02/02/2022, 00.00
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Risk of food crisis in the coming months

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The government's decision to switch to organic farming has devastated rice cultivation, reducing production by up to 50 per cent. The problem lies in the compatibility between seeds and fertilisers. For consumers, the situation is already critical due to the high prices of essential goods.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka is facing a food crisis with a shortage of rice in many areas, which will be felt more in March as farmers grow less during the Maha season (during north-east monsoon from September to March the following year) due to the current fertiliser issue.

As farmers were unable to obtain the required amount of fertiliser, the harvest is expected to be reduced by 50 per cent and a shortage of paddy (unmilled rice), vegetables and fruits will be inevitable.

The unplanned shift from chemical-based agriculture to organic farming without considering the technological, environmental and economic costs has led to a man-made crop disaster and a huge loss of approximately US$ 1.04 billion.

According to several farmers in Ampara and Moneragala districts (Eastern Province), the paddy seeds which they were provided with are responsive to chemical fertiliser; but if the government wants them to use organic fertiliser, they must be supplied with paddy seeds compatible with organic fertilisers.

According to agricultural experts, this disastrous situation stems from the lack of long-term planning for organic farming, and this has ruined the entire agriculture industry.

Agricultural experts doubt there will be any rice production for the first quarter of 2022 since rice plants will not likely grow. This will lead to a shortage in rice production. What is more, a majority of paddy farmers have abandoned farming further aggravating the situation.

Meanwhile, the price of rice is expected to reach 180-200 rupees a kilo by March and 300 rupees in April. Consumers in the island nation already face skyrocketing prices for essential commodities.

According to traders, rice from Ampara and Batticaloa districts should be available in markets by early February. As such, agricultural experts are of the view that the entire country will starve by the Sinhala New Year (in April).

Although, MPs from the ruling party have stated that they would import rice in case of a food crisis, these stocks will be imported only after banks issue letters of credit, a doubtful situation due to the current dollar crunch faced by Sri Lanka.

According to Finance Ministry sources, the total cost incurred by the government to transform chemical farming to organic farming was US$ 1.84 billion; however, this could have been avoided and only US$ 400 million spent if chemical fertiliser had been imported.

The total cost to import rice will be US$ 180 million. If the government has to import fruits and vegetables, it will be spending approximately US$ 650 million.

Analysts believe that the decision to shift to organic farming was taken under economic pressure due to decreasing foreign exchange reserves, depreciating local currency and loss of sources of revenue.

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank are being coerced into providing the required foreign exchange to import rice and essential commodities at a time when the island nation is struggling to save dollars, official sources said.

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