Sri Lanka moves to relax fertilizer ban for some crops as food prices soar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is progressively relaxing a sudden ban on chemical fertilizer and allowing urea and ‘plant nutrients’ for several crops, a top official has said, while the minister of agriculture has denied any relaxation for paddy or vegetables.

Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture Udith K Jayasinghe has told media that it was not possible to meet all fertilizer needs from domestically produced fertilizer.

“The nitrogen content of organic fertilizer is about 3 to 4 percent,” Jayasinghe explained. “For paddy 80,000 metric tonnes of nitrogen is needed for this season.”

“This cannot be done entirely from compost fertilizer domestically.”

However Agriculture Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage has denied that chemical fertilizer would be allowed for paddy and vegetables.

Sri Lanka’s vegetable prices have soared to around 500 to 600 rupees kilo with heavy rains also adding to the problem.

The economic centre in Nuwara Eliya, a key vegetable producing region was closed Sunday after farmers refused to send crops.

Traders at economic centres have said that incoming crops had plunged.

Jayasinghe said heavy rains had contributed to washing away fertilizer.

He said permission had been given to import fertilizer for export crops such as tea, rubber and coconut and also specialist fertilizer needed for greenhouse cultivations.

Jayasinghe said second generation fertilizer has been recommended by expert committees who went into the matter.

In Sri Lanka due to subsidies on basic chemical fertilizer which started in 2005 advanced fertilizers use is limited and excessive use has been promoted, critics have said.

Minister Shashindra Rajapaksa said a meeting will be held with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday on the fertilizer ban.

Sri Lanka banned chemical fertilizer after the Government Medical Officers Association and a Buddhist monk Athuraliye Rathana carried on a campaign against them, claiming that kidney and other non-communicable diseases were caused by agro-chemicals (wusser visser).

“Do not think that just because we say chemical fertilizer it is poisons (wussais vissai),” he said.

He said science should be used for decision-making.

Jayasinghe said insecticides and weedicides had been allowed.

He said a tonne of urea had moved up to 800 to 1,000 US dollars and there were difficulties in getting the best quality fertilizer.

There may be some possibilities of getting fertilizer on government to government deals, he said. (Colombo/Nov20/2021)

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