Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured Sri Lanka of immediate supply of fertilizer, the Sri Lankan President has said, as the island braces for a food crisis amid a crushing economic meltdown.
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to provide the fertilizer required for the Yala season cultivation immediately,” Mr. Rajapaksa’s office said. The fertilizer will be supplied under an “Indian loan facility” and is scheduled to be distributed to farmers within 20 days after the consignment arrives, according to a statement issued on the night of June 1.
India is yet to make any official statement in this regard. Official sources told The Hindu that New Delhi is considering the request from Colombo and “discussions are on.”
Faced with a dollar crunch for months, Sri Lanka has been struggling to pay for essential imports, including food, medicines, fuel, and LPG. As the island’s crisis further escalated this year, India extended crucial assistance, of about $3.5 billion, by way of credit lines for imports, loan deferments, and currency swaps. On whether the fertilizer would be supplied as part of existing credit lines, or with a new one, an Indian official said: “Those details are still being worked out.”
The fertilizer, said to be arriving from India, is essential to domestic production as sowing season begins for the Yala season, one of two important agriculture production cycles in Sri Lanka, tied to the monsoon. Especially after the harvest from the previous season has drastically fallen, owing to President Gotabaya’s controversial policy shift to organic farming last year.
In a bid to reduce the country’s import bill, Mr. Gotabaya in May 2021 banned chemical fertilizers, calling for an abrupt switch to green agriculture that farmers were not prepared for. The overnight ban on chemical fertilizers severely affected production of paddy, pulses, maize, spices, and tea that are crucial for both domestic consumption, and export earnings.
Seeing their harvest fall by 50%, many farmers have decided not to sow this season. Despite a policy reversal by the President — after massive farmer protests and criticism from scientists — fertilizers are still in short supply, or not affordable without subsidy, especially when costs of all basic items have spiked with the country reporting record inflation.
Sri Lanka is now counting on the swift arrival of a 65,000 tonne-fertilizer consignment from India worth about $25 million, according to M.B. Rohana Pushpakumara, Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. “We have requested for nitrogen fertilizer, which will be critical for the current paddy and maize growing season. Farmers will have to use fertilizer 14, 28, and 35 days after sowing the seeds,” he told The Hindu.
Warning the country of “impending food shortages” recently, Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the island will need $600 million to source fertilizers.