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Wednesday, November 2nd - 05:30 AM To 06:30 AM
Sri Lanka is in the midst of multiple economic, humanitarian and political crises. Years of macroeconomic mismanagement and corruption have bankrupted the island nation, which in April 2022 defaulted on servicing accumulated foreign debts of USD 51 billion. For many months, its 22 million people have been struggling with hyperinflation, and prolonged shortages of electricity, medicines, food, petroleum and cooking gas. After weeks of mostly peaceful protests by outraged citizens, the entire government resigned; the President fled the country in mid-July and sent his resignation from overseas.
While some of Sri Lanka’s woes are aggravated by external factors like the pandemic and high world oil prices, an entirely self-inflicted crisis in agriculture has made matters much worse. In April 2021, the former government introduced a policy of ‘instant’ organic farming and banned all chemical fertiliser and other agrochemicals. Promoted as a measure to reduce toxic residues in food and water, the policy was not backed by adequate organic fertilisers or other non-chemical farming inputs. As two million farmers struggled and protested, most agricultural scientists urged the government to phase out organic farming over a few years. These were ignored, leading to yield reductions of 40% to 60% in rice, other food crops as well as tea that remains a key export product.
Even though the hasty policy was relaxed in late 2021 and later abandoned, the country’s farming and food security will take years to recover. In this panel, we will briefly trace unfolding of the policy debacle with focus on how Sri Lanka’s agricultural scientists and some journalists raised concerns in the media, online and professional forums: what lessons can we derive on speaking out in the public interest critiquing a wrong policy choice? We will also look at the role of misplaced advocacy by some local and foreign environmentalists that prompted the failed ‘instant organic’ policy.