Eco-friendly agriculture unattainable?
By Faadhila Thassim
Protests by farmers demanding a solution to the persisting fertiliser issue and the continuous effort of the Government to justify the sudden decision to ban chemical fertiliser, has made eco-friendly agriculture appear to be an unattainable goal.
The main fertiliser issue that has arisen is twofold, including the sudden ban on chemical fertiliser and that of farmers having been hugely dependent on chemical fertiliser, due to which State mechanisms have always adjusted to the need of farmers to ensure food security.
The traditional global eco-friendly agricultural practices have already gradually drifted away from and the effort to reintroduce such agricultural practices in Sri Lanka, in order to avoid the impacts on health and the environment, although facing severe criticism.
Senior adviser to the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and chair of Friends of the Earth International, Hemantha Withanage said the impact of agro chemicals on the health of both consumers and farmers has been a long established issue, but the bigger picture also involves the impact these chemical fertlisers on the environment. He cited the recent largest forest clearing for cultivation, by which concerns focused on the use of agro chemicals which would impact on water sources of the reserves.
When asked if the decision to use organic fertiliser depict a move towards eco-friendly agriculture in Sri Lanka, Withanage said, “Although the use of organic fertiliser is a move to minimise the use of chemical fertiliser and one that depends more on natural resources and could also be considered as a move towards eco-friendly agriculture up to a certain extent, it could not be completely categorised as eco-friendly agriculture as confused by many.”
He added, however this could most certainly be viewed as a positive shift away from agro chemicals towards a more eco-friendly practice. However, this is not an act that could be achieved with ease and requires proper mechanisms and implementation strategies.
The mechanism adopted in Sri Lanka to shift towards the increased use of organic fertiliser has been ineffective and the main issue is with the attempt to change policies overnight and thereby both farmers and the public have been de-motivated by this entire concept, he opined adding that as a measure to address the issues faced, attempts to put an end to the issues resulted in a further crisis including the importation of contaminated fertiliser from China, which had to be re-exported.
He added the importance of eco-friendly agricultural practices has been completely ignored and unappreciated as a result and has created a unacceptance towards the concept of even the use of organic fertiliser.
A farmer, Jayatissa speaking at a seminar held by the CEJ, titled the Present and Future of the Agro ecology Environment Problems of Sri Lanka, said when transforming the age old agricultural practices in Sri Lanka into agro ecology , the Government has to ensure that there is an involvement of several entities including the agricultural department, while obtaining their ideas and suggestions, which was not done, when attempting to transfer to the use of organic fertiliser.
He added that farmers have no knowledge of the application of organic fertiliser and Agricultural Inspectors only have experience pertaining to the application of chemical fertiliser and thereby with the sudden change towards the use of carbonic fertiliser, farmers did not have sufficient knowledge on agro ecology.
Pushpakumara Darmasiri, a farmer from Mahiyangana, said at least 50 per cent of paddy land has been abandoned in Mahiyangana and farms have been converted into areas that have completely turned yellow and wilted.
Solutions to effectively move towards eco-friendly agriculture
Assistant Director of the Department of Agriculture Priyanka Dissanayake said there is a specific mechanism that has to be adopted for agro ecology and for the use of organic fertiliser but since 2006, inspections have been conducted into the need for the application of organic fertiliser to the Sri Lankan soil and the manner in which the soil could be prepared. She added that ensuring a less impact on the soil by the application of fertiliser is crucial while stating that Sri Lanka has not however looked into what is beneficial to Sri Lankan soil and the subsequent impact on the environment.
Dissanayake said in consideration of eco-friendly agriculture, it is crucial for the farmers to be well aware of the environment and the soil composition while noting that certain farmers have a wide knowledge of the correct application of organic fertiliser and the concept of agro ecology and thereby farmers who have successfully identified correct mechanisms for application of fertiliser should be identified and this knowledge should be shared among other farmers.
She added, for instance bio fertiliser does not have to specifically be imported from another country but could instead be produced in the country itself following the proper identification of micro-organisms and with the proper and effective use of technology.
It was further stated that farmers are also reluctant to use natural means by which the soil that has been immensely affected after having left abandoned, following the recent fertiliser issue, could be regenerated, generally before using the soil for cultivating. Dissanayake further emphasised that it is important on the part of the farmers to compromise and ensure that they adapt to a change gradually.
Jayatissa said experts, who have been scientifically assessing the move towards the use of eco-friendly agriculture, should be sought when making decisions pertaining to such transformation and that there has to be more focus towards small farms which could practice more eco-friendly agricultural practices.
Dissanayake further said, although the use of fertiliser is one vital requisite to move towards eco-friendly agriculture, another issue that has to be addressed is the use of proper technology to effectively carry out agro ecology.