‘No change, it’s only green agriculture’

Gotabaya clears the air on farm policy

November 22, 2021 10:35 pm | Updated November 30, 2021 03:39 pm IST - COLOMBO

 Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

There is no change in Sri Lanka’s ‘green agriculture’ policy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Monday, after senior officials in his government pointed to the contrary.

News agency AFP on Sunday reported media remarks made by Udith Jayasinghe, Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry that the government would immediately allow import of chemical fertilizer , effectively reversing its controversial decision in May 2021 banning it.

Food security

“We will now allow chemical inputs that are urgently needed... considering the need to ensure food security, we have taken this decision,” the secretary was quoted as saying.

It was not just the bureaucrat who indicated a policy reversal, but also State Minister of Agriculture Shasheendra Rajapaksa, a nephew of the President, who told media that the restrictions on the use of chemical fertilizer would be lifted, except for paddy cultivation. Sri Lanka’s main Opposition party even hailed it as a victory for the farmers’ protests in the country.

However, following a “special discussion” Monday morning with subject ministers and district officials, President Rajapaksa “stressed that the country’s agriculture policy is only for a green agriculture that focuses on the sole use of organic fertilizers”, a statement from the Presidential Media Division said. Subsidies would be provided only for organic farming, he said.

Commenting on the farmer protests across the country, President Rajapaksa said: “the reason behind farmers organising protests and delaying cultivation was that they have not been properly educated.” Officials should work to find answers for the agitating farmers, in accordance with the government’s green agriculture policy, the President said, adding that officials who do not agree with government policy were free to leave, according to the statement released by his office.

The Rajapaksa government’s decision to ban chemical fertilizers, instead opting for an “organic only” policy, has drawn severe criticism from farmers across the nation, as well as scientists and agriculture experts.

Farmer protests

Farmers from Sri Lanka’s agriculture-intensive regions have been agitating for months now, demanding that the government revoke the ban on agrochemicals. Tea and paddy farmers are especially concerned, anticipating a 50 % drop in production in the coming harvest season, due to the rash policy shift.

Senior bureaucrat Mr. Jayasinghe, formerly an academic, has earlier said that the President’s decision was “based on wrong advice” given to him. The transition from chemical to organic fertilizer ought to be achieved over a decade, he told the local Daily Mirror in an interview last month.

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