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The Sri Lankan economy is currently having something of a major crisis. This BBC report points out they are about to default on major international loan payments:

Sri Lanka crisis: Government requests emergency financial help from IMF

While the mainstream reporting doesn't mention the underlying causes of the crisis, some commentators have claimed that this crisis was triggered by a government decision to ban artificial fertiliser and promote organic farming. For example, this blog from the Adam Smith institute points out:

Imagine devoting your energies to an insistence upon a more land hungry, less productive form of agriculture. Then finding out that when it’s actually implemented it turns out to be just that, more land hungry and less productive.

The blog quotes a Guardian story that claims:

Sri Lanka is grappling with the worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948, and foreign currency reserves sit at their lowest level on record due to what many see as gross economic mismanagement by the government. ...

For the farmers of Sri Lanka, their problems began in April last year when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who now stands accused of pushing the country into financial ruin, implemented a sudden ban on chemical fertilisers.

Is it true that the current crisis was triggered by a push for organic farming?

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  • Related: WP:Sri Lanka#Transition to biological agriculture.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 11:58
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    Like most historical events, an economic crisis is complex and rarely has a single cause or "trigger". Economists still debate over the causes of the Global Financial Crisis (10+ years ago) and Great Depression (90 years ago), and certainly do not attribute either to any single cause or trigger.
    – user62611
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 10:11
  • @user24096 I don't disagree. But I would expect a good answer to this question to assess whether the specific action was a minor contributor or a major one. Not every cause has to be binary for a reasonable assessment to be made.
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 10:42
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    @user24096: Off topic, but anyone who still debates over the causes of the Global Financial Crisis needs to watch "The Big Short" (movie), and believe someone who was employed too close to ground zero for comfort that the depiction of the banking industry in that movie is pretty accurate.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 11:55
  • I wonder how much of the debt problem has other political reasons. E.g.I read this 4 years ago: Sri Lanka Caught in China’s Debt Trap. "By 2015, Sri Lanka owed China $8 billion. In early 2018, China pledged another $1 billion for Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port City project." (Be aware that is a religious-based magazine, but the first part of the article is secular fact.) Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 15:37

1 Answer 1

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Not really, no.

Reading further down the Guardian article will reveal the truth. The basics are easy:

[The] problems began in April last year when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, [...] implemented a sudden ban on chemical fertilisers.

On the face of it, a push to organic farming would be seen as laudable, given concerns over the use of chemical fertilisers. Yet it was the sudden and obtuse manner in which the ban was introduced – imposed virtually overnight and with no prior warning or training – and the questionable motives behind it, that have left even organic farming advocates furious.

“There was no proper plan, no training or education, so it’s clear to the farmers there was an ulterior [motive] here,” said Vimukthi de Silva, an organic farmer in Rajanganaya.

“Prior to this policy, the government had unsuccessfully tried to commercialise farm land, which is the biggest commercial asset the country has. So many of us think this was another way to try and get farmers to leave their land, or to weaken the farmers’ position and enable a land grab.”

In other words the "decision to mandate organic farming" was just a decision to ban the import of chemical fertilisers. Nothing else was done to make organic farming possible - no training, no provision of alternative fertilisers, no support for the transition. No notice was given so that farmers could make other arrangements. And most people believe the real reason for the ban was simply a land grab.

Note that supporters of organic farming were opposed to the move. They are "furious" not because the switch to organics was done, but because it was done badly.

The Adam Smith Institute blog is just a snarky comment by someone who seems not to have read the entire article and tries to pretend that because this one utterly botched ploy that was never anything to do with organics caused ruin, then somehow any switch to organics must be invalidated.

Oh yes, and since answers should have references, here is a link to the original Guardian article that is referenced by both the question and the original article that makes the claim, and from which all this information is taken.

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    Not sure whether this fully answers the Q. We see that the agricultural crisis is told in basically two narratives, both quite simplified down to journalism & headlines. But did this domino to the full economy? (Q-title) (I also miss whether it is not a plausible alternative that the deciders really thought primitively: 'ah, hm, organic = no fertilizer' [+no fert at all, no chemical, no imported chemical?; what about land/soil management, pesticides etc?]) Being dumb is more common than being evil, but when they are evil on purpose indeed, a fuller picture of exactly how evil would be nice. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 9:09
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    I agree that I have not completely explained how the crisis came about. But the question was whether it arose from a genuine and reasonable attempt to switch to organic agriculture, and I think my answer shows that it did not. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 13:25
  • "most people believe the real reason for the ban was simply a land grab." Do you have evidence that this is something most people (in Sri Lanka, or subject-area experts, or...) believe? The story you quote includes a comment from a single organic farmer & advocate about what "many of us believe," but that's not the same thing, and not very strong empirical evidence for a statistical claim about prevalence of a conspiratorial belief. This answer would be strengthened by supporting this claim with survey evidence or else, if there isn't such, weakening the claim to match available reporting. Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 10:42

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