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Banning fertilizer imports



By Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

According to recent news, import of fertilizers is going to be banned. The President at a recent meeting highlighted the importance of shifting towards organic fertilizers by gradually decreasing the usage of chemical/inorganic fertilizers. According to the National Fertilizer Secretariat, in 2020, we imported around 580,000 MT of inorganic fertilizers costing Rs. 36 billion. Of this amount around 50% is used for paddy and the balance for planation crops and field crops.

In 2019 around Rs 300 billion worth of food has been imported. Among the imported food are green gram, red onions, big onions, maize, etc., which can be locally produced. If we are to reduce our expenditure on food imports it is essential that the local food production is increased. For effectively addressing this issue several inputs are important. Among these are good quality seeds/planting material, and use of appropriate technology. In this regard judicious use of fertilizers is important. .

There are two types of fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers (IF) such as ammonium sulphate, urea, Triple Super Phosphate and muriate of potash which supply nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium respectively and are called macronutrients. Plants need them to grow and produce. Several research studies conducted in Sri Lanka and elsewhere indicate that the application of IF tends to increase growth and yields of crops.

Organic fertilizers such as compost, animal residues contain very small amounts of macronutrients, but some essential plant nutrients such as iron, manganese, copper, etc, called micronutrients which are not present in inorganic fertilizers.

Effects of banning fertilizers

Except for Eppawela Apatite Inorganic fertilizers are not manufactured locally. If the import of IF is going to be banned, and organic fertilizers (OF) used instead, it is likely that yields of all crops will decrease. As indicated research studies conducted in Sri Lanka and elsewhere indicate that application of IF tend to increase growth and yields of crops. Currently, the average paddy production in Sri Lanka is about 4 t/ha and this is likely to be reduced if inorganic fertilizers are not applied. The same will apply to other crops including tea as well which has a positive effect on the economy of the country. Already paddy farmers in some areas are complaining that basal fertilizers are not available for the Yala crop. If IFs are not available, llocal crop production will decrease causing food imports such as rice, pulses, etc.,to increase and reducing exports of plantation crops exacerbating the present economic and social problems. Thus, the final effect of banning fertilizer imports will be on the economy of the country which is already in a dire status.

If the imports of these IFs is going to be banned it is essential that alternatives are available as plants need nutrients to grow and produce. Organic fertilizers such as compost which is considered to be an alternative does not supply these macronutrients in adequate amounts unless large quantities of OFs are used. For example, to supply nitrogen in 100 kg of urea (urea has 46% N) a farmer has to apply around 2 tons of compost (only 2% N). OF are not alternatives to IF but supplementary.

Based on Central Bank reports, in 2019, expenditure on food and beverages is around Rs 300 Billion. The expenditure in 2021 on food imports is likely to be even more due to the depreciation of SL rupee. Banning IF will reduce our expenditure on imports by app. Rs. 36 billion but at the same time it will reduce local food production and increase our annual expenditure on food imports which at present is around Rs. 300 billion. It will also have an adverse impact on food security.


If import of Inorganic fertilizers is to be banned, it is necessary to resort to alternative methods of supplying nutrients required by plants. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) if used will tend to reduce our N fertilizer imports to some extent. BNF is a process carried out by various groups of microorganisms. Studies on BNF have been conducted in Sri Lanka for almost three decades by scientists such as Prof. S. A. Kulasuriya. Results of these studies show that nitrogen-fixation by organisms such as azolla, blue-green algae and rhizobia can be used to supplement inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. BNF is used profitably by farmers in many other countries such as India, China, Vietnam etc. It is necessary to implement an integrated plan to promote the use of Biological Nitrogen Fixation in crop production.

Organic fertilizers can be used to supplement IF as OF supply micronutrients which are not present in inorganic fertilizers. OF production units, in each village, would maximise utilization of resources and provide employment on a large scale. Any type of organic material is not suitable to be applied to crops. For example, those made from city wastes may contain toxic elements such as heavy metals. OF can be used in intensive agricultural systems but in crops such as paddy, and planation crops which are cultivated extensively, compost is not effective enough to supply plant nutrients required by plants.

Application of inorganic fertilizers with organic fertilizers would give higher yields. Hence, it is necessary to implement a concerted plan to promote application of organic fertilizers. It is extremely important that the advantages and disadvantages of banning inorganic fertilizers need to be carefully considered by relevant authorities before deciding to ban these fertilizers.

