30% Lankan population on brink of acute food insecurity

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The world’s leading two humanitarian organisations stated that two consecutive seasons of poor harvests led to a nearly 50 per cent drop in production, coupled with reduced imports of food grains..reports SUSITHA FERNANDO

Two United Nations organisations warned on Monday that nearly 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population is experiencing acute food insecurity, which is likely worsen if adequate life-saving assistance and livelihood support is not provided.

In its latest report, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) cautioned that an estimated 6.3 million people in the South Asian island nation are facing moderate to severe acute food insecurity, mainly due to poor agricultural production, price spikes, and the ongoing economic crisis.

In a joint statement, the world’s leading two humanitarian organisations stated that two consecutive seasons of poor harvests led to a nearly 50 per cent drop in production, coupled with reduced imports of food grains due to foreign exchange constraints.

Without assistance, the food security situation is expected to deteriorate further, particularly during the October 2022 to February 2023 lean season, driven by poor harvests of staple foods, in particular, paddy rice, and the ongoing economic crisis.

The report noted that immediate food assistance and livelihood programmes – including through existing social assistance mechanisms – are critical to enable households to access nutritious food – particularly moderately and severely acute food insecure ones.

“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,” FAO Representative in Sri Lanka Vimlendra Sharan said.

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

Production of paddy rice, the main food staple, is forecast at 3 million mt in 2022, the lowest level since the 2017 drought-affected harvest, mostly due to low yields following reduced application of fertilisers, the report finds.

“Production of maize, mostly used as animal feed, is about 40 per cent below the past five-year average, with negative effects on poultry and livestock production. Likewise, production of vegetables, fruits and export-oriented crops, such as tea, rubber, coconut and spices, is well below average, causing a significant decline in households’ income and export revenues.”

Prices of most food items have been on a steady rise since the last quarter of 2021 and reached a new record high in August 2022, with the year-on-year food inflation rate at nearly 94 per cent.

The worst ever macro-economic crisis in Sri Lanka has caused acute shortages and spikes in the prices of essential products, including food, agricultural inputs, fuel and medicine, severely compromising the economic activity, with major disruptions to agricultural production.

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