President Gotabaya Rajapaksa determinately announced last month that he intends to make Sri Lanka the first country in the world to completely stop the use of chemical fertilisers. From the tone of his address and the repeated announcements that he made subsequently, it is obvious that he meant what he said and it is unlikely [...]

Business Times

Fertiliser: Strengthening the hands of the president


A farmer carries a sack of fertiliser at his farm in Puttalam. Pic by Hiran Priyankara

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa determinately announced last month that he intends to make Sri Lanka the first country in the world to completely stop the use of chemical fertilisers. From the tone of his address and the repeated announcements that he made subsequently, it is obvious that he meant what he said and it is unlikely that he will backtrack from the important and progressive decision he has made.

The use of chemical fertiliser in Sri Lanka commenced in the 1940s during the Second World War. Scientists came with the revolutionary agricultural invention of using vegetative propagated seedlings and cross pollination, instead of using seedlings turned out from seeds. This increased the plants available by at least five fold. Many clones were developed that were suitable for different soils and climates. The organic fertilisers available were thoroughly inadequate. And the farmers had to look for an alternative supply. If we take for an example the paddy varieties we are talking today are not of Al wee, Heenati or Ma wee, but BG, AT, and BW varieties. The yields varied from 2 tons from the earlier varieties to 7 to 9 tons per hectare. So those who are sounding an alarm to the ambitious wishes of the President predict a gloomy picture of yields coming down by at least 50 percent thus creating an acute shortage of rice in the market resulting in a virtual famine.

According to available figures in the use of chemical fertiliser per hectare, Sri Lanka ranks the highest in the world.

Use of chemical fertiliser per hectare:

  •   Australia 68 kg
  •   Pakistan 144 kg
  •   India 165 kg
  •   Netherlands 268 kg
  •   Israel 280 kg
  •   Bangladesh 289 kg
  •   Sri Lanka 300 kg

It is said that due to improper application of chemical fertiliser a large quantity remains on the top soil and gets washed out to the water streams creating kidney diseases and other chronic cancerous diseases

Import costs

A huge sum is paid every year for the import of fertiliser and the figure keeps on rising each year. As imported fertiliser is given free or at an subsidised rate it is the government which has to face the brunt of the huge cost of imported fertiliser.

Over the last few years there has been an attempt to go back to organic fertiliser. Some countries have different counters in the shops displaying food items produced by using organic manure. These cost more but are tastier. It is an established fact countries consuming tea are prepared to pay a higher price for tea produced without the use of chemical fertiliser.

Due to use of chemical fertiliser over the past 80 years the soil is completely dead and toxic. The country needs the soil to be revived with a heavy dose of organic manure. A start has to be made. Although the SLPP manifesto states that it intends to revert to the use of organic manure in 10 years the President has now accelerated the process by fast tracking. A total ban is to be implemented around mid-2022.

Why organic fertilizer?

  •   Organic food tastes better and contains high nutritional values. Organic farming creates balance between crop protection and animal husbandry
  •   Increases crop yield with less irrigation
  •   Improves ground water recharge and reduces depletion of ground water
  •   Organic farming preserves the long term fertility of soil and bio diversity through the sustainable production system
  •   Organic food reduces health risks
  •   Chemical free farming keeps harmful elements out of food consumed.
  •   Cost effective to farmers
  •   Hugh sum of foreign exchange will be saved to the country
  •   There is a reservoir of various sources utilised to date that go to create organic manure.

In the past it was cattle manure that was mainly used. Farmers used cows for ploughing and the animal droppings were automatically added to the soil. In addition straw was also left in the field and allowed to get mixed with the soil increasing the fertility of the soil. Today straw is burnt and a good element of natural fertiliser is lost.


In answering the critics who are behaving like prophets of doom lets figure out the picture as prevailing today. They lament that the production or the yield will come down by 50 percent. According to Central Bank figures, Sri Lanka enjoyed a bumper crop in paddy production during the years 2019 and 2020. According to these reports Sri Lanka has produced nearly 3.2 million MT of rice during one season in each of the years 2019 and 2020, while the country’s annual household demand for rice stands at around 2.3 million metric tons. So the rice production is sufficient to meet the country’s rice demand for approximately 17 months. And the rice imports during these periods declined by as much as 34.8 percent. So if a ban is imposed and the production drops by 50 percent the country will still have sufficient rice to meet the demand.

An important factor that has to be considered is, if there is a drop in production the universally accepted economic factors will come into play. The supply and demand equation will fix the price. In such a situation the farmer will get a higher price for his product which will substantially offset the losses he may incur. On the other hand the Government will come to the rescue of the consumer when the prices go up by using part of the monies that will be saved by the ban on fertiliser to subsidise the high price and make available rice to the people at an affordable price.

Some critics were commenting that when the President made his intentions known more than half of those present at the conference returned to their offices threw the files on to their tables and nothing occurred up to date to implement the cherished desires of the President. Under the circumstances it is a welcome sign that the President has appointed a Taskforce to implement the project. Crisis times need crisis management. A ruthless task master is the need of the hour to ensure that the intentions of the President are put to practice.

Organic manure

We have in our hands a copy of a project proposal that has been made with the advice of a retired Deputy Director of Agriculture. The project envisages the use of green weeds found all over the country to turn out organic manure. This project depicts the use of raw material that are found in the environment but are not gainfully used at present and in addition are extremely harmful to the people and the environment. These weeds commonly called Salvinia or Japan jabare are found in almost all the lakes and streams and other water bodies in the country. The use of these green weeds will help to get rid of this nuisance by cleaning the water in the lakes, rivers, streams and other water bodies. Salvinia and other types of water hyacinth are regarded as a serious threat to waterways and irrigation systems in the country. These weeds are also invasive and thus threaten the existence of native submerged and floating leaf plants and create low oxygen conditions beneath the thick floating mats of water weeds and slows down the water flow.

Most importantly they provide ideal conditions for breeding of mosquitoes thus creating a very serious health hazard to the society. In addition these weeds also threaten and spoil the habitats of fish and other living aquatic organisms. The project in addition to salvinia will use cow dung straw and a small quantity of compost manure required to generate bacteria.

Currently the government is spending a considerable amount of money on cleaning these tanks streams and this project will help to reduce such expenditure thus killing two birds with one shot.

Green weed fertiliser will be very rich in nitrogen. The project in addition will run a cattle dairy with 100 cows to supplement the weeds to produce organic manure. The proposal envisages the total use of salvinia within 5 to 7 years and in order to find green leaves thereafter, the project plans to cultivate 25 acres of land with such trees as gliricidia and ipil-ipil. Using 30 chambers the project will produce 250,500 kg organic manure per month and the four cattle sheds will also produce liquid manure from the bio gas plants mostly for use in horticulture in addition to providing around 25 street lamps in the estate. Reasearch also will be carried out to turn out insecticides using locally available herbs. The project requires 50 acres of land and an investment of Rs. 250 million. The project will provide direct employment to 35 including four agricultural graduates and two graduates in animal husbandry. In addition it will provide indirect employment to around 100 to 150 persons. There will be a net profit of Rs. 6 million per year after providing for the repayment of borrowed capita within 15 years.

Selling price of organic manure will be Rs. 20 per kilo and a bag of 20 kilos will be Rs.400 while the market price will be Rs. 50 per bag. There will be a huge saving for the government. This can remain a model project for others to emulate so that the country will be free of very harmful chemical fertiliser. If the President succeeds in setting up 100 projects of this size, Sri Lanka will be self-sufficient in organic fertiliser.

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