Sri Lankan Ban on Synthetic Fertilizer Causes Soaring Food Prices and Hunger

(p. A17) The Green Revolution of Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist who did more to feed the world than any man before or since, set Sri Lanka on the path to agricultural abundance in 1970. It was built around chemical fertilizers and crops bred to be disease-resistant. Fifty-two years later, Sri Lanka has pulled off a revolution that is “antigreen” in the modern sense, toppling its president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In an uprising that has its roots in Mr. Rajapaksa’s imperious decision to impose organic farming on the entire country—which led to widespread hunger after the agricultural economy collapsed—Sri Lanka’s people have wrought the first contra-organic national uprising in history.

. . .

. . ., Mr. Rajapaksa was driven from office in part because he was an overzealous green warrior, who imposed on his countrymen a policy that the American environmental left holds sacred.

. . .

. . ., Mr. Rajapaksa took a step that poleaxed Sri Lanka. On April 27, 2021—with no warning, and with no attempt to teach farmers how to cope with the change—he announced a ban on all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Henceforth, he decreed, Sri Lankan agriculture would be 100% organic. Agronomists and other scientists warned loudly of the catastrophe that would ensue, but they were ignored. This Sri Lankan Nero listened to no one.

. . .

What happened next? Rice production fell by 20% in the first 180 days of the ban on synthetic fertilizer. Tea, Sri Lanka’s main cash crop, has been hit hard, with exports at their lowest level in nearly a quarter-century. Whether from indignation over the new laws or an inability to go organic, farmers left a third of all farmland fallow. Food prices soared as a result of scarcity and Sri Lanka’s people, their pockets already hit by the pandemic, began to go hungry. To add to the stench of failure, a shipload of manure from China had to be turned back after samples revealed dangerous levels of bacteria. The farmers had no synthetic fertilizer, and hardly any of the organic kind.

For the full commentary see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “Sri Lanka’s Green New Deal Was a Human Disaster.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, July 15, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 14, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.

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