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What a difference a year makes: the green dream dies in Sri Lanka

April 2021:

“Sri Lanka will become first country to be free of chemical fertilizer”, the Sri Lankan news website News First reported:

COLOMBO (News 1st); President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has stated that he will take up the challenge in making Sri Lanka the first country in the world to eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers without reversing any of the steps that have been taken.

The absence of any country in the world that has eliminated the use of chemical fertilizers is not an obstacle to achieving the goal, President Rajapaksa noted.

The President urged all to unite to educate the farmer and create a healthy generation at a discussion held at the Presidential Secretariat on Thursday (29) to raise awareness on the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and the ban on such imports.

“The government must guarantee the right of the people to a non-toxic diet to produce a healthy and productive citizen,” said the President.

April 2022:

“How Sri Lanka’s shift to organic farming left it in the manure,” reports the Times:

What turned Sri Lanka’s economic situation from difficult to catastrophic was the decision by the Rajapaksa government to implement a nationwide ban on synthetic fertiliser. It was made not at the behest of neoliberal economists doing the bidding of global capital, but rather on the advice of environmentalists in the name of sustainable agriculture.


But that strategy backfired in spectacular fashion. Domestic rice production fell by 14 per cent from 2021 to 2022, forcing the nation, long self-sufficient in rice production, to import hundreds of millions of dollars of rice and more than eroding all of the savings from ceasing fertiliser imports. On top of that, the ban decimated tea production, leading to a $425 million economic loss to the industry in its first six months of implementation. Tea, one of the nation’s primary crops, is a key source of its total export income, making a bad foreign exchange situation far worse.

18 comments to What a difference a year makes: the green dream dies in Sri Lanka

  • bobby b

    “Sri Lanka will become first country to be free of chemical fertilizer”

    Given what my rels are telling me about their efforts to buy fertilizer this season, perhaps the US will be the second.

  • […] What a difference a year makes: the green dream dies in Sri Lanka […]

  • Roué le Jour

    John Carter [surveying devastation]: What happened here?
    Dejah Thoris: Government. Government happened here.

  • The Jannie

    I’ll bet they consulted some “experts” first . . .

  • Plamus

    Bad luck.

  • Stonyground

    Isn’t this the way that we in the UK are heading with our ludicrous net zero policy? How do the imbeciles think that we are going to plough fields without diesel tractors? Are we going to do the harvesting with an battery powered combine? How is the produce going to be moved between the farms and the shops?

  • Fred Z

    They got what they voted for, good and hard.

    Plus, they are “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” and that’s what socialism does – makes stupid decisions based on fables and ruins economies.

  • Now it is causing political crisis in Sri Lanka, the story is being noticed by UK media outlets like the Times (OP link) and the Grauniad (whose article fell over itself to avoid noticing the watermelon origin of the policy). By contrast, this article in ‘Foreign Policy’ states

    The farrago of magical thinking, technocratic hubris, ideological delusion, self-dealing, and sheer shortsightedness that produced the crisis in Sri Lanka implicates both the country’s political leadership and advocates of so-called sustainable agriculture: the former for seizing on the organic agriculture pledge as a shortsighted measure to slash fertilizer subsidies and imports and the latter for suggesting that such a transformation of the nation’s agricultural sector could ever possibly succeed. [my bolding] … While the proximate cause of Sri Lanka’s humanitarian crisis was a bungled attempt to manage its economic fallout from the global pandemic, at the bottom of the political problem was a math problem and at the bottom of the math problem was an ideological problem — or, more accurately, a global ideological movement that is innumerate and unscientific by design

    It then crunches the numbers and the chemistry to explain why organic farming is practiced by the world’s poorest people, because they have no choice, and by niche producers for the world’s richest people, because they can afford it. Well worth reading through if the OP topic interests you.

  • Stonyground

    I never buy anything that is labelled organic when I’m grocery shopping. Paying a higher price for something of lower quality seems a little unwise.

