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Tea and rubber production continue contraction since crackpot organic policy

By: Staff Writer

Colombo (LNW): Faced with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis, Sri Lanka called off an ill-conceived national experiment in organic agriculture in the latter part of 2022 is now experiencing the cascade effect imposing a nationwide chemical fertilizer ban ordering the country’s 2 million farmers to go organic back for agriculture as tea and rubber crops dip in 1Q 2023.

The country’s key agriculture crops tea, rubber and coconut have suffered contraction in the first quarter of this year in comparison to the corresponding period of 2022 reaffirming the continuous damage caused by the unprecedented policy of banning chemical fertilizer by the former ousted president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

As per provisional data released by the Central Bank last week, in the first quarter of 2023 tea crop was down by 6.5% to 59.2 million kilos. Rubber production was down by 2.5% to 18.7 million kilos. Coconut production was down by 5.6% to 790.3 million nuts.

CBSL said the contraction “can be largely attributable to the lag effect of shortages of required fertilizer. “It said coconut production drop reflects the lag effects of dry weather conditions that prevailed during the corresponding quarter of 2022.

The negative start overall and continuity of decline in output for tea and rubber (coconut crop hit a record last year) have caused concern within the agriculture industry.

Analysts warned that the outcome makes economic recovery more challenging this year. The broader agriculture activities in 2022 contracted by 4.6% in 2022 in value-added terms, compared to the growth of 0.9% in 2021.

In terms of exports, the value of tea shipments in the 1Q of 2023 were up 9.6% to $ 314.3 million on account of favourable prices. Rubber exports however were down by 26% to $ 10.8 million and coconut exports were down by 28% to $ 75.8 million. Sri Lanka’s overall exports were down by 8% to $ 3 billion in 1Q of 2023.

Last year tea production dipped by 16% largely due to the lagged effect of acute shortages of fertilizers and agrochemicals domestically.

Production of high, medium, and low grown tea, which contributed to around 22%, 16%, and 62% of the total production, respectively, declined by 13.8%, 21.2%, and 15.4%, respectively, in 2022.

The average yield in the smallholder sector decreased to 1,193 kilograms per hectare, compared to 1,414 kilograms per hectare reported in 2021, registering a year-on-year decline of 15.6% in average yield.

Rubber production too suffered its second consecutive decline in 2022 by 7.8% to 70.9 million kilograms, largely driven by the combined effect of adverse weather conditions that prevailed in rubber growing areas, fertilizer shortages, and the spread of the Pestalotiopsis disease.

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