News

Fertiliser frenzy: Maha cultivation season kicks off with uncertainty

  • Govt. admits local producers failed to supply needed quantity of organic fertiliser
  • Farmers question push of potassium chlorate early in cultivation cycle

By Yoshitha Perera

Paddy and vegetable farmers alleged that the farming population, one of the nation’s poorest, was unprepared to cultivate on the entire extent of their land during the Maha season, which commenced last Friday (15).

The total land devoted to paddy is estimated at about 800,000 hectares, and farmers claimed that due to the inadequate availability of organic fertiliser, they could not cultivate on the entire land this season. They also blamed the Government for pushing potassium chlorate fertiliser onto them, which they point out was only needed later on in the cultivation cycle and not at the beginning.

This came as the Minister of Plantation acknowledged that local producers failed to deliver the full volume of organic fertiliser needed to supply the farming community and that there were certain production limitations from the get-go.

However, the Government was of the view that they could provide the necessary organic fertiliser on time, as planned, and aimed to provide 100% of the organic fertiliser requirement needed by farmers for paddy cultivation this season.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage said the Government formulated its plan to cultivate a total of 800,000 hectares of paddy lands this season and provide four varieties of organic fertiliser.

“The Government imported 30,000 metric tonnes (MT) of potassium chloride – 45 kg is required per hectare. We also provided Rs. 12,500 to each farmer to produce organic fertiliser; 650 applied for the allowance, and we have provided the allowance for 550 farmers so far,” he said.

The Minister said the Government was also providing bio-liquid fertiliser, with each unit containing a volume of 7.5 litres. Fifteen litres are needed per hectare. He also stated that the usability of these fertilisers was being evaluated, as various manufacturers were making different recommendations.

“In terms of nitrogen extract, we are planning to import around 800 million litres of nano nitrogen from India,” he said.

Commenting on the expected harvest this year, in comparison to last year, Aluthgamage said that in 2020, paddy farmers cultivated 1.3 million hectares – 500,000 in the Yala season and 800,000 in the Maha season.

According to him, the Government aims to bunker one million MT of rice stocks till February next year. He said that when the farmers use the nitrogen and potassium chloride fertilisers, it would provide sufficient crops for the next year.

Govt. far behind schedule

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Minister of Plantation Dr. Ramesh Pathirana explained that in the upcoming months, the Government expects to manufacture a considerable amount of organic fertiliser locally for paddy and vegetable cultivation.

“Since we began this project around eight months ago, there have been certain production limitations. Simply, the producers can’t match the sheer quantity of organic fertiliser that is required at this moment,” he said.

However, the Minister also stated that there were certain positive aspects in relation to soil conditions, adding that they hoped that the soil had already begun to produce the essential nutrients for crops.

“The Government also imported potassium chloride and other supplements required for paddy cultivation. We commenced the distribution process of this fertiliser in the Ampara area where the Maha season started. Gradually, we should be able to replenish whatever the requirements,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Morning, State Ministry of Production and Supply of Fertiliser and Regulation of Chemical Fertiliser and Insecticide Use Secretary M.N. Ranasinghe confirmed that 100% organic fertiliser would be provided for paddy cultivation.

“We imported 30,000 MT of ‘organic potassium chloride’ fertilisers to the country last Wednesday (13). The consignments were imported from Lithuania, and we had immediately dispatched them to agrarian development centres in the country,” he said.

Ranasinghe said that the authorities had taken measures to distribute “organic potassium chloride” to the paddy farmers through agrarian development centres in Ampara, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Trincomalee, and Hambantota for Maha season cultivations.

However, farmers around the country lamented over the Government’s move to ban chemical fertiliser and said the sudden transition to organic fertiliser affected their production. They claimed that the government authorities had turned a blind eye to their struggles.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Rathnayake, a paddy farmer from Hambantota, claimed that he was not ready to cultivate his entire land for the Maha season. “There is a huge shortage of fertiliser, and the imported ‘organic potassium chloride’ fertiliser is not necessary at this stage,” he lamented.

Sharing his grievances, a vegetable farmer named Gune from Kekirawa said he could not produce sufficient organic fertiliser for his vegetable cultivation and added that there was a fertiliser shortage in the market. “It is not possible to produce a large quantity of organic fertiliser for us to cultivate. For vegetable cultivation, we need fertiliser daily, since we are expecting our crops in the short term,” he claimed.

All Island Farmers’ Federation (AIFF) National Organiser Namal Karunaratne echoed the sentiments shared by the farmers and claimed that the authorities had continuously failed to provide organic fertilisers necessary for paddy and vegetable cultivation.

He claimed there was no such fertiliser called “organic potassium chloride” and that the Government had in fact imported chemical fertiliser. “Potassium chloride is not necessary at this stage of the paddy cultivation. The Government had repeatedly failed in the distribution process of organic fertiliser, and they have to accept that,” he stressed.

Responding to the allegations raised by the AIFF, Minister of Agriculture Aluthgamage said the Ministry could not import chemical fertiliser into the country, adding: “These allegations are baseless. We can’t import chemicals; we simply don’t have the right to do so. The purpose of the recent gazette was to prevent that (the importation of chemical fertiliser),” he said.

Chemical fertiliser for tea industry

Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Jayampathi Molligoda, on 10 October, announced that the tea industry had been permitted to import “nitrogen-based chemical fertiliser” during the period the country was transitioning from chemical to organic fertilisers.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Minister of Plantation Dr. Pathirana said his Ministry gave them the opportunity to look at other options as well, and it was yet to finalise the chemical fertiliser that was required by the tea industry.

“The authorities, including the Tea Research Institute (TRI), are discussing this to identify the best formulation (of fertiliser) to be imported. We are looking at different avenues. There are newer formulations including nanotech fertilisers and also second and third-generation fertilisers. We have not finalised the fertiliser product yet,” the Minister said.

The Minister said the tea industry was given permission to import chemical fertiliser, given the shortage of organic fertiliser, and stated that the TRI, in consultation with the Tea Board and other internal stakeholders, were in the process of formulating tea mixtures for mature as well as immature tea fields.

“We are trying to provide balanced nutrients for the tea plantations. It is to avoid going back to the era of excessive usage of the chemical fertiliser. We will import the suitable chemical product for the tea industry in the coming weeks after finalising,” the Minister said.