Home / FT View/ Communicating policy

Communicating policy

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 3 March 2018 00:00

Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector is hoping to receive good news on the reversal of the glyphosate ban shortly, ending nearly three years of appeals to have a universally-accepted weedicide freely available again. 

When a Government is appointed to power, consistent policymaking is at the core of public expectations. Yet formulating policies can be a tricky business, which sometimes can be hijacked by politics that could drown out rational discourse including basing them on scientific evidence. 

In the last three years Sri Lanka has had two such controversial policy decisions, one being the ban of glyphosate and, more recently, the proposed asbestos ban. The former has been roundly argued about as not being based on sound scientific evidence and implemented with little or no stakeholder consultation. The danger of this type of policymaking is that it can cause even bigger problems than what the policy was initially attempting to avert.

Sri Lanka’s tea industry is a prime example of this facing an estimated 5%-7% loss in production and about Rs. 15 billion revenue loss. 

According to top industry officials, due to the glyphosate ban the industry had resorted to using alternatives that could be considered as higher in toxicity by importing countries. In the absence of Glyphosate weedicide, tea plantations turned to an alternative weedicide named MCPA. This weedicide is considered to be far more harmful to human health with Japanese and European countries placing strict limits on the levels permissible for consumption. Unfortunately, most of the teas produced in Sri Lanka, except for a few plantations, produce teas which have MCPA residue levels in made tea far in excess of these limits.

Unfortunately changing to a different weedicide is not a simple matter as they have to be approved by the destination countries, sometimes years in advance. This is a very serious situation and directly the result of unconventional and irregular decision-making.

Of course the issue goes much deeper. Sri Lankans consuming this tea ingest this high level of toxicity as well, which is not being addressed. Commercial agriculture requires some percentage of chemicals and if Sri Lanka is unable to farm widely enough to feed its population then it must be ready to increase imports, which is also tricky given the country’s high debt levels and moderate foreign exchange reserves. 

At the recent National Economic Council meeting several key policy decisions including the proposal to reverse the Glyphosate ban bad been discussed and top officials have confirmed that it is to be implemented. However key organisations such as a the Planter’s Association is yet to be officially notified of the change, according to reports, emphasising the deep need of the government to not just make progressive decisions but also communicate them in a timely and comprehensive manner to avoid confusion. Policy consistency should be supported by policy communication or the job will not be fully done.

Science is not a smooth process where everyone arrives at universal agreement. Instead, it is a competitive, intellectual battle. Not all people of science think alike; in fact, advancement happens when ideas bang into one another and create new ideas and thoughts. But this process does not mean science should be ignored in the decision-making process but rather it should get a seat at the table along with social, economic and other considerations. If anything needs to be left out in the cold, it would best be politics.

Share This Article


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Harsha’s plan to innovate the economy is welcome but time is running out for him

Monday, 19 March 2018

The State Minister for National Policies and Economic Affairs, Dr. Harsha de Silva, in his second incarnation in that ministry, has acted promptly to propose a strategy to convert Sri Lanka into an innovation and entrepreneurship economy.

Why do we have to pay for the sins of every government?

Monday, 19 March 2018

One of the most common questions asked of me when I meet people at various forums nowadays is, ‘Hey, what is happening to the country?’ Nowadays, I find that some of the strongest critics of the previous regime and hence those who proactively pro

‘Wanda Pethi,’ ‘Digakalliya’ and the violence in Ampara

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Sri Lanka, struggling for long to recover from the debilitating effects of a protracted civil war and progress resolutely along the road to economic prosperity, suffered a tremendous setback in the last days of February and early days of March with t

Winning 2019 Indian Parliamentary elections will be uphill task for Modi

Saturday, 17 March 2018

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the May 2014 Indian Parliamentary elections grabbing 336 seats in a House of 543, the popular notions was that the BJP had come stay, and that its Supremo, Narendra Modi

Columnists More