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Kilinochchi farmers dread first harvest after Sri Lanka’s fertilizer ban

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Govt.’s ‘organic only’ coverage since May has drawn flak from farmers and consultants

For Muthu Sivamohan, a farmer chief in Sri Lanka’s northern Kilinochchi district, the uncertainty looming over his paddy yield, after the federal government banned chemical fertilizers, is barely corresponding to “two other periods of crisis”.

“The first was when Prime Minister Sirimavo [Bandaranaike] introduced import substitution in the 1970s,” mentioned the 63-year-old farmer. He vividly recalled the “severe food shortage” through the interval, with lengthy queues outdoors retailers as folks waited for hours to purchase a loaf of bread. “There was hunger all around. We survived on king coconut and manioc mostly.”

Also learn | Amid fertilizer row, China blacklists Sri Lankan financial institution

All the identical, providing some respite then was her authorities’s increase to native manufacturing, particularly benefiting small farmers rising greens and money crops. Senior farmer consultant Subramaniam Kanapathipillai recalled northern farmers garlanding Ms. Bandaranaike with chillies, in appreciation of her authorities’s help to them. “That is why farmers here [north] of a certain generation have a soft spot for the [Bandaranaike’s] Sri Lanka Freedom Party,” he mentioned.

Difficult occasions

The civil battle started a decade later and lasted about 30 years because the armed forces fought the LTTE. The Tamil-majority north and east had been stifled with violence, an financial blockade, and no entry to nationwide markets. “Those were extremely difficult times, but we did not go hungry. We grew our own food and had enough to eat,” Mr. Sivamohan mentioned, contrasting the years of strife with the present state of affairs.

The authorities’s in a single day coverage shift to natural agriculture in May this 12 months, farmers like him worry, would possibly slash their yield so drastically {that a} meals shortage will not be far.

Similar fears surfaced in August, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared an Emergency to make sure distribution of important meals objects, looking for to stop market iregularities and hoarding.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s ban on chemical fertilizer has heightened farmers’ apprehensions, particularly after sowing season started some weeks in the past. Now, they’re dreading the harvest early subsequent 12 months.

Ketheeswaran, 37, has sowed paddy in 20 acres. “Ideally, I should have sprayed the [chemical] fertilizer now, about 30-35 days after sowing. I haven’t been able to do that. The crop will certainly suffer,” he mentioned anxiously. “I doubt if I will get even half the yield I got last time.” The drop manufacturing that the district’s farmers anticipate might affect rice consumption in the complete Northern Province, as Kilinochchi is the biggest producer of paddy among the many 5 northern districts, rising about 1.5 lakh tonnes in 2020.

The downside, although, isn’t peculiar to Kilinochchi. Farmers throughout the nation rising paddy — Sri Lanka’s primary meals crop — and tea are elevating alarm. Engaging over 1 / 4 of the nation’s labour power, Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector contributes about 8% of the GDP. Significantly, farmers within the nation’s Sinhala-majority south who voted for the Rajapaksas are protesting day after day, burning effigies of the Agriculture Minister, and elevating indignant slogans towards what’s arguably essentially the most unpopular coverage determination of the Rajapaksa administration in its two years in energy.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, nonetheless, is set to maintain his ballot promise. In his election manifesto that’s now his authorities’s coverage framework, Mr. Rajapaksa promised “a revolution” in using fertilizer, with a decisive shift to natural farming and give attention to residence gardening. The initiative, along with saving {dollars} spent on importing chemical fertilizers, was pitched as a response to the prevalence of a uncommon kidney ailment.

However, his authorities didn’t seek the advice of farmers or consultants. Challenging the federal government’s declare that chemical fertilizers prompted farmers’ kidney illnesses, scientists have dubbed the present disaster “the most turbulent” interval in Sri Lanka’s agricultural historical past. The authorities’s outright change to natural fertilizer is a “catastrophe” within the making, senior soil scientists Prof. W.A.U. Vitharana and Dr. W.S. Dandeniya warned in a column for the native Sunday Times, arguing that the harm to the nation brought on by “such short-sighted decisions” might be “irreversible”.

Amid mounting resistance, President Rajapaksa appointed a panel on inexperienced agriculture final month. Except, it didn’t embrace a single consultant from farmers’ organisations. “There are so many farmers’ societies across the country, and they could not consult even one of us while taking such a consequential policy decision?” requested Subramanian Yatheeswaran, secretary of a farmers’ federation in Kilinochchi, baffled by the exclusion. Moreover, the federal government’s provide of natural fertilizer because the ban has been erratic and unreliable, paddy farmers famous.

Gradual transition

The transition from chemical to natural fertilizers, farmers and consultants emphasised, should be gradual. “We are not opposed to organic farming, but it [the shift] cannot be overnight like this,” mentioned Mr. Sivamohan, recalling that it was throughout Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time as President that the federal government closely subsidised agrochemicals. “It was in that decade that farmers became more reliant on chemical fertilizers.”

Even the harvest early subsequent 12 months — one in every of Sri Lanka’s two primary harvest seasons tied to the monsoon — might not precisely mirror the affect of the coverage shift, mentioned R. Ravindrakumar from a federation of paddy farmers. “Some farmers used chemical fertilizer leftover from last year. You see, we are used to war-time scarcity and intuitively stock up a little. We heard of some others purchasing it in the black market,” he mentioned. “It is the next harvest that will deliver a deadly blow to us.”

With no resolution obvious, farmers are apprehensive – about their subsequent yield, in addition to its affect on the nation’s meals safety. “If our people go hungry next year, the government should not hold farmers responsible. If citizens starve, it will be a shame for the country,” Mr. Sivamohan mentioned.

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