News

Chemical fertiliser ban reversed?

  • Agriculture Ministry Secy. says chemical fertilisers will be imported
  • Mahindananda claims no decision to import chemical for paddy, vegetables
  • Shasheendra says 100% organic not possible in one season
  • SJB claims chemical fertiliser ban now reversed

By Buddhika Samaraweera

Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige stated yesterday (21) that steps will be taken to re-import standardised, second-generation chemical fertilisers, agrochemicals, and essential plant nutrients required for paddy, maize, vegetables, and other plantation crops, which, if implemented, would appear to signal an abandonment of the Government’s signature and controversial 100% organic agriculture policy.

However, Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage said that there would not be any such imports for paddy and vegetables, while State Minister of Organic Fertiliser Shasheendra Rajapaksa stated that a meeting would be held with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa today (22) at 10 a.m., as a 100% organic agriculture policy is not possible in one season.

Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige said the entire fertiliser requirement for this season could not be met by locally produced organic or other specialised fertilisers, adding that importing organic fertiliser from foreign countries is also dangerous, considering present circumstances.

“We imported good-quality chemical fertilisers for crops such as tea, coconut, and rubber. That is why the importation of chemical fertilisers was allowed. Now, vegetable cultivation cannot be allowed to perish. Therefore, as soon as the final recommendation of the relevant committee is received, action will be taken to import standardised, second-generation chemical fertilisers,” he said.

Asked by reporters if paddy farmers would be getting fertilisers such as urea they had previously received, he said: “I do not see a problem with giving urea. It’s not a problem, but the way it is used is. The amount of nitrogen in compost fertiliser, which is about 2-3%, is not enough.”

However, claiming that the price of a metric tonne (MT) of urea is around $ 800-1,000, Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige said that considering the current situation, it would be better if the President could intervene and import something like ammonium sulphate under an exchange programme.

“Urea is a good fertiliser, but it is difficult to buy a very good product in the current situation. To that end, we urge the Government and the President to intervene and import something like ammonium sulphate under an exchange programme,” Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige added.

He further stated that it is estimated that about 80,000 MT of nitrogen will be required for paddy cultivation this season, adding that this amount, however, could not be supplied entirely from organic fertilisers. This situation had worsened due to the recent rains which has caused the fertilisers applied to the plantations to be washed away, he claimed.

When asked as to whether he would admit the fact that the Government’s programme to provide farmers with certain other fertilsers in the recent past is a failure, he said that it was not a failure, adding: “If there is any shortcoming in our hands today, it can be rectified. Due to wrong advice or people without knowledge of the subject coming and highlighting certain other points have disrupted the programme.”

Speaking to The Morning yesterday, Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige said that it was not intended to import all the chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals that were previously imported, but to import high-quality plant nutrients and agrochemicals in limited quantities.

Speaking to Ada Derana yesterday, Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige stated that he and Ministry of Plantation Secretary Raveendra Hewavitharana have been given the necessary powers to make recommendations for the importation of agrochemicals and plant nutrients in the required quantities.

“Currently, arrangements are being made to import the required quantities of plant nutrients, pesticides, and insecticides, most probably within this week,” he said.

Commenting on the use of urea fertilisers, he further stated: “Urea is not a very dangerous type of fertiliser. It is a well-known fact in agriculture that urea is one of the most widely used fertilisers in the world. A lot of agronomists have said that it’s better than ammonium sulphate, and I know a little bit about that, too.”

However, he said that while urea is more expensive in the market at present, there are other fertilisers that do the same job. He said that instead of importing an expensive fertiliser like urea, similar fertilisers would be considered, and that decisions regarding fertilisers are taken based on expert advice.

However, Minister Aluthgamage said yesterday that the Government has so far not decided to allow imports of chemical fertilisers for paddy and vegetables. He added that he would look into the statements being made that chemical fertiliser imports had been permitted by the Government.

In addition, State Minister of Promoting the Production and Regulating the Supply of Organic Fertiliser, and Paddy and Grains, Organic Foods, Vegetables, Fruits, Chillies, Onion, and Potato Cultivation Promoting, Seed Production, and Advanced Technology Agriculture Rajapaksa said that there would be a meeting held with President Rajapaksa today to discuss the chemical fertiliser issue.

“We can’t adopt a 100% organic fertiliser policy in one season. Therefore, we hope to shift to a 100% organic agriculture policy in three seasons,” he commented.

Last Friday (19), The Morning reported that the relevant institutions such as the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Registrar of Pesticides are currently working on the importation of pesticides and fungicides in limited quantities for selected crops, and that the import would take place soon.

Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige last week told The Morning that the relevant institutions are currently studying the importation of pesticides and fungicides to determine from which country, what type, and in what quantities they should be imported.

“Especially during the rainy season, some pesticides and fungicides are needed for certain crops, given the fact that very organic agrochemicals are not available in Sri Lanka. In that case, we need to have limited quantities of pesticides and fungicides. It was, therefore, decided to bring in some pesticides and fungicides in limited quantities and to store such, and the relevant arrangements are currently being made in that regard,” Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige added.

Meanwhile, at a Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) press conference yesterday, SJB Member Eranda Weliange claimed that the decision taken by the Government to ban the importation of chemical fertilisers has been reversed through yesterday’s decision.

“Every decision taken by this Government is being reversed. The Government has issued as many gazette notifications as possible, but all of them have been reversed. Now, it is said that permission has been granted to import plant nutrients. It is chemical fertilisers that are going to be imported in this manner,” he claimed.

Further claiming that this is what farmers have been demanding for months, Weliange claimed that one cultivating season has already been destroyed due to the Government’s decision to ban chemical fertilisers. If fertiliser is not imported properly, the next season will also be destroyed, he added.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said that the decision taken by the Government to import fertilisers and agrochemicals required by farmers even now was a good decision.

“The Government is preparing to make revolutions every day, but they are not things that can be done. We said at the beginning that diversion to organic fertiliser was an impossible task. We also told the Government not to put the farmers in trouble, but the Government did not listen to us and finally the famers taught them a lesson. This decision good and chemical fertilisers are universally accepted. The Government distorted it and tried to do something impractical,” he said.

Field Marshal Fonseka further stated that a future SJB Government would not do anything to inconvenience the farmers except to provide them with the fertiliser and other necessities they need.

“We are not going to do the impossible, but the current Government did everything this way. Their failure is reflected through these things,” he added.

A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by President 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, 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 gazette notification.

Furthermore, doubts had arisen as to whether the 30,000 MT of fertiliser stock that arrived in Sri Lanka on 13 October 2021 from Lithuania were organic or chemical due to a statement made by Aluthgamage that it contains potassium chloride (KCL), along with questions raised by social media users and the main parliamentary Opposition, the SJB.

Aluthgamage said on 13 October on his official Facebook page that the first consignment of organic fertilisers required for the Maha cultivating season, imported from Lithuania, arrived at the Colombo Port in the evening of the same day. However, the term used to describe the relevant stock of fertiliser on his Facebook page had been edited from time to time.

Accordingly, the stock of fertiliser was initially referred to as “potassium chloride organic fertiliser” and subsequently mentioned as “organic potassium fertiliser”. However, as of 14 October, the stock of fertiliser had been mentioned as “organic fertiliser” on Aluthgamage’s Facebook page.

Throughout the past few months, farmers in several areas claimed that there is a serious shortage of fertiliser, pesticides, and weedicides for their cultivations. A number of protests are currently organised by farmers organisations and various parties, demanding that the Government provide a solution to the fertiliser shortage.