Academics submit proposal to 225 MPs

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The ‘Academics’ Movement to Safeguard Agriculture’ (AMSA) has compiled a draft and presented it to the 225 Parliamentarians on how to revive the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka, which includes paddy, tea, and maize, following a severe historic breakdown in the country’s agriculture, due to fertiliser issues and political interference.

According to the academics, it is a ‘movement’ that has evolved in response to the Government of Sri Lanka’s non-scientific and non-professional approach to agriculture, which has been supported by so-called intellectuals with half-baked knowledge of science, particularly in agriculture.

The think-tank is the pressure group that voices their opinions and proposals for the recovery and subsequent development of Sri Lankan agriculture into a vibrant component of the national economy.

The Academics’ Movement to Safeguard Agriculture in Sri Lanka has proposed short, medium and long-term measures to address immediate and medium- to long-term threats faced by the Agricultural sector.

At a press conference attended by 16 members of their think tank, held on 27 April 2022, the academics said they had already presented the salient features of the crisis and possible and feasible solutions to those in the short, medium and long-term. They acknowledged that it was exactly one year after the most illogical decision ever taken, by the Cabinet of Ministers in Sri Lanka, in relation to agriculture.

“Today, 6 May 2022, marks one year since the Gazette Notification was issued banning the importation of agrochemicals, the main category of agricultural inputs that have helped the progression of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka. We as AMSA-Sri Lanka, herewith present a package of solutions to the current food crisis and the overall detrimental impact of an ad hoc policy decision taken by the Government of Sri Lanka. We are also presenting to you a one-pager highlighting the priority actions that need to be taken and a detailed document of all actions to support the revival of the agriculture sector in the country.

The members of AMSA  are: Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Senior Professor Janendra de Costa of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya,  Professor Devika de Costa of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Senior Professor Aruna Kumara of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Professor
T. Sivananthawerl of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Professor Saman Dharmakirthi of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Professor Meththika Withanage of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, University of Sri Jayewerdenepura, Professor Nalika Ranathunge of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Professor Warshi Dandeniya of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya; Professor Nilantha Liyanage of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Professor Ewon Kalidasa of the Faculty of Animal Science and Export Agriculture, Uwa Wellassa University, Professor Gangani Samaraweera of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Dr. Pradeep Gajanayaka of the Faculty of Technology, University of Sri Jayewerdenepura  and
Dr. Chammi Attanayaka of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.

They said the hope those  elected to the Parliament, to serve the nation, will go through these valid proposals, and make every effort to ensure that these be taken up for implementation with immediate effect to support the sector, improve the livelihood of farmers, and ensure food security for 22 million Sri Lankans. 

Excerpts

The Immediate threat

According to the academics there is widespread crop failure in the current (2022) Yala season because of the shortage of agrochemicals (inorganic fertiliser and synthetic pesticides). A failure of the Yala rice crop could lead to a shortage of seed paddy for the next (2022/23) Maha season, thus creating the possibility of a substantial food shortage in 2023. Food imports to fill-in such a shortage will require a colossal sum of foreign exchange.

Immediate threat

An imminent threat of widespread crop failure in the next two seasons, leading to widespread food shortage, requiring food imports using a colossal sum of foreign exchange.

Immediate solutions

1.   Allocate limited stocks of fertiliser and pesticides to selected crops on a priority basis giving top priority to paddy, tea and maize

2.   Provide 50% of the recommended nitrogen fertiliser for each crop and aim to fulfill part of the shortfall with available locally-produced organic fertiliser

3.   Purchase urea and hybrid seeds using the loan facilities from World Bank and India

4.   Promote technologies that minimise nutrient losses and achieve high nutrient use efficiency

5.   Provide guidance to farmers with the well-coordinated extension services of the mandated governmental agencies

6.   Provide a partial-subsidy for nitrogen fertiliser and a full-subsidy for high-quality organic fertiliser

7.   Initiate community garden and home garden programmes at the provincial level.

Medium-term threat

Limited availability of agricultural inputs (e.g. fertiliser, fuel) in the next 3-4 years leading to reductions in the cropped area, thus requiring to produce more food with less land.

Medium-term solutions

1.   Establish a centrally-controlled agricultural extension system in mandated institutions

2.   Strengthen and expand the resource-efficient technologies proposed as immediate solutions

3.   Design and update GAP and PA technologies for all crops

4.   Establish a mechanism to encourage the adoption of the GAP-certification process

5.   Promote research and local development of granular nano-fertiliser, bio-fertiliser and bio-pesticides

Proposed immediate actions towards short-term solutions

It is clear that during the next two seasons, sufficient quantities of inorganic and organic fertiliser will not be available to fulfill the nutrient requirements of any of the major crops. The same is true for pesticides, both synthetic and biological.

