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A myth that chemical fertiliser is poison: Agriculture Professionals Front

  • Agriculture professionals claim myths created by a doctor and a monk
  • Claim agriculture sector facing biggest post-Independence crisis

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Agriculture Professionals Front, comprising 14 trade unions and organisations associated with the agriculture industry, yesterday (2) claimed that the existing ban on the use of chemical fertiliser has been formulated based on the two “myths” about chemical fertiliser being poison and causing chronic kidney disease (CKD).

“Sri Lanka’s agriculture is currently battling the largest crisis it has faced since Independence. This is a crisis that has been manufactured based on two myths: One saying that chemical fertiliser is poison and the other saying that chemical fertiliser has led to the CKD that is largely found in the Rajarata areas in the Polonnaruwa District,” said Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) Agriculture Subcommittee Convenor and Ruhuna University Senior Lecturer K.K.I.U. Anura Kumara at a press conference held yesterday.

He said the aforementioned myths have been largely created by individuals who are not learned agricultural professionals or experts led by a popular medical doctor and a popular monk within political circles. He claimed that professionals in the industry have been shunned in favour of these popular characters whose advice is heeded by political leaders to create “dream worlds”.

“China, a country that contributes to most of the world’s food production, uses 519 kg of urea or chemical fertiliser per hectare (ha) of its farmlands. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, only uses 325 kg of chemical fertiliser per ha. Does that mean that other countries are engaging in poisonous agriculture? Sri Lanka has created this myth that our farmers who have ensured the country’s food security for generations are feeding poison to us. How can we say that CKD is caused due to chemical fertilisers when a single scientific study regarding the alleged correlation has still not been done in the country?” questioned Kumara.

However, on Monday (1), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tweeted that the overuse of chemical fertiliser has significantly contributed to CKD in the country, adding that it is in that context that the Government took a stance to reduce the import of chemical fertiliser and to promote organic agriculture.

Kumara said yesterday that CKD is also found in the Mullaitivu District in the Northern Province, a district which did not have access to chemical fertiliser for 30 years due to the civil war. He also noted that more chemical fertiliser is used for vegetable cultivation in the upcountry region such as in the Nuwara Eliya District than in the Polonnaruwa District.

“However, farmers in Nuwara Eliya don’t face this issue of CKD. Some may then say that chemical fertiliser in the water flows downhill through the rivers to reach the Polonnaruwa District, leading to more disease there. However, it has been found that most of those who suffer from CKD use water from underground wells as opposed to rivers,” said Kumara.

Kumara further said the decision to switch to a 100% organic fertiliser-based industry overnight has threatened Sri Lanka’s food security and that following the end of the current Maha cultivation season, the consumers will suffer as much as the farmers are suffering right now.

“We were leading South Asia in terms of food security for the past 15 years, according to the Global Food Security Index. Within the next two years, we will see how this decision has affected our standing on that index. Although it is only the farmers who are currently suffering from the serious fallout of this decision, when the Maha season ends, the consumers will also suffer due to food shortages,” he said.

Thus, he said that if the Government continues to engage in such decisions, taken without consultations with industry experts, which harm farmers and the country’s food security, trade union (TU) action will be taken.

The Research Scientists’ Association of the Department of Agriculture, the Agriculture Graduates’ Association of the Sri Lanka Agriculture Service, the Tea Inspector/Extension Officers’ (Technical) Union, the All-Island Agriculture Instructors’ Trade Union Federation, the Agriculture Research Assistant Officers’ Association, the Scientific Service Researchers’ Association, the Sri Lanka Scientific Service Officers’ Association, the Ceylon Scientific Service Researchers Association of the Export Agriculture Department, the All Island Livestock Development Instructors Trade Union, the Coconut Cultivation Board Extension Officers Union, the Export Agriculture Extension Officers Union, the Sri Lanka Agriculture Service Officers’ Islandwide Association, and the Sri Lanka Rubber Inspectors’ Association were also present at the press conference.

A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals such as pesticides and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the same was granted approval, following which the relevant gazette notification was issued in May 2021. However, the Ministry of Finance, through the Gazette Notification No. 2238/45 of 31 July 2021, has relaxed regulations on the import of chelated (a type of bonding of ions and molecules to metal ions) minerals and micronutrients for the purpose of producing fertiliser.

Following this, the Ministry of Agriculture stated that it hopes to import a total of 3.1 million litres of “nano-nitrogen” liquid fertiliser to supply the 1.4 million ha of paddy, corn, and vegetable farmlands in the country. Earlier this month, the Government also approved for the tea industry to import nitrogen-based fertiliser.