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The fertiliser mayhem and the impact from a socio-economic standpoint

Following months of protests from farmers and leading players in the agri chain, the government announced the decision to partially lift the ban on chemical fertilisers and allow the private sector to import it in the near term. During the last few months, the escalation of economic issues amidst the prevailing pandemic, fused with the unexpected ban of chemical pesticides and fertiliser to promote utilizing 100% organic fertiliser upset the status quo with the farmers, the consumers and the agrarian industry in Sri Lanka.

Farmers – A lack of proper alternatives and a disparity in the implementation of the ban are adversely impacting farmers.

Lack of alternatives leading to crop losses – According to research conducted by think-tank Verite Research in July this year, most farmers (roughly two-thirds) surveyed (1,042 farmers across nine provinces) were open to the idea of moving away from chemical fertilisers. However, around 44% of farmers that took part in the survey had already experienced a decline in the harvest while nearly 85% expected a decline in the near term.

Whilst various studies suggest that there are many economic and fiscal factors were taken into consideration when imposing the ban, the farmers were mainly concerned about the lack of viable alternatives that would not lead to crop losses.

Lack of know-how and disparity in implementation – In addition, most farmers currently lack the required knowledge on the right application of organic fertiliser to their respective crops. Thus, some of the concerns from the farming community were related to giving them sufficient time to understand the usage of organic fertiliser and secure sufficient supply of organic alternatives prior to the transition.

With the Maha Season around the corner, lifting of the ban will enable farmers to procure chemical fertiliser and pesticides in the open market.

Inflationary pressures continue to mount with consumers impacted by rising food prices

Inflationary pressures have also been rising with inflation spiking to 8.3% in the 12-months to October 2021. Food and vegetable prices in particular have risen sharply impacting consumers, who have already been hit by the impact of the pandemic on their livelihoods. As such, the ban on chemical fertilisers and pesticides and the corresponding drop in harvest across many crops may continue to have a detrimental impact on consumers.

The Agricultural Industry – sudden switch to pure organic farming methods may disrupt the overall industry.

Numerous steps have been introduced to go beyond traditional agricultural practices and embrace high technology agriculture. Industry experts believe that aligning environment-friendly greenhouse agriculture, organic agriculture, and a community of agricultural entrepreneurs can resuscitate the farming community in Sri Lanka. While the switch to organic farming will be more sustainable in the long-term, the success of this type of sea change in agriculture policy will depend on the support extended to the farmers, consumers, and businesses until they overcome barriers associated with the transition.