Issues associated with IF

It has been reported that some farmers, apply phosphatic and potasic fertilizers more than what is required. Hence it would be desirable if the amounts of fertilizers to be applied are based on soil tests. There is a need for improving on-farm nutrient management using an integrated nutrient management approach, combining inorganic and organic fertilizers. In most of the annual cropping systems managed with IF, the application of organic fertilizer as a supplement is essential. Insufficient organic matter levels in soils would lead to leaching of the inorganic fertilizers added to soil. Around 40% of N in urea applied to soil tends to get lost due to volatilization and leaching. The total benefits of inorganic fertilizers can be realized only by having adequate organic matter levels in the soils by applying OF.

Although highly debated, some are of the opinion that fertilizers is one of the cause of increased incidents of chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU) in the country. An international expert consultation on CKDu was held in Colombo in April 2016. It was organized by the Presidential Task Force for Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease and the Sri Lanka country office of the World Health Organization (WHO). The consultation concluded that there was no conclusive evidence to indicate that there was any relationship between CKDU and fertilizers.

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Simple rituals replaced at Buddhist temple



The other day I had gone to our temple to do a Bodhipooja for my granddaughter who was ill. This is is an age-old Buddhist practice to invoke the blessings of the triple gem and pray to the gods for the speedy recovery of the sick.

As I was walking from the Vihare to the Buduge, I saw this fantastic sight of a handful of beautifully dressed women in silk, satin and lace walking into the temple. They were not carrying the usual malwatti of homepicked flowers but ornate arrangements straight from a florist.

I was taken aback. I had not seen such a sight before, certainly not in a temple. I paused to see what was happening and found they too were doing a Bodhipooja, whether for a sick relative or not I did not find out. But it was done in grand style.

In retrospect, I wonder, what has happened to the simplicity of Buddhist religious practices of going to temple in simple white clothes, carrying a malwatti to worship at the main shrines, lighting oil lamps and saying our prayers softly or in silence. It seems that at most Buddhist events, this simplicity has been replaced by unseemly ostentation.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Apparently there has been a proposal that our country’s plans for future energy requirements, has, among its options, included nuclear generation also as an alternative to fossil fuels (coal and petroleum).In an open letter to the President0 as published in the The Island of Mar. 30 Emeritus Prof. Dharmadasa (Sheffield), has extensively cautioned against any precipitate action in pursuing the nuclear option for Sri Lanka. His is a voice to be heeded. He has, comprehensively supported his viewpoint. The basic points are:

It is a fallacy to regard nuclear as “green or renewable energy.”

The installation costs are beyond our means.Technically qualified and expert operators are required and we do not have them. Competence and discipline are imperative.

Nuclear accidents are difficult to handle. Corrective measure are urgent and costly. Large areas have to be abandoned after such accidents and remain so for decades (or even centuries or millennia) before they can be safe again. Major accidents have already occurred, Three Mile Island (USA), Sellafield (formerly Windscale) (UK), Chernobyl (USSR/Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). Damage to plants can be triggered by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and tsunamis.

In a telling remark, Professor Dharmadasa makes reference to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a Ph.D in Physics,) decided to close down all 17 operational nuclear power plants in her country following the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear fuels are expensive and demand special safety protocols.Nuclear waste is difficult to dispose. If buried, they require heavy, concrete “Sarcophagi”. Even then, the land cannot be farmed or inhabited for a very long time.

Symptoms or illnesses (like cancer), show features suggestive of exposure to nuclear radiation.These are very valid reasons for older installations in rich countries to be abandoned as reliance on nuclear energy is no longer seen as an option; nor even long established facilities retained. No new installations would be considered by them.

India meanwhile, have operating nuclear power plants in the South (Kalpakkam and Kundalkulam). Hopefully, this would not cause problems for us. On the other hand, would they have surplus power which we could buy?.

In regard to the difficulty in handling a nuclear accident, we have an experience which may be indicative. In Seeduwa on the Negombo/Colombo Road was the Milco powdered milk factory. This caught fire sometime in the late seventies. The destruction was horrendous and he fire lasted for days.

Needing to pass this site, virtually daily, I could see it smoldering for weeks. There were many fire trucks standing by, apparently inactive. I was prompted to ask why they remained inactive and was given the shocking answer: “There is no water available for the fire hoses”.Tells us something about the suitability of nuclear plants for us, does it not?

Dr. U.Pethiyagoda.


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Winning hearts and minds of community



‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)

Book Review
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando

This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.

The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.

This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.

It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.

His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.

The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.

It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.

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