Balancing Act on Organic and Inorganic Fertiliser Produces Best Results
By Paneetha Ameresekere
This, the last of the feature series, comprising a total of four were all based on a Dutch study on the agro sector of Sri Lanka, released on 18 August, long before the ban on the import of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides and weedicides was lifted on Wednesday 24 November, by the Government.
Hence, this Dutch Embassy study ,which also includes a box article as well as the earlier three articles were culled, is based on the assumption that the ban on chemical fertiliser, weedicides, herbicides and pesticides in the country is still in force. Though this article was scheduled to be published last Monday (29 November) it was not possible to do so, due to unavoidable circumstances.
‘The balanced use of organic and inorganic products offers the best results, given the local conditions,’ a study commissioned by the Dutch Embassy in Sri Lanka on the island’s horticulture sector revealed.
The study titled ‘Opportunities in the Horticulture Sector in Sri Lanka’ and released on the Embassy’s website on 18 August further indicated that the Department of Agriculture (DOA) has over the last two decades conducted research on the use of such organic products with varying results.
In addition to pests and diseases, weeds have posed a big threat for crop cultivation in Sri Lanka. Approximately 940 kilolitres and 140 tons of herbicides were imported by Sri Lanka in 2019 (DOA), the report states.
Recent need for solutions is the emergence of invasive weed species (Eg: Kalanduru Cyperus Rotundas ) for which no effective solution has yet been found, the study cautioned.
Meanwhile, tea plantations amongst the larger tea farmers and tea small holders (accounting for 70 per cent of total tea plantations) require soil remediation and yield improvement solutions consequent to the ban on chemical fertiliser and crop protection products.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is taking a bold step to completely ban all chemical fertilisers and crop protection products whether for use in conventional agriculture or modern agriculture such as in greenhouses, it added.
As a result, huge opportunities present themselves for organic fertilisers and plant protection products, the study further revealed.
The application of poultry manure for reducing root-knot nematode attacks, polythene sleeves for fruit fly control, pheromone traps and the use of botanicals such as seed or leaf extracts of neem, garlic and many other plant species are some of the alternative pest control strategies used. However, these technologies need to be made commercially viable based on the feedback from horticulture companies and lead farmers, the report advised.
Meanwhile, farmers and horticultural companies are aware of the health and environmental hazards due to the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, the report stated.
As a result, horticultural companies comment that availability of targeted and non-chemical crop protection products would provide clear advantages, particularly for export of horticultural products from Sri Lanka.
Consequently, the recent banning of all chemical fertilisers and crop protection products provides opportunities for novel solutions for growing of crops in greenhouses and through protected agriculture, it emphasized.
With the recent immediate ban on chemical fertilisers and crop protection products, the Government’s policies are being revamped to encourage imports of organic inputs, but this has not yet been formalised at the time of writing, the report.
‘In Sri Lanka, issues have begun, due to the misuse of chemical fertilisers in major growing areas such as the mid country which has led to groundwater pollution, fixation of nutrients and increase of residues of nitrate, the study elaborated.
‘ Chronic kidney disease has spread in the North Central Province and adjacent farming areas due to heavy usage of phosphate fertiliser along with the pesticides (Glyphosate) which are the main source of arsenic in the affected areas,’ the study reveals.
It also points out that the main bottleneck in the local supply chain in the country’s horticulture sector is constraints mainly due to agronomy practices and inconsistent quality and quantities.
The report added that nonetheless scope exists for improving both yields and farmgate prices for identified crops that have got demand in the domestic and export markets.
‘ Local markets such as supermarkets and exporters of fresh and processed fruits estimate that purchase volumes can be significantly increased from farmers if targeted farmgate prices at reasonable cost levels can be obtained from them,’ the report stated.
For example, in recent times farmgate prices of pineapple have been around Rs 100/kilo (EURO 0.42 /kg) while desired farmgate prices are Rs 45-50/kg (EUR 0.19-0.21/kg), ‘If farmers can improve yields and reduce price units, significant volumes can be generated,’ the report stated.
Based on data released by the Department of Agriculture in terms of import and export of horticultural produce, the majority of imports with regard to quantity, consist of apples, mandarin, orange, cauliflower while the major export items are banana, papaw, capsicum, bean and pumpkin, it noted.
The study also states that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a change in the agricultural eco systems where the demand for processed agricultural products, as opposed to fresh produce, is on the rise.
‘Local demand for fruits and vegetables is growing substantially and in recent times is fuelled by demand for immunity boosting food caused by the global pandemic,’ the report stated.
It said that based on market demand, both locally and globally, the emerging demand from Sri Lanka is for fruits in juice forms, dehydrated and innovative RTE/RTD (ready to eat/ready to drink) forms.
‘Furthermore, an increasing demand is also visible heavily for horticultural products in the nutraceutical and dermatological sectors,’ the report said.
Fruit varieties such as pineapple, passion fruit, rambutan and selected vegetable varieties have achieved local and international quality standards which are major strengths for Sri Lankan products in entering the international markets, the study added.
Meanwhile, the most commonly grown fruits in Sri Lanka are banana, lime, mango, orange, papaya, passion fruit, rambutan, pineapple, duriyan, woodapple, watermelon, jack, guava, soursop, dragon fruit and avocado which are grown at an estimated extent of 112,676 hectares. The main types of vegetables grown consist of tropical (dry zone) and temperate (wet zone) vegetables grown at an estimated extent of 84,191 hectares, the report revealed.
Based on the demand for fruits and vegetables for domestic and export markets, potential exists for rapidly increasing yields of agro produce. From the survey of Sri Lankan exporters of fruits and vegetables, the demand for good quality fruit crops such mango, papaya, watermelon is expected to grow substantially, the study affirms.