and fertizier manufacturing companies for delivering chemicals full of toxic metals and toxic componenets.

    Only problem is even though western govts can do that successfully, when their companies are sued western govts, even indian govt may come man handle the Sri lankan govt.

  • 0

    Instead of adding nitrogen via inorganic fertilizer, if you add nitrogen using organic fertilizer, that too produces nitrogen dioxide under tropical conditions, and will have the same global-warming effects.
    Jim Softy says “manufacturing companies for delivering chemicals full of toxic metals and toxic components“. These same toxins are found in “organic fertilizers”, as Indian Researchers have found, where cow dung is extensively used.
    If you want to go back to “ancient methods”, then you have to cull the population to about 5 million and keep it there. But the food supply will not be guaranteed even then.
    This writer has cherry picked some information and get herself totally mislead.

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