Minister Rajitha Senaratne

Despite claims that pesticides containing the chemical Glyphosate have been banned, the government has conceded that it is not possible to completely do away with the chemical, at least for the time being. As such, a proposal has been made to import pesticides containing the chemical through the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

At the Cabinet press briefing on May 28(Thursday), Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne stated the government had decided to ban the import and use of pesticides containing Glyphosate completely due to fears that it is linked to Chronic Kidney Disease. President Maithripala Sirisena meanwhile, had proposed to totally ban the import and usage of Glyphosate pesticides and the Cabinet approved this decision, it was further said. Accordingly, container-loads of pesticides containing the chemical, which had been recently released by Sri Lanka Customs, would also be destroyed, Minister Senaratne further said.

However, when contacted, Minister of Agriculture Duminda Dissanayake said while he did not know exactly what Minister Senaratne said, the decision did not mean the importation of pesticides containing Glyphosate had been completely done away with.

While no private company will be allowed to import the chemical into the country, there is a proposal that Glyphosate pesticides, required for various purposes, be imported, at least for the moment, through the CPC, he revealed.

He revealed that about 25-30 companies had been given permission by the previous government to import about 3 million liters of pesticides containing the now banned chemical.

The present government has taken a decision that Glyphosate will not be used for paddy cultivation from the next harvest season, he added.

“However, those engaged in the tea industry have made appeals through the Ministry of Plantation Industries that they needed the chemical. In addition, it has also been observed that Glyphosate is useful for other purposes, including the removal of grass and vegetation that tends to grow on rail tracks. We have identified specific areas where the chemical can be used and because of that, we are proposing that the chemical be imported through the CPC where necessary”.

Minister of Plantation Industries, Lakshman Kiriella confirmed that some in the tea industry had requested that they be allowed to use pesticides containing the chemical. “We have instructed the Tea Research Institute (TRI) to work on finding an alternate chemical to Glyphosate. However, in the meantime, the chemical would still be used where necessary,” he said.

Kiriella observed the chemical was used heavily in the Nuwara Eliya District among tea growers. However, there are no Kidney Disease patients being recorded from that area, he noted. He pointed out that Glyphosate has not been identified as the direct cause of Kidney Disease, which is likely a combination of many factors.

Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of the Rajarata University, Dr. Channa Jayasumana however, said it was a ‘complete lie’ to say that the tea industry would collapse if Glyphosate is not used. “Some people are trying to create an impression that the ban on Glyphosate will destroy our agricultural economy. This is simply not true,” he claimed.

While on paper, the ban means that no private companies can import Glyphosate, Dr. Jayasumana expressed fears that such pesticides would still find their way to private companies through the CPC unless it was strictly regulated.