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The ban on agrochemicals and its implications

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‘The best option available is to use a mixture of both synthetic and carbonic fertilizers, benefiting from their advantages to help farmers increase the agricultural output.’

 

By Prof. ROHAN RAJAPAKSE

Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology University of Ruhuna and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

The Cabinet of ministers last month approved President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s proposal to ban the importation of chemical fertilisers. In addition to synthetic fertilisers, the importation of synthetic pesticides whether they are CLASS 1A or Class1B (Toxic) or Class 2 Less toxic is also banned. The reasons for the ban are listed according to our knowledge

The President has emphasised that despite the claim that the use of chemical fertilisers leads to a better harvest, their adverse effects on human lives through the pollution of lakes, canals, and groundwater outweigh the benefits and profit. State expenditure on treating patients with non-communicable diseases caused by these chemical fertilisers remains high.

Saying that organic fertiliser will be provided instead of subsidised fertiliser to farmers, the President has stressed that USD 400 million is spent on fertiliser imports and it could be used to uplift the lives of the farmers.

The Agriculture Ministry has undertaken to convert the state-owned Ceylon Fertiliser Company Ltd. into an institution that would produce, supply, and distribute organic fertiliser with the help of local government institutions.

Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage says the government will do everything in its power to increase the use of organic fertiliser for the cultivation of paddy and other crops up to 30% within the next three years. Accordingly, private companies that come forward to manufacture organic fertiliser will be provided tax concessions, technology and technical expertise, land and raw materials.

It has also been reported that the government has turned away two shipments of 18,000 MT of chemical fertilisers for paddy and other crops.

Political decision not practical?

Does the country have the capacity and capability to produce a large amount of organic fertilisers in the short-run for next Maha season. Secondly, the methodology as regards the application of such a huge quantity of natural fertilisers has not been defined. Farmers across the country are already facing a shortage of fertilisers and pesticides for the current Yala season although the authorities claim adequate stocks are available.

In this respect, one may recall that the previous government launched the politically-motivated “non-toxic agriculture” project in 2016, and it failed and the Strategic Enterprise Management Institute (SEMA) established to implement that programme was closed down in 2018.

Such experiences in the past are the reasons why farmers are uncertain and confused as regards the ban on the import of agrochemicals.

Dr Warshi Dandeniya Head of the Department of Soil Science University of Peradeniya has disclosed why and how agrochemicals have become such a big problem in Sri Lanka, “One of the major problems in Sri Lankan agriculture is the application of fertilsers outside the fertiliser recommendations. Farmers misuse or overuse fertilisers. When more fertiliser is applied, they can be washed away and added to water sources. The relevant nutrient content may be greater than the amount a plant actually needs. When used sparingly, the plants may not get proper nutrition, which can lead to many diseases. Both of these methods cause damage. Also, soil degradation is accelerated as the soil contributes as much as possible to the plant with less fertiliser application.”

It is thus clear that a proper assessment of soils is necessary before fertiliser application.A similar situation has arisen as regards pesticides. With the devolution of power, the subject of agricultural extension which had been under the Department of Agriculture was devolved and brought under the Provincial Ministries of Agriculture. NGOs like Sarvodaya, private sector pesticide companies and leading farmers started advising farmers on crop protection and fertiliser applications creating much confusion. Farmers anticipating higher profits use higher amounts of agrochemicals. Cocktails of pesticides result in toxic problems for themselves and the environment. The Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) has stated recently that it has performed well in January and February this year, earning Rs 41 billion in export revenue, compared to the beginning of last year. The total tea production too has increased when compared to last year, it has said.

According to the SLTB statistics, tea exports in 2021 amounted to Rs 41 billion, as compared to the beginning of last year, when the revenue was Rs 38 billion. The price of FOB (Full on Board) had increased from Rs. 832 to Rs 932.

The SLTB expects to export 295 – 300 mn kg of tea this year, and more than 100 countries are importing Ceylon tea. The SLTB is planning to promote artisanal teas such as Ceylon green tea and organic teas to very specific markets segments.

Sri Lankan planters use urea as a synthetic fertiliser to promote vegetative growth of tea.

With the fertilizer ban it may be not possible to achieve the targets’ of SLTB

No country in the world depends entirely on organic agriculture for crop production as the plant varieties bred after green revolution in 1960s are fertilizer responsive and will give the maximum yield only with correct fertilizer application. The ban on synthetic fertilizer have a drastic effect on tea and rice yields.

Here are some major pros and cons of organic and synthetic fertilizers:

Organic fertilizers

Advantages

Retention capacity of water is high No toxin buildup

Fosters a sustainable ecosystem for plants and organisms alike and improves plant structure

.Can breakdown contaminants

Disadvantages

It takes lot of time to show results

Natural fertilizers can be messy and difficult to apply precisely 

The number of nutrients and microorganisms in the soil can vary 

Synthetic fertilizers

Advantages

The synthetic products act fast

Easy to handle and available everywhere

Inexpensive when compared with organic products in the long run

Disadvantages

The majority don’t contain micronutrient organisms

Can easily be over-applied or less

Can release nutrients too quickly or too slowly

The best option available is to use a mixture of both synthetic and carbonic fertilizers, benefiting from their advantages to help the farmers to increase the agricultural output.



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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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