Ban on Glyphosate: Planters’ plea for an alternative | Sunday Observer

Ban on Glyphosate: Planters’ plea for an alternative

The ban on the use of glyphosate which is still in force according to plantation industry officials is said to have disastrous consequences on the industry with no evidence whatsoever of its adverse health impacts when correctly used. Tea production is projected to slump by around 20 to 25 percent annually due to the ban which delays the application of fertilizer, they opine.

The Sunday Observer spoke to the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda and industry personnel for the latest information on the ban and its implications on plantation crops.

Dr. Pethiyagoda said, the ban is still in force and although the Minister of Plantation Industries brought the matter to the notice of the Cabinet on three occasions, it has not been resolved.

“ My understanding is that at present the Minister of Health is supposed to look into the matter and give a recommendation to the Cabinet,” he said.

Regarding its implication on crops he said the Regional Plantation Companies and larger tea plantations have been badly affected, as well as growers of seedling tea.

However, he said, it is difficult to quantify the impact due to variations in the weather from year to year. Further, some impacts do not scale linearly. For example, when there is more weed growth due to a lack of weedicide, estates stop applying fertilizer because it would make the weed-control problem worse, which results in a lower crop.

“ All in all, 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 said.

Hence, the plantation industry has to bear an additional cost which makes the crop less lucrative in the global arena, he said.

Dr. Pethiyagoda pointed out that the cost of manual weeding pushes up the cost of production, resulting in less competitiveness in the international market.

“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 glyphostae 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 as 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. Thereafter, the industry depended on glyphosate, he said.

Following the ban the industry has faced severe hardships as it had to resort to manual weeding which is not viable due to the dearth of workers, high cost and particularly the manual weeding tools such as scrappers which are not recommended by Research Institutes since it leads to soil erosion.

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 PA 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.

“Since a number of factors such as Good Agriculture Practice (GAP), application of fertilizer, weather conditions etc affect tea production it is difficult to identify a single reason for crop losses.

While the Glyphosate discussion is ongoing and the ban is on with no viable alternative, fertilizer application on large tea estates have been restrictive, which may have attributed to the lower crops in large plantations”, the TEA chief said, adding that the availability of chemicals via illegal channels and their uncontrolled use leads to the discovery of chemical residues beyond permitted levels which in turn is impacting the reputation of Ceylon Tea.

Karunaratne summarizing the impact of the ban, noted the following:

According to reports certain Ceylon Tea shipments had been rejected recently by Japan and Germany over high levels of MRLs.

  •  Cost of production in the plantation sector may have escalated
  •  Dearth of labour for manual weeding
  •  High cost of other available

weedicides

l Price hikes, and significant demand volatility, affects supply and demand .

l High cost of production affects the export pricing and competitiveness of Ceylon Tea in foreign markets,” Karunaratne concluded.

Based on reports, Dr. Pethiyagoda notes that the California province in USA is considering banning glyphosate over health concerns . Even EU, at the next review in 2022 may take a hard look at the use of glyphosate due to increasing consumer objection on the use of the weed-killer.

Therefore, Sri Lanka will have to find an alternate product as early as possible. In this regard, research organizations in the country should act fast to develop a new product acceptable to all parties. If not we may not be able to ship our tea to EU and USA in time to come. “Until an affordable and acceptable alternate weedicide is introduced, the government should allow the use of glyphosate in the tea plantation under strict monitoring and control,” the TEA chief said.

Glyphosate is a spectrum herbicide and crop desiccant discovered by John E Franz in 1970, a Monsanto chemist. It was brought to the market in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. 

 

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