Sri Lanka’s drive to become the world’s first 100 percent organic food producer threatens its prized tea industry and has triggered fears of a wider crop disaster that could deal a further blow to the beleaguered economy.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned chemical fertilisers this year to set off his organic race but tea plantation owners are predicting crops could fail as soon as October, with cinnamon, pepper and staples such as rice also facing trouble.
Master tea maker Herman Gunaratne, one of 46 experts picked by Rajapaksa to guide the organic revolution, fears the worst.
“The ban has drawn the tea industry into complete disarray,” Gunaratne said at his plantation in Ahangama, in rolling hills 160km (100 miles) south of Colombo.
“The consequences for the country are unimaginable.”
The 76-year-old, who grows one of the world’s most expensive teas, fears that Sri Lanka’s average annual crop of 300 million kg (660 million pounds) will be slashed by half unless the government changes course.
“If we go completely organic, we will lose 50 percent of the crop, (but) we are not going to get 50 percent higher prices,” Gunaratne said.