斯里蘭卡 Sri lanka
Is organic farming responsible for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis?
Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis. There are protests and cabinet resignations, the President himself is desperately trying to hold on to power. This mayhem that the country is going through has been squarely blamed on the shift to organic farming. But is this the case?
Or did the economy collapse because of a series of blunders that have been going on for years with the shift to organic being the last nail in the proverbial coffin?
In 2016, A movement comprising academics and civil society began to grow with a demand for going back to organic farming. This movement was called Viyath maga, which among other things pushed for a change in the way agriculture was practised on this island.
Sensing an opportunity, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made organic farming a poll promise as part of his 2019 election campaign. And on April 29, 2021, he kept his poll promise by ordering the country’s two million farmers to go organic, overnight.
But, why did Rajapaksa decide to go organic? It was not that he believed that organic farming could feed Sri Lanka’s population. But because he wanted to save foreign exchange bills on imported fertilisers.
Sri Lanka imports all its fertiliser from mainly China and India. At that time, the total cost of fertiliser imports and subsidies was also close to $500 million. This may not look like a huge amount, but according to the World Bank, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stood at around $5.7 billion in 2020.
This meant Sri Lanka was spending roughly 10 per cent of its reserves in importing fertiliser.
Then, in 2020, COVID-19 happened. The bill was already straining the country’s reserves, but the pandemic almost emptied it out. Tourism contributed close to $478 million in 2018, which fell to $50 million in 2020.
Similarly, the Sri Lankan economy is dependent on export of items such as tea, rubber, coconut, spices and garments which contribute close to a quarter to its gross domestic product. Since 2012, there has been a slowdown in exports of these goods.
Sri Lanka is also saddled with a mammoth external debt of nearly $45 billion. According to Sajith Premadasa, the leader of Sri Lanka’s opposition, close to $8 billion of this debt is from China.
A lot of this debt was for projects that could have been money spinners for the country, but many of them became non-starters. Like the Humbonota port, for which Sri Lanka took $1.2 billion from China. But Sri Lanka could not run the port and repay its loan to China.
It renegotiated the loan and handed the port to China on a lease for 99 years. Today, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stand at only $2 billion. Sri Lanka’s economic crisis was not a result of organic farming, but poor economic policies.
When Rajapaksa announced the shift to organic, less than three per cent of Sri Lanka’s farmland was farmed without chemicals. The country needed time to change and adjust to the organic way of farming. They also needed support and good organic substitutes to smooth the transition.
Bhutan, for example, announced in 2008 that it will become fully organic by 2020. Bhutan is yet to achieve that target.
As for Sri Lanka, the impact of a series of poor economic policies, sheer shortsightedness and a heavy reliance on foreign funds will hurt the 20.1 million Sri Lankan population for years to come.
Sorce from: Down to Earth (April 15, 2022). Is organic farming responsible for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis? Down to Earth. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/video/agriculture/is-organic-farming-responsible-for-sri-lanka-s-economic-crisis--82419