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Sri Lanka Famine - What Happened?

By Marise May

Co-founder, VP of Marketing at Cha's Organics

I have been noticing an unfortunate trend among influencers, authors and commentators who otherwise generally align with organic values over the interests of Big Ag, where they like to casually throw around references to Sri Lanka being plunged into famine and the people rising up to overthrow their last President due to a ban on chemical fertilizer.

Since I was in Sri Lanka for the entire summer of 2021, I participated in multiple stakeholder meetings involving agricultural and business leaders from Sri Lanka and abroad and have insights into the situation from multiple angles, from the organic and conventional farmers to the businesses to the protesters to the government officials, I feel I am better suited to comment on this than the average person with limited knowledge of Sri Lanka or what actually took place and for this reason, I'm sharing some of my insights for those who are interested.

The most important takeaways are as follows:

There has not been any famine in Sri Lanka this past year, poverty has existed there for a long time and has worsened in the wake of COVID and the steep inflation caused in large part by IMF-influenced monetary policies. Many conventional farmers were also reluctant to grow crops using organic means though the government did distribute funds to assist with organic compost and fertilizer preparation, therefore there were less crops planted following the fertilizer import ban. Furthermore, many farmers and traders were hoarding stocks which created artificial scarcity and price hikes. All of these factors played into any food shortages that occurred this past year and it is inaccurate to explain them away by a lack of chemical fertilizer alone.

The government stopped fertilizer imports due to a critical lack of foreign currency reserves, not to align with globalist policies. They were also forced to dramatically reduce imports of fuel, food and medicine, causing a widespread energy crisis and lack of essential supplies. Reducing fertilizer and agrochemical imports was primarily in an effort to become more self-sufficient as a country and produce their own organic fertilizer, while reducing chemical usage that is causing ecological harm and illness while depleting foreign currency reserves. Though there was not enough time or thought put into an organic transition that would support farmers and prevent food shortages due to the critical economic reality they were faced with, that was the intention.

The frustration that arose among the people last year was multi-faceted and had been brewing for a long time. It was fueled, channeled, and provided a narrative by opportunistic opposition parties. Politics in Sri Lanka is and has for a long time been a very messy game. There was no famine, but there were other realities such as inflation, a lack of essential supplies and widespread power cuts that moved people to begin protesting for a better and more affordable quality of life. These were brought about by complex economic factors mostly related to fiscal mismanagement by this last and previous government parties and a lack of tourism following the Easter bombings and COVID, all of which crippled the country economically and forced them to make tough decisions like stopping fertilizer imports. However, as soon as the fertilizer import ban was lifted, the ban on glyphosate and other agrochemicals that had previously been banned was lifted as well. Hardly a victory for the people or the environment.

I have previously commented on this situation and shared some relevant articles here:

In short, when you repeat the meme that Sri Lanka was plunged into famine because of a fertilizer import ban, you're simply repeating Big Ag propaganda and favouring the use of not only chemical fertilizer but also glyphosate and other dangerous agrochemicals. Classic Hegelian dialectic – problem, reaction, solution. Please be a part of the real solution and continue to support organic, not spread lies about Sri Lanka and what really took place this past year.


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