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Due Diligence to Organic Farming in Sri Lanka

As a responsible neighbour of Sri Lanka, we should own the responsibility to bail out Sri Lanka during this crisis with the same spirit as we did with the Covid-19 vaccine. — Alok Singh


Sri Lanka attempted the complete migration to organic farming in the least lead time. One day the government decided to completely ban chemical fertilizer based farming. The business interest of seed and chemical fertilizer companies were ruined by this one decision of the government of Sri Lanka. The business interest was not only of the Sri Lankan companies. But the business interests of the big companies of the developed countries and of course china.

The political leadership of Sri Lanka had committed in their recent election promises that they will transmit the country to organic farming from harmful chemical-based farming in the next decade. It was an attack on the business interest of the greedy companies who claim to conduct unbiased science-based research to suit their interests at the cost of the health of the general public. But the government deviated from the original plan and executed the decision to go organic in a single step huge long jump. What had to be executed in ten years was executed blindly in one day. It seems to have failed. It’s still tough to say that had Sri Lanka avoided this quick jump then its economy, politics and people would have a better future. To blame the switching to organic farming as the only reason is to catch the low hanging fruits. The deep pocket producers of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers have managed to create propaganda that the decision to go organic was too little and too fast. It could not save the economy and politics of Sri Lanka from turbulence. But the other argument is that had Sri Lanka avoided this courageous step to go organic then could it be assured with a certain probability of guarantee that its situation would have been better.  

The crisis of Sri Lanka has deep foundations. This foundation of crisis has Chinese roots. The early warning signals were ignored and by the time it was admitted by the government to the people it was too late and the government had fewer arrows in its quiver. The only visible arrow that the government of the day could offer to its people was organic farming in election speeches and when the situation deteriorated it used its arrow in a haphazard way as opinion-makers believe. One more arrow was lost but no relief, either to the economy or to the people. 

The big question is that is it so? We have seen during the Covid vaccination programme, how the trial of a vaccine which consumes years, approximately ten years to recommend for use was approved for emergency use within a year. The nations of the world had limited alternatives and the risk was executed which paid favourably well in subsequent waves of the Covid-19. Our own Bharat Biotech came up with Covaxin within a year’s time and it saved us from the politics of the ‘Vaccine Nationalism’, and vaccine as a tool to arm-twist the foreign and economic policy. We are doing relatively well because we aimed for self-reliance in the Covid-19 vaccine and it gave us strength in our national as well as international endeavours. We had seen how the Bharat Biotech had to face troubles at every stage of trial and the propaganda against our own vaccines. We could successfully manoeuvre ourselves from such politics which reflected in columns and articles and research papers which did not favour Covaxin. The execution of Sri Lanka to go organic in the least lead time is labelled as unplanned, but during emergency situations, many standard protocols are rescheduled to optimise the advantage. It seems Sri Lanka did so.

The problems faced by Sri Lanka can be classified as systematic risks and unsystematic risks. The Covid-19 risk is systematic risk and the unprepared people worldwide faced it. Even China suffered a lot, though the fingers of the deliberate or accidental leak are pointed toward the Wuhan lab of China.

This systematic risk created serious troubles for the tourism and hospitality sector. Many island nations feed their population based on the tourism economy. So, Sri Lanka suffered huge earnings in the tourism sector due to Covid-19. Sri Lanka could do nothing to counter this risk.

The unsystematic risks are the choice of the trade agreements and the type of economy in which it decided to place itself. The choice of Sri Lanka to choose a free-market economy with an unprecedented dilution of the roles of regulators and a zero-tariff trade policy is the long term culprit. This free-market economy creed a huge gap between the rich and the poor and by the time they realised it is unsustainable and inequitable it had already created a web of traps for this island nation. It opened its economy to the world and China saw it as an opportunity to control it. Today, Sri Lanka is the biggest victim of China’s debt-trap strategy.

In the middle of such a crisis, Sri Lanka had to make a call.  It called to go organic in the farming sector so that it can achieve self-reliance in food and save import bills on fertilizers and artificial seeds. During the initial days of this organic farming decision it was applauded by the caretakers of the climate issue; rational, unbiased and nature-friendly scientists;  advocates of sustainable living; and opinion makers who care for climate, nature and future generations. 

Every process has a cycle time before the final product takes visible shape. By increasing the resources the output can be increased but the cycle time can’t be reduced. The fair opinion is that Organic farming will also consume its own share of cycle time and the sensible world leaders in general and Bharat, in particular, has to create ways for Sri Lanka to survive during this cycle time of going through organic farming process.

We had vaccine diplomacy with the needy nations in general and poor nations of the world in particular. As a responsible neighbour of Sri Lanka, we should own the responsibility to bail out Sri Lanka during this crisis with the same spirit as we did with the Covid-19 vaccine. At, no cost the decision of Sri Lanka to go back to fertilizer based farming be encouraged. Serious due diligence is needed. This effort will be good for humanity.        

(Alok Singh is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Management Indore and is a freelancer academician.)

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