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SL eyes major fertiliser production from Eppawala deposit

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  • Agri. Minister determined to start production by next year
  • Expert Committee recommends production of a TSP substitute from Eppawala Phosphate deposit
  • Committee report recommends Public-Private Partnership
  • Estimated cost of plant Rs.5 -7 b, deposit estimated to last for 400 years

By Chathuri Dissanayake

Following Expert Committee recommendations to produce Single Super Phosphate (SSP) as a substitute for imported Triple Super Phosphate (TSP) utilising the Eppawala phosphate deposit, the Government is aiming to set up a plant to start production by next year, a top official said.

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told Daily FT that the Government was still in discussions about how the plant would be established and funded.

“We are not sure about how exactly the investment will be set up to produce phosphate. But we are determined to start production at least by next year,” the Minister said.

The seven-member expert committee lead by Prof. O.A. Eleperuma made a number of recommendations, presenting a report after a month-long feasibility study on producing phosphate fertiliser from the deposit in Eppawala.

The committee recommended Lanka Phosphate Ltd. (LPL) to set up a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) on the basis of 51:49 shareholding to build a production plant to produce SSP, which will be suitable to use on short term crops such as rice, vegetable, chillies, onion, maize, and soybean. However the State-Owned Entity is recommended to have sole authority regarding mining and supplying of the rock phosphate for the proposed Joint Venture.

The deposit, which according to the ExpertCommittee is sufficient to produce soluble phosphate fertiliser to last 400 years, contains a “very high phosphorus percentage of 33% to 40%”.

The committee has proposed a project to produce SSP following a successful exercise by LPL to produce 20 tons of SSP in 2001 where crushed ore was mixed with sulphuric acid manually to produce the fertiliser which can be used in short-term crops. Subsequent tests carried out by the Agriculture Department in all areas of the country for rice has given comparable results with imported TSP, the report states.

Further it highlights that the official position of the Department is that SSP produced from Eppawala can replace imported TSP, highlighting that SSP will also supply sulphur, another essential nutrient, to crops.

The committee highlights that production of SSP is both technologically simple and suitable to the country’s crops and is environmentally-friendly. Further the venture “is extremely beneficial to Sri Lanka in terms of foreign exchange and ability to provide farmers with phosphate fertilisers at half the current prices,” the report stated. Sri Lanka currently imports TSP fertiliser needed for agriculture industry.

The venture to produce 200,000 tons of SSP annuallyhas an estimated cost of Rs.5 billion to Rs.7 billion, the report states, explaining that the institutional capacity for extraction at the Eppawala deposit should be increased to cater to the new demand of 160,000 tons annually.

Further the committee has also recommended mapping of the entire mine with respect to geology, mineralogy, phosphorus and other elements in the deposit. The committee also recommends funding of research programs to develop new uses for the deposit in agriculture and other industries, while also supporting the Department of Agriculture programon soil test-based phosphate fertiliser recommendations to cut down on excess usage of fertiliser.



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