Sri Lanka’s Organic Farming: Success or a Failure

Sri Lanka’s sudden decision to shift from chemical-based agriculture to organic agriculture ended up as a disaster.

In 2021, Sri Lanka banned the import of chemical fertilizers for the country, with the target to introduce organic-only agriculture.

The movement towards organic cultivation is growing across the world. For example, Asia has 6.1 million hectares of land under organic farming. In 2005, China was the world’s largest country for organic production while India had 4.43 million organic farms and 30% of the total organic farmers in the world.

There is no doubt about the initial effort of  Sri Lanka to accept organic farming and it is a need due to the economic issues and health issues (Kidney disease) Sri Lanka is facing.

But the issue is the outcome of the plan. Has the government achieved its planned outcome?

Is It a Success Or a Failure?

The effort of the government to shift towards organic agriculture seems like a failure.

There are many reasons that we can see this as a failure. We know that Sri Lanka is now facing a hard time with the pandemic situation and the challenges in the economy such as rising debt levels, foreign exchange shortage, rising inflation, etc. Sri Lanka is seeking ways to cut off its unessential imports in order to strengthen the economy.

In 2020, Sri Lankan imports of foreign fertilizers reached $259 million, which means 1.6% of the country’s total imports by value.

Sri Lanka needed to ban the use and the import of chemical fertilizers to be the 100% organic food producer. The objective should be admired but the roadmap is not well defined.

First, the lack of proper planning for organic farming is the main failure of the government. As for many experts and farmers, organic farming should be encouraged. But it should be in a step-by-step process rather than overnight.

Under this, the government needs the intellectual support of the experts with the practical knowledge of the farmers. The link between the government, farmers, and experts is important in this matter. There should be an awareness about the government’s plan, between experts, ministers, and farmers. But the thing is ministers and the experts do not have a common consensus about the government policy and farmers also do not have it.

Also, a well-defined plan is a must in a huge project like this. This shift is directly connected with the economy of Sri Lanka, which is currently suffering from the pandemic. The government do not have a clear, well-defined roadmap of the policy they followed, which means how do they plan to ban chemical fertilizers, what are the alternatives, how do they find alternatives for chemical fertilizers, what are the challenges they face, if this is a failure what will be the consequences and how do the government respond to such a situation.

Anyone can argue that, if this effort is a failure, which means if there is a huge reduction of the harvest, the government can import rice. But, in a situation where Sri Lanka is struggling to find dollars for buying oil, gas, and other essentials, where can Sri Lanka find many dollars for importing rice?

Secondly, the heavy dependence of the Sri Lankan Cultivation on chemical fertilizers is another challenge. We know that shifting towards organic farming can not be done overnight. But, in 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years, Sri Lanka needs to do this.

According to the data, 94% of the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka totally depends on chemical fertilizers. Farmers have a mindset that chemical fertilizers are need for a better harvest. That is why some farmers eat paddy trees (like a show-off) due to their anger about the government, in the news, if you watched. 

But there are some farmers who use organic fertilizers for their farming process. 

Introducing organic fertilizers should not be done overnight and it needs time. Farmers can use organic fertilizers for their cultivation gradually. A sudden ban on chemical fertilizers and introducing low-quality organic fertilizers to the farmers is like marrying a stranger in one day.

Thirdly, Sri Lanka will experience a reduction in the harvest due to this plan. Some farmers criticized the quality of the organic fertilizers distributed by the government. Also, some farmers avoided cultivating because they do not have chemical fertilizers or quality organic fertilizers. On the other hand, some farmers cultivated, but with the expectation of a harvest reduction.

A recent survey shows that 90% of the farmers use chemical fertilizers in Sri Lanka and they expect about 47% of a reduction of harvest.

According to the Ada Derana News, in Polonnaruwa District, 70,000 Hectares were cultivated in the previous season. 5 MT of paddy harvest can be obtained from a 1 Hectare and a total of 350,000 MT can be obtained from the total cultivated lands in Polonnaruwa district. But in this season, the farmers of the Polonnaruwa district cultivated 69,158 Hectares. Even though most of the farmers have cultivated, they expect a reduction in the harvest.

Fourthly, another failure of the organic farming plan in Sri Lanka is the low-quality organic fertilizers.

If Sri Lanka practices Organic farming, Sri Lanka has two ways to find organic fertilizers. Sri Lanka needs to generate organic fertilizers domestically or import them.

Generally, Sri Lanka produces 3500 tonnes of municipal organic waste per day. Using that waste, Sri Lanka can produce 2-3 million tonnes of compost annually. But the demand is huge than the production. Sri Lanka needs 4 million tonnes of compost annually for organic paddy cultivation. Even though Sri Lanka produces half of its demand for organic fertilizers domestically, it still needs to import the other half.

However, there should be a properly defined quality for organic fertilizer production, if we generate it domestically or import it.

In conclusion, the consequences of the organic farming of Sri Lanka can be seen in a few months and minor consequences are still being experienced. However, the government’s initiatives for organic farming should be admired and maybe fruitful if the government takes much time to implement the plan. Otherwise, no one can prevent the government from its destiny, that happened also to the government under Prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike between 1970-1977.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, Dailymirror

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