A journey towards productive citizenry | Sunday Observer

A journey towards productive citizenry

8 August, 2021

The Government’s recent decision to end the use of inorganic agrochemicals has become a hot topic of discussion today. Such controversies or negative debates on the policy decision arise due to a purely political and economic point of view that are created by big commercial entities that make money out of the inorganic agrochemical imports without a consideration on social and environmental costs to it.

Although everyone realises that inorganic agrochemicals including fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides, fumigants are harmful to health and the environment, it is naive that some are trying to gain a political advantage by creating turmoil rather than attending to the noble and justifiable intentions of the President to protect the human beings as well as the environment including all the living beings from getting poisoned.

Limitations on the use of toxic chemicals are inevitable when talking about the formation of a healthy community. Today, many countries are paying close attentions to the use of chemicals by taking policy decisions for the health of their citizens and have formulated many policies on the production, the use of such chemicals and even in importing food products produced with such chemicals.

Thus, we, the Sri Lankans, need to develop vigorous policies rather than short-sighted practices in terms of the use of toxic agrochemicals. When the Government formulates decisive policies on human and environmental development, it is important to understand the realities behind the issue and build social support for it. Otherwise, we will not be able to travel towards the goal of producing a healthy and productive citizenry as mentioned in President’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor - National Policy Framework.

Mainstay of the economy

Agriculture has been the backbone of Sri Lanka's economy throughout history. We have an account of our country becoming self-sufficient in paddy production. Our forefathers had succeeded in mobilising natural resources and making this country prosperous of domestic output. Despite the decline of rural agriculture and the rise of the plantation economy under British rule, productive activities continued to cater to the needs of the local population.

During that time, the use of chemicals in food production was largely minimal. But, the subsequent proliferation of the monetary economy necessitated a sharp increase in GDP. As a result, there were more concerns about human health and environmental protection being pushed back and economic benefits being maximised. When the policy of economic liberalisation came to be implemented, steps were taken to increase GDP by any means. By this time, everyone's attention had turned to the method of obtaining higher yields in production activities.

As a positive way to do this, all parties took the initiative to increase production using chemicals. By the time the country returned to such a state, health of human beings was gradually declining, and there was a significant threat to the survival of other species on earth too. Therefore, there was not much attention paid to this situation in the early days.

Inorganic agrochemicals

According to data, use of inorganic and toxic agrochemicals became more widespread in the country only after the 1960s. Despite the rapid increase in production, it had a severe impact on the health of the people. The food produced is at the risk of becoming toxic and slowly becoming a deadly toxin.

There has also been a massive increase in kidney patients due to the increased use of agrochemicals across the country. Agrochemicals have affected soil fertility and created huge crises in accessing safe drinking water. Kidney disease, which was initially diagnosed in Rajarata, has now spread across the country. It is also important to note that doctors have clearly articulated that the use of agrochemicals is one of the main reasons for the spread of this disease.

Apart from kidney disease, the use of agrochemicals has tremendously contributed to spread diseases such as respiratory diseases, cancer, infertility and degeneration/deformation of internal organs. Many international organisations have confirmed these and have shown links to the use of toxic agrochemicals.

According to the United Nations World Health Organization, Sri Lanka is the world's largest consumer of chemicals per hectare of agricultural land. This trend of increased use of agrochemicals could have dire consequences for the country in the future. The reports also pointed out that it can cause many health hazards. Thus, the Government has a massive responsibility to arrest the trend of increased usage of chemicals in agriculture.

Environmental impact

Although the use of agrochemicals gives a good harvest, the risks to humans, other living beings and the environment are high. Similarly, the balance of the environment, links with ecosystems and even processes in ecosystems are greatly affected. Lakes, rivers, ponds and groundwater are affected by the use of these agrochemicals.

Many non-human land and water creatures are becoming extinct and many have already vanished from the earth. Sri Lanka is having a high biodiversity. There are many biodiversity hotspots in the country with many endemic species, unfortunately many of such species are eradicated due to indiscriminate use of these agrochemicals. As such, the health of the land is affected and the sustainable use of the land is also challenged.

