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Thursday December 9th, 2021
Agriculture

Sri Lanka sacks top scientist over food crisis warnings

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka on Tuesday sacked the country’s top agricultural scientist for publicly warning that the government’s policy banning agro chemicals will lead to shortfalls in food output and worsen an economic crisis.

Professor Buddhi Marambe, 59, the top advisor on agriculture, was sacked from all his government positions after his criticism of the ban, the Agricultural ministry said in a statement.

“He has criticised government policy of moving towards total organic farming and has been instigating protests,” the statement said.

Marambe, who also a senior professor at the agricultural faculty of the University of Peradeniya, was not immediately available for comment.

However, he had been warning in recent newspaper articles that an overnight shift to organic fertiliser could lead to crop declines that in turn cause huge food shortages within months.

He cautioned that a crop failure would force the government to import food at a time when money printing has created a forex shortage.

“The import ban on chemical fertiliser would lead to food shortages and high food prices.

“Sri Lanka is likely to import a major portion of basic food needs, such as rice, adding a huge burden to the government treasury,” he warned in an article headlined: “A tragedy of relying on misinformation.”

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a total ban on agrochemicals in May, saying he wanted to make Sri Lanka the first in the world to have 100 percent organic farming to improve health and save around 200 million dollars spent on imports their import.

The president had argued that chemicals were making farmers and consumers sick with kidney disease and cancer.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Association, an influential group in policy, has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient Sri Lankans lived for 140 years, when there were no agro-chemicals.

However, as farmers protests grew and scientists warned of a looming disaster, the government has relaxed a part of the fertilizer ban.

Plantations Minister Ramesh Pathirana said the change of course was to help growers of Ceylon tea, exports of which are worth $1.3 billion annually for the island nation. Industry officials have said the import cost of fertilizer was only 30 million dollars.

Pathirana announced Tuesday that the government had allowed the the import of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Despite the government’s announcement of reversing the chemical ban, thousands of farmers have been protesting across the island on a daily basis as they were yet to receive imported fertiliser.
(COLOMBO, October 26, 2021)

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