01/03/2023, 19.00
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About one in three households experiences food insecurity in Sri Lanka

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The data come from the United Nations World Food Programme. The situation is due to the  country’s economic crisis and previous government policies, such as the transition to organic farming under the Rajapaksa administration. There are fears that the situation could get worse without assistance to farmers.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – A report released by the World Food Programme (WFP) indicates that Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has increased the risk of food insecurity in the country.

Overall, 36 per cent of households are food insecure, while 76 per cent have resorted to food coping strategies.

While food insecurity levels have stabilised over the past three months, they remain high, with more than half of households pawning gold and jewellery or borrowing money to buy food.

According to the WFP report, “Around three in ten households are facing insufficient food consumption, with many consuming far less diverse diets”.

The current economic crisis disproportionately affecting some segments of society at a time when financial constraints have forced the government to scale back nutrition programmes, including school meals and fortified foods for mothers and undernourished children.

According to the WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an estimated 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka face moderate to severe acute food insecurity, and their situation is expected to worsen if adequate life-saving assistance is not provided.

Existing social assistance mechanisms are vital to enabling families to enable households to access nutritious food.

Some economists told AsiaNews that more than half of households are buying food on credit because of their limited purchasing power; hence, following adequately nutritious diets is hard. Food prices also remain a primary concern for nine out of ten households.

Factchecking shows that food insecurity increased by 4 per cent in October 2022 compared to previous months, with almost half of households (48 per cent) in the Southern Province deemed food insecure, followed by Sabaragamuwa Province (45 per cent).

The same applies to other Sri Lankan provinces, particularly Uva and the North Western Province, and it is unlikely to improve in 2023. But residents in the east and the north recorded the lowest food insecurity scores in October, 26 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

Agriculture experts explain that this disastrous situation stems from the lack of long-term planning following the introduction of organic farming by the Rajapaksa administration.

Although the government allocated “400 million rupees (US$ 1.1 million) to provide farmers with seeds and planting material and 40 billion rupees for fertiliser”, the former president's decision “ruined the entire agriculture sector”.

Without assistance, food security is expected to deteriorate further, particularly in the coming months, due to poor rice harvests.

“In order to avert a further deterioration of food security conditions and to support restoration of agricultural production, livelihood assistance targeting smallholder farmers should remain a priority,” said a FAO source.

Thus, “improving the production capacity of farmers will ultimately boost the resilience of the agricultural sector, reduce import requirements amid shortages of foreign currency reserves and avert the rise in hunger.”

For some academics, the situation highlights the failure of government efforts to minimise the impact of the high cost of living on the poor and the middle class, this despite the introduction of the National Food Security Programme, which included setting up youth agricultural companies and writing off paddy farmers’ debt.

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