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‘Government temporarily takes one step forward after many backward steps on agriculture’

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By Dr. Hemakumara Nanayakkara

Ever since April 2021, Sri Lanka’s agriculture and plantation sectors have been beset by needless difficulties as a result of an announcement, seemingly made on a whim, that Sri Lanka would switch to completely organic agriculture – effective immediately.

In doing so, the Government has jarringly halted all progress on efforts to develop these critical sectors, pushing the entire nation back many steps in the decision to ban import and use of all agro-chemicals and inorganic fertilizer.

A conflict of intentions and egos

By issuing such an extreme proclamation without a shred of scientific analysis into how these concepts could be practically implemented in Sri Lanka, they have done more harm than good to the expansion of true organic agriculture.

This is unfortunate because, as a concept, organic agriculture has many benefits. However, unlike what has been portrayed, it is not simply a matter of reverting to ‘ancient practices’. There is a deep and complex science to organic cultivation.

None of these complexities were understood or considered when the imprudent decision to ban all inorganic inputs was first announced. The assumption that ‘organic’ is just adding compost to soil has been the detriment of the directive. Hence, it was decided that imported chemical inputs were not necessary, not because organic agriculture is practical, but because imports require the Government to spend more of the nation’s now dwindling foreign reserves.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

In the months that have followed, everyone from academics to industry experts and farmers on the ground have been venting their frustration at the total breakdown of their regular cultivation practices as a result of this dangerously unscientific approach to agricultural reform.

After much condemnation, it was finally announced at the start of August that the Government was reverting their position. While not admitting it and maintaining that the ban is still in effect, probably to save face, the fact that they are relenting on import of chelated minerals, fertilizer mixes and micro-nutrients for specialist applications including for hydroponic cultivation and floriculture”, even if temporary, is a slight relief.

It may be assumed that technicalities of what these terms mean may be enough to dissuade the public from asking too many questions. But anyone with passing knowledge of agriculture would understand that chelated minerals and fertilizer mixes contain the exact same inorganic inputs which the Government is overtly claiming to ban – namely: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK). These are the elements which are essential to plant nutrition and growth.

Prior to the invention of techniques to produce synthetic fertilizer in the early 1900s, guano – the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats was the only known reliable source of fertilizer with NPK suitable for commercial agriculture at that time. This pressing demand for fertilizer led to many predictions of mass starvation, and it would have come to pass were it not for the invention of the Haber-Bosch technique for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogenous fertilizer.

While it is possible to obtain Phosphorus locally, and organic Potassium could be imported from natural mines – leaving aside the fact that supply chains are not in place to meet the entire national requirement – sourcing Nitrogen is much more problematic. That is because it is extremely difficult to obtain N from plant or animal sources at the levels necessary for commercial scale agriculture.

Currently, we use Urea for tea and paddy, which contains approximately 46% Nitrogen. By contrast, organic sources like Gliricidia offers only 4%, while cattle dung has 3.5% and poultry dung –with 4.5% nitrogen by composition.

Prior to the ban, NPK was used in paddy, tea, rubber and coconut, and after the latest relaxation, these are still the same inputs that are being used, so in practice the Government has taken 3 months to make a bad decision and then reverse it – all the while falsely maintaining that inorganic NPK is not acceptable.

Had the Government simply consulted with relevant experts in the field in an open and transparent manner, they could have avoided all of the detrimental effects which followed from this disastrous decision. While there mention of a “Presidential Task Force for a green socio-economy” at the outset, they have not been forthcoming about their logic or approach in any public forums.

We are aware that there is a person in that task force who has been presented as a professor who made the ludicrous claim that sea-weeds as tall as coconut trees can be harvested from the ocean and used as organic fertilizer. While it is true that such large seaweed growth does exist, it is only found in close proximity to the North Pole, hence it is of no relevance to Sri Lanka. We offer this example in order to shine a light on the absurd and utter lack of credible scientific information behind policy decisions at the highest levels of this Government.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

If we continue to allow the State to intervene and interfere with the fundamentals of agriculture in Sri Lanka based on the whims of such individuals, what is the worst that could happen? Previously we were told that the import and use of all agrochemicals would be banned immediately. Thereafter, the deadline was pushed back to a period within 3 months – 1 cultivation season. Now they have temporarily reverted back to allowing agro-chemicals, but it is implied that these imports could once again be banned at any moment.

