The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) has urged the authorities to provide an urgent solution to facilitate the availability of appropriate herbicides, weedicides, fungicides and pesticides, which are essential for the sustenance and health of the country’s plantation sector.
In addition to requesting the Government to fast-track implementation of the decision to allow private fertiliser imports, the PA also highlighted the increasing risk of Sri Lankan tea and rubber plantations facing a similar situation to the ‘coffee rust blight’ – which decimated Sri Lanka’s coffee cultivations in the late 1800s.
In the absence of inputs required to mitigate such challenges, the industry is already grappling with similar issues. The ‘Circular Spot Disease of Rubber’ for instance is spreading rapidly across Sri Lanka’s rubber plantations and has affected more than 20,000 hectares of cultivations by end-August 2021. As a result, production has plummeted in rubber estates affected by the disease.
“While we appreciate the government’s eventual decision to allow our industry to acquire fertiliser, plant nutrition is only one of the several key requirements of the plantation industry,” PA Media Spokesperson, Dr. Roshan Rajadurai said.
“Additional inputs are also required to mitigate issues such as diseases, pests and weeds. These are essential for plantations to produce economically feasible volumes and given that our crops are nearly entirely exported, we must also adhere to stringent quality and Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) parameters,” he also said.
“With the ban on glyphosate being reinstated for the third time now, we are yet again left with no immediate solutions to the problem of weed management. On behalf of all regional plantation companies, and the broader industry, we urge the Government to provide any kind of guidelines as to how the industry can arrive at a lasting solution to these are related issues,” Dr. Rajadurai noted.
In the recent past the country has seen several major changes in its policy with regard to importing and usage of agri inputs. As of November 2021, glyphosate was removed from the list of controlled substances, only for the ban to be reinstated by the end of the month. Even prior to the overall ban of fertiliser and agrochemical imports, the country has vacillated repeatedly in its stance on certain key inputs used by the plantation sector.
Glyphosate, is a herbicide which was introduced to Sri Lanka in the late 1970s and was recommended for use by the Tea Research Institute (TRI) following rigorous trials, was first banned in late 2014 over unproven allegations as to its contribution to higher instances of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) prevalent in Sri Lanka’s dry zone. This despite the kidney disease not being prevalent in tea-growing areas.
Given the ban’s adverse impact, which led to plantations finding it difficult to control weeds – which consume the nutrients provided to tea bushes – the industry saw declining yields.
Tea growers also had to deploy more workers for weeding, hence incurring higher costs, putting the country at a disadvantage, given that Sri Lanka’s production cost of tea is in general higher than its competitors. These issues resulted in the ban being overturned in mid-2018. Thereafter, the country reversed its stand twice on glyphosate in late November 2021, issuing and revoking gazette notifications.
Such dire consequences highlight the need for stable national policies with regard to agri-inputs, for which the Planters’ Association requests the collaboration of all key industry stakeholders.