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Friday January 21st, 2022

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

CLOSED SHOP: The economic centre in Nuwara Eliya was closed after farmers refused to send produce.

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 almost doubled to around 300 to 600 rupees kilogram witph heavy rains also adding to the problem. In Sri Lanka, vegetable prices tend to move up in November and December but the 2021 price spikes are unusually high.

Sri Lanka has also been printing money over the past year, driving up excess liquidity to around 200 billion rupees at one time.

When money is printed excess demand in the domestic economic drives up prices as their recipients – usually state workers – appropriate goods and services and forex shortages are also created as import demand goes up. Later recipients of printed money see prices go up.

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. At Colombo’s Manning Market, daily inflows of vegetables have fallen from 2.5 million kilos to around 500,000 tonnes.

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 fertilizer use is limited and excessive use has been promoted, critics have said.

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

Minister Aluthgamage told parliament late on Monday that a specialist fertilizer and agro-chemicals for vegetables had been allowed to be imported.

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 agrochemicals (wusser visser).

The GMOA has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author ancient Sri Lankans had lived for over 140 years when there were no chemical fertilizers.

“Do not think that just because we say chemical fertilizer it is poisoned (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 to government deals, he said. (Colombo/Nov20/2021)

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