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Dangers of banning inorganic fertilisers

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In 2019, around Rs 310 billion worth of food has been imported. Among these are rice, sugar, green gram, red onion, big onion, 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 both organic and inorganic fertilizers is important. Several research studies, conducted in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, indicate that application of inorganic fertilizers tend to increase growth and yields of crops.

In 2020, we imported Rs. 48 billion worth of fertilizers. These are applied to replace nutrients absorbed by plants from soil. A ton of paddy removes 60 kg of nitrogen, 10 kg of phosphorus and 20 kg of potassium. Similarly, other crops remove nutrients from the soil. If land is going to be cultivated, without replenishing the nutrient level in the soil, it will become deficient in essential plant nutrients. Plants growing in such soil will not grow properly, and, as a result, yields will be reduced. There may be instances when crops will not produce at all.

Applying organic fertilizers alone will not replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop . Organic fertilizers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N) whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilizers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop; making it essential to increase food imports, resulting in our annual import expenditure to rise substantially from the present Rs. 310 billion. This may be impossible as our economy is in dire straits. Further, importing rice may be an issue, as most of the Asian countries which grow paddy are currently facing problems.

As indicated by Dr. Parakrama Waidyantha, in his article titled “Agrochemical ban: Heading for national disaster?” – in The Island of 3 May – the President’s decision to shift totally to organic agriculture, from conventional, could lead to widespread hunger and starvation. It will cause a shortage of food, locally, resulting in food prices to increase causing some people, mainly the poor going hungry, creating health and social problems.

We export several crops and earn foreign exchange, which is used to import essentials. Tea is the main export crop. We earned nearly Rs. 230 billion, in 2020, by exporting tea. If we do not apply adequate inorganic fertilizers, especially nitrogen, the present tea yields will get reduced, causing tea exports to dwindle; and, as a result, the foreign exchange we earned by exporting tea will also come down. Thus, banning of inorganic fertilizer imports will cause economic, health and social problems.

If the government wants to reduce our import expenditure, it could be done by reducing import of many food items. Those who decided to ban fertilizer imports, to save foreign exchange, may not have realized that we spend colossal amounts to import many food items which can be produced locally. It may be interesting to know that the expenditure on import of ayurvedic herbs is nearly Rs. 1,200 million. As suggested by Prof. O.A. Ileperuma, in his article published in The Island of May 1, 2021, the Government can save a considerable sum of money on fertilizer imports if we undertake to manufacture superphosphate fertilizers in the country, using Eppawela Apatite.

Some ill-informed people are of the opinion that fertilizers are the causal factor of increased incidents of chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDu), reported in some parts of the country. In this regard, it is pertinent to indicate that CKDu is not reported in some districts although fertilizers are used in large amounts. 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 is no conclusive evidence to indicate that there is any relationship between CKDu and fertilizers.

The decision to ban fertilizer imports should be taken after considering all the pertinent issues.

Dr .C.S. WEERARATNA

Former Professor of Agriculture at Ruhuna and Rajarata Universities

(csweera@sltnet.lk)



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Opinion

Nelum Kuluna poses danger to aircraft

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The top of Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower) stands 350 above sea level in the heart of Colombo City, as the air navigators of old would say, sticking out like a ’sore thumb’. It has to be lit up in accordance with the Aircraft Obstacle Lighting recommendations contained in Annex 14 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention originally signed by Ceylon in 1944.

A free-standing tower of that height is required by international law to be lit up not only at night with red lights, but also with high visibility white strobe lights during the day.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be on always during the day. The authorities concerned must realise that the strobe lighting during the day is not for beauty but for air safety, especially these days, when the air quality and visibility are low during the day.

Have those in charge of the tower been briefed properly on the legal requirement and the use of proper lighting? In case of an accident, this certainly will have implications on insurance claims.

I wonder whether the ‘Regulator’, Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka would like to comment.

If not rectified, it will be just a matter of time an aircraft will be impaled by the Nelum Kuluna.

I M Nervy (Aviator)

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Opinion

Simple questions to Sirisena and Gotabaya

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If Sirisena had not been informed of the plans to explode bombs on 21st of April 2019, as he has claimed, shouldn’t he have taken immediate action to call for explanation from Nilantha Jayawardena, then head of State Intelligent Service (SIS), who had been notified several times about the impending attack by the Indian intelligence.

Sirisena and Jayawardena should be prosecuted for allowing a mass murder to take place. Further Sirisena should be made to explain his famous uttering, “I will reveal everything, if somebody tries to implicate me”.

Why did Gotabaya, who announced his candidature for presidency almost immediately after the Easter Sunday attack and promised to punish those who were involved in it, pay no attention to Nilantha Jayawardena’s failure in taking necessary action with regard to information he received, instead he was given a promotion?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power on September 11, 2022 had said that Scotland Yard had been requested to review the reports and reach a final conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings.

We do not need Scotland Yard, just get an honest set of Sri Lankan police officers to question Nilantha, Sirisena and Gotabaya to find the “hidden hand behind the bombings”

B Perera

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Opinion

Open letter to Sirisena

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Y you were in Singapore when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. You claimed that you had not been informed of the intelligence received by your intelligence officers. However, the Supreme Court has ordered you to pay Rs 100M as compensation to the victims of the terror attacks. The reasons for the decision are stated in the judgement.

Acting on a claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate you and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya you caused the interdiction and arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, who was held in custody without bail for a long time.

In his testimony to the Presidential Commission  of Inquiry, Silva said that he had been interdicted while plans were in place to arrest Zaharan.

Due to the arrest of DIG Silva, Zaharan escaped arrest. Silva was never charged. Zaharan continued with his plans and the rest is history.

After the SC order you have been claiming that you have no money to pay the Rs 100M as compensation. You are asking for public help to pay compensation to Easter carnage victims. You even accepted some money collected by a person called Sudaththa Tilakasiri, who begged from people.

You have said publicly that you submitted your asset declarations. I suggest that you sell all your assets declared in the declarations before asking for funds from the public.

Hemal Perera

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