The gazette notification was issued on 5th May stating that the import of manure, insecticides and pesticides are to be banned.
This impulsive decision was arrived at by the president without prior consultation with farmers and other stakeholders engaged in agriculture, resulting in grave unrest among the agriculture community especially farmers. It is evident that no attention has been paid so far to address this surprising decision taken impulsively to ease the apprehension in the agricultural community.
A government must not take such haphazard decisions which affect the livelihood of 27% of the labour force who are engaged in agriculture thus jeopardizing nation’s food security. This 27% engaged in agriculture account for 7% of the GDP. About 25% of the industrial sector is dependent on the production of 27% who are engaged in agriculture. All this constitutes a considerable portion of the national economy.
The livelihood of those engaged in paddy, vegetables fruits and long term crops like tea, coconut and rubber cultivation are threatened as they are sectors are heavily dependent on chemical fertilizer. Crops like potatoes and vegetables are short term crops of 2-3 months. Fertilizer has to be administered to them in proper quantities at the appropriate time.
The problem regarding the insecticides and pesticides too are grave. Farmers who received a discount of 20%-40% on these chemicals are now forced to pay exorbitant prices and will be driven to the mercy of the black market.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his election campaign, promised to give manure free of charge which at that time was priced at Rs. 500/- per 50 kilos for paddy farmers. It was also promised that all types of manure would be issued free of charge. The present leader of opposition Mr. Sajith Premadasa also gave similar promises. At that time we as a political force stated that while continuing the subsidy on manure we will take steps to introduce organic farming gradually. However, today’s crisis situation has come up as the present president has gone back on his word and prohibited the import of chemicals with effect from last April.
Although the president claims that this decision had been taken to provide food free of chemicals and making the soil healthy a doubt arises whether by arriving at this decision he is enabling his close associates to import rubbish from foreign countries as organic manure.
The president’s statement that organic manure would be imported confirms this doubt. It is certain that close associates of the president are in the process of obtaining licenses, to form companies to import organic manure. In accordance with the plant safety act implemented in 1981, it is prohibited to import manure, as it may contain bacteria and viruses which could invade the country, through decaying animal and plant waste.
More importantly the question arises as to whether the president took this decision with the ulterior motive of dissuading the farmers from agriculture, so that the land would be abandoned and thus given over to multinational companies at a later stage. This could be the initial stage of such a scenario.
On the other hand, even before the introduction of this attention of the public was drawn to methodical organic farming and a vast number of people have volunteered to commence organic farming. Our party in particular strongly supports the use of organic manure but these decisions cannot and should not be taken in a hasty manner as being done. But the aforementioned sudden decision without any plan has made the people to refuse organic farming altogether.
Before taking such important policy decisions the government should introduce alternative manure but no consideration was given to issues arising with such controversial decisions. Now agriculture is in dire straits! The farmers are surrounding the buildings where manure is stored and are protesting already. The government should initiate a suitable scheme to solve their problems.
Initially the president stated that the reduction in harvest due to organic farming would be compensated financially. In that case we would appreciate if you state whether you are still committed to that position? Has an assessment been made to ascertain the amount of money to be payed? The farmers are facing a crisis. By promising financial compensation without a proper plan would be unworkable.
It was also stated that in the event that of the organic manure manufactured locally being insufficient; steps would be taken to import the shortfall. In the “Gama Samaga Pilisandara” programme, the president stated that his word was the law and equals to a gazette notification. Therefore, he obviously thinks that his opinion is the final say in everything.
Our country and its eco system would be grave danger through this. No laws have been promulgated to import and maintain quality assurance systems of manure. The specialists of this field are of the opinion that the transition to organic manure should be done only after lengthy research of about two years. Anyhow the president has stated that organic farming would be introduced during the “Maha” season.
The agriculture department too has not set the initial guidelines for this. A grave danger exists of various insects, alien plants and heavy metals entering the country with the imported manure.
As a political party we have important goals. Food safety is the main component of this as it constitutes a main part of national security. Second, is the upliftment of the social status of the all categories of farmers. The third is providing food which is free of harmful chemicals to the people.
At present the land of our country is infertile. It is saturated with poisonous chemicals. This has to be turned into a healthy fertile soil. The citizens of this country should get a meal free of poison. For that there should be a vision and a plan.
We implore the president to import organic manure only after long term research and after a proper quality assurance mechanism is in place. We are of the opinion that this plan should not be implemented in haste. There are many problems facing our agriculture with regard, to seeds, land, water, marketing and storage of crops.
By ignoring all these and thinking only of organic farming there would be a twofold repercussion. One is the seed mafia of the world. Our country has already fallen prey to this mafia. We have already lost all varieties of seeds which were in our possession. The local seed manufacturing process is at a standstill. Therefore, we are totally dependent on the seed mafia of multinational companies. We have lost all our seeds which were our wealth.
The seeds which are being imported today are heavily dependent on chemicals. Therefore, in the event of switching over to organic farming, we have to formulate a proper procedure to import seeds which are compatible with organic farming. How do we manufacture organic manure and other applicable products? How do we provide the technology needed? There ought to be a proper plan to create awareness among farmers.
During the decades of 60-70 our country had a successful agrarian service. We had good system in place for agriculture instructions. Now it is at a complete standstill. TV commercials and the merchants who are selling agro- chemicals have become the chief advisors to farmers. As the agrarian services were breaking down, the private companies have taken their place.
Owing to the soil becoming saturated with agro- chemicals, there lies the danger of farmers losing their livelihood. Also the citizens of the country are consuming poisonous food. As a solution to this problem, the president has suggested organic farming. Without finding solutions to anticipatory problems, trying to address this crisis in a haphazard manner has nullified all hopes of making this project a success.
There is a danger of an idea forming in the minds of the people that the entire agrarian sector has gone into a crisis, with president’s involvement in organic farming. There is a danger of all aspects of organic farming, breaking down.
The president should immediately address the issue of farmers’ distancing themselves from agriculture due to the collapse of production and the deteriorating living standards of the farming community. For these appropriate fertilizers, suitable herbicides and suitable pesticides should be provided to the farming community at the correct time.
We are not referring to the vegetable plot at Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s house.
This is about the farmers’ whole livelihood which is at stake! Our farmers are responsible for the food safety of the whole country and are responsible for exports of the agrarian section. By trying various solutions the industry has gone into crisis. We implore the president to address these problems promptly!
*Excerpts from the online seminar JVP head office Battaramulla by Anura Kumara Dissanayake.