Sri Lanka's dire food insecurity: Need for a well-planned policy framework

The root causes behind the food insecurity status of Sri Lanka are two-fold. Short-sighted policies such as the chemical fertilizer ban imposed by the Rajapaksa government generated a domino effect on agricultural production. Additionally, foreign exchange constraints severely limited food imports.

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Source: Food and Agriculture Organization

Sri Lanka is struggling with its biggest economic crisis and simultaneously experiencing food insecurity issues that have permeated every corner of the country. Food insecurity status is due to both short-term and long-term causes. And the situation is expected to deteriorate in the upcoming months. 

Due to the economic crisis, inflation in the country has skyrocketed and, as per the World Bank, Sri Lanka ranks 5th among 10 countries with the highest food inflation. According to World Food Programme (WFP), over 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population is going through the status of being "food insecure" and is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The prices of the staple foods like rice, milk, vegetables, eggs, and so forth have doubled or tripled.  There are also issues with the availability of food items and in many supermarkets food shelves are empty. 

Due to the prevailing economic crisis, Sri Lankans lack the money and resources to buy essential food items for their consumption. The WFP and the government of Sri Lanka conducted a joint assessment of food security. As per their findings, Sri Lankans have switched to consuming less nutritious food and people are limiting their portions. School children and university undergraduates are two major demographic segments that are suffering from poor nutritional levels of food. Some community-based projects have recently been initiated in order to support the nutritional needs of the younger generation and these steps have been lauded.

Causes and solutions of food crisis

The root causes behind the food insecurity status of Sri Lanka are two-fold. Short-sighted policies such as the chemical fertilizer ban imposed by the Rajapaksa government generated a domino effect on agricultural production. Then, foreign exchange constraints severely limited food imports. Deep-rooted ills of corruption and mismanaged policies led to the collapse of the economy, with its consequences having a ripple effect on many sectors, including in the field of food security.

To overcome the challenges of food security in Sri Lanka, there is a need for double-edged solutions. Although a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach should be amalgamated, a greater responsibility lies in the hands of the government. A well-planned policy framework, based on well-researched social science and scientific knowledge, should be leveraged to generate satisfactory outcomes. 

As mentioned above, some community-based projects have been initiated to ensure food accessibility and maintain optimum nutritious levels in certain communities. The author suggests initiating more community-based projects to support those who are in real need of it.

(The author is an Assistant Lecturer, Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Views are personal. She can be contacted at sandamali@inr.cmb.ac.lk)

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