Business & Economy

Paucity of fertilizers hits Sri Lankan farmers as economic crisis lingers

By Aanya Wipulasena

Colombo, June 16 (EFE).- Underprivileged Sri Lankan farmers are facing a severe shortage of chemical fertilizers as the island nation navigates through a crippling economic crisis.

The deficit comes more than a year after the government in April last year banned all chemical fertilizers which lasted for over seven months.

Kamani Priyangika, a farmer in Polonnaruwa, one of the big rice-producing districts in central Sri Lanka, has pawned her gold chain to borrow money for rice cultivation on her farm spread over around 40,000 square meters.

Both Priyangika and her husband have already sowed rice seeds and plowed the land, but the crop requires fertilizers, a product which has become almost impossible to acquire.

“We cannot find enough fertilizers in the market anymore. When we do find them, we cannot afford them,” Priyangika told EFE.

The two-fold problem for the local farmers began in April 2021, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned the use of fertilizers overnight and turned Sri Lanka into the first “100 percent organic” country.

The government revoked the ban in November, but the shortage of fertilizers and chemical pesticides and the lack of organic agricultural products forced many farmers to stop harvesting rice, causing a drop of around 50 percent in the production.

The authorities have blamed the lack of fertilizers on the general rise in prices due to the Ukraine war.

But the consequences of the ban, along with the severe economic crisis affecting the country, have dealt a crushing blow to the productivity of local farmers.

Rice production dropped by around 40 percent in the last harvest season between September and March.

An agriculture ministry official told EFE anonymously that they feared another 60 percent deficit in the ongoing minor harvest season.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who also heads the finance ministry, warned in the parliament last week that the country would face a food shortage due to the drop in rice production.

The island nation of 22 million people requires 2.5 million tons of rice annually for consumption.

But current stocks have dropped to 1.6 million tons, said the prime minister.

Farmers generally believe that the steps by the government to curb the agricultural crisis are too little, too late.

The severe shortage of chemicals has resulted in only wealthy farmers being able to buy fertilizers for their fields, leaving the majority in the lurch.

The poorer do not have funds to protect their crops and are forced to buy cheaper alternatives or use the products in smaller quantities.

“I do not think we can get even one-fourth of the harvest we usually get,” Vikum Lakmal Premathilake, a 34-year-old farmer from Ampara, another key rice-producing district, told EFE.

Premathilake said he would need more than 150,000 rupees (around $416) to work his field this season, with an expected crop of just 500 kg that would fetch around 180 rupees per kg.

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