  • Given what my rels are telling me about their efforts to buy fertilizer this season (bobby b, April 17, 2022 at 10:58 pm)

    The belated and partial collapse of the policy (as recently as the turn of the year from 2021 to 2022, Sri Lanka’s president fired one minister and then another, when each dared raise concerns) appears unfortunately well-synchronised with a world shortage of fertiliser (which people less idiotic than the president did not foresee that far in advance IIUC).

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Niall Kilmartin, the Times article is by the same authors as the Foreign Policy one (Ted Nordhaus and Saloni Shah), though it is much shorter and includes an update about the political crisis in Sri Lanka. Thanks for finding the longer and earlier Foreign Policy version. I do recommend that people read it, both for its prescience and because in contrast to the Times, Foreign Policy magazine does not seem to operate a paywall, or at any rate allows a certain number of free articles before implementing one. I have copied it into my file of notable articles in case the link goes dead.

  • Stonyground

    Isn’t that global fertiliser shortage something to do with idiot politicians banning gas drilling in their own countries and thus making themselves dependent upon Russia?

  • Steph Houghton


  • bobby b

    Niall Kilmartin
    April 18, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    “The belated and partial collapse of the policy . . . appears unfortunately well-synchronised with a world shortage of fertiliser . . .”

    Very unfortunately, which I think drives much of yesterday’s Sri Lankan bankruptcy news. They not only face the resumption of ongoing fertilizer purchases, but they have badly depleted basic soil nitrogen content during the ban, and will have to replenish base content on top of current use, all during a time when nitrogen has rocketed in price. It’s going to be a tough year or two there.

  • Kirk

    Ideology-based decision-making kills, plain and simple.

    Doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter what context: To make decisions based on a set of preconceived notions is essentially trying to impose your will on reality, and reality has this nasty, nasty little habit of biting back when you do that.

    I don’t care who it is, or what ideology is being espoused, it all leads to the same eventual place: Failureville, population true believer. Your belief system does not trump reality, period.

    The universe is a chaotic place, and you either learn to pragmatically dance with the chaos, observing and learning, or you die. If you listen to the ideologues, most of whom are essentially brain-damaged or some form of autistic, you’re going to eventually die when you run out of slack in the rope. Most nations these days have already stepped off the stool, and it’s only a matter of when the rope is going to snap taut, breaking their foolish necks.

    Ideology is essentially a fixed viewpoint of the universe and how it responds to your actions. I know of no ideology that ever takes into account the effective fact that it might, just might, be wrong–Or, include means to evaluate its effect on things and then adjust what it is doing, learning from the environment it is implemented in. It’s all fixed, immutable truth for the ideologue, and that’s how and why they kill those who challenge their so-called “truth”.

    How do you determine you’re dealing with an ideologue? Simple: All you have to do is question their reasoning or their program; if they cannot argue their case and win via rational, well-thought argument? Ideologue. If they can accept contrary evidence and then adapt to the raw fact of that evidence? Well, they may still be dangerous, but they’re not entirely beyond hope.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    “Many a beautiful theory has been murdered by an ugly gang of facts.” First used by physicists, but it seems to fit here.
    The only thing wrong with the Sri Lankan project is that they forgot to buy fairy dust. This is an essential item in any project’s budget, especially government projects!

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Usually that notorious Marksist, Paul Marks, would make a comment here, even if only to say “I have nothing to add!” Is Paul sick? And what has happened to Dale Amon? Does anyone know?

  • Alex

    I think Paul has been pretty quiet since Perry was unusually assertive in calling out his bullshit on a recent thread. Personally I haven’t missed seeing three or four Paul Marks comments in a row on every post, discussing mostly anything except the topic of the post. I do think Paul is well read and means well but he does tend to overwhelm the comments section with his personal fixations, and the Samizdatistas have been incredibly patient with him hitherto.