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From agrochemicals to organic fertilisers: Estate workers’ earnings in jeopardy? 

  • Yield could halve if nutrient deprived: Planters 

  • Policy decisions shouldn’t be made in a haste: CWC 

  • Govt. looking at long-term solutions: Ministery

By Yumiko Perera 

 

The plantation sector has raised concerns over a possible reduction in yield owing to the chemical fertiliser ban the Government has recently opted for. 

Stating that the transition from chemical fertilisers to organic fertilisers could alter the plantation process entirely, Planters Association Spokesman Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, speaking with The Sunday Morning, said: “Commercial cultivation without fertilisers is something we simply can’t do. If the fertilisers that do not have balanced levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) are given to the cultivars, there would be a visible reduction in the crops. A 25% drop in production would be visible in six months. If we continue to deprive the cultivars of the nutrients they require, there would be a significant reduction in the yield and it would drop down to at least 50% by the time a year passes.” 

According to Dr. Rajadurai, commercial scale agriculture would not be able to survive in the long run without resorting to the use of agrochemicals such as fungicides and herbicides/weedicides. 

Stating that all aspects connected to production would face a significant impact if the plantation sector was to shift to organic fertilisers, Dr. Rajadurai said: “The quality of the tea we produce, the appearance, and the taste would all be compromised.” 

“If they (workers) can’t pluck the minimum amount of tea leaves, then they won’t get work and their earnings would be impacted, as well as their quality of life. The workers have a target that they are required to achieve, and they must meet the minimum requirement in order to be eligible for a daily wage. While the daily target at present is 18 kg, the workers are capable of plucking up to 30-35 kg a day. The question herein lies, if we don’t have enough crop yield, the workers’ earnings would also be impacted, as we would not have the capacity to pay them.” 

Speaking with The Sunday Morning, Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) Vice Chairman Senthil Thondaman said: “The workers already receive the bare minimum. Policy decisions such as this should not be made in haste.” 

Also speaking with The Sunday Morning, Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Plantation Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said: “Until such time we would be able to supply 100% organic fertilisers to the plantation sector, the fertilisers which we currently have at hand would be made accessible to the plantation and agricultural sectors.” 

Stating that necessary measures are being put in place to look into the matter, and to come up with lasting solutions for the plantation and agricultural sectors, he said: “We are looking into this. Replenishing the crops with the necessary organic components including organic carbon and other microbial activities is essential to the agricultural process. Therefore, we are trying to come up with necessary measures to be able to do the same through the use of organic fertilisers.” 

Dr. Pathirana added that the Government has enough fertiliser stocks at hand to last at least three to four months – stocks which had been imported prior to the ban – and that in the meantime, they are taking necessary measures to deal with the situation. 

Meanwhile, in a joint appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association asked for the import ban on pesticides and chemical fertilisers to be reconsidered, given that “the stoppage in application (of fertiliser and pesticides), without a tried and tested alternative will cause catastrophic losses to the entire tea industry”, particularly the livelihoods of 500,000 plus smallholder tea farmers and their families, in addition to estate workers and their families, plantation and factory employees, and all those involved in the logistics and supply chain upto the point of export.