Demonstration against commodity shortages in Colombo on November 12, 2021 Ishara S. KODIKARA
Sri Lanka on Sunday abandoned its program to become the world’s largest producer of 100% organic food and announced the immediate lifting of the ban on imports of pesticides and other agricultural inputs.
“We will now allow urgently needed chemical inputs,” ministry secretary Udith Jayasinghe told private news broadcaster News First ahead of planned farmer protests in Colombo.
“Considering the need to ensure food safety, we have made this decision,” he said, announcing the lifting of the broad ban on all agrochemicals, including herbicides and pesticides.
In the midst of the economic crisis, Sri Lanka is particularly the victim of a severe drop in its foreign exchange reserves leading to shortages of food, crude oil and other essentials.
Last month, authorities had already lifted restrictions on imports of fertilizer for tea, the country’s main export product.
Vast swathes of farmland were abandoned after the import ban, first introduced in May.
Shortages have worsened over the past week, as prices for rice, vegetables and other staples have doubled across the country.
Supermarkets have also rationed rice sales, allowing only five kilograms per customer.
Farmers’ organizations had planned to march on Parliament in the capital on Friday to demand the import of essential chemicals to protect their crops.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa justified the import ban by saying he wanted to make Sri Lankan agriculture 100% organic.
But this policy was put in place after the island’s cash-strapped economy was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with tourism receipts and foreign worker remittances having significantly decreases.
Authorities tried to save foreign currency by banning a host of imported products last year, including some foods and spices. Sri Lanka also closed its only oil refinery last month after running out of dollars to import crude.