Organic farming drive suspended

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 3 2021
Columns Organic farming drive suspended

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe

“Good Governance with good intentions is the hallmark of our Government. Implementation  with integrity is our core passion” 

–  Narendra Modi

Sri Lanka has backed down from its ambitious plans to become the world’s first completely organic farming Nation, reversing a ban on the import of chemical fertiliser. Earlier in May, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a total ban on agrochemicals, saying he wanted to make farming 100 per cent organic. Plantations Minister Ramesh Pathirana said the change was to help growers of Ceylon Tea, exports of which are $1.3B annually. “Considering the fact that there has been a quality drop in tea that was produced in factories, the Government has taken the decision to import sulphate of ammonia,” Minister Pathirana told reporters in Colombo. 

He said the import of chemical fertiliser would continue until the island was able to produce enough organic fertiliser for local agricultural needs. The Government policy had sparked anger among tea plantation owners and other farmers who warned that a lack of organic fertiliser and lower yields would lead to shortages. This risked compounding problems for the Government already facing an unprecedented shortage of foreign exchange to import fuel, food and medicines. Last week, the Government breached its own ban by importing 30,000 tonnes of potassium chloride from Lithuania, but called it ‘organic fertiliser.’ “We are not a stubborn Government,” Government Spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma told reporters.“We are sensitive to the needs of the people.”

This is indeed a wise decision made by the democratic policies of our leaders and should be greatly appreciated in the best interests of our motherland presently facing an economic debacle, which has been remedied to some extent by the recent Budget proposals which would permit a breathing space for Sri Lankan economy to revive.

 Although organic farming is extremely beneficial compared to utilising harmful chemicals in agriculture steps have to be taken to methodically transform into organic farming without harming the present ailing economy of Sri Lanka. As agriculture experts state the soil is the biological filter that detoxifies the soil removing a large proportion of the poisons that have been added to the soil by people who throw such toxins in to the soil which protects the surface of our planet almost like a  ‘living skin’.. Movement of living organisms within the soil is slow; the faster organisms like the worms are the giants of this world, tunneling through at a fairly rapid rate measured in centimetres per minute. 

More common are the fungi, which move by growing through the soil at rates measured in centimetres per month, or the bacteria which have rates measured in centimetres per year. The estimates of the mass of living organisms in a fertile living soil are estimated at about 10,000 to 14,000 Kg per hectare. This is the key to agriculture that supported mankind for over millennia. A good soil with a mass of living microorganisms amounting to over 8,000 tons per hectare, represents an energetic input equivalent to about that supplied by twenty horses or twenty horsepower of energy, applied 24 hours a day. It is this energy spent on natural soil chemical transformations that supply the energy to maintain a healthy soil ecosystem. 

In traditional farming systems, the addition of compost, green manure, cultured microorganisms etc., was used to enhance the natural fertility of a field. When high energy industrial chemicals are applied onto the soil, many species of biota are lost and its biomass gradually decreases. The huge mass and diversity of soil microorganisms is gradually reduced until finally, the natural productivity of the soil is lost through attrition and it cannot produce without a further input of industrial chemicals. The living soil has been lost and the farm has become addicted to the additional energy of industrial chemical in order to produce a crop.

 The European Parliament, concerned about food safety and human health commissioned experts from several countries to review the possible health advantages of organic food and organic farming. Three long-term birth cohort studies in the U.S. suggest that pesticides are harming children’s brains. In these studies, researchers found that women’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy, measured through urine samples, was associated with negative impacts on their children’s IQ and neurobehavioural development. Even in Sri Lanka some such adverse effects were suspected.

 In conclusion, the President’s decision to listen to the complaints of the affected farming community and the adverse effects on a major export item of Sri Lanka ‘Ceylon Tea’ has been the turning point in this decision in the welfare of the nation. After an in depth study and increasing the stocks of sufficient organic fertiliser manufactured in Sri Lanka turning to organic farming in stages would be the most suitable strategy in this endeavour.

The writer is an Attorney-at-law with LL.B, LL.M and M.Phil.(Colombo)


By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 3 2021

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