A food crisis of the government’s own making

News: Recently, the Sri Lanka government banned agrochemical fertilizers, to switch to 100% organic agriculture.

The example of Sri Lanka is an eye-opener for the other countries as well. It proves that any unplanned attempt to move to organic farming may prove to be disastrous for the agriculture sector.

What were the issues associated with the plan of the Sri Lanka government?

It neither had solid scientific information nor a clear action plan to move to organic farming. It was based on the raw advice of some officials that only organic and traditional agriculture is safe for the environment and human beings.

Furthermore, it announced the compensation for the loss due to reduced crop yield due to a lack of agrochemicals. However, it created no mechanism to identify the reasons behind reduced crop yield, which could also happen due to natural causes, farmers’ attitudes, and so on.

It failed to consider the fact that globally, only 1.5% of farmland is organic, due to various issues associated with it. The country lacked the capacity for mass production of organic fertilizers in a short period of time.

Meemkem and Qaim (2018) pointed out in an analysis that organic agriculture on average could result in a yield drop of 19%-23%, depending on the crop and agro-climatic region.

As the crisis deepened, it purchased a liquid nano-N fertilizer from Indian Farmer Fertilizer Corporative Limited (IFFCO). It was actually a nano-urea, which could not be used for organic farming. Health concerns that might arise on long-term exposure to nano-particles were also not clear.

Thus, due to an unplanned decision, Sri Lanka had to use a fertilizer, which had no proven record regarding efficiency and safety.

What were its impacts?

Failure to maintain the same level of yield lead to food shortage, increase food prices.

The government ultimately has to resort to food imports, thereby hurting the public exchequer.

Also, the imported food is produced using agrochemicals because of the higher price of organic food. This was in contrast to the initial objective.

What steps are needed to be taken?

To switch to 100% organic agriculture, a country must have robust scientific evidence and a carefully planned methodology along with targeted actions

Source: This post is based on the article “A food crisis of the government’s own making” published in The Hindu on 25th November 2021.

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