Vox explains how government-mandated only organic farming has contributed to Sri Lanka’s economic free fall.
There’s no singular cause for the crisis, which had been building for years due to political corruption and right-wing authoritarian politics that weakened democracy.
But in the spring of 2021, President Rajapaksa made an unusual decision: He banned synthetic fertiliser and pesticide imports practically overnight, forcing Sri Lanka’s millions of farmers to go organic. It proved disastrous, as a group of Sri Lankan scientists and agriculture experts had warned.
According to one estimate, the president’s agrochemical ban was poised to save Sri Lanka the $400 million it was spending yearly on synthetic fertiliser, money it could use toward increasing imports of other goods. But Rajapaksa also argued that chemical fertilisers and pesticides were leading to “adverse health and environmental impacts” and that such industrial farming methods went against the country’s heritage of “sustainable food systems.”
Instead of fixing the crisis, however, the move only worsened it.
The agrochemical ban caused rice production to drop 20 per cent in the six months after it was implemented, causing a country that had been self-sufficient in rice production to spend $450 million on rice imports — much more than the $400 million that would’ve been saved by banning fertiliser imports.
Runaway inflation reached 54.6 percent last month, and the South Asian country is now headed toward bankruptcy. Nine in 10 Sri Lankan families are skipping meals, and many are standing in line for days in the hope of acquiring fuel.
The dire situation culminated last weekend in an uprising in which an estimated 300,000 protesters took over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home and offices and set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home. Rajapaksa resigned after fleeing the country, leaving Wickremesinghe as interim president.