Faced with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis, Sri Lanka called off an ill-conceived national experiment in organic agriculture this winter.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised in his 2019 election campaign to transition the country’s farmers to organic agriculture over a period of 10 years. Last April, Rajapaksa’s government made good on that promise, imposing a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and ordering the country’s 2 million farmers to go organic.
The result was brutal and swift. Against claims that organic methods can produce comparable yields to conventional farming, domestic rice production fell 20 percent in just the first six months. Sri Lanka, long self-sufficient in rice production, has been forced to import $450 million worth of rice even as domestic prices for this staple of the national diet surged by around 50 percent. The ban also devastated the nation’s tea crop, its primary export and source of foreign exchange.
By November 2021, with tea production falling, the government partially lifted its fertilizer ban on key export crops, including tea, rubber, and coconut. Faced with angry protests, soaring inflation, and the collapse of Sri Lanka’s currency, the government finally suspended the policy for several key crops — including tea, rubber, and coconut — last month, although it continues for some others. …
Prior to the pandemic’s outbreak, the country had proudly achieved upper-middle-income status. Today, half a million people have sunk back into poverty. …
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.
Ideology over empirical science. It’s like stepping back in time.
Organic farming is ideologically fashionable. Notice how you haven’t heard anything of this self-inflicted disaster in the mainstream media?