Imported ‘potassium chloride’ fertiliser organic or chemical?
- SJB claims 30,000 MT of Lithuanian fertiliser chemical
- ‘Potassium chloride’ removed from Aluthgamage’s announcement
- Agri DG claims fertiliser stock was of ‘pure mineral origin’
- Academic likens stock to Eppawala Phosphate Fertiliser
BY Buddhika Samaraweera
Doubts have arisen as to whether the 30,000 metric tonnes (MT) of fertiliser stock that arrived in Sri Lanka on 13 October from Lithuania were organic or chemical due to a statement made by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage that it contains potassium chloride (KCL) as well as questions raised by social media users and the main parliamentary Opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
Aluthgamage said on his official Facebook page on Wednesday (13) that the first consignment of organic fertiliser 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 last (14) afternoon, the stock of fertiliser had been mentioned as “Organic Fertiliser” on Aluthgamage’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile, speaking at a media briefing held yesterday, SJB Parliamentarian Harshana Rajakaruna claimed that it is not possible to produce organic fertiliser using potassium chloride. “As far as we know, potassium chloride is not an organic substance. Even the periodic table contains both potassium and chloride. Then, this is an inorganic fertiliser produced using inorganic elements. If any fertiliser is made using potassium chloride, it is a chemical fertiliser.”
However, a press release issued by the Agriculture Ministry last evening stated that Agriculture Department Director General (DG) Dr. Ajantha de Silva has confirmed that the potassium chloride “organic fertiliser” imported to Sri Lanka for the Maha season this year is a fertiliser of pure mineral origin.
“It is very important to use this fertiliser for organic farming. Dr. de Silva revealed this while explaining the misinformation published on social media platforms regarding the 30,000 MT stock of potassium chloride ‘organic fertiliser’ imported to Sri Lanka from Lithuania,” the statement further read.
It further quoted Sabaragamuwa University’s Agriculture Sciences Faculty and Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Agriculture Chairman Prof. P.I. Yapa, who had pointed out that potassium chloride “organic fertiliser”, which is imported to Sri Lanka, is produced from the Earth’s mineral resources like Eppawala Phosphate Fertiliser. Prof. Yapa had added that classifying it as chemical fertiliser is incorrect.
Meanwhile, Aluthgamage, on his Facebook page, had also mentioned that steps would be taken to distribute the said stock of fertiliser to the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Trincomalee, and Hambantota on the date of its arrival itself.
Criticising the said move to distribute the fertiliser on the same day it arrived in the country, Rajakaruna, at the media briefing, claimed that no investigations have been carried out to find out whether there were any heavy metals or other harmful substances in the fertiliser stocks. “Samples of these fertilisers may have been tested before. But is there any assurance that this stock of 30,000 MT is of the same fertiliser? Shouldn’t samples be taken from that stock and tested as well?” he queried.
Throughout the past few weeks, farmers in several areas were seen charging that there has been a serious shortage of fertiliser for their cultivations over the past several months. A number of protests have also been organised by farmers’ organisations and various parties, demanding that the Government provide a solution to the fertiliser shortage.
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.
It was later reported that the 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 State Ministry has instructed two state-owned companies to purchase and distribute organic fertiliser produced locally by various companies. Speaking to The Morning on an earlier occasion, the 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 State Ministry Secretary Nihal Ranasinghe said that Colombo Commercial Fertilisers Ltd. and Ceylon Fertiliser Co. Ltd. have been instructed to purchase the organic fertiliser produced by local companies and to distribute them. “Local companies are currently manufacturing organic fertiliser according to their capacity. Therefore, we have instructed the two said companies to purchase them following the relevant procurement processes and to distribute them among farmers through the Agrarian Development Department,” he said.
When questioned as to whether the stocks of organic fertiliser manufactured locally would be sufficient to fulfil the fertiliser requirement of the country, Ranasinghe said that if the locally produced organic fertiliser is not sufficient, action would be taken to import organic fertiliser and that several identified organic fertiliser-related products have, by the end of August, been ordered.
Meanwhile, Batik, Handloom, and Local Apparel Products State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara has requested President Rajapaksa to rescind the decision taken to ban the import of chemical fertilisers, claiming that it is not practical to adapt to the use of organic fertiliser within one season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday (12), he said that the process of applying organic fertiliser should be implemented within a period of at least six years. Accusing certain experts of having given the wrong advice, that it could be done within a season, Jayasekara claimed that those experts are now nowhere to be found. “We urge the President to reverse this decision and move forward with this programme within at least six years. We don’t believe that it can be done within one season,” he added.