Ban on chemical fertilizers will precipitate food shortages

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(MENAFN – NewsIn.Asia) By Lankathilaka / Counterpoint.lk

Colombo, June 5: Two weeks ago, farmers in Medirigiraya town, Polonaruwa district, demonstrated. They had not obtained their quota of fertilizer to cultivate their fields from their local agricultural office and this would affect their crop yields, their finances and the country’s food supply. These farmers also have a proud agricultural heritage that dates back to the time of King Parakramabahu, when Polonaruwa, the second oldest kingdom in the country, was self-sufficient in food. Current forecasts are not rosy. The growing scarcity of fertilizers is starting to be felt as the government’s import ban gradually suffocates the agricultural sector.

Despite warnings from experts and practitioners in the agricultural sector and with the writing on the wall, the government is pushing its way with the decision to switch from chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers for agriculture.

“The government is determined to move forward with its decision,” said an aide advising it on the transition from chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers. These experts have exposed a multitude of reasons for their fear of conversion. They explain how Sri Lanka will not be able to produce the volume of organic fertilizer needed for the change and the glaring lack of preparation for it which they say will take a minimum of two years. They predict that among the cumulative effects of a sudden transition that has not been thought out and prepared is a drop in food production and the resulting food shortage.

Sri Lanka is not the first country in the region to want to convert completely to organic farming. Industry experts point to the example of Bhutan, which pledged in 2014 to convert to organic farming by 2020. Even with years of prior preparation, Bhutan has not been able to do so. achieve its target which it extended until 2035. In 2019, Bhutan had converted only 1.3 percent of its total arable land to organic farming. With more and more abandoned farmland and declining yields, it turned around when faced with looming food shortages. In 2018, Bhutan imported 63 percent of its rice needs and 21 and 23 percent, respectively, of its maize and vegetable needs. To avoid the inevitability of a similar fate, experts urge the government to reconsider its decision.

“The shift to 100% organic cannot be achieved at any cost,” says Prof. Buddhi Marambe. He is a scientist in the Department of Plant Science at the University of Peradeniya. “It cannot be done, not in the short, medium or long term. This is one of the points of a 20-point plan that the government wants to implement for a greener socio-economic policy. The total ban on chemical fertilizers is not compatible with the other 19 points for the government to achieve this goal ”.

Professor Marambe takes the example of Europe which, as part of its green agreement, has committed to converting only 25% of its agricultural land by 2030. However, it is struggling to achieve this objective which is now extended until 2050. “Despite its technological advances, Europe was not going 100 percent organic all at once because that would have compromised its food security.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) sets standards for organic farming. It publishes a full report every year. According to its latest report in 2019, only 1.5% of the total global agricultural land area is restricted to organic cultivation. Globally, this equates to only 71.5 million hectares and only 2.5% of Sri Lanka’s arable land.

The crux of the matter with fertilizers, whether chemical or organic, has to do with one of its key nutrients which is nitrogen and without which the leaves of the plant turn yellow. The fertilizer contains 18 macro and micro nutrients. In addition to nitrogen, the other main nutrients are phosphate, potassium, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. While the hydrogen and oxygen requirements are supplied by the water, other nutrients must be added, especially since years of cultivation and re-cultivation have depleted the nutrients in the soil.

“People ask me why we don’t add fertilizer to the soil in Sinharaja Forest Reserve and I tell them that the land there doesn’t need to be replenished because nothing is being taken out of it. As a result, it keeps regenerating itself, ”explains Professor Marambe.

The main source of nitrogen in chemical fertilizers is urea, which is a byproduct of petroleum and quickly releases nitrogen. One hundred kilograms of urea produces 46 kilograms of nitrogen. With an organic fertilizer made from plant and animal material such as cow dung, the nitrogen percentage is between 1 and 3.5, which gives a scale of nitrogen needed to provide the nutrients the plant needs. . Nitrogen is also a difficult nutrient to manage. Its application must be controlled and done at the right time so that the plan absorbs it from the ground.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, if the culture is to be exclusively organic, the amount of organic matter that will be needed will be ten times greater than the hectare.

A middle ground in maintaining both high crop yields and soil fertility is to use a mixture of chemical and organic fertilizers. According to a study conducted by the Rice Research and Development Institute in Batalagoda for eleven consecutive seasons of yala and maha, the highest yield was produced by plots with a mixture of the two fertilizers. Field research that was carried out between 2003 and 2014 involved the application of chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers alone, a mixture of the two and using no fertilizer at all. The amount of chemical fertilizer that was added was that recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture and the organic fertilizer that was added was at the rate of 10 tonnes per hectare. At the end of the study period, the average yield generated with the use of organic fertilizers alone was 30 percent higher and over 70 percent with the exclusive use of chemical fertilizers. It was 92 percent and was at its maximum when chemical and organic fertilizers were used on the plot. The study also found that the soil fertility in the plots that had been applied with organic fertilizers had a high level of organic matter and contained nitrogen.

“Food security is national security,” explains Professor Marambe. “We must have sustainable policies to ensure food security because there is no point in depending on food imports from outside.”

The points that guarantee food security require easy access to it in sufficient quantities and with the right nutrients at all times. Currently Sri Lanka produces more rice than can be eaten. The per capita consumption rate of the country is 115 kilograms per year of which 107 to 108 kilograms come from cereals like rice and the rest of rice products like rice flour. Sri Lanka meets this need by producing at least 2.4 tonnes of rice per year, or about 200,000 MT per month. He did this by increasing the productivity of the land using high-yielding varieties of rice and increasing the area under cultivation. Farmers have also adopted new technologies. In fact, more than 98 percent of the rice fields are cultivated with high-yielding varieties of rice. The yield per hectare is 4.8 tonnes, an average of 7.4 times higher than the 1940 yield which was 0.56. At the time, the country had to import 60 percent of its rice needs for a population of six million people. The population is now 21.8 million.

One of the drivers of the conversion is the fear that nitrogen concentrates in the soil could lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD). “The effect of nitrogen transfer from one growing season to another will not be less than 1-1.5%, if at all,” says Prof Marambe. Recent findings from the National Research Council also seem to confirm that such concerns may be unfounded. Their study on the link between CRI in farmers and groundwater contamination reveals that the main reason is that farmers do not drink enough water when working in their fields.

Professor Marambe’s recommendations for breaking the current impasse are not to ban the import and use of chemical fertilizers. He advocates the proactive implementation of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certificate program which promotes the use of the integrated plant nutrient system. The program which was launched in 2015 to boost consumer confidence in food safety did not have many takers when it was launched in 2015. The growing number of its subscribers, which today stands at around 400, is a reflection of the reality of the need for food security. .

In order for the government to effectively implement this program, it recommends that it issue a directive to all farmers to register for GAP certification and give them until December 31, 2022 to do so. The next step he suggests is to order all supermarkets to start marketing and selling GAP certified products by January 1, 2023. “This will certainly help the government achieve its overall socio-economic policy goal. green and will not compromise food security either ”.

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Ban on chemical fertilizers Food shortages Organic fertilizers Sri Lanka

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