SL agri forum puts forward proposal to sustainably overcome current and future food crisis

The Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum (SLAF) is the single professional agri-entrepreneurial organization that represents approximately 30 percent of the country’s workforce, addressing the need of the hour, SLAF recognized the dire need to positively intervene in the current food crisis in Sri Lanka and thus met with the Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera on 30th August 2022 at the Ministry of Agriculture, Battaramulla to discuss sustainable solutions.

Following this, a meeting was arranged, facilitated by SLAF, on 6th September 2022 with the participation of the heads of respective state agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Colombo Municipal Council, Sri Lanka Standards Institution, National Fertilizer Secretariat, and Institute of Postharvest Technology. Heads of the private sector were also present at the meeting such as Hayleys, Lankem, CIC, Unipower, CropLife, and Baurs. The discussion was led by key Executive Council members of the SLAF bringing in a 10-point proposal to the table.

SLAF pointed out that the shortage of Inorganic fertilizer, Organic
fertilizer, Agro Chemicals, Vegetable seeds, and most of the other Agri inputs
in the last Maha (21/22) and Yala 2022 made a considerable impact on the food
production of the country and it may have a greater impact even in coming Maha
season 22/23 due to shortage of fuel, forex, all Agri inputs and the less than
ideal economic situation in the country. It was highlighted to the minister
that this is the largest contraction in the agricultural economy recorded since
2015 and pointed out that if the problems are not addressed by the authorities immediately,
the food crisis situation could be worse during the early part of 2023.

SLAF listed the key limitations the country is facing now, because of
the economic crisis in the country and strongly recommended the way forward
given below to achieve food availability (mainly, locally grown) accessibility
while being affordable to ensure the sustenance of the nation.

The specific issues along with the solutions include,

  1. Shortage of fuel and current power cuts –

This
has a direct impact on cultivation-focused activities and transportation of
harvest to the markets. As a result, at least 30% of Paddy & Vegetable
farmers have kept away from cultivation and this attitude will be continued
even for Maha season 22/23 if immediate solutions are not given. This situation
also applies to the livestock sector quite severely.

To
address this issue Diesel, Petrol, and Kerosene oil should be given to farmers
under a prioritized quota system to operate agri machinery and other modes of
transportation (tractors, water pumps weeding & harvesting machines, and
lorries and trucks) through a permit system introduced by AGAS of the area.

  1. Restrictions on ‘FOREX’ approvals given by Central Bank to commercial banks to import a total range of Agri inputs –

As a
result, a shortage of imported hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and other
Agri inputs has occurred. Imported seeds available in the market are only 10%
of the national requirement and we have further noticed a severe shortage of
local seed varieties. Due to shortages of major Agri inputs, such as seeds,
fertilizers, agrochemicals, Agri machinery, and overall inputs,  approximately 30% of disappointed farmers are
keeping away from cultivations. 30 – 40% drop in yield in cultivated lands is
not supporting the current situation positively.

As a
solution, SLAF proposed to lift the TT limit of USD 50,000 for the importation
of Agri inputs, up to USD 100,000 at least until 31.03.2022. It was also
recommended that the Central Bank give directions to Commercial Banks to treat
Agri input imports such as fertilizer, agrochemicals, and seeds as essential
imports when issuing letters of credit (LCs) or TT payments.

  1. Impact on the Livestock sector –

The
livestock industry has been affected badly due to almost ‘0’ production of
‘Maize’ required for animal feed production. Maize seed imports have come to a
halt due to the non-availability of FOREX. The limited acreage cultivated
cannot contribute sufficiently to achieve the expected Maize harvest due to the
non-availability of synthetic fertilizers and agrochemicals and it was noticed
that yield dropped by 50%-60%. As a result, 
consumers have to pay today Rs.1300.00 per Kg for chicken and the price
of an egg is in the range of Rs.50.00 – 60.00. Similarly, the price of liquid
milk too has gone up drastically. Apart from the affordability, the
availability of these products is becoming irregular.

