Fertilizer shortage crippling plantation industry warns PA


The Planter’s Association of Ceylon (PA) has warned of an acute shortage of fertilizer which will have a detrimental effect on the plantation industry.

The PA whose mandate is to promote, foster and protect the plantation industry of Sri Lanka has sounded the alarm and appealed to all stakeholders to come together to resolve the fertilizer crisis.

Fertilizer subsidies are provided by the government for paddy and plantation crops (tea, rubber, and coconut). Importation and distribution of fertilizer is carried out by different institutions. The government’s fertilizer scheme enables the importers to sell the fertilizer at a subsidized rate and seek a rebate from the government. However, the rebate process itself is cumbersome and takes a long time to be realized discouraging the importers. Adding to the dilemma, the ballooning subsidy bill has caused growing concern for the government resulting in a cap on fertilizer importation

"The shortage and the ill-timing of fertilizer application will result in loss of crop, reduction of green leaf quality, leading to a detrimental effect on tea quality and the inability for the estates to offer a sufficient number of days work to the workers due to lack of crop," says Roshan Rajadurai, Chairman, Planters’ Association of Ceylon, explaining the extent of the crisis.

"The Regional Plantation Companies produce around 20-23 million kgs of tea in the first quarter of the year. Due to the lack of fertilizer, we may lose about 6–7 million kg of made tea incurring a loss of Rs. 2.7 to 3 billion revenue from tea" Rajadurai added. The shortfall will have an impact on thousands of hectares managed by Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) which account for more than 30% of national tea production.

Rajadurai elaborated "What is significant is that fertilizer has to be in place for the application in April/May with the onset of rains as these are the high cropping periods of the year. Furthermore, the new clearings that have already been planted must receive timely application of fertilizer if they are to establish and survive in the future. Any reduction of fertilizer will retard the growth and the physiological health of young tea plants and it will have a long term negative impact on the new clearings".

"The shortage of fertilizer in the market is a major problem which has to be solved immediately. All stakeholders, including the government, state manufacturing companies and the private sector have to cooperate in order to reach the solution, especially since around 45% of the fertilizer is going to manufacturing government bodies," says Neville Ratnayake, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholder Development Societies.

"This fertilizer shortage is a serious problem" said Professor Asoka Nugawela, Professor of Plantation Management at the Faculty of Agriculture and Plantation Management of Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. He added "the main impact on rubber plantations will be that they are unable to follow the RRI (Rubber Research Institute) recommendations on fertilizer application leading to a decline in performance". RPCs currently account for about 40% of the national rubber production,

The RRI recommends immature or young rubber trees to receive four applications of fertilizer, (i.e. once every three months) per annum. Due to the current scarcity certain companies are able to complete only three applications.

"I know several companies were unable to fertilize their mature rubber trees in 2013. If this happens in 2014 as well, the yield will decline, and there will be a similar drop in land and work productivity. This would mean a higher cost of production, which coupled with the stagnant rubber prices would mean that plantation management companies would find it difficult to cope," he added.

Missing the recommended number of applications could lead to a smaller crop and lower income for the entire industry, Professor Nugawela explained. "As such it was vital for experts to study the problem and intervene to devise a solution so that plantation companies would not have to face a shortfall" he said.

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