Sudden Shift to Organic Farming Plunges Sri Lanka into Worst Economic Crisis Since 1948

The President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, implemented a sudden ban on chemical fertilisers in April of last year, plunging the country into its worst financial crisis since 1948, when it became independent, and leaving it facing an impending food shortage. Hannah Ellis-Paterson in the Guardian has more.

The full implications of the ill-advised policy – which has now been reversed – are only just being realised. Farmers say their livelihoods are under threat and for the first time in its modern history, Sri Lanka, which usually grows rice and vegetables in abundance, could run out of food as harvests drop and the government can no longer afford the food imports the country has become overdependent on in recent years. The rice yield dropped to 2.92 million tonnes in 2021-22, down from the previous year’s 3.39 million, and the speaker in parliament last week warned of imminent starvation among the island’s 22 million people.

“We are a tropical country full of rice paddies and banana plantations, but because of this stupid fertiliser ban, now we don’t even have enough food to feed ourselves,” said Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, 52, former Governor of the southern province. “We have had past economic crises, security crises but never in Sri Lanka’s history have we had a food crisis.”

On the face of it, a push to organic farming would be seen as laudable, given concerns over the use of chemical fertilisers. Yet it was the sudden and obtuse manner in which the ban was introduced – imposed virtually overnight and with no prior warning or training – and the questionable motives behind it, that have left even organic farming advocates furious.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall sees a dark irony in that final paragraph.

Well, yes, the organic farming advocates would be furious, wouldn’t they? Imagine devoting your energies to an insistence upon a more land hungry, less productive form of agriculture. Then finding out that when it’s actually implemented it turns out to be just that, more land hungry and less productive. In fact, the results have been just what critics have been saying they would be all these decades of struggle.

Tim, a prolific journalist as well as a Senior Fellow of the ASI, has lambasted the Sri Lankan Government for this and other similar blunders in his latest column for the Dhaka Tribune. Definitely worth reading in full.

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September 2022
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