SLAF
recommended allowing hybrid Maize seed imports and providing required forex for
the seed industry to address this issue. It was also suggested to encourage
farmers to grow ‘Maize’ in the coming Maha season and the Government should
offer incentives for Maize farmers based on their yields.  It was recommended to ban the import of Maize
for the animal feed industry as means of saving FOREX, subject to the expected
yield of Maha cultivation. SLAF also highlighted that the recent proposal to
register Maize cultivating farmers should also have a follow-up to support
their cultivation with necessary inputs and assured markets and prices.

  1. Identify the values and benefits of the second and third-generation plant nutrients –

According
to National Fertilizer Secretariat (NFS) records, Sri Lanka imports 750,000 –
800,000 MT of chemical fertilizers spending almost USD $ 400 Mn per annum. This
volume includes approximately 300,000 MT of Urea and it has only a single
nutrient component, that is Nitrogen. 
Recently, the price of 01 MT Urea went up to USD $ 1100 in April 2022 and
today it is in the range of USD 500-700 per 
MT in the international market. Even if we take the average price of USD
800 per MT, Sri Lanka must forecast to spend USD $240 Mn only for the import of
Urea for the Maha season. According to the International & Local Research
Institutions, 65%-70% of the nutrient value is lost and wasted when applying
Urea to a crop. In Sri Lanka, Urea is mainly used for Paddy cultivation in the
early stages.

As a
solution, SLAF recommended the government should give due recommendations to
NPK + TE (trace elements) mixed compound fertilizers with advanced fertilizers
as it reduces the wastage while also reducing the amount of required fertilizer
by 40% – 50%.

SLAF
further recommends introducing ‘Hybrid fertilizers’  produced with 60% Chemical and 40%  Organic fertilizers with different NPK ratios
based on crop requirements. SLAF also urged the authorities to encourage
farmers to use slow-release and controlled-release fertilizers for their
inherent benefits.. It was highlighted that the government should not consider
giving fertilizers under the subsidy schemes anymore and should discourage
using Urea for other field crops. SLAF pointed out that the proposal by the
Minster that 30% organic fertilizer should be used for the next Maha season
needs to be formalized and followed up with the supply of commercially
certified organic fertilizers being registered and made known. The
administrative mechanisms to ensure the achievement of this goal should be in
place without delay.

  1. Lack of focus on the plantation and export agriculture sector –

Records
indicated that the production and export of Tea have come down drastically.
Export earnings from Tea exports only record USD 1.9 Bn in 2018/2019 and the
values have come down in 2021/2022 to approximately 1.2 Bn mainly due to the
ban of Weedicides and the non-availability of chemical fertilizers. The same
facts are applying to other export agriculture crops such as cinnamon, pepper,
spices & betel, etc.

SLAF
recommended allowing the import of weedicides such as ‘Glyphosate’ even in
limited quantities and making available forex to import proper fertilizer
mixtures of all export-oriented crops including plantation crops. It was
suggested to encourage farmers to produce export-oriented crops and offer them
incentives based on their contribution to harvest. Introducing the use of
Biofertilizers and Biopesticides to gain recognition in the international
market for Organic produce and support local producers of such products. It was
pointed out to ensure the necessary regulations and administrative procedures
to recognize the optimal products and aggressively support the development of
such products.

SLAF
remarked that Improving value addition on product quality and post-harvest
processing technology targeting the high-value export markets is another timely
requirement of the Sri Lankan agricultural sector to earn better export
earnings.

The discussion with the respective stakeholders saw the concerns of
both the private and public sectors being brought to light and the respective
authorities being tasked with implementing the solutions which were agreed
upon.

The SLAF strongly believes that a pragmatic approach to
revolutionizing the Sri Lankan agricultural sector is crucial to uplift the current
status of the country and its people. Thus, it is firmly agreed to bring about
this change by being a key facilitator in coordinating between the government
sector, private sector, and individual farmers. SLAF identifies that this is
only possible through genuine commitment and devotion to the well-being of the
country and its people.

SLAF calls upon dedicated individuals and companies/institutions to
support the cause of the SLAF and to provide their support on creating a better
nation through the improvement of agriculture. Contact us via our email at [email protected]  to extend your willingness to contribute and
be a part of the SLAF membership.

Finally, the SLAF takes this opportunity to call on the authorities to
implement the proactive measures provided by the state and private sectors and
to continue working towards the good and well-being of the people of this
country to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us.

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