Therefore, crop management practices in the next two seasons should aim to obtain the highest possible yield with limited fertiliser and pesticides while minimizing the threat to food security and increasing the net foreign exchange earnings.

AMSA proposed an immediately-implementable action plan based on the following guidelines

Prioritised allocation of limited stocks of fertiliser and pesticides to selected crops.

High priority: Paddy (staple food), Tea (main foreign exchange earner), Maize (animal feed). For paddy, higher priority should be given to seed paddy when allocating fertiliser. The total seed paddy requirement for the next two seasons (Maha 2022/23 and Yala 2023) will be 6.4 million bushels.

Medium priority: Vegetables (widespread local consumption), chilli and onions (widespread local consumption), pulses, export-oriented crops other than tea.

All other crops: Allocation of fertilizer and pesticides based on availability after fulfilling the requirements of high- and medium-priority crops.

Prioritized allocation of limited foreign exchange (including donor funding) to import nitrogen fertiliser (preferably Urea) with a limited quantity of potassium fertiliser (preferably Muriate of Potash)

Limited foreign exchange should not be used to import ineffective and expensive fertiliser types such as liquid nano-fertiliser, amino acids, bio-fertiliser, etc.

Foreign exchange to be allocated for importing only the key pesticides for which there are no non-chemical alternatives to control major pests, diseases and weeds on a ‘need-to-use’ basis.

Also the use part of the 600 million US Dollar loan facility from the World Bank to purchase the following essential inputs:

Those are: 260,000 metric tons of Urea for rice, maize and tea for the year, as estimated by the National Fertiliser Secretariat (Appropriate quantities for each crop to be decided based on the estimated cultivated extent for rice and maize for Yala 2022 and Maha 2022/23 seasons, separately, and the current extent of tea).

Hybrid seeds of maize, exotic vegetables and seed potato and explore the possibility of obtaining part of the Urea requirement from the Indian Credit Line

Provide 50% of the recommended nitrogen fertiliser for each crop and aim to fulfill part of the shortfall with available locally-produced organic fertilizer.

Promote technologies that minimise nutrient losses and achieve high nutrient use efficiency.

A list of technologies along with their essential features is given in a document and provide guidance to farmers via the extension services of the mandated governmental agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DoA), Department of Agrarian Development (DAD), Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH), Provincial Departments of Agriculture (PDOA), and Animal production & Health (PDAPH), Tea Small Holding Authority (TSHDA), Tea Research Institute (Advisory Division), etc.

Ensure that recommendations made by the Departments and Institutions under the Ministries and State Ministries of Agriculture, Plantation, and Irrigation shall only be used based on proven and scientifically-valid experimentation.

The Head of the Institutions under the Ministry and State Ministries of Agriculture, Plantation, and Irrigation shall be responsible and accountable for the recommendations made for implementation at the farm level in Sri Lanka.

Extension services for paddy and other field crops (OFCs) to be coordinated centrally by the Department of Agriculture (Extension & Training Division)

Task forces, appointed so far, to be dissolved immediately or to work under the authority and direction of the mandated governmental agency and establish a mechanism for farmers to access essential climate information for the cultivation of different crops provided by the Natural Resources Management Centre of the Department of Agriculture.

Introduce regulatory measures and mechanisms to ensure quality for all types of fertilisers (including those produced and marketed as bio-fertilizers, organic fertilisers and natural mineral fertilisers) that are produced in Sri Lanka.

Provide a partial-subsidy for nitrogen fertiliser and a full-subsidy for high quality organic fertiliser

Initiate community garden and home garden programmes at the provincial level to support nutritional security with careful identification of requirements, without affecting the existing market mechanisms and commercial cultivation of crops (e.g. vegetables and fruits). The proposed technologies that use limited fertiliser with greater efficiency (A) Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). GAP is a collection of ‘good practices’ at all stages of the production, processing, transport and marketing process of a crop. This represents the most feasible and readily-available and immediately-implementable technology at the present moment.

They also suggested facilitating the local production of bio-pesticides that have been approved by the Registrar of Pesticides.

They also recommended promoting precision agricultural practices that are tailor-made to specific crops grown under specific soil and climatic conditions with flexibility for real-time adjustment and also the already-developed PA packages for selected crops via farmer awareness and training programmes of the DOA.

One of the recommendations was also to facilitate adoption of available PA packages recommended by the DOA and other commodity research institutes and promote the use of soil test kits to determine the site-specific nutrient requirements.

All above INM/IPNMS, IPM, PA practices/ technologies involve an appropriate combination of synthetic and natural inputs while taking in to consideration the existing soil fertility, climate and the socio-economic conditions.

