Foreign microorganisms could ruin local agriculture – environmentalist

Compost imports

by Rathindra Kuruwita

Foreign microorganisms, that entered the country through compost imports, could have a devastating effect on local agriculture, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR), said yesterday.

Chamikara said he was fully supportive of the decision to ban the import of agrochemicals, but allowing the import of compost was not acceptable.

“It’s very dangerous to import organic matter. It is not possible to avert serious major biosecurity incursions despite precautions. With imported compost new pests and plant species can arrive and wreak havoc,” he said.

It is highly unlikely that the new biosecurity threats could be contained using organic pesticides or weedicides. Thus, agrochemicals will have to be imported to deal with the biosecurity threats. This will lead to a crisis in agriculture, Chamikra said.

“Adequate compost can be manufactured in Sri Lanka. The use of agrochemicals during the past 50 years have degraded our soil and that is why the productivity of our agricultural lands is low. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2018 said that 50% of agricultural lands in the central highlands had degraded due to overuse of fertilizer and soil erosion. We need to revitalise our soil with the use of compost, and we must increase our crop diversity,” he said.

Chamikara added that given that microorganisms in most agricultural lands had died due to the overuse of agrochemicals, it would take some time for the soil to recover. Until then, a mixture of compost and agrochemicals had to be used in some lands for a year or two, he said. For this purpose, the stock of agrochemicals in the country was adequate, he added.

“Once this is completed, we can move into more advanced stages of sustainable agriculture like ecological farming, agroforestry and analog forestry, which require little external inputs,” he said.

Due to various factors, Sri Lanka could not have analog forests, an approach to ecological restoration which uses natural forests as guides to create ecologically stable and socio-economically productive landscapes, Chamikara said. “Thus, the government needs to study what areas can be converted into ecological farming, agroforestry and analog forestry.

“In some areas due to the slopes that lead to soil erosion, we will have to continuously use compost especially in hill country vegetable farms. It will take decades to transition from organic farming to analog forests. The government must be practical and transparent, or the entire concept loses credibility,” the senior environmentalist said.

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