By R.P. Gunawardane –
In my previous article in the Colombo Telegraph, I dealt with the “organic” potassium chloride imported by the Ministry of Agriculture. It is nothing other than the normal potassium chloride (KCl) in the mineral form which is used as a chemical potassium fertilizer. The word “organic” has been inserted to deceive general public and farmers. But this attempt was not successful because general public in this country is more educated than the rulers. It has also been reported a few days after the import of KCl that organic Nano liquid nitrogen fertilizer will be imported to Sri Lanka immediately and it will be air lifted from India soon.
By the time this article is written this consignment has already arrived in Sri Lanka after spending a colossal amount of foreign exchange for air freight from India to Sri Lanka. This nitrogen fertilizer material is nothing new but it is the very same Urea in nano form (very small particles) and it is also called nano urea in India. Urea is extensively used in Sri Lanka and most of the other countries for a long period of time as a nitrogen fertilizer. What is air lifted is a liquid nitrogen fertilizer containing the same chemical compound urea in nano form in aqueous solution. Thus, the bulk is large because it is in solution.
No doubt this form of N-fertilizer is considered to be a very effective nitrogen fertilizer because urea is available in nano form (very small nano level particles) that can easily be absorbed by the plants. In fact, nano-fertilizers release plant nutrients in a controlled manner contributing to higher nutrient use efficiency.
Since the chemical composition is the same as commonly used urea this material is not an organic fertilizer. Therefore, it is not correct for the authorities to describe this material as an organic fertilizer and mislead the people.
This nano urea material has to be sprayed to the field/ plants in the liquid form. Therefore, excessive leaching may be possible particularly in the rice fields. As such, this possibility of excessive leaching may lead to loss of nitrogen. This certainly will be an issue to the farmers although its efficiency as a N-fertilizer is quite good.
As it stands now the chemical fertilizer ban is unofficially lifted by the government and potassium and nitrogen fertilizers are already imported to Sri Lanka for distribution. Although very late this is a welcome move for this country. At the moment only chemical fertilizer remains to be imported is TSP (triple superphosphate). Since we have a rock phosphate deposit at Eppawela, it is possible to make use of this material as a P-fertilizer to a certain extent especially for long-term crops. Thus, only a limited amount of TSP may be imported immediately to satisfy our requirement for this period. This way it may be possible for the government to avoid or at least minimize the damage, uncertainty and disaster due to wrong policy and unilateral decisions taken by the authorities without proper consultation.
As a long-term solution to phosphorus fertilizers, it is urgently necessary to develop our valuable phosphate deposit at Eppawela in the Anuradhapura district to manufacture SSP (single superphosphate) or TSP (triple superphosphate) locally. All previous governments have ignored or postponed this development in spite of many proposals presented during the last several decades. Recently there was a detailed proposal to manufacture single superphosphate (SSP) locally from Eppawela phosphate using a minimum capital cost. This process should be further studied by a committee of experts as early as possible to find out whether this manufacturing process is feasible to establish a plant in Sri Lanka to produce SSP locally.
Failure in Decision Making Process
This organic fertilizer episode is a result of a non-scientific and a defective decision-making process in the government. Unfortunately, there were many such instances during tenure of the present government. At least this time the government is trying to avoid the disaster at the last moment by reversing the decision to ban all inorganic fertilizers.
Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in his recent interview to a newspaper has stated that the chemical fertilizer ban was enforced because of a wrong advice given to the government. He has basically blamed the advisors for this decision. This is a sad situation as the principal administrative officer of the Ministry of Agriculture to blame the advisors for the wrong decision the government has taken. It is not the advisors but it is the decision makers who are totally responsible.
The decision makers particularly at the cabinet level and the Ministry level are completely responsible for this decision. In fact, for the Ministry of Agriculture it is the Secretary of the Ministry as the principal administrative officer and the Minister as the cabinet member responsible for the subject of Agriculture are totally responsible for this disastrous decision leading to chaos and impending food shortage and economic disaster.
over the last two years during the present administration, many such decisions announced by the government were either not implemented, reversed or revoked by the same cabinet leading to public distrust and chaos. This kind of disorder has not been observed to the same extent during any previous government.
Some examples of such cabinet decisions are, setting up of 10 new national universities announced during the first few cabinet meetings of the new government, ban on slaughter of cattle and closing beef stalls, do away with the use of Z score method in university admission process, maximum retail price of different varieties of rice, prize controls of other consumer items including milk powder, cooking gas etc. and the list goes on and on, perhaps many more to come. What has happened to these cabinet decisions? None of these so-called decisions are implemented while some others are reversed.
This has in fact resulted in displeasure and distrust within the government itself and even at the cabinet ranks. It has been reported recently in newspapers that some senior and prominent ministers in the cabinet have openly criticized the way some cabinet proposals are rushed through the cabinet without allowing extensive discussion and some vital decisions taken by the authorities outside the cabinet of ministers.