05/30/2022, 17.51
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Sri Lanka’s city residents are the most affected by food shortages

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

Rice stocks are expected to run out by October. The authorities are urging urban residents to cultivate home gardens. To cope with the crisis, the government will be forced to import tonnes of rice, but experts believe that the population must also change its food habits.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – As the government gives priority to rice imports and tries to change citizens' consumption patterns, food shortages are likely to hit Sri Lanka’s city residents the hardest.

Unlike rural villages, where people can manage to be almost self-sufficient, the urban population, especially those who live in condominiums, have no place to grow vegetables.

Recently Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the most populated areas will be most affected by a “pending food shortage” when food stocks run out after October of this year.

To tackle the problem, the government plans to ensure better connections between the countryside and the cities to avoid delays in moving agricultural products.

Government sources told AsiaNews that, during a meeting, prime minister asked Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake “to ensure that some produce be grown in home gardens” within the city to minimise the impact of food shortages.

However, most people in cities have neither space nor proper fertiliser to grow vegetables. What is more, shops that sell seeds are closed due to lack of fertiliser and high transportation costs caused by a spike in fuel prices.

Prof Buddhi Marambe, of the University of Peradeniya, expressed concern about the country’s food shortages, stressing the need for adequate quantities of rice up to March 2023, as rice is the Sri Lanka’s staple food.

In his view, the government must be ready to import large quantities of the grain; nevertheless, “If consumption patterns change, less rice will be imported and the cost of imports will also be reduced,” he explained. Even so, needs will be only partly met.

The expert points out that because of low foreign exchange reserves, the government will have to give priority to rice imports rather than other products to feed people.

At the same time, some economic analysts believe that unless consumption patterns change, the country will need to import 195,000 tonnes of rice per month.

In fact, for Prof Marambe, if Sri Lankans consumed various seasonal products, like jackfruit and cassava, they could help reduce rice imports.

He also noted that fertilisers must be purchased for the Maha season (September to March) as planting during the current Yala season (May to August) is coming to an end.

Agriculture experts told AsiaNews that Sri Lankan rice stocks will be depleted by October due to the government’s ban on imports of chemicals and fertilisers last year.

Sri Lankan agriculture took a U-turn towards organic farming without considering the potential negative consequences of the import ban.

For this reason, experts believe that it is necessary that not only rice, but also fertilisers be at the top of next budget.

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