Who Will Monitor Govt’s Quota System?
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The Government is sticking to its organic farming policy and has strategically revoked the chemical fertiliser ban, saying that the private sector can import it, but the government sector will stick to their policy of providing subsidies for organic farming, but the question remains as to how the Government will monitor who is using which fertiliser when using chemical fertiliser or a combination of organic and chemical fertiliser producing higher yields.
Who will be in charge of monitoring the Government's quota system for purchasing chemical fertiliser from the private sector? The Government said the private sector will be allowed to import chemical fertilisers, weedicides, and pesticides from 24 November 2021, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, revoking the Gazette Notification of 26 April banning the import of chemical fertilisers, said. Farmers will now be able to purchase chemical fertilisers from the open market, the Minister added.
This realisation came much later, after witnessing people and farmers take to the streets, causing a total breakdown in the system. Not only did the Sri Lankan Media cover the issue, but the international Media did as well, because it was perceived as a short-lived move, and scientists and economists weighed in on how foolish it was to switch to organic farming overnight. The same ideas continue to dominate, and people are tired of repeating themselves on the outcome.
The ban's impact is already being felt, but introducing organic farming by the government sector with subsidies given to farmers for organic fertiliser can only result in compound fertiliser (a mix of chemical and organic fertiliser) and no one will notice. Who would be in charge of ensuring that this was carried out or not? No one! Prof. B. Marambe, a weed scientist, maintained in order to be an expert on organic fertiliser, a crop area must be chosen and a new organic farm must be set up at least four seasons later.
Currently, 72 hectares of agricultural land in Sri Lanka is used for organic farming, accounting for about 2.5 per cent of total agricultural land. This is in light of the fact that 1.5 per cent of the world's organic farming is carried out on 48,889 million hectares. The Government is attempting to eliminate chemical fertiliser by introducing a subsidy for organic fertiliser, despite the fact that yields from organic fertiliser have not yet been satisfactory.
The soil is accustomed to chemical fertiliser, and it takes time to prepare the soil. Subsidies for farmers cultivating organic food crops have their own benefits, but only in the context of organic food fetching a high price.
Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage maintains that a hardcore mafia controls the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka, which he has attempted to minimise, but there is still a long way to go. The new attempt to allow the private sector to import chemical fertiliser will also cause further havoc because the 'process of importing fertiliser' has not changed, because it is the State department that sees to the private sector's requirements and the permit is issued through the National Fertiliser Secretariat (NFS) Advisory Committee.
They determine the amount and quantity of chemical fertiliser that a company can order. The fertiliser order is made under Act No. 68 of 1988, and the importation is handled by the Ceylon Fertiliser Company (CFC) and Colombo Commercial Fertilisers Ltd (CCF) on a quota basis. Those who want it would buy it in this context, where high yield is guaranteed by the use of chemical fertiliser. When the Government offers a subsidy for organic fertiliser use, the private sector has a provision to sell it to the paddy sector for increased yield.
When the paddy sector is now urged to use organic fertiliser, the highly corrupt paddy sector can engage in nefarious activities, such as using chemical fertiliser or a mix of it and still claim it is organic and fetches double the price in the market. If the sector is corrupt, organic or chemical yield testing can be proven incorrect.
There may be more interference from the private sector, which collaborates with the government sector to obtain permits. It would be the same case even with the tea industry and nothing could be more confusing when the tea taste, smell, and colour would change due to a mess up with the fertiliser.
No soil in any part of the world is able to continuously supply the full requirement of nutrients for the production of economically significant crop yield without being supplemented by fertilisers. Any deficiency of essential plant nutrients will retard growth and development and will eventually result in decreased growth, structural abnormality, and death of tea plants, as 20-50 harvestable shoots are removed from tea bushes every week, continuously for 5 years, said Roshan Rajadurai, who has over 36 years of experience in the plantation sector and is currently the Chairman of The Planters' Association of Ceylon. In Sri Lanka, extensive field trials on use of inorganic synthetic fertiliser have been conducted since the beginning of the 20th century and synthetic fertiliser for tea industry introduced in 1905.
Eden started trials with different NPK levels as a balanced fertiliser in 1931. Fertiliser recommendations for tea have been issued by the Tea Research Institute (TRI), Tolhurst 1954, Joachim 1963, Fernando 1969, Sivasubramanium and Jeyaram 1976, Wettasingha & Watson 1980, Wickramasinghe 1986, Hettiarachchi 2003, Zoysa & Loganathan 2003.
