- Govt. lifts ban on private sector import and use of chemical fertiliser
- Insists policy thrust on organic agriculture not abandoned or compromised
- Govt. support by way of subsidies, maximum guaranteed price, etc. will be limited to those who use nonhazardous inputs
- Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage says Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government is not stubborn, but lifting of ban was in response to appeals by farmers, pandemic, pricing and logistical issues
- But blames Government members for not extending wholehearted support to organic push
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage
In a major policy reversal, much to the relief of the critical agriculture sector, the Government yesterday lifted the ban on the import and use of chemical fertiliser, but insisted the push for organic farming with State support would continue.
The decision to this effect was made at Tuesday’s meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has been championing the country’s aggressive move to shift to organic farming with a sudden ban on chemical fertilisers early this year. A new Gazette, nullifying the previous ones that banned the use of chemical material, will be issued shortly.
“There is no change in the Government’s stand towards sustainable and organic agriculture. Henceforth Government support by way of subsidy, maximum guaranteed price where applicable, etc., will be limited to only those who use organic farming,” assured Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, reiterating that the policy was first enunciated in the President Rajapaksa’s ‘Vistas of Splendour and Prosperity’ vision.
“Our Government is not stubborn,” he added; and justified the policy reversal as a humane response to appeals (and protests) by farmers and recommendations by the private sector in the agriculture industry.
“The policy thrust towards organic farming was welcomed by all, including farmers apart from global recognition. Bulk of the 600,000 hectares earmarked for organic cultivation of paddy had already begun the use of organic fertiliser. However, due to the pandemic, delays in procurement, pricing and logistic issues, adverse weather, the process wasn’t smooth, threatening a food insecurity,” admitted the Agriculture Minister, whose effigies were burnt by farmers during their sustained protests. Blame was cast on what he described as an unscrupulous “fertiliser mafia” as well.
Almost all segments of the agriculture sector condemned the abrupt decision by the Government to ban the use of chemical fertiliser and the accompanying rush for organic replacement. Concerns were raised over a sharp drop in yield and cost, leading to a food crisis. The saner advice even by scientists, agriculture experts and those in academia was a phased-out shift.
For example, a group of 30 experts in June insisted that the ‘prudent and balanced’ approach would be to move towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable food system using a judicious combination of organic and inorganic plant nutrients with a progressive reduction in the use of inorganic fertiliser over time.
See https://www.ft.lk/top-story/Scientists-sound-siren-over-President-s-fertiliser-frenzy/26-719326. The experts also clearly illustrated the impact on production (see Table and https://www.ft.lk/front-page/Inorganic-fertiliser-ban-could-harm-production-with-major-implications/44-719325).
However, the Government, especially the President, vehemently opposed constructive criticism and pragmatic recommendations. He said any loss of yield would be financially compensated using the savings from the $ 400 million spent annually on import of chemical fertiliser and related inputs.
In as many expressions of toughness, the President, only on Monday, insisted on no change in organic agriculture policy and expressed displeasure to officials for not educating farmers properly. At a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, Rajapaksa bluntly told officials they are free to walkout if they do not agree with the Government policy. It was at the meeting that the President first announced that the Government would distribute organic fertiliser and provide subsidies only for organic farming.