My article for The Telegraph:Sri Lanka’s collapse, from one of the fastest growing Asian economies to a political, economic and humanitarian horror show, seems to have taken everybody by surprise.Five years ago, the World Bank was extolling “how Sri Lanka intends to transition to a more competitive and inclusive upper-middle income country”. Right up to the middle of last year, despite the impact of the pandemic, the country’s misery index (inflation plus unemployment) was low and falling.
Then the misery index took off like a rocket, quintupling in a year.What happened? There is a simple explanation, one that the BBC seems determined to downplay. In April 2021, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that Sri Lanka was banning most pesticides and all synthetic fertiliser to go fully organic.
Within months, the volume of tea exports had halved, cutting foreign exchange earnings. Rice yields plummeted leading to an unprecedented requirement to import rice.
With the government unable to service its debt, the currency collapsed.Speciality crop yields like cinnamon and cardamom tanked. Staple foods became infested with pests leading to widespread hunger.
As Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute put it in March: “The farrago of magical thinking, technocratic hubris, ideological delusion, self-dealing and sheer shortsightedness that produced the crisis in Sri Lanka implicates both the country’s political leadership and advocates of so-called sustainable agriculture.”The government promised more manure, but it would take at least five times as much manure as the country produces to replace the “synthetic” nitrogen fixed from the air, and there’s not enough livestock or land to produce that much. In Glasgow for the climate
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