In the interim, the solution that is currently being offered is a “nitrogen extract” that will be used as a spray. No further details have been provided. We don’t know if this extract is organic, inorganic, from the moon or even Mars. All we do know is that the only possible high percentage nitrogenous extracts can only be obtained from a chemical base. If the Government is trying to deceive people, they may use chemically extracted nitrogen, which could in turn be sprayed on organic manure and distributed among farmers.

In effect, the Government is refusing to reveal what exactly we will be adding to our soil through such extracts. Until they do, we must continue to call for more clarity and transparency. This is especially crucial for any agricultural exports – especially tea – whose buyers are sensitive to Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs).

Another fact to consider: no country in the world has ever succeeded in going totally organic. There are however some cautionary examples from history of those who tried. The example of Bhutan has been often cited in recent months. There, it was announced that over a period of 20 years, Bhutan would systematically phase out inorganic inputs. Even after careful and intensive planning with broad stakeholder consultation and preparation, the country was only able to convert 10% of their arable lands into organic agriculture after 30 years of effort in total.

The author is a former State Minister of Agriculture, Former Governor of the Southern Province, and Sri Lanka’s only PhD in Organic Agriculture from the Post-Graduate Institute of Agriculture at the Peradeniya University

To be continued



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DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama pawning facility lends a helping hand to those with urgent cash requirements

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DFCC Bank has increased the advances of its “DFCC Ranwarama” Pawning Facility as a solution for families to meet their urgent cash requirements as many families are experiencing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has had a significant impact on the Sri Lankan economy.

Through this scheme, all Sri Lankan citizens over 18 years of age with the contractual capacity to declare themselves as owners of the articles can now pawn gold or gold jewellery. DFCC Bank accepts jewellery made of 18 Karat -24 Karat gold, with the articles being assayed using the latest available equipment. Items of 24 Karate will hold an advanced value of LKR 82,000/-, while 22 Karat pieces will hold an advanced value of LKR 68,000/- at an interest rate of 0.75% per month. Those who engage in these transactions are provided a maximum of 12 months to settle the pawning advances at their convenience.

DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama Pawning Facility offers many other special features including the highest advance amount at competitive rates of interest, confidentiality and guaranteed security for the articles, flexible payment plans with redemption options when required and redemption without prior notification. All of these facilities are available with no hidden charges, offering customers the best service available in the market.

You may visit a DFCC Bank branch closest to you to transact or visit the Bank’s website at www.dfcc.lk for further information. Customers can also contact DFCC Bank’s 24-hour contact center on +94(11)2350000 for further inquiries.

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HSBC Sri Lanka recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank by Global Finance

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HSBC has been recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance at the World’s Best Consumer Digital Banks Awards in Asia-Pacific. While this is the bank’s fourth award win for this year, this also marks the 13th time that HSBC Sri Lanka has been named the Best Consumer Digital Bank, since 2006.

HSBC Sri Lanka is also the only market in Asia Pacific to win the prestigious award this year.

According to Global Finance, the global health crisis accelerated the need for digital and contact-free solutions by banks in helping create safe and efficient banking services for customers. HSBC Sri Lanka was quick to react in supporting customers in providing seamless digital bank offerings in an increasingly demanding environment, while ensuring customers have a secure banking service with a full spectrum of client-centric banking services.

Through its wealth of digital capabilities and offerings, HSBC allowed customers to adopt a mobile-first approach, and provide them with faster, easier and more secure banking services 24/7. The bank introduced a virtual on boarding capability for account opening, loans and credit cards supported by Adobe Live Sign, eKYC and virtual PINs to provide a seamless on boarding experience for customers. HSBC also offers credit card activation through SMS and an e2e virtual registration process for online banking, offering a virtual banking experience.

In Sri Lanka more than 90% of its personal customers now use digital channels including mobile banking, e-wallets, real-time cash deposit machines and other digital services.

