Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector wants a phased out, targeted and scientific approach in the breakthrough into organic farming practices without causing losses to a number of industries that could be impacted by an overnight ban on chemical fertiliser widely used in the country.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s assertion that in the future there will be a ban on chemical fertiliser has caused a number of industries in the agriculture sector to seek a discussion with their relevant line ministers to forewarn of the consequences of such an action overnight.
Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum Chairman Rizvi Zaheed, representing the agriculture sector in the country, stated that the overall general direction is a good one to ensure that the agriculture sector reduces its reliance on chemical fertiliser.
However, he pointed out that it is necessary to adopt scientific research and analyse how a targeted measure could be worked out to ensure a phased out method of reducing the dependency on chemical fertiliser by farmers.
Any sudden decision to ban chemical fertilisers can result in a reduction in the yields obtained from paddy and other plants.
He explained that there is a view by some that already the soil does contain a certain amount of residual fertiliser in the soil for nutrition but this is not sufficient to retain the adequate yields and the absence of fertiliser can result in a shortfall of yields.
Mr. Zaheed explained that the yield of 4 million MT of rice for the Maha season was achieved due to the use of right plant material, seed and fertiliser but the non-application of it could reduce this yield as it obtains nutrition from the residual fertiliser in the soil. In this respect, the agriculture sector should be given targets to work on by establishing internal benchmarks to achieve that could eventually result in a phased out removal of the use of chemical fertiliser.
Planters Association Chairman Bhathiya Bulumulla said that if this chemical fertiliser ban goes ahead it could impact the tea industry as it did in 2017/2018 when glyphosate was completely banned causing huge losses to the industry.
“I presume the government will not take any hasty decision,” he said stating that the need is to ensure that scientists will be able to introduce an alternative product for their use in a bid to obtain the same nutrients into the plant.
Mr. Bulumulla explained that organic fertiliser could be introduced but pointed out that compared to chemical fertilisers the former should be available in large quantities in order to obtain the same nutrients.
He too pointed out that they hope to discuss with their line minister in this respect to ascertain where they stand.
“If they can introduce another chemical which kills weeds” it would be good, he said pointing out that using manual labour to physically weed a plantation was not possible when carrying out commercial production.
Currently, he noted the Tea Research Institute is working on the use of a substitute for glyphosate but asserted these cannot be rushed.
At present glyphosate is imported by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in quantities required for the tea plantations alone and cannot be purchased by others.
Mr. Bulumulla called on the government to seek the scientists’ opinion and ascertain the economic impact of such a ban and thereafter take a correct decision.