How the world’s first natural farm nation has led to starvation and financial wreck, writes TOM LEONARD


 From the ethically sourced produce retailers of Islington to the chemical-free acres of the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove farm, you can nearly hear the cheering three years in the past when Sri Lanka’s future president pledged a revolution.

It wouldn’t be on the streets however within the fields — as Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed in his profitable 2019 election marketing campaign to remodel the nation into the world’s first absolutely natural farming nation.

Parroting the claims made for years by Prince Charles and fellow advocates of ‘sustainable farming’, the politician cited well being and environmental causes for this drastic transfer — specifically brandishing unproven claims of a hyperlink between chemical fertilisers and Sri Lanka’s excessive price of continual kidney illness.

Police use tear gasoline to disperse Larger Nationwide Diploma (HND) college students demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Poverty

Rajapaksa’s dedication to producing 100 per cent of Sri Lanka’s meals organically inside a decade was accompanied by a ban on the usage of all chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

The results have been nothing wanting catastrophic. Going natural — the daring, trendy imaginative and prescient of the UK’s inexperienced foyer — has triggered the devastation of Sri Lanka’s financial system, plunging a lot of its 22 million-strong inhabitants into determined straits.

The chaos that has engulfed the nation — together with rising poverty, lengthy queues for necessities, deadly road battles and assaults on the houses of presidency leaders — is a direct results of this one choice.

Rajapaksa’s announcement final April that the nation’s two million farmers needed to go natural in a single day — and the catastrophe that has adopted — is a well timed lesson for all those that have been swept up by the hype surrounding natural meals and its promise not solely to enhance our well being but in addition to assist save the planet.

Sarcastically, Sri Lanka had one of many strongest performing economies in Asia. In 2019, the World Financial institution upgraded its standing to that of an higher middle-income nation — solely to reverse its choice simply months after Rajapaksa was elected.

Quickly after he ordered the natural transition, agronomists from the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Affiliation warned he was making a horrible mistake. For all his considerations about water contamination, soil degradation, kidney illness and biodiversity harm, the cons of going natural far outweighed the professionals, they mentioned.

Research present crop yields drop by an alarming 30 per cent beneath natural farming. Because the Sixties, Sri Lanka has subsidised farmers to make use of artificial fertiliser, the principle catalyst for the doubling of yields for a lot of crops.

Exterior the echo chamber of sustainable farming advocates, chemical fertilisers, together with pesticides and herbicides, are universally accepted as important instruments for contemporary agriculture.

Sri Lanka is closely depending on rice to feed itself and on tea to export. Forcing the producers of each crops to go completely natural, warned specialists, would drastically decrease their yields — by 35 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. Rice is a nitrogen-intensive crop and is subsequently tough and costly to develop with out chemical fertilisers.

However Rajapaksa and his authorities wouldn’t take heed to the warnings. When his brother, Mahinda, was president a decade in the past, he additionally inspired natural farming.

They may little doubt have been motivated by Sri Lanka’s rising popularity as a high vacation spot for eco-tourists, who’re drawn to luxurious motels that serve natural meals, produced on their very own farms.

Shunning standard meals manufacturing specialists, the Rajapaksas have taken steerage from a cranky ‘civil society motion’ referred to as Viyathmaga, which sums up its values as ‘Religious inside, Technocrat exterior’.

Sri Lankan university students holding placards march towards Presidential Secretariat

Sri Lankan college college students holding placards march in the direction of Presidential Secretariat

Its plans embody growing two million natural dwelling gardens and turning over thousands and thousands of acres of Sri Lankan forests and wetlands to producing bio fertiliser.

The entire challenge was accelerated by the pandemic, which destroyed the nation’s tourism trade.

Sri Lanka’s ruling household noticed an ideal likelihood to cut back its crippling stability of funds deficit and embrace natural farming by phasing out the $500 million a yr it often spends on shopping for foreign-made chemical fertiliser and subsidising farmers to make use of it.

As a substitute, the alternative occurred and Sri Lanka’s balance-of-payments deficit soared as crop manufacturing tumbled, and the value of greens, rice and sugar rocketed. Sri Lanka didn’t pay money for a lot natural fertiliser, leaving many farmers with no fertiliser of any kind.

The federal government additionally failed to supply them any steerage on easy methods to farm organically. Many farmers, despairing of ever making a revenue, gave up, accelerating the meals shortages.

Humiliation

The lack of income from tea and different export crops vastly outstripped any financial savings from now not importing fertiliser. In a ultimate humiliation, Sri Lanka — a rustic till just lately self-sufficient in rice — needed to spend $450 million importing huge quantities of it, which the federal government then needed to subsidise.

By October final yr, it was desperately back-pedalling, enjoyable the fertiliser ban for essential export crops together with tea, rubber and coconut. That humiliating U-turn didn’t cease President Rajapaksa boasting of his natural credentials a month later at Glasgow’s UN Local weather Change Summit.

The climbdown got here too late to avert financial meltdown. Annual meals worth inflation is at present operating at 50 per cent, with greens reminiscent of carrots and tomatoes as much as 5 occasions costlier than they had been final yr.

Sri Lanka, which owes $51 billion to worldwide collectors, final week defaulted on its money owed for the primary time because it gained independence from Britain in 1948.

The nation has been paralysed by strikes and violent clashes between Rajapaksa supporters and opponents by which folks have died.

A museum devoted to the ruling household has been torched: the natural dream has actually gone up in smoke.

Prince Charles was broadly mocked by farmers when he remodeled his 1,000-acre farm at Highgrove in Gloucestershire to change into fully natural in 1985.

He has mentioned: ‘In farming, as in gardening, I occur to imagine that in the event you deal with the land with love and respect . . . then it would repay you in sort.’

A Higher National Diploma (HND) student gestures in front of riot police during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's crippling economic crisis, in Colombo this month

A Larger Nationwide Diploma (HND) pupil gestures in entrance of riot police throughout an indication demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the nation’s crippling financial disaster, in Colombo this month

Deluded

Such considering could also be tremendous in a home backyard or pastime farm, however not in worldwide agriculture, in keeping with specialists.

Almost all natural farming, they observe, serves solely the very richest and the very poorest folks on the planet. Whereas the latter are compelled to do it by necessity, as they can not afford chemical fertilisers and pesticides, for the previous it’s an costly way of life alternative.

Because the success of Prince Charles’s vary of natural produce (Waitrose Duchy Natural) illustrates, there’s no scarcity of British prospects keen to pay a premium for that all-important natural label.

Sceptics surprise why, citing exams that present natural meals neither tastes higher neither is extra dietary (although the natural foyer insists it accommodates larger ranges of vitamin C and Omega 3 in milk). Nor, critics add, is there any conclusive proof of the well being results of pesticides.

And natural farming shouldn’t be at all times greener both, principally as a result of the decrease crop yields it provides means far more land must be cultivated — land which could possibly be used to develop timber and cut back carbon emissions. It additionally depends closely on tilling fields that may speed up soil exhaustion.

As Sri Lanka descends into chaos and its leaders run for canopy, the smug advocates of sustainable farming should share the blame — for convincing them their deluded dream was even doable.

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