BY JIM WEBSTER
Sri Lanka has been the victim of a government organised experiment. In April 2021, the government imposed a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and ordered the country’s two million farmers to go organic.
It may well be that this wasn’t so much ideological as a desperate attempt to keep money in the country.
Sri Lanka is normally self-sufficient in rice, but production fell by between forty and fifty percent, which meant the country had to import 300,000 metric tonnes of rice in the first three months of 2021. This can be compared with the 14,000 metric tonnes Sir Lanka imported in 2020.
Other crops also suffered, tea exports fell by half, which cut off a major source of national income, and the increase in pests and diseases has meant that a lot of farmers are no longer even trying to farm commercially. They’re just trying to produce enough to get their own families through from one harvest to the next.
So they have food price inflation running at over thirty percent. Aljazeera quoted Jeewika Weerahewa, professor of agriculture at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka:
“Food availability is at a crossroads and food accessibility is at a crossroads”. Describing Sri Lanka’s food crisis as “a man-made disaster,” she said the country will have “serious problems with respect to childhood malnourishment and malnutrition among pregnant women and lactating mothers”.
One major problem is that whilst government has apparently removed the ban, the farmers they rely on are small farmers who don’t have any savings. After all they’ve just tried to farm through a disastrous year where yields collapsed. Given the way world fertiliser prices have risen, they cannot afford to buy fertilisers now anyway and they’re struggling to keep up loan repayments and to pay for their children’s education.
In the UK, 2.8% of the land area is farmed organically. Depending on how you measure it (value, volume or whatever) about 1% of food sold in the UK is organic. (The figure is difficult to quantify because some food may effectively be produced organically but nobody wants the expense of registering, for no financial gain). Some things, like lamb produced on the hills, is probably as organic as certified organic lamb. After all, the organic and conventional producers will often use the same wormers and medicines, but the organic producer will have more paperwork and has to pay whoever certifies their produce.
But in the West, the whole organic food business is endlessly fascinating.
- The value of all food sold in the UK in 2020 was £205 billion
- The value of all organic food sold in the UK in 2020 was £2.6 billion.
This fits nicely with our figure of 1% of food sold in the UK being organic.
Look at this graph from Statista:
More than 18% of the population claim that over 50% of the food in their shopping basket is organic. Somebody, somewhere is not being honest with themselves.
Look, it doesn’t matter.
We can afford it.
People are allowed their little foibles, their little luxuries.
When it matters is when somebody’s little foibles become government policy and reduce a country into poverty and collapse.
New Prime Minister, take heed.
Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.