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The weedicide banned by the Government, Glyphosate has become a much talked about issue recently. Government partner, MP Athuraliye Rathana (initially appointed from the Jathika Hela Urumaya national list and currently sitting as an independent within the United National Front Government) further pointed out its ill effects and clarified that the Government should continue the ban imposed on it. Cabinet Minister of Plantation Industries, United National Party MP Navin Dissanayake however stated that it had yet to be confirmed as to whether Glyphosate impacted the kidney disease. Further, he made a request that the ban on Glyphosate be lifted solely for the tea crop. This article is written based on views aired by the Minister in this regard recently.

Q : What actions have been taken thus far with regard to lifting the ban on Glyphosate?        

I plan to present a Cabinet paper in this regard. This is with regard to the need to have stringent restrictions and regulations when importing Glyphosate and in relation to formulating a special monitoring and observation programme in line with the said restrictions and regulations. It is only afterwards that I plan to present the Cabinet paper.

Q : Why only Glyphosate? Aren’t there alternatives?

There are a few weedicides. Yet, only Glyphosate can be purchased at a cheap price. Also, even though Glyphosate is banned, it is available in the market. When you try to control such things with tight regulations it is always brought down illegally. I know that Glyphosate is brought from India through Puttalam in boats. The harm that is caused when bringing Glyphosate down without controlling and regulating it is more. Thus, it is better if this is done properly with some control.

That is why I hope to put forward a request to be granted approval and permission to allow for the use of Glyphosate in tea and for tea only.

Q : The Government banned Glyphosate because the kidney disease has spread widely. Do you accept responsibility if another such risk arises?

The kidney disease was not reported from the areas where Glyphosate was used. Therefore one cannot say that by the mere use of Glyphosate one gets afflicted by the kidney disease. The other aspect is that I do not logically agree with such particularly when one cannot with certainty say that Gkyphosate causes the kidney disease.

Q : Are you saying that the main reason for the decline in tea production is the ban on Glyphosate?

As of now, our tea production has plummeted. In 2014, the tea production amounted to 330 million kilograms (kgs). In 2015, it was 300 million kgs. In 2016, it was 280 million kgs. I am not saying that the ban on the weedicide is what has mainly affected it. This could be one more factor. Rather than being a hero in the gallery, it is pertinent to look at this issue more subtly and then provide an answer to it. That is why I am talking about this after looking into this matter thoroughly.

Q : The decline in the contribution made by tea to the economy has been taking place for several years now. Why are you making such statements suddenly?

The Glyphosate ban affects the entire agriculture sector. I said that I was making this request only for the tea industry. I expect to completely stop the Glyphosate requirement of the tea industry within five years. This cannot be stopped at once. There must be a mechanism formulated for the purpose.

Q : At a time when the demand for toxin-free food is increasing, why are we embracing Glyphosate?

Certain companies are moving away from the use of banned weedicides and moving towards using organic and carbonic related matter. These are at the experimental stage. We think that within two to three years we will be able to obtain a cheap weedicide.

Q : Rathana Thera stated that by applying Glyphosate to the tea crop in the central hilly and mountainous region, it will contaminate catchment areas and thereby affect other areas too.   

I cannot agree with the monk’s view. The media has looked into this a lot. Even weedicides have been used for 40 to 50 years. The kidney issue arises only in the last 10 to 15 years.

Two expert panels discussed about this. I discussed with Rathana Thera. I do not think that the only solution to this issue is to remove weeds by hand. There are solutions with more depth. I am trying to look for those. We must think about the country and do these things.