Organic obsession ruins nation’s economy, causing violence and widespread hunger

Organic obsession ruins nation’s economy, causing violence and widespread hunger

A decision to go organic has devastated the economy of Sri Lanka, a populous island nation south of India. Last year, the county’s government banned fertilizer imports and told the nation’s farmers to practice organic agriculture instead. The result is a “man-made” food crisis as crop yields shrink and farmers stop planting. In the cities, deadly riots have taken place as citizens run out of food and fuel. Sri Lanka is about to run out of petroleum, warned the country’s new prime minister, appointed after his predecessor resigned after destroying the country’s economy. Al Jazeera reports:

Mahinda Samarawickrema, 49, will not be planting paddy this season.

After a government ban on chemical fertilisers cut his rice yield in half during the March harvest, the farmer, who owns eight hectares (20 acres) of paddy and banana, said he no longer has the income to maintain a farm. Especially as his banana crop also looks set to fail.

“It’s a total loss,” the father of five said in mid-April, standing in a field of stunted banana trees in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota district. “When I look at this, I know I cannot get the usual yield.”

By this time of the year, most of Samarawickrema’s trees should be twice their height and in bloom, but only a few of the 1,300 trees in the weed-strewn fields have any flowers. The famer says he used to get up to 37,000kg (81,571 pounds) of bananas a year, but this time, he expects only 6,000kg (13,228 pounds).

“Everything has collapsed,” he said…..Most smallholder farmers in Samarawickrema’s Walsapugala village also say they will not be irrigating their fields in the current growing season….They say the fertiliser ban induced crop failures make farming untenable….most smallholder farmers…in key agricultural regions in the north…are also halting operations this season.

That could leave Sri Lanka, which is already grappling with shortages of imported foodstuffs amid its worst-ever economic crisis, facing widespread shortages of domestically grown and produced food, too….

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s drive to make the country the world’s first to fully adopt organic agriculture – by banning all synthetic agrochemicals, including fertilisers and pesticides – has proved disastrous for Sri Lanka’s food security…the ban was imposed overnight in May of last year.

The country’s 2 million farmers, … who until then were dependent on subsidised chemical fertilisers, suddenly found themselves left to their own devices. They said the government neither increased production of organic fertiliser nor imported sufficient soil nutrients to meet their needs.

The result has been a dramatic fall in agricultural output …. a drop of between 20 to 70 percent, depending on the crop.

For rice, a staple of the Sri Lankan diet, output fell by between 40 and 50 percent nationwide…All of this comes as Sri Lanka also reels from a foreign exchange crisis that has left the government unable to pay for essential imports, including fuel and medicines. Shortages have led to sky-high inflation, long queues for diesel, rolling electricity cuts of up to 13 hours and warnings of a “catastrophic number of deaths” from doctors.

Tens of thousands of people have also taken to the streets in protest, blaming government mismanagement for Sri Lanka’s woes…Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa … was … forced to resign earlier this month after a night of deadly riots, during which protesters set fire to properties linked to the Rajapaksa family and other governing party politicians…

More at this link.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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