Food insecurity in Sri Lanka is likely to worsen due to low agricultural production, soaring prices and the current economic crisis, warn FAO and WFP

September 12, 2022, Rome: An estimated 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka face moderate to severe acute food insecurity and their situation is expected to worsen unless adequate life-saving assistance and livelihood support is provided. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) warned today in a new report.

According to the Joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) report, two consecutive seasons of poor harvests led to an almost 50 percent decline in production associated with a reduction in imports of food grains due to currency constraints.

The report notes that immediate food assistance and livelihoods programs – including through existing social assistance mechanisms – are essential to enable households to access nutritious food – especially those suffering from moderate to severe acute food insecurity. Without assistance, the food security situation is expected to deteriorate further, particularly during the lean season from October 2022 to February 2023, driven by poor staple food harvests, especially paddy rice, and the economic crisis. current.

“In order to avoid further deterioration of food security conditions and support the restoration of agricultural production, livelihood assistance targeting smallholder farmers must remain a priority,” said the FAO Representative in Sri Lanka. Lanka, Vimlendra Sharan. “With around 30% of the population dependent on agriculture, improving the productive capacity of farmers will ultimately strengthen the resilience of the agricultural sector, reduce import requirements amid tight foreign exchange reserves and will prevent the increase in hunger”.

“Months into this crippling economic crisis, families are running out of options – they are exhausted. More than 60% of families eat less and consume less expensive and less nutritious foods. It comes at a time when financial constraints have forced the government to cut nutrition programs, such as school meals and fortified foods for undernourished mothers and children. WFP’s top priority is to provide immediate food and nutrition assistance to communities most at risk to prevent further deterioration of their nutrition,” said WFP Representative and Country Director in Sri Lanka, Abdur Rahim Siddiqui.

At the request of the Government, the Joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission visited the 25 districts of the country between June and July 2022 to analyze agricultural production levels in 2022, in particular of the main cereals of base, as well as to assess household food security conditions. .

Significant drop in harvests

A severe macroeconomic crisis in Sri Lanka has caused severe shortages and price spikes of essential commodities, including food, agricultural inputs, fuel and medicines, severely hampering economic activity, with major disruptions in production agricultural.

Production of paddy rice, the main staple, is estimated at 3 million tonnes in 2022, the lowest level since the drought-affected 2017 harvest, mainly due to low yields following reduced application of fertilizer, according to the report.

Maize production, mainly used for animal feed, is about 40 percent below the average for the past five years, with negative effects on poultry and livestock production. Similarly, the production of vegetables, fruits and export crops, such as tea, rubber, coconut and spices, is well below average, resulting in a significant decline in household and community incomes. export earnings.

Prices for most food items have been rising steadily since the last quarter of 2021 and hit a new high in August 2022, with a year-on-year food inflation rate of almost 94%.

Total cereal import requirements in 2022 are estimated at 2.2 million tonnes. In the first six months of 2022, more than 930,000 tonnes of cereals were imported, leaving an outstanding import requirement of 1.27 million tonnes. Given the persistent macroeconomic difficulties, there is a high risk that the remaining import requirements will not be met.

Mission Recommendations

The main recommendations of the joint FAO/WFP mission are the immediate provision of food or cash assistance to vulnerable and marginalized communities, including pregnant and lactating women, female-headed households and people with disabilities, to help them meet their immediate food and food needs. nutritional needs. The report also recommends the immediate provision of agricultural inputs, including fertilizers, focusing on smallholder farmers. The report highlights the need to support households in establishing home gardens and vegetable gardens to improve their nutritional status, while providing adequate amounts of fuel to ensure efficient planting, harvesting, transportation and processing of food crops .

The report suggests providing nutrient-dense pet food, vaccines and veterinary health kits at subsidized prices to owners of livestock, especially dairy and poultry, to mitigate the effects of food shortages . Support for the resumption and continuation of national nutrition programs such as school meals, which have been halted due to funding constraints, was also highlighted as a priority.

FAO’s work in Sri Lanka during this crisis

Together with its partners, FAO in Sri Lanka is responding to urgent food security needs, protecting the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers and fishers in the most affected districts while promoting urban agriculture. To strengthen the productive capacity of smallholder farmers, FAO is providing fertilizer packs to more than 15,000 smallholder farmers in five of the country’s poorest districts. The plan to assist 116,800 additional smallholder farmers with fertilizer supply is being finalized. Nearly 7,000 most vulnerable small-scale marine fishers received an unconditional cash transfer to meet their immediate food needs. To strengthen livelihoods, 8,700 smallholder chickpea farmers are being trained in yield improvement and will receive a one-time cash transfer to ensure they meet their basic needs without resorting to negative coping strategies . FAO is also promoting urban agriculture to enhance the food security of the urban poor in Colombo through the provision of agricultural kits, nutritional kits and comprehensive training on the establishment of home gardens and community garden initiatives for up to to 600 poor urban households. Donor funding to scale up these and other similar activities is being sought.

WFP’s work in Sri Lanka

WFP launched its emergency response operation in June with the distribution of vouchers worth about US$40 to pregnant women in underserved areas of the capital, Colombo, about half the cost of a nutritious diet for a family of four for a month. WFP aims to reach 3.4 million people by the end of the year, including 1.4 million people through cash, vouchers or food. This targeted assistance will focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, including pregnant and lactating women, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, female-headed households and low-income households with more than four registered members. National Social Welfare, Samurdhi. . WFP will also support one million school children enrolled in the national school feeding programme, which has experienced disruptions due to government funding constraints. WFP will support the continuation of the Thriposha program which provides fortified foods to pregnant and lactating women and undernourished children under five.

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