The use of agrochemicals is increasingly affecting many industries and income generation activities, including freshwater fishing. In general, the use of agrochemicals pollutes the natural environment and destroys human health. Environmental impacts are also responsible for the rapid spread of many infectious diseases.

The cost to the Government of treating such outbreaks is also high. We also have to endure the irreversible turmoil of depleted natural ecosystems. It is disheartening that some of the environmentalists who are more concerned about environmental impacts are unfortunately less concerned about the ecological effects of agrochemicals. The use of agrochemicals is one of the greatest curses we can inflict on ourselves.

Economic benefits

From an economic point of view, the use of agrochemicals has short-term benefits, including increased productivity and economic growth of farmers. But, the Government has to spend a lot of money every year to import agrochemicals. According to Government reports, $ 400 million a year is spent on importing chemical fertiliser. It may be possible to generate short-term productivity through such colossal expenditure, however, the negative impact on the country and the health of the citizens of country and overall environment is huge. Apart from this, the production of domestic organic chemicals can prevent the country's economy from being wasted.

Thus, when large sums of money are spent on organic chemical production, the country's economy can be protected and products conducive to human health can be developed. The market opportunities for exporting healthy non-toxic foods as a country are also high and more economical. Most countries pay close attention to their toxicity when they import foods from other countries. As such, by multiplying non-toxic products, we can reduce the cost of imports and find solutions to the more significant economic crises we face today.


Our discussion cannot be ceased with the adverse effects of agrochemicals alone, as we need to focus on alternative solutions. Today, agricultural technology has advanced significantly in many countries. With this development, many countries are focusing more on producing organic chemicals including organic fertiliser and organic pesticides with their local resources. The Governments are also involved in promoting organic chemicals in agriculture. The Government has taken a prudent and timely decision to formulate policy towards organic production and even has gone to an extent to subsidise the producers who solely depend on organic fertiliser. Our farmers lack the technical know-how to produce organic fertiliser in Sri Lanka. Therefore, having understood the gravity of the situation, the Government has taken initiatives accordingly.

In such circumstances, the Government is now focusing on measures to produce organic fertiliser at the Local Government level. Steps have been taken to provide technical knowledge to Local Governments. It is praiseworthy to note that many Local Governments have initiated the production process of organic fertiliser using many forgotten resources.

It is a common knowledge that the raw materials for the production of organic chemicals in our country are widely available in the rural environments. Thus, the Government is taking steps to create a new rural economic network and thereby produce organic fertiliser. Organic fertilisation is essential to build a healthy community as it is a fruitful policy to free Sri Lankans from toxic chemicals to live in an environment in harmony with nature.


Organically produced foods increase the natural nutrients available to humans. Instead, toxins enter the human body through chemically produced foods and it is not conducive to human health. At the same time, producing organic fertiliser can save a considerable amount of foreign exchange per year. With this savings, local agriculture can be developed easily and better results can be achieved. With this thinking in background, the Government has formulated some policy decision as an alternative solution to the increased use of agrochemicals. Thus, there is a greater need to understand that many of the criticisms leveled at this issue are exaggerated and politicised.

Healthy living is an invaluable asset and therefore, any effort taken to ensure a healthy life is to be appreciated. It was clearly stated in the President's “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor”, the national policy framework for the nation that highlights and promotes the use of organic fertiliser across the country in the next ten years.

In such a backdrop, the President Gobaya Rajapaksa has taken the initiative to build a healthy society in the motherland and the results of this initiative will be realised by the nation in time to come. It is our responsibility as responsible citizens to make some sacrifice and support the noble efforts of the Government.

We have to keep away the petty political benefits and need to unite to support the President to achieve the objectives of a healthy nation. Hence, the efforts of the President-led Government in this regard are to be welcomed. Only by working hand in hand with each of us, we can reach our goals to build a healthier society.