BY Buddhika Samaraweera
The Finance Ministry, through the gazette notification number 2238/45 of 31 July 2021, has relaxed regulations on the import of chelated (a type of bonding of ions and molecules to metal ions) minerals and micronutrients for the purpose of producing fertiliser.
Accordingly, nitrogen (N) fertiliser, phosphate (PO₄³⁻) fertiliser, potassium (K) fertiliser, fertilisers containing such minerals and chemical fertilisers containing a combination of fertilising elements, that were previously banned from import, have been brought under the import control licence (ICL) by the aforesaid gazette notification.
The Imports and Exports Control Department Controller General (CG), T.V.D. Damayanthi S. Karunarathne, in a letter dated 2 August 2021, has informed the Customs Director General and the chief executive officers (CEOs) of all commercial banks of the said decision. In the letter, Karunarathne has pointed out that the commercial banks should not proceed with any payments in respect of these items without a valid ICL from 31 July 2021. It is also stated in the letter that the Customs should not release the stocks of these items without a valid ICL from 31 July.
The said gazette notification signed by the Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa stated that the regulations promulgated through it shall only be applicable to the import of goods that have a date of bill of lading or airway bill on or after 31 July 2021.
However, Treasury and Finance Ministry Secretary S.R. Attygalle, speaking to The Morning, said that no chemical fertiliser would be imported in bulk as had been done previously.
He emphasised that the licenses would be granted under the supervision of the Agriculture Ministry and the Imports and Exports Control Department for permitted items as contained in the aforementioned list in order to enhance the quality of the organic fertiliser. The list includes nitrogen fertiliser, phosphate fertiliser, potassium fertiliser, fertilisers containing such minerals and chemical fertilisers containing a combination of fertilising elements.
“In order to produce carbonic fertiliser, one needs both compost and a liquid. Compost contains about 1% nitrogen. However, nitrogen is required to produce the said liquid component of organic fertiliser and the percentage of nitrogen needed for this purpose is about 4%. That is why this import is taking place.”
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian, Gunapala Rathnasekara, speaking in the Parliament yesterday (3), said that certain sectors have been given some freedom to import chemical fertilisers as the Government has realised that the decision on the use of organic fertilisers for such sectors cannot be implemented immediately.
He said that the decisions taken by any Government could not be implemented in a linear manner and that certain decisions taken by any Government would have to be changed when environmental changes occur.
“As a Government, we, in good faith, have come up with a proposal to stop importing chemical fertiliser and to instead turn to organic farming in view of the adverse effects of the use of chemical fertiliser. But, we see that there are certain aspects that we cannot immediately convert to organic fertiliser use. Therefore, certain sectors have been given some leeway to see whether it is possible to import a certain amount of chemical fertiliser,” he noted.
A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals such as pesticides and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the same was granted approval, following which the relevant gazette notification was issued in May 2021.
However, the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association (SAEA), in a recent letter to President Rajapaksa, pointed out that average yields from paddy, coconut and the production of vegetatively propagated tea (VPT) would drastically go down if chemical fertiliser is fully replaced by organic fertiliser.
In the letter, the SAEA claimed that average yields from paddy could drop by 25% if chemical fertiliser is fully replaced by organic fertiliser. It is also stated that this loss in productivity could reduce the profitability of paddy farming by 33% and rice consumption by 27% if paddy is cultivated solely with organic fertiliser, coupled with a complete ban on rice imports. In contrast, applying organic fertiliser with the recommended dosage of chemical fertiliser would improve the profitability of farming by 16%, the letter further read.
The SAEA also pointed out that the absence of chemical fertiliser would drastically reduce the productivity of the VPT. With a 35% productivity drop, the export volume of tea would go down from 279 to 181 million kilos, causing an income loss of Rs. 84 billion, it stated. The estate sector will likely incur significant losses compared to those of tea smallholders. These losses could be further aggravated due to the increased cost of labour to apply bulky organic fertiliser, it was also mentioned in the letter.
The letter further read: “Coconut yields would go down by 30% if chemical fertiliser and pesticides are not applied. This situation will adversely impact the availability of fresh coconuts for the production of coconut oil, desiccated coconut and other coconut products.”
Also, the Agriculture Ministry, when requested by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), had failed to submit any relevant documents regarding a proper study conducted prior to the Government’s decision to ban the use and importation of chemical fertiliser, pesticides and weedicides and the use organic fertiliser instead.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) recently claimed that about 10,000 metric tonnes (MT) of urea fertiliser has been imported on 9 July against the backdrop of a complete ban on the import of chemical fertiliser.