The aim is to achieve an economically-viable crop yield with the minimum usage of inorganic fertiliser and pesticides while addressing the concerns of food security, food safety and environmental safety are designed to reduce the reliance on chemical methods of nutrient and pest management by using a range of non-chemical, agronomic and biological methods.

The aim of the long-term improvement of soil fertility and reduction of pest populations, which could lead to more eco-friendly agricultural practices, in the medium- to long-term

Medium-term threats

The measures described above are aimed at achieving yield levels sufficient to avert a nationwide food shortage in the next two years, with very limited stocks of agrochemicals while facing many other constraints such as fuel shortages.

It will take another 3-4 years before the Sri Lankan economy will be in a position to purchase the full complement of essential agricultural inputs (i.e. inorganic fertiliser, essential pesticides, hybrid seeds, fuel for farm machinery and post-harvest processing) to use them on crops at the recommended levels. As a result, Sri Lanka’s agriculture and food security will continue to be vulnerable to the volatilities of the global political and economic forces. Furthermore, because of the higher input costs and their reduced availability, it is likely that the cultivated extents of most annual crops will decrease in the next 3-4 years. Therefore, achieving the national production targets of rice, maize and other field crops will require measures to produce a higher crop yield from a reduced cropping extent (i.e. an increase in productivity).

In view of this scenario, AMSA recommends the following medium-term measures:

Medium term solutions

Develop annual and/or seasonal cultivation planning of crops and production-oriented planning in animal sectors with the participation of the State, private sector and lead farmer organisations 2. Establish a centrally-controlled agricultural extension system, with a well-coordinated information flow through the National Agriculture Information and Communication Center (NAICC) of the DOA involving DOA, PDOAs, Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, and private sector using ICT for effective communication 3. Strengthen and expand the resource-efficient technologies proposed as immediate short-term solutions 4. Design GAP and PA technologies for crops for which they are not currently available and update the current GAP programme packages using the existing knowledge base by a DOA appointed team of experts, with the assistance from universities 5. Establish a mechanism to encourage adoption of the GAP-certification process for selected crops (e.g. Rice) across the country, with the participation of Department of Agriculture (DOA), Provincial Departments of Agriculture (PDOA) Private Sector and farming community, while facilitating an effective market mechanism for the GAP-certified products. Initiate activities to promote GAP-certification programmes in all possible crops via farmer awareness programmes using a range of available methods 6. Introduce field-tested and validated recommendations for the application of organic fertiliser to supplement the nutrient requirements of specific crops when a fraction of the recommended inorganic fertiliser is used.

Long-term threats

Sri Lankan agriculture faces several long-term threats which could endanger long-term food security, sustainability of farming systems and farmer livelihoods. Some of the major threats are: (a) The absence of a national framework to harmonise agriculture with the availability on natural resources, environmental protection and biodiversity conservation (b) Decreasing soil fertility and crop productivity (c) Climate change and increased vulnerability to climate change (d) Agricultural expansion being in conflict with environmental protection and biodiversity conservation (e) High postharvest losses (f) Absence of value addition (g) Non-uniform distribution of revenue among stakeholders in the value chain resulting in the primary producers receiving lower share of the revenue and the consumers having to pay a higher price (h) Slow infusion of modern, resource-efficient technology

Long-term solutions

AMSA has proposed the following macro-level policies and initiatives to address the above-mentioned key long-term issues and challenges faced by Sri Lankan agriculture and the farming community: (1)Position Sri Lankan agriculture within the context of a broader integrated land management policy and this will involve a process that will ultimately evolve into establishment of sustainable crops and cropping systems which matches the resource availability (physical, human and economic) of the lands in different parts/regions of Sri Lanka. Such a policy will be essential to meet some of the key future threats such as climate change, input scarcity and rising energy costs (2) Developing Sri Lankan agriculture along a more physically sustainable path. This will involve practices to arrest and regenerate declining soil fertility (3) Developing Sri Lankan agriculture along a more environmentally sustainable path. This will involve practices to reduce the reliance on and usage of inorganic fertiliser and synthetic pesticides Establishing facilities to analyse pesticide residues in agricultural commodities and in environmental samples to ensure food and environmental safety and build consumer trust in food safety (4) Evolving towards an agriculture system where new technologies are infused.

This will involve the incorporation of new technologies such as precision agriculture with new resource-efficient crop varieties and animal breeds (5) Improving the uniformity of economic returns to the producers, processors, marketers and consumers in the value-chain of SL agriculture (i.e. food system approach). (6) Development of local industries for producing essential inputs such as seeds, bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides that have proven impacts based on sound scientific experiments. (7) Strengthening of the research and extension network with the engagement of key stakeholders (involving State, private sector, non-governmental organisations, and lead farming communities)

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan