‘Organic Fertilizer Revolution in Rajarata commendable’ | Daily News
Anuradhapura Government Agent R.M. Wanninayake tells Daily News

‘Organic Fertilizer Revolution in Rajarata commendable’

The following excerpts are from an interview the Daily News had with Anuradhapura Government Agent Attorney-at-Law R.M. Wanninayake. He has been holding this position for the last five years. He closely mingles with ordinary people within the jurisdiction, listening to their views, grievances, and needs concerning livelihood empowerment, thus gaining much experience in handling economic, social and cultural issues of their lifestyles.

The interview is based on the Government’s decision to promote organic fertilizers in place of chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals.

Anuradhapura Government Agent R.M. Wanninayake

Q: You are the District Secretary/Government Agent and the Head of the District Agriculture Committee (DAC) of the Anuradhapura District, the largest district in the country. How do you see organic cultivation and the impact of the organic fertilizer-only concept on the farmers in Rajarata?

A: The Anuradhapura District represents 11 percent of the country’s landscape, extending over 7,179 square kilometres. There are around 2,600 tanks that come under 400 Ellanga (cascade) systems. The only livelihood of 50 percent of the population is agriculture, and during the Maha cultivation season, a minimum of 125,000 hectares of land is cultivated with paddy. The paddy production is around 450,000 metric tonnes. In the Yala season, nearly 70,000 hectares of paddy are grown, together with vegetables such as pumpkin and fruits. The production exceeds 1,100,000 Killogrammes per year. In this context, whatever the policy implemented is with regard to agriculture, fertilizer, irrigational programmes, guaranteed prices, seeds subsidies etc. that affects the farmers very sensitively.

Q: What is your opinion about shifting to organic fertilizers from chemical fertilizers? Will it affect the farmers in this district negatively?

A: I think the organic fertilizer-only concept should have been implemented a long time ago. Because the extravagant usage of chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals for decades has caused havoc in the district and it is also highly hazardous.

Q: What are the ill effects of using chemical fertilizers?

A: Well, medical experts have identified poisonous chemicals, and heavy metals etc. which cause Chronic Kidney Disease unknown (CKDu) in large amounts in the Anuradhapura District with around 17,500 patients. That is the country’s largest percentage of CKDu patients identified. There are more than 300 patients undergoing dialysis treatment and there are 9,225 CKD patients receiving the kidney disease allowance monthly.

Although there are many opinions and logical views which attempt to show that this could be a genetic trend that is unique to the Anuradhapura District, it should also be accepted that the chemical usage for cultivations has been the main factor in developing the CKDu menace. Other than the spread of kidney disease, chemical agricultural practices have been causing irreparable damage to the environment. The fertility of the soil is affected; invasive aquatic weeds spread in water sources and the growing production cost makes the farmers distant from the traditional farming. Under this unhealthy situation which cause water contamination, environmental pollution, and health problems, shifting from chemical agriculture to an environment-friendly agricultural methodology soon is commendable.

Some farmers use chemical fertilizers, weedicides and insecticides, mythically believing that the application of more and more chemical fertilizers would yield bountiful harvests.

Q: As a Government official, what do you think about the Government’s organic fertilizer usage policy?

A: Being a Government official at the district level, my responsibility and obligation is the accurate implementation of the Government’s decisions and policies at any cost, during any problematic situation and bring it to the notice of the appropriate higher authorities and coordination, for subsiding such situations.

Personally, I appreciate and prefer organic agriculture. As the Chairperson of the District Agriculture Committee, I have been advising at every monthly meeting that almost all muddy paddy landscapes in the district are damaged due to the extravagant usage of chemical fertilizers and to refrain from using those in high land-centric vegetables and fruit cultivation at least leaving some water for drinking purposes. But I couldn’t refer to any sustainable rigid Government policy on the organic fertilizer-only concept to them for diverting their attention in the past.

Q: There is a five-six decade history for the practice of the active chemical cultivation system. Therefore, it will not be easy to do away with such a rooted concept suddenly. What do you say?

A: Yes, I agree with you. This process of chemical cultivation began in the 1943s in the world based on the agreement called ‘Green Revolution’ between the Mexico Government and the Rockefeller International Foundation. In the beginning, this agreement was implemented for the production of wheat varieties, which were highly sensitive to chemical fertilizers. The speciality in this particular Green Revolution was that it was short in size and strong varieties were introduced or rather processed in place of traditional paddy and wheat varieties that grow tall.

More chemical fertilizers were applied and consequently various brands of weedicides were used. The increase of production in consequence of the Green Revolution is not a result only of the usage of chemical fertilizer. The increase in irrigable lands, ample irrigation facilities, following advanced agrotechnology are also contributing to this situation. Food production depends only on chemical fertilizer is entirely baseless. However, today, the chemical cultivation that came into effect with the emergence of the Green Revolution, is becoming highly complicated and chaotic. As such, we are required to take to organic agriculture leaving the decade-long chemical farming even at this late stage. There are farmers in the Anuradhapura District who have been successfully practising organic farming which has not been highlighted so far. Therefore, the decision taken by the Government is right.

Q: Isn’t it a big challenge to implement the organic fertilizer-only conceptual policy under the present circumstances?

A: Yes, it is a big challenge to adapt to a new alternative mechanism countrywide. The opinions and views of some agro scientists who are well versed in chemical cultivation is another challenge. Encouraging the farmers to take to organic fertilizers, having revived the soil and environment that is fully contaminated and poisoned is another challenge. The production of organic fertilizers in bulk and finding large quantities of raw materials for fertilizer manufacturing are also a challenge that we have faced. The growing agitation among farmers which emphasises that due to the new change, their harvest would decrease and that the national food production would drop is another challenge.

Q: What are the steps taken to overcome these challenges in the district?

A: The Government is going to implement the policy in full swing from 2021/22 Maha cultivation season. The District and Provincial Level Special Task Force consisting of agricultural experts, Government executives and organic fertilizer producers has already been established with the North Central Governor as its chairperson to attend to the organic fertilizer issue. The prospective fertilizer manufacturers are registered, and trained. Bank loans and grant facilities have already been arranged for them.

It is estimated that for the forthcoming 2021/22 Maha season, the district needs 600,000 metric tonnes of organic fertilizer. If in liquid form, we need 3,600,000 litres of organic fertilizer. At present, 700 large-scale, 35,000 domestic level and 2,000 minor-scale organic fertilizer manufacturers have been registered and there are many more who are willing to take up the challenge. Also, under the auspices of Lands Minister S.M. Chandrasena, it is expected to establish nearly 30 organic fertilizer manufacturing units by the Land Reforms Commission. Although I am not an agriculture scientist, I feel that there will be difficulties in finding large volumes of ingredients for the manufacturing of fertilizer. Though invasive aquatic plants are a valuable ingredient for organic fertilizer production, those will be rare as these plants are a result of chemical fertilizer utilisation. Also, it will be a problem for the farmers to apply tonnes and tonnes of fertilizers for consecutive few seasons. Soil conservation is a very important factor. The farmers might perturb in the first few Kannas, as the harvest would most probably be low under the transformation process. The Jeewa Amurtham compound that is used in Karnataka and Andra provinces in India is now under testing in Anuradhapura in eight farmlands. One bucket full of Jeewa Amurtham is adequate for one acre. This compound is made of cow dung, urine and some other ingredients that can be easily found. The Rajarata University has been requested to attend to further testing before recommending to farmers.

Q: There is an allegation that the Government’s motive is to weaken traditional farming and consequently sell the barren landscape to foreign multi-national companies. What is your stand on this allegation?

A: Organic cultivation is definitely going to be a turning point in our agriculture history. Furthermore, at present, the farmer possesses only a nominal title for his land, since the paddy field is either mortgaged or sold or made to be sold through the unlimited usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, large varieties of agrochemicals etc. to the multinational companies. My view is that the organic fertilizer policy will save farmers and their land from the firm grip of multi­-national companies and the organic fertilizer revolution is a blessing.

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