10 May

Once a major exporter of food grains, Sri Lanka is currently reeling under its worst economic crisis. The country has been facing an acute shortage of food grains, triggering panic among farmers across the country. The Rajapaksa government decided to ban chemical fertilisers without preparing farmers, which prompted a surge in food prices. The government is now worried about shortages due to an imbalance in demand and supply. MP Roshan Ranasinghe recently proposed that a decision must be made to distribute organic and chemical fertilisers (50% each) to the agricultural community. At Kesbewa village, on the outskirts of Colombo, the farmers are sitting idle. Challenges are double, as on one side the chemical fertilisers are banned and the other side there is an acute shortage of diesel, which is essential for the agricultural process. Farmer Gunasiri said that he currently has no fertilisers nor the diesel to carry out any work on his farm. But to make ends meet, he is working at some shop. The fields that used to be covered by paddy crops every year are now deserted. For more than four decades, farmers of Sri Lanka have been using foreign-made chemical fertilisers and pesticides that help them reap better crops. Citing health concerns and shortages of foreign reserves to import chemical fertilisers, the Rajapaksa administration imposed a ban on the use of chemicals and started organic farming. Farmers and agriculture experts now hold the government responsible for the sharp decline in the yields and soaring prices of essential food grains. Prices for grains, including rice, which is a key product in Sri Lanka, have skyrocketed. The country is now importing rice from India, China and Pakistan. Subsequently, the prices for other food items have also gone up by almost three times. Shortages of fuel are affecting transportation, adding to the already soaring inflation. Farmer Anura said, "The government forced us to switch to organic farming all of a sudden and due to that, we could not produce anything. Now we are left with no money, survival is very difficult here. Somehow, we got chemical fertilisers from the black market at very high rates." The farmers of Sri Lanka are now turning into labourers due to failed policies of the government. In cash crops like rubber and tea, the use of chemicals is 90 per cent, but a ban imposed in April 2021 left farmers in the doldrums. Two million farmers in Sri Lanka were left in misery with no help. Reportedly, the domestic rice production was reduced by more than 20 per cent. The decline in tea production could cost the country to the tune of $425 million. Although the government had decided to pay $200 mn compensation for a failed organic farm drive to 2 million rice farmers, it's too late. Source: India Today