• Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

Sri Lanka’s agripreneurial community makes recommendations for the revival of the agriculture sector ahead of food crisis

There are constant dire warnings of impending food shortages citing many causes and blames on
past actions. While it is useful and wise to be forewarned, the warnings alone will not avert the
possible shortages. What is required is for those able and willing to engage in cultivation and other
relevant activities, as best as possible using available and deployable resources, instead of just
lamenting and demanding inputs that may never come.



It is also important to note that the relevance and the need to also strategize and implement the
long-term solutions, spelled out therein still remain valid. Therefore in addition to the short-term
activities, the creation of the pathway for the realization of the long-term goals, is therefore
essential, with due care to ensure that the short-term decisions and actions in no way obstruct that
pathway.


The supply of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to meet even the original recommended levels of
usage is now unlikely, both due to the costs, shortage of Dollars, and the reduced supplies in the
world market. The only positive signal is the offer of 65,000 tons of Urea from India. As such it is
time to set aside the many arguments against the original ban and consider the optimal usage of
these limited supplies, which hopefully can be available in time for the current Yala season.
In this context, we wish to highlight two inescapable issues.


a) There are reports from the Department of Agriculture, on research conducted over many
years, that a suitable mix of chemical and organic fertilizers would give rise to an enhanced
yield of over 20% compared with the yield from the use of only chemical fertilizer. This
research is based on soil types and is crop-based. Hence the DOA should develop a set of
recommendations and make them immediately available to the agriculture sector. Thus the
limited quantities of chemical fertilizer that are available should be issued only to those who
practice this methodology.


b) Since the original ban on chemical fertilizer came into effect, many farmers and
entrepreneurs opted to, both manufacture and utilize none chemical natural fertilizers.
Many such successes have been reported in the media. Urgent action is required by the Dept
of Agriculture to verify these claims and support and expand these practices widely as the
official recommendation if proven accurate and valid. Considering the urgency of the situation and the possible most positive impact, these must be done immediately if not
already done.
c) The introduction and proliferation of the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a
historically recent event. While these may have made a positive impact, the recent market
upheavals and the long-term negative impacts of near-total dependence on external sources
impacting the national food security must be recognized. Therefore, it is wise to embrace
this opportunity given to implement alternatives that everyone agrees are a better approach
if implemented intelligently. The present shortages of both fertilizer and the foreign
exchange push Sri Lanka to come up with a much faster change over to the alternatives, even
accepting the much-talked-about drop in yield. Other means of covering the drop need to
be adopted like cultivating abandoned and underutilized and unused arable lands and
reducing post-harvest losses.


URGENT SHORT TERM ACTIONS RECOMMENDED


Access to fertilizer and alternatives


I. It is urgent to ensure that whatever natural or organic fertilizers are produced conform to
acceptable standards, in order that they perform as claimed. The fertilizer secretariat alone
may not be able to do this as a nationwide exercise, and therefore suitable distributed state
agencies must be enrolled to perform this function. Such certification could be made
mandatory for sale to the public.
II. There are specific intensive agricultural enterprises, including protected agriculture, which
are designed for the use of specialized chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They should be
permitted to use a part of their foreign exchange earnings to import such specialty fertilizers.
A system needs to be set in place so that this section collectively or via the registered
importers could utilize this facility, if not already in place. The National Fertilizer Secretariat
should grant temporary approvals to those direct users or others with foreign exchange
balances to import such fertilizers while adhering to the processes laid down by the
Secretariat


Market and Monetary Measures


III. The unstructured and politically motivated system of subsidies has been a bane of the
country not limited to Agriculture. Hence this practice should not be reintroduced as
presently being discussed and reported in the media, offering false hopes to the farmers and
discouraging them from commencing cultivations using available resources. Any sector or
individual believing and insisting on the use of chemical fertilizer should be ready to pay the
proper market price. It would be morally wrong to offer such subsidies, which are funded by
the general treasury, and the burden of which is also shared by those who have opted to find
ways and means of becoming self-sufficient, not depending on imports.
IV. The purchase price of major food commodities such as paddy, corn, and pulses must reflect
the true cost of production without any subsidies. Therefore, those who have had the
courage to opt for less expensive alternatives would be more encouraged.
V. Mandatory reporting of paddy and rice stocks held by the operating oligarchy of the large
rice millers which has manipulated the market with impunity and the system of price control
in total disarray and the consumer protection agencies being sidelined. Non-compliance
with such regulations is to be strictly dealt with as a deterrent.


Social Issues and Propaganda


VI. The essential safety net that should be in place for the segment of the society, highly
deserving support cannot be served by general subsidies. Alternative means as a properly
managed and monitored Samurdhi system, once more not politically manipulated, should be
utilized for this. This does not require any foreign exchange.

VII. An urgent program is needed to discourage the present attitudes of a major proportion of
the population of expecting handouts and all manner of services to be given by the state.
The state should only be a facilitator and enabler to provide fair access to necessary inputs
and services. All media, public and private should be enrolled to implement this paradigm
shift, which would make all of us look for opportunities instead of handouts which in reality,
continue to keep Sri Lanka a beggar nation.
VIII. The time available to avert any possible food shortages, by continuing the past practices is
fast running out. As such the encouragement of home gardening which has proven its value
in the past must be highly encouraged. What is needed is more than easy access to seeds
and planting material. The promotional propaganda which is not yet seen adequately needs
major enhancement and should be practically demonstrated by those who preach
Mitigatory Actions to meet the impending shortfall
IX. The continuing lament against the ban on chemical fertilizer has been the dire prediction of
the loss of harvest yield. While this may be true, the extent of such loss is yet to be published
officially. It would be useful to publicize such official statistics early to be able to reach firm
decisions on the degree of the problem and strategize any corrective actions
X. It is essential to recognize that in addition to feeding the nation, non-traditional agriculture
too has a great potential to be a major earner of foreign exchange, particularly by way of
value-added products to meet the standards of the world markets. While the appreciable
contribution of this effort may be realized in the medium term, immediate steps are needed
to recognize and encourage and iron out any procedural and policy obstacles. Immediate
identification of high potential high-value addition crops and an action plan already
recommended by the Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum (SLAF) must be immediately
implemented. SLAF has already commenced work via a multi-stakeholder team to develop
the Jak Fruit Value Chain.
XI. While the possible reduction of yield due to a shortage of chemical fertilizer is discussed at
length, other factors which have the same impact such as lack of adherence to GAP,
post-harvest losses, and often publicized wastes due to lack of marketing opportunities, have
not received any significant attention. Even partial alleviation of these unnecessary losses
can be the means of offsetting the reduction of the expected loss of yield. Some measures
which can be implemented in the short term are proposed
a. Reintroduction of the proper packaging systems for the transport of fruits and
vegetables, which was tried and abandoned
b. Completion of the Cold Store Complex at Dambulla and instituting a reliable
management structure with the participation of stakeholder farmers and selected
private companies with the requisite operational and management expertise on such
facilities, with the required state involvement for regulation.
c. Utilizing the storage facilities at the locations such as the Veyangoda Complex where
more durable products can be stored for longer periods of time thus regulating the
volatility of the markets and reducing post-harvest losses.


A common holistic Approach is needed for success


With the possibility of the food security being severely impacted, to a level hitherto
unprecedented, the steps needed to even partially alleviate such severity would naturally
require drastic and urgent actions. The implementation of the above actions is therefore
urgent and imperative. While the participation and contribution of a wide spectrum of
stakeholders both in the State Sector and Private sector and individual farmers are needed,
The Sri Lanka Agripreneurs Forum is committed to providing its full support and assistance in
achieving this objective.

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