Mahindananda says Govt.’s green agri policy unchanged
BY Buddhika Samaraweera The Government has decided to revoke the Extraordinary Gazette No. 2226/48 of 6 May 2021 which banned the importation of chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals including pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides/weedicides, and to thereby allow the private sector to import the same. Speaking to the media yesterday (24), Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage stated that the Government has decided to revoke the relevant Extraordinary Gazette Notification with effect from yesterday. Accordingly, he said that the private sector will be allowed to import chemical fertilisers and other agrochemicals yesterday onwards. “On 26 April 2021, a proposal was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers to direct the country’s agriculture towards green agriculture. Accordingly, an Extraordinary Gazette was issued banning the import of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. However, as a people-sensitive Government, we have decided to revoke it,” he added. However, Aluthgamage noted that there will be no change in the Government’s policy. “The private sector can import chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals and sell them in the open market, but the Government’s policy towards a green agriculture will remain the same. All reliefs provided by the Government, such as subsidies, seeds, and guaranteed prices for paddy will be based on that policy,” he mentioned. He further said that if soil tests reveal that chemical fertilisers have been used by farmers who are receiving subsidies for organic fertilisers, it would be decided as to whether they should be given subsidies and that a regulatory arrangement would be made for that. He also accused the Government of not having supported the programme towards establishing green agriculture. “We made every effort to make this programme a success. There was strong opposition against me from the farmers, who burnt more effigies of me than they did of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran during the war. But I sided with the programme despite all such opposition, because of this policy. This ban would not have been lifted if it had taken place according to our plan. But we could not adequately socialise this plan. Even within the Government, there were different views on green agriculture,” he explained.A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the same was granted approval, following which the relevant Extraordinary Gazette Notification was issued on 6 May 2021. However, the Finance Ministry, through the Extraordinary Gazette Notification No. 2238/45 of 31 July 2021, relaxed regulations on the importation of chelated (a type of bonding of ions and molecules to metal ions) minerals and micronutrients for the purpose of producing fertiliser. Accordingly, nitrogen (N) fertiliser, phosphate (PO₄³⁻) fertiliser, potassium (K) fertiliser, and fertilisers containing such minerals and chemical fertilisers containing a combination of fertilising elements, which were previously banned from being imported, were brought under the import control licence (ICL) by the aforesaid Extraordinary Gazette Notification. Furthermore, on Monday (22), Rajapaksa had instructed Agriculture Director General (DG) Dr. Ajantha de Silva to take necessary steps to import specialised chemical fertilisers and pesticides required for vegetable cultivation, in limited quantities, for a limited period, owing to the lack of organic and liquid fertilisers for the same, and the prevailing rains. At that time, claiming that the President had given permission to import “specialised fertilisers” and pesticides for vegetable cultivation in view of the prevailing rains, Aluthgamage said that there will however be no import of chemical fertilisers for paddy cultivation. Further, Aluthgamage on Tuesday (23), ordered the removal of Pesticides Registrar Dr. J.A. Sumith over the revocation of the Extraordinary Gazette which imposed a ban on certain agrochemicals, and thereby permitted imports, citing that the move was contrary to the Government’s green agriculture policy and an ongoing disciplinary inquiry into the alleged favouritism on the part of Dr. Sumith with regard to the import of such.