Sri Lanka has historically surpassed its South Asian neighbors in terms of socioeconomic growth and human capital. Researchers have found notable improvements in critical metrics since the end of the civil war, including the Human Development Index, literacy rates, and health-related indicators. Since gaining independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has never experienced a worse economic crisis than the one it is currently struggling with. Food, gas, gasoline, and other necessities of life are no longer affordable for the nation, and paying off its enormous foreign debt is only a distant dream. With annual food inflation hovering around 94 percent, most food prices have risen steadily since the fourth quarter of 2021, hitting a record high in August 2022, and severely reducing household spending power. Food has become unaffordable for part of the population because Sri Lanka has severely reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated by the rising cost of petrol and necessities. The government has predicted food shortages for the next few months. Essential medicines and other medical supplies are reportedly in short supply at hospitals across the country, and regular power outages affect the quality of healthcare.
The importance of food security
Poor coping strategies threaten the destruction of livelihoods and the observed rise in violence raises protection issues. In 25 districts across the country, there are 5.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance by personal identification number. The Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan plans to assist 1.7 million of them for $47.2 million. With annual food inflation hovering around 94 percent, most food prices have risen steadily since the fourth quarter of 2021, hitting a record high in August 2022, and severely reducing household spending power.
The World Food Program estimates that 6.3 million Sri Lankans, or over 30 percent of the country’s population, are “fed” and in need of humanitarian assistance (WFP). Almost 5.3 million of them miss or reduce their meals, and at least 65,600 of them are severely food insecure. As the island nation’s crisis deepens, conditions are expected to deteriorate due to rising inflation, job losses, falling purchasing power, and serious shortages of essentials such as food, medicines, cooking gas, and petrol. Without foreign aid, the food security situation is expected to worsen, especially during the lean season from October 2022 to February 2023, which will be exacerbated by a poor harvest of staples like rice and the ongoing economic crisis.
Foods considered staples, including rice and vegetables, have doubled in price. Due to the high cost and limited availability of cooking gas, many people find kitchen fires difficult to maintain. According to WFP, rising food prices are making it harder for the population to meet their food needs. More than 60% of families are eating less, cheaper, and less nutrient-dense food, while over 6.7 million people do not eat enough, and 5.3 million limits the number of meals they eat during the day. Due to strict budgetary restrictions, the government has had to reduce its feeding programs, including school meals and fortified foods for mothers and malnourished children, which has made the situation much worse.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) asserts that intervention is necessary to boost production capacity in the agricultural sector, which employs 30% of Sri Lankans, to increase its resilience, decrease import demand in the absence of foreign exchange reserves, and stop the spread of famine. One-fourth of households said that their incomes had decreased by 50% during the previous three months and were still declining. The ability of five million individuals to engage in income-generating activities and maintain their food security in the medium to long term is projected to be impacted by their usage of livelihood mechanisms in crisis or emergencies.
Measures that have been taken by the government
Food insecurity must be prevented and addressed globally, and the international community must recognize this as a turning point to escape tragedy. Emergency assistance, nevertheless, is not sufficient to put a stop to this catastrophe. As it examines the nutrition status and dietary gaps during this time, research undertaken by the MRI, Ministry of Health in the “before economic crisis” period from September to December 2021 offers a helpful baseline on critical components of household-level food security. targeting lower-income households and expectant moms with food assistance and cash transfer programs updated to reflect current inflation rates—food basket Outlined, maintaining the school lunch program with a focus on students – general/foster Schemes, SAM is being used in foster care programs to target children under five. promoting community kitchens through already-established, strong groups in estate and urban underpopulated regions, as well as in some rural areas, Abridged way of promoting home gardening for multi-nutrient security Resource pack is available for the development of cash management skills in estate and urban under settlement regions. breeding freshwater fish, Introducing a sustainable food and nutrition self-sufficiency paradigm at the village level Some potential solutions to the issue of food security for nutrition (emrgengy nutrition plan 2022).
How food insecurity affects country’s national security
FAO and WFP have just completed a crop and food security assessment mission and are actively monitoring the Food Security Situation in Sri Lanka (CFSAM). In close cooperation with the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and United Nations agencies, the Asian Development Bank is preparing an emergency aid package at the request of the Sri Lankan government. A variety of measures have to be taken in the near future to combat the escalating nutritional problem. Essential agricultural needs such as urea and other critical inputs are to be given priority, as they enhance production. Agribusiness needs to generate a significant portion of the revenue from agricultural exports to pay for essential inputs. With numerous difficulties forecast for Sri Lanka in the coming months, foreign aid, both financial and non-financial is needed to boost agricultural production, broaden employment prospects and boost labor productivity. In addition, the government promotes urban gardening, and food security awareness campaigns. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change will continue to pose threats to food security and nutrition.
Therefore, it is necessary to implement these preventive measures and priority initiatives for Sri Lanka to overcome its current problems and become stronger as a country. Food insufficiency functions as a danger multiplier and exacerbates social tensions like poverty and inequality. Growing social instability, the breakdown of social cohesion, and rising inequality are the results of accelerating economic imperialism, resurgent nationalism, strains on the public purse, and political actions. These disparities would be emphasized by food shortages, rising poverty, and migration resulting from climate change. Together with other social undercurrents, they would heighten the danger of civil disturbance. To a greater extent, this might result in people or groups guarding their food sources from their fellow citizens. Therefore, it is very much important to prevent the food crisis in Sri Lanka, also it the responsibility of every citizen in the country.
*Pansilu Aloka Pussedeniya is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is her own and not necessarily reflective of the institute.