Colombo, February 23 (newsin.asia): The decision to lift the three year long ban on the use of the weedicide “glyphosate” by the Sri Lankan National Economic Council (NEC) on February 21, albeit temporarily, has come as a boon to the tea and rubber plantations in the country.
Tea and rubber planters have been demanding the lifting of the ban since it was imposed in June 2015, but in vain.
It required a crushing election defeat (at the local bodies elections on February 10) to make the government change its stand, which taken on the advice of political environmentalist Ven.Athuraliye Rathana Thero without considering all aspects of the issue.
Even now the ban has been lifted only temporarily, pending a thorough review of the pros and cons of lifting the ban.
The ban has had disastrous consequences for the industry. Tea production was projected to slump by around 20 to 25% annually according to some sources.
The Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda told Sunday Observer dated February 18, 2018:“ The impact on the tea industry has been severe. The environmental impact too, has been disastrous because it leaves estates with the option of removing weeds manually, which results in the topsoil being loosened, thereby increasing soil erosion and pollution of waterways.”
Dr. Pethiyagoda pointed out that the cost of manual weeding pushes up the cost of production, resulting in less competitiveness in the international market. Labor for weeding is also not available easily.
“To put it bluntly, the impact of the ban on the tea industry has been disastrous. And what makes it additionally tragic is that there is no medical evidence that glyphosate, when correctly used, has any negative health impacts,” the Tea Board chief said.
The ban on the use of glyphosate came into effect in mid 2015 without an alternative weedicide, which planters said, put them into severe difficulty as glyphosate was the only available weedicide.
When asked about an alternative Dr. Pethiyagoda said there is no alternative proposed by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Most of the alternatives, such as paraquat and glufosinate ammonium have also been banned.
“One needs to consider the cost-effectiveness of the alternatives: it is clear there are no affordable alternatives. Moreover, the ban has led to an illegal trade in glyphosate, apparently smuggled from India. No one knows what goes into such substances as they are not subject to regulation. It is like trying to regulate kasippu,” he pointed out.
Another unintended consequence of the ban according to the Tea Board chief is that tea growers are left with no choice but to experiment with untested weed-control alternatives.
He noted that certain growers apply weedicides used for paddy.
“These have not been tested on tea and if detected in tea in importing countries, we may lose our valuable tea markets, such as Japan and the EU. Indeed, some such detections have already been made. I have repeatedly informed the government that by enforcing this ban, it is crippling the tea industry.”
“It is tragic that none of the key institutions were consulted when introducing the ban, including the Registrar of Pesticides, the Medical Research Institute, the Tea Research Institute etc.
“Moreover, not a single tea-importing country has banned glyphosate. If it is so dangerous, shouldn’t they be worried too?” quipped the Tea Board chief.
However, according to Athuraliye Rathana Thera MP, who is a strong opponent of the use of glyphosate said, there are no two words about glyphosate being injurious to health. He said that an alternative bio-weedicide has been proposed for the plantation industry which has been tested and found to be non hazardous to health.
Planters Association (PA) Chairman Sunil Poholiyadde said, prior to the ban on glyphosate, paraquat was used as weedicide which too was banned subsequently due to it being used as a means to commit suicide.
Weeding not being carried out at the proper time, especially, during monsoons which increase weed growth, and the delay in the application of fertilizer, has resulted in a low crop yield, he said.
“We believe there could be around a 20-25 percent drop in crop due to the ban resulting in the delay in fertilizer application. The Planters’ Association is not asking for glyphostae per se but an alternative recommended by the Tea Research Institute (TRI),” Poholiyadde said.
Planters pointed out that certain farmers are compelled to use substitutes for weeding which would have an adverse effect on the image of Ceylon Tea, due to resistance by importing countries which are strict on Maximum Residue Limit (MRLs).
Tea Exporters’ Association Chairman, Jayantha Karunaratne said, glyphosate has been used on tea plantations for many years as per the recommendation of the TRI and no major concerns raised by tea importing countries, so far.
He says, the government banned the use of glyphosate in June 2015. However, leading tea producing countries such as India, China and Kenya still use glyphosate as it is the most effective weed-killer in the agricultural sector.
“Many tea importing countries still accept the use of glyphosate as the MRLs are within approved limits. A few days ago, EU countries approved the use of glyphosate for another five years. EU public opinion is to ban the weed-killer but farmers want to continue to use it. However, individual countries in EU are free to ban the use domestically,” Karunaratne said .
The Tea Board chief notes that tea production declined to 328.9 million kg in 2015 compared to 338.0 million kg recorded in the previous year. Production further plunged to 292.3 million kgs in 2016.