Sri Lanka : Monlar warns severe global disruption of fertiliser supply

A severe global shortage of fertiliser in the coming years would seriously affect food prices that were already soaring across the world, moderator of the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR,) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday. He warned that substantial increase in food prices would always lead to social unrest.

Rajapakshe said that Russia and Belarus were among the two main exporters of fertiliser, and given that they would not be exporting fertiliser in large quantities in the near future with both being involved in the war in Ukraine, the government would not be able to import fertiliser for the coming farming season as promised.

“The Cabinet of Ministers have approved the import of Muriate of Potash (Potassium Chloride) fertiliser for the Yala Season. They are planning to import 38,500 metric tonnes of muriate of potash fertiliser. The Cabinet says it wants to bring fertiliser through an international competitive bidding system and provide it to the farmers under the government fertiliser subsidy programme. However, the problem is where the government will get the fertiliser from and whether it can give subsidies.”

Rajapakshe said that a metric tonne of urea will hit USD 1,000 and it will be virtually impossible for the government to subsidise fertiliser.

Another big problem was that the government had been giving mixed signals about the future of organic agriculture, Rajapakhe said. If the government was serious about reducing the cost of importing fertiliser it should work with farmers and introduce easy compost making methods. Instead, it allowed its cronies to mass-produce compost, and when that failed it sought to import organic fertiliser, the MONLAR Moderator asserted.

“The government implemented its organic drive without any planning or discussion. When farmers oppose this ad hoc decision, it promises to make chemical fertiliser available. Now, farmers are confused again. There are also a significant number of farmers who successfully carried out organic farming. Instead of learning from farmers who have been successful in incorporating organic methods and sharing them with others, the government is now promising chemical fertiliser,” Rajapakshe said.

However, it was obvious that the government would find it difficult to import adequate quantities of fertiliser and that would lead to another round of farmer discontent, Rajapakshe said. This is another example of the government and officials being unaware of global developments.

The MONLAR moderator said that even before the hostilities in Ukraine erupted, Russia had restricted the export of Urea by 50%. China, which is another major player in fertliser production, too has curbed its exports.

“With Russia, Belarus, and China minimising exports there will be fertiliser shortages across the world. The demand will go through the roof. Countries like India with closer relations with Russia and nations like Pakistan and Iran close to both Russia and China will get hold of the limited stocks that Russia, Belarus, and China will export. What will happen to us?” he asked.

The MONLAR moderator said that the crisis in agriculture was not limited to fertiliser. Successive governments didn’t provide any direction to the sector and given that the next five years would be extremely challenging, the country immediately needed to have a serious discussion about the future of agriculture and food security, he said.