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Sri Lanka’s tea farmers struggling to survive

Sri Lanka has faced its fair share of struggles this past year. As tensions seem to simmer, Sri Lanka is facing something only local farmers could’ve predicted. Last year, Sri Lanka fled its hopes of becoming the world’s first completely organic farming nation.

The former President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, issued his 2021 organic policy, which sparked animosity among tea plantation owners and other farmers who warned that a lack of organic fertilizer and lower yields would lead to shortages. 

After ignoring warnings, Rajapaksa imposed a ban on imports of chemical fertilizer. Former President Rajapaksa claimed imports of chemical fertilizer would continue until the island could produce enough organic fertilizer for local agricultural needs. 

The policy eventually led to shortages of foreign exchange to import fuel, food, and medications, which led to the government ignoring its own policies, eventually importing  30,000 tonnes of potassium chloride from Lithuania. After unprecedented shipping delays, chemical fertilizer feels far from available.

A year after implementing the policy, Sri Lanka grew plagued with harsh inflation rates, a forcible overthrow of government officials, and an energy deficit. With an exhausted and irritated public and restless economy, tea farmers are left losing money and feeling helpless.

The ban was later reversed; however, the government is now unable to afford to import adequate supplies of petrol and diesel. Alongside those difficulties, sit the rising costs of fertilizer have shot up in price and are still difficult to source.

Most of Sri Lanka’s tea is grown by smaller farmers who own acres of land close to the village of Kadugunnawa. They feel like they’re losing money; Rohan Tilak, a local farmer, told BBC News, “Without fertilizer or fuel, I can’t even think about the future of my business.”

With delays from lack of fertilizer to petrol conservation, farmers are set-back, feeling nothing less than disdain for their government, “Our leaders are not bothered about providing us with the basic necessities; they’re the ones who have put us in debt: by stealing dollars and spending them however they want. Right now, Sri Lanka is like a ship stranded at sea.”

As the world continues to see a struggling Sri Lanka, heated civilians still feeling the impact of Rajapaksa’s regime refuse to accept his most-likely successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Many of his critics claim him too close to Rajapaksa, claiming he’s “too close to the Rajapaksa dynasty.”

Meezan Mohideen, who heads a large estate and factory in Ancoombra, told the BBC, “Without the fuel, we are finding it very difficult. If this goes on, we might have to shut down all factories. Normally, about 20 lorries are running for us. Now we are running eight lorries. And with the power cuts, factories have closed down – working three, four days a week.”

Frustration continues to simmer among the tea factory workers and owners. Tea exports are a valuable monetary source, employing 2 million people and granting a lot of exports. As production levels continue to plummet, it seems as though there is little hope of getting out of the hole Sri Lanka appears to be in.



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