By R.P. Gunawardane –
Organic fertilizer fiasco continues with new declarations and inventions by the Sri Lankan authorities. Recently the Ministry of Agriculture has announced that they have imported organic potassium chloride for distribution among the farmers. “Organic” potassium chloride (KCl) is certainly a new discovery never heard before. It is the first time such a material is discovered in the world!
There is no such substance called organic potassium chloride. Potassium Chloride is always an inorganic material, a chemical compound containing only the elements potassium (K) and chlorine (Cl). Even the school children are aware of it and they are laughing at this announcement by the government.
As reported in some Sinhala newspapers this announcement by the government was supported by a politico-academic stating that the potassium chloride shipment imported by the Ministry of Agriculture is of mineral origin. Unfortunately, he is not aware that mineral origin will not make it organic. Potassium chloride imported by Sri Lankan government is a chemical fertilizer by all standards. There is no debate about it. Thus, the announcements made by government representatives are mainly to mislead and cheat citizens and more particularly the farmers. It is very unfortunate that some educated political stooges go down to very low level to safeguard their political masters.
It appears that the government is struggling to move away from the previous unilateral decision realizing the impending chaos and the real dangers ahead. If this is the case, the same argument can be applied to other two major chemical fertilizer groups as well. Urea is the very common an efficient nitrogen fertilizer used all over the world. It is manufactured all from natural raw materials such as nitrogen from air, hydrogen and carbon dioxide from natural gas and coal after various treatment procedures. In addition, most common phosphorus (P) fertilizers are TSP (triple superphosphate), SSP (single superphosphate) and even rock phosphate which is available in Sri Lanka at Eppawela. TSP is preferred since it has more phosphorus available to the plants while rock phosphate has the least amount of available phosphorus. Both SSP and TSP are manufactured by using natural raw materials such as rock phosphate and sulfur. Thus, using the same argument applied to import mineral potassium chloride (KCl), the government can easily import Urea and TSP as well to Sri Lanka in limited quantities.
Fertilizer fiasco continues
It appears that this drastic and sudden decision to ban all inorganic fertilizer has been taken without extensive consultation with agriculturists, related scientists, farmer organizations and the plantation sector (tea, rubber, coconut etc.). There is no doubt that this sudden decision has far reaching consequences because it affects our economy and food security seriously. It is also reported that Sri Lanka going to be the first country in the world to ban inorganic fertilizers. Yes, Sri Lanka can be the first to implement this proposal with disastrous effect to our economy and food security!
It has also been reported that no serious consultations have been done with the relevant scientists and agriculture experts in the Department of Agriculture, Tea Research Institute, Rubber Research Institute, Coconut Research Institute, Plantation sector organizations leading to a very serious situation in agriculture, food security and the productivity of the plantation sector. As a result, there have been many protests by various groups and organizations throughout the country and it is still going on.
The same objective could be achieved in the long-term by implementing a proper plan in consultation with all the stakeholders to reduce the use of imported fertilizer and maximize the use of locally produced organic and inorganic fertilizers. This could be achieved within a period of about 6 years on a fast track.
As pointed out by the agriculturists and related scientists, the organic fertilizers do not provide sufficient macronutrients. The macronutrients of plants are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Inorganic fertilizers are needed to supply adequate macro nutrients to the crops to give the best yields. This is particularly important in the Sri Lankan context since our land area available for cultivation has been reduced considerably over the years with rapid increase in population.
A large number of articles have appeared in newspapers and news sites during the last few months by prominent scientists, agriculturists, economists and representatives of the farmers and plantation executives clearly explaining the dangers of this ban giving valid logical and scientific reasons. I have not found a single article or a valid report explaining the reasons for the complete ban of inorganic fertilizers by any expert or any other knowledgeable person.
On the other hand, all professors of Agronomy (science and technology of crop production and soil management in Agriculture) of all the universities in Sri Lanka, present Director-General of Agriculture of the Sri Lankan government and all living former Directors of Agriculture, Chairman, National Science Foundation(NSF) and Chairman, National Science and Technology Commission of Sri Lanka, most of them appointed by this government have sent letters to the President requesting to reverse this decision. Some of them have suggested an alternative path to minimize the use of chemical fertilizer gradually with maximum use of suitable organic fertilizer over a long period. According to them it has to be a long-term project which should be monitored carefully to maintain the highest yield with minimum harm to the plants.
This episode has now been internationalized and the following article appeared in the Manila Times on September 30, 2021. It is important to note that both International Rice Research Institute(IRRI) and the Head Quarters of the Asian Development Bank are located in Manila, Philippines.
Manila Times, September 30, 2021: How the organic agriculture ideology destroyed the Sri Lankan economy by Fermin Adriano: extracts of this article are given blow:
“Already reeling from the adverse effects of Covid-19, Sri Lankan President made the costly mistake of banning the importation of all chemical fertilizers. He wanted to make his country the first in the world to be recognized as a hundred-percent producer of organic agriculture products. However, nature operates differently and the decision backfired.
Organic agriculture farms have lower productivity levels than those using chemical fertilizers. Thus, overall, Sri Lankan farm productivity declined at a time its people direly needed adequate food supply. Due to lower productivity, organic agricultural products are priced higher. Given the loss of jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, organic agriculture made it difficult for the Sri Lankan government to ensure adequate food supply.
There is indeed a place for organic agriculture in the development of our agricultural sector. But its insertion must be made in a manner where its benefits considerably outweigh its costs. The most valuable lesson that can be derived from the economic and food emergency situation in Sri Lanka is that agriculture is a science and successful agriculture follows sound economic principles. One cannot chart the direction of agriculture development based on gut feel, common sense, and worse, ideology. The result will be a disaster such as the one manifested by the Sri Lankan experience.”