Nadeesha Senaratne, Country Head of Wealth & Personal Banking said, “We are truly honoured to be named the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance in recognition of our digital capabilities, and delivering important everyday services and features that customers need and expect. As a leading international bank, we are putting the power of our bank in every customer’s pocket, with easier and more secure digital banking. We want to take the hassle out of everyday banking, and enable customers to easily manage their money online, from opening a new account in a few clicks, to making real time payments and accessing credit.”

Senaratne added: “We’re also blending the power of technology with the expertise of our people and empowering our frontline teams with the latest data and insights tools, to be better-equipped to check customer satisfaction in the moment, to understand, and respond to their evolving needs and give customers excellent service.”

Winners were selected by a world-class panel of judges and entries were judged based on the strength of strategy for attracting and servicing digital customers, success in getting clients to use digital offerings, growth of digital customers, breadth of product offerings and evidence of tangible benefits gained from digital initiatives.

Earlier this year, HSBC Sri Lanka was also named International Bank of the Year by Asiamoney and Finance Asia respectively, and International Retail Bank of the Year by Asian Banking & Finance.

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BoardPAC appointed Strategic Partner of Commonwealth’s Business Network – CWEIC

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BoardPAC, the Sri Lanka-based multinational Board meeting automation solutions company, has been appointed a Strategic Partner of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), the organisation officially mandated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to promote trade and investment between the 54 Commonwealth member countries.

This prestigious appointment will see CWEIC relying on BoardPAC’s award-winning solutions to conduct board and committee meetings with members and maintain relationships across the Commonwealth network at a time when the global pandemic’s complete disruption of business activity has resulted in a surge in the demand for efficient board meeting automation.

The Company said the partnership will also effectively promote the BoardPAC platform to new users and facilitate its expansion into new territories and focus markets. BoardPAC already has a global user base in excess of 50,000 and a presence in more than 40 countries.

Noting that BoardPAC’s latest partnership serves as yet another testament to the quality of its solutions, BoardPAC Co-Founder/CEO, Lakmini Wijesundera stated: “Our growth plan includes expanding our worldwide network, and our strategic alliance with CWEIC will strongly help us extend our presence into Commonwealth territories. The strategic cooperation between CWEIC and BoardPAC is especially relevant in light of the worldwide pandemic, and the emerging need for secure remote working and filling the void in virtual board meetings.”

CWEIC Chairman, Rt. Hon. Lord Jonathan Marland said: “We are looking forward to work closely with BoardPAC. The alliance will not only help CWEIC to conduct virtual board meetings securely and safely, but also align ourselves with all governance, risk and compliance as well as environmental, social, and governance frameworks.” Echoing this sentiment, CWEIC Deputy Chair, Sir Hugo Swire stated: “We are excited to partner with BoardPAC and extend modern digital governance and compliance solutions to organisations operating in the Commonwealth.”

Disclosing that BoardPAC’s excellent track record inspired confidence within the CWEIC to implement its solution on a global scale, CWEIC Chief Executive, Samantha Cohen CVO added: “We’re delighted that BoardPAC, one of the most renowned virtual board meeting automation providers in the world, joined our network of Strategic Partners. BoardPAC will add significant value to our board and committee meetings, allowing the CWEIC to conduct meetings with its members throughout the Commonwealth more effectively. The partnership also demonstrates the opportunities within the Commonwealth, and the confidence businesses have towards the Commonwealth and CWEIC.”

A commercial, not-for-profit membership organisation, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council’s network includes around 100 business and government Strategic Partners (members) including Standard Chartered, Zenith Bank, Trade & Investment Queensland and the Government of the Maldives from 30 countries and territories. Every two years, CWEIC hosts the Commonwealth Business Forum in association with the host country of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

BoardPAC is an award winning, multinational, paperless board meeting automation solutions provider, recognised for driving simple, secure, sustainable and experiential communications for Board and Executive members. Leading corporates such as Petronas, Deloitte, EY, Mercedes Benz, Prudential, Hong Leong Group, Stock Exchange of Malaysia, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Bombay Stock Exchange, Bank Negara, Maybank, Power Grid Corporation of India, Colombo Stock Exchange, and Sri Lankan Airlines are just some of BoardPAC’s success stories, and the Company said the partnership with the CWEIC will pave the way to several more high-profile additions to this list.

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