The country of Sri Lanka was in the news last year for its economic and political crisis. Part of that was the government’s decision to ban the import of fertilisers and pesticides and to declare the country to be organic. The chaos was used by some opportunists and opponents to say that organic does not work. To provide some perspective…….
The development of organic agriculture in Sri Lanka started in the 1980s. One of the pioneers was Ranjith de Silva, of Gami Seva Sevana, working on neem as an organic input. In the 90s, he was on the IFOAM World Board, advising how IFOAM could assist organic development in the Global South.
The author worked from 1984-85 in converting the first tea plantation in the country, Needwood Estate. As well as going organic, the stakeholders, including importers Simon Levelt in the Netherlands and GEPA in Germany, focused on improving the wellbeing of the estate workers. It became one of the first Naturland foreign projects. The estate developed a multi-strata shade and a dairy industry for its workers – recycling nutrients and producing compost.
During the next 40 years, Sri Lanka has become known as an exporter of organic black tea (and some green tea), spices like black pepper and cinnamon, and pineapple and coconut products. The USDA Organic Integrity Database shows over 300 Sri Lanka entities that are certified for the purpose of exporting to the US. Those same entities and other companies also focus on exporting to Europe or East Asia and the Arabian Gulf. Organic has an estimated 2% share of the agricultural land surface, contributing to its quality-product image and foreign exchange reserves.
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