06/14/2022, 16.28
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Prime Minister Wickremesinghe working with UN to overcome food emergency

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

An initiative agreed by Sri Lanka's Department of Agriculture and the UNDP to counter fertiliser shortages will be unveiled in July. The fertiliser shortfall is preventing Sri Lanka from being self-sufficiency in rice production. The prime minister pledges to counter agricultural shortages within five to six months.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – In light of possible food shortages, a food security programme drawn up by the Department of Agriculture with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will be unveiled in July, this according to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Agricultural shortages and shortfalls faced by farmers could be countered within five to six months “if swift action was taken,” he said during a meeting with the Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Vimlendra Sharan and UNDP Deputy Country Representative Malin Herwig

The prime minister also outlined the urban agriculture initiative he set up as a measure to overcome potential food shortages.

The biggest hurdles the agricultural sector must overcome are fertiliser and fuel shortages.

Some economic analysts told AsiaNews that the UNDP was compiling necessary data on an innovative agricultural assistance programme to help the farming community cope with the lack of fertilisers.

For its part, FAO noted that donors have offered to assist the island nation’s urban agriculture programme, saying that it was confident that a successful implementation will ensure more financial support.

Wickremesinghe’s request follows warnings by agricultural experts on shortages of rice and essential foodstuffs starting in September 2022, which resulted from a chemical fertiliser import ban imposed in April last year and the inability of the previous government to import fertilisers due to a dollar shortage.

Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in rice production before the ban on chemical fertilisers came into effect.

Meanwhile, India is providing a US$ 55 million credit line to Sri Lanka to import fertilisers, in a bid to help the country deal with food shortages.

Government sources told AsiaNews that the prime minister spoke with David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, inviting him to visit Sri Lanka, which was promptly accepted.

Last week, the United Nations also launched an appeal for US$ 47.2 million to provide life-saving assistance to some 1.7 million Sri Lankans, who are the most affected by the current economic crisis. The goal is to alleviate a medicine shortage in the medium term, thanks to a credit line from India and other partners.

The latter include the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is committed to assist Sri Lanka at this difficult juncture, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

To this end, the IMF is planning an “in-person mission” to Sri Lanka for the coming weeks to discuss a financial arrangement, including the measures the country must take before it can move ahead with a financing programme to restore debt sustainability.

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