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Food shortage imminent in Sri Lanka, warns agricultural secretary; removed from his post

Sri Lanka is heading for an imminent food shortage, warned Uditha K Jayasinghe, who was the country’s agriculture secretary until Thursday and was removed only after he issued a dire — and blunt -  warning

Dec 24, 2021
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Uditha K Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka's agricultural secretary

Sri Lanka is heading for an imminent food shortage, warned Uditha K Jayasinghe, who was the country’s agriculture secretary until Thursday and was removed only after he issued a dire — and blunt -  warning. The Sri Lankan government gripped with a series of crises promptly sacked him for publicly airing bad news. 

Experts have been anticipating a food shortage for some months—a direct fallout of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s disastrous organic farming policy, banning all chemical fertilizer—as farmers across the country reported a significant dip in yield amid the fertilizer crisis. However, the government repeatedly ruled out such a scenario. 

This week, the statement of Jayasinghe, where he warned of an imminent food shortage in the country, came as a rare admission from the government of the severity of the crisis. However, on Thursday, he was relieved of the post of agriculture secretary.

His statement caused embarrassment for the government, which, many say, remains in denial. Despite his removal, he told the media that he stood by his statement. 

"I have been making this warning with relevant scientific evidence,” Jayasinghe was quoted as saying by The Daily Mirror. “It is only to brace ourselves and for authorities to take suitable measures to address the imminent food shortage," he added.

“My statement would only be controversial for those who have zero knowledge about the agricultural sector and the situation in terms of the cultivation of vegetables, coconut, and other food," he said, a day after his removal. 

Rajapaksa earlier this year had pushed the country, almost overnight, to organic farming, causing a serious disruption in the country’s agriculture sector. Warnings from experts were ignored, terming them fearmongering. Months later it became pretty clear that Sri Lanka’s food security has indeed been compromised. 

Furthermore, its effects would be severe as Colombo has also been facing its worst foreign exchange crisis, which limits the government’s ability to import. In November, the foreign exchange reserves dropped to $1.5 billion—barely enough to cover a month’s imports. 

Already, the government has put in place a strict import control regime to cut bills. It is also struggling to stock gas and fuel. Fitch Ratings recently downgraded its sovereign ratings, and said Colombo could default on its loan repayment obligations in 2022. 

(SAM)

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