In the 1970s, TRI recommended ERP as a source for Phosphorus, in the 1980s, Urea based Regional Specific Fertiliser replacing Sulphate of Ammonia, in 1985, Fertiliser Based on Yield Potential, in 2000, Site Specific Fertiliser Recommendations (SSFR) based on soil testing for P, K, Mg., S, pH and Yield Potential for different Agro Ecological Regions. In 2010, Regional Specific Fertiliser applications were recommended, he added. Site Specific Fertiliser Recommendations (SSFR) based on soil testing for P, K, Mg., S, pH and Yield Potential for different Agro Ecological Regions.
In 2010, Regional Specific Fertiliser applications were recommended. Nitrogen is the most critical nutrient for Tea and Tea requires Nitrogen than any other plantation crop because of the vegetative nature of its harvest done every 6 to 7 days, he stressed. The country, which is now widely perceived to be corrupt in terms of policies and finances, may face another chaotic situation similar to the poor quality gas sold to households. Despite the fact that this claim has been rejected, all roads lead to suspicions about the activities of traders and those who interact with traders on a daily basis.
Qingdao Seawin fiasco
Looking at the overall picture, the order of Qingdao Seawin Fertiliser is one such example where the State-run People's Bank has been blacklisted, giving the business community shivers. It has not only caused the country's economy to tremble, but it has also tarnished the country's image. The Government has ordered 99,000 metric tonnes of organic fertiliser, but the first shipment from Qingdao failed a laboratory test.
Furthermore, the price of pesticides and fertiliser is skyrocketing in the global market, and the Government missed out on purchasing it in the month of June 2021 due to the fertiliser ban on 6 May 2021.
It is said that every year around June, countries buy fertiliser, but Sri Lanka did not. So the story of the first cargo of organic fertiliser that sparked a geopolitical uproar is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, with the final decision expected on 30 November 2021. The Government is in hot water after the National Plant Quarantine Service rejected the first 20,000 metric tonnes of organic fertiliser because it was highly contaminated. The Government chose Qingdao Seawin Biotech in an open tender for the importation of organic fertiliser.
The Chinese not only continued to challenge the test results, but they also blacklisted People's Bank, a process that is still ongoing. It is expected that only after the Court's final judgement will the fate of People's Bank be known, as well as whether those doing business with the bank in China will be able to continue.
Also, Sri Lanka would come to know whether the Government will have to purchase the contaminated order if we are found to be at fault. However, the Government has already indicated that the first of four shipments of 99,000 metric tonnes of organic fertiliser from Qingdao Seawin will be rejected, with the remainder being imported.
It is unclear whether this agreement has been reached because ‘there is no such mention’ in the most recent statement issued by Qingdao Seawin. On 16 September 2021, the Chinese company screenshotted and circulated a WhatsApp conversation between Mahesh Gammanpila and Mr. Jurian, which said: “Please inform Qingdao to issue an undertaking, that the product is compiled to the standards of SLSI 1704 and confirm that the fertilisers are free from pathogenic organisms with respect to human animals and plant health, however it may contain harmless organisms.” “Above is the instruction given by the Secretary to the President.
Once this undertaking is received, the State companies should open their LC tomorrow itself.” To this WhatsApp message, Jurian replies to Gammanpila that “this is already agreed upon.” “I will compose a letter and send it for further confirmation. Do you want me to send individual letters to both Ceylon Fertilizer Company (CFC) and Colombo Commercial Fertilizers Ltd (CCF),” he inquires. The Chinese company also said it was based on the Sri Lanka Standard Institute’s instructions that they contacted Schutter Lab to test the samples further.
Qingdao Seawin participated in the government tender following the required procedures and gets awarded the tender with its good quality and complete certification system. Buyers are fully aware and recommend importing organic fertiliser which is free of pathogenic organisms with respect to human, animal, and plant health.
However, it may contain harmless organisms. But the buyers have wrongly suppressed the fact there may be “harmless microorganisms” in the fertiliser and misleading the Court, the Chinese company said. All of these allegations have been refuted by the Department of Agriculture, which maintains that the third-party lab test conducted by Schutter is invalid and that the report, too, refutes that the samples are contaminated.
The Ministry of Agriculture, the National Plant Quarantine Service, and the Department of Agriculture are unable to respond to this news because they have been warned not to speak to the Media individually because the matter is now before the Courts. The fertiliser mayhem has only just begun. With the introduction of subsidies for organic fertiliser for farmers, whether or not that is practiced to the core, the Government should take full responsibility, not allowing anyone to dupe the citizens of Sri Lanka, who cannot be duped repeatedly. ([email protected])