Sri Lanka lifts ban on glyphosate weedkiller for use in tea/rubber estates

weedkiller-for-use-in-teaSri Lanka was one of the first countries to ban the usage of glyphosate in the agriculture industry in 2015. It has now had a about-turn and will lift the ban for tea and rubber plantations only.

Meanwhile, in the three years since the ban was instituted in Sri Lanka, the government had not been able to come up with an effective alternative to glyphosate. Plantations were beginning to be plagued with weeds and had to be weeded manually, bringing down production and adding to the costs. Scarcity of labour in plantations had also compounded the problem.

High rates of kidney disease (chronic kidney disease of unknown causes – CKDu) have been found among farmers in arid and tropical regions of the world, including in parts of Sri Lanka, where pesticides and weedicides are widely used. In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO), together with the Presidential Task Force for CKDu Prevention, issued a statement that there was no evidence to link glyphosate with CKDu.

As well, Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake, said that the industries had suffered economic damage because of the ongoing ban. According to the 2017 Annual report of the Central Bank, rubber exports brought in a revenue of US$38.9 million and tea exports brought in a revenue of US$1,529.8 million in the year 2017.

However, Rajarata University senior lecturer Dr. Channa Jayasumana, who is carrying out extensive research on CKDu, insists the ban should not be lifted. Researchers have coined a more appropriate term – Chronic Interstitial Nephritis in Agricultural Communities (CINAC) – for the illnesses found to be common among young men and women in tropical climates exposed to toxic agro-chemicals through work or by ingestion of contaminated food and water or by inhalation.

However, the causes of CINAC are also not known. The disease is caused by any of several factors and is characterised by low or absent proteinuria (proteins detected in urine)and small kidneys with irregular contours in the latter stages of the illness.

Among the two hypotheses attributed as contributory causes are toxic exposure in agricultural communities and the recurring exposure to heat stress with episodes of dehydration. The absence of the disease in northern Sri Lanka, where heat stress is high, is explained by the minimum use of agro-chemicals in farming there. CKDu is prevalent in the North Central Province. He said there was fresh evidence that the weedicide contributed to kidney disease in farming communities.

The government says there are plans afoot to shift to organic herbicide in 3-4 years.



The government says there are plans afoot to shift to organic herbicide in 3-4 years.