By Pramod Perera –
Sri Lanka is passing one of the worst economic crises it has ever seen since independence. Some people say it is as same as 1991 in India. Forex reserves for just three weeks of imports, external debt 23% of GDP, economy on the brink of collapse. Year 1991 was a landmark year for India. They have successfully passed that dark period thanks to their leadership at that time. In Sri Lanka, we are in the same exact situation. Food prices are skyrocketing since the last quarter of 2021 and reached near-record highs in July 2022, with the food inflation rate staggering 90 percent higher year-on-year. According to World Food Program (WFP) special report, over 28% of people which means over 6.2 million people in Sri Lanka are estimated to be moderately acute food insecure and require urgent assistance. These are not very pleasing statistics to hear once a country is known as “The Oriental Granary of Asia”.
Technology adoption has revolutionized the world’s agricultural sector. Dr. Norman Borlaug first time introduced the green revolution to the world. It took the world by storm. New wheat variants doubled the yield and improved the food security among nations. As a result of that, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India. Even though Sri Lanka lags in adapting to new technologies, Sri Lanka can be recognized as the starting center of the green revolution in rice cultivation in the world. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was founded in 1960 but in Sri Lanka, we researched and developed the first rice variant called H4 in 1958. Sri Lanka first started to use mineral fertilizer in 1952. In 1950, we got about 650 kg per hectare using traditional rice variants. But by today, our rice yield grew up to 4670 kg per hectare using enhanced rice variants. In 2008, Sri Lanka recorded an excess rice production since 1950. It is worth to noticing that, in the period of 2007 – 2008, there was a global food price crisis. But Sri Lankan economy remained less affected by it because our agriculture sector was strong. we had food to feed our people. It was the Renaissance period of the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka.
There were some problems caused by natural disasters such as droughts and floods but still, we had the power to get back up in the next year. But things started to change from 2020. The government of Sri Lanka made the worst decision in 2021, on April 27 to ban on import of synthetic fertilizers & pesticides completely. it started a chain of disasters. Then the government understood the ripple effect of this decision on the Sri Lankan economy and try to turn it over in November, but it was too late. Another problem rose to the surface. The foreign currency shortage, Sri Lanka had no foreign currency to import necessities. Crops were failing and it had to supplement food stocks from abroad, which made its foreign currency shortage even worse and choked Sri Lanka’s economy to its near death. There have already been published data proving that rice production is reducing 21.5% – 32% when using only organic fertilizers. It is unfortunate to think about what the scientific basement for the government’s sudden decision is.
According to the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) national accounts estimates, shortages in the supply of fertilizers have made worse conditions in the agricultural sector, especially reducing the paddy yield by 37% in Maha 2021/2022 compared to that Maha 2020/2021. This also impacts animal production. According to the Department of animal production and Health, Livestock products like Milk, chicken, and egg production have dropped around 20%, 12%, and 35% in 2022. Between the time period of 2021-2022, prices of Chicken meat, eggs, and Fresh milk increased by 112%, 101%, and 42%. If we move onto tea production, during the period of January-June 2022 the crop was down by 18% (133 million kilos). These dollars should have come to Sri Lankan accounts but were lost due to unprecedented decisions.
Food Security is not ensured just because of the availability of food, but also, people must be able to access them(affordability) and there must be food assurance. With rising prices of foods in Sri Lanka, millions of people struggle to find their ends meet day by day. According to WFP, at least 65,600 individuals suffer from extreme food insecurity, Over 60% of families eat less, cheaper, and less nutrient-dense food, about 6.7 million people do not consume a sufficient diet and 5.3 million cut back on the number of meals they eat during the day. The problem we should ask is, How Sri Lanka revive from this crisis. This is a herculean task. It requires punctilious planning, execution, and coordination. Prof. Buddi Marmbe who is a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya suggests three main remedies for Sri Lanka’s current food crisis. First, Sri Lanka should make sure it meets seed paddy requirements for the Yala and Maha seasons. In the Yala season, it requires approximately 40,000 mt of seed paddy and in the Maha season, it requires approximately 80,000 mt of seed paddy. This seed paddy requirement totally met by local production. Therefore, responsible parties must pay special attention to this. Secondly, if the resources are limited, the government should prioritize crops to provide urea. Priority must go to Paddy because it is the main food crop. then the priority should go to Maize (feed crop) then Tea, our export crop. Thirdly, need for consistent policies. In Sri Lanka, we have struggled continuously due to a lack of consistent policies. Ad-hoc policies will not work anymore. Sri Lanka needs strong consistent national policies which do not change with different governments.
The food crisis in Sri Lanka is a complex problem that requires time and involves with huge costs. There are no simple solutions for that. It is worth noticing that, This problem not just causes hunger and malnutrition it goes beyond that and affects people’s physical and mental health and their ability to contribute to the economy. Therefore, it’s our collective responsibility to work towards creating a country where every person has access to nutritious foods and lives a healthy and fulfilling life. It should be our duty toward future generations to come.