The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today. In their new report, an estimated 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka are facing moderate-to-severe acute food insecurity, and their situation is expected to worsen if adequate life-saving assistance and livelihood support are not provided.
According to the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) report, two consecutive seasons of poor harvests resulted in a nearly 50% drop in production. The reduced imports of food grains are due to foreign exchange constraints.
The report emphasises the importance of immediate food assistance and livelihood programmes. This includes those provided through existing social assistance mechanisms, in enabling households to access nutritious food, particularly those that are moderately or severely food insecure. Without assistance, the food security situation is expected to worsen. Particularly during the lean season from October 2022 to February 2023. The poor harvests of staple foods, particularly paddy rice, and the ongoing economic crisis are major causes.
“Living-wage assistance targeting smallholder farmers should remain a priority to prevent further deterioration of food security conditions and to support agricultural production restoration,” said FAO Representative in Sri Lanka Vimlendra Sharan. “With agriculture employing approximately 30% of the population, improving farmer production capacity will ultimately boost agricultural sector resilience.” This would reduce import requirements amid shortages of foreign currency reserves and avert a rise in hunger. “
“Months into this crippling economic crisis, families have exhausted their options.” More than 60% of families are eating less and eating less nutritious foods. This comes at a time when the government has been forced to cut back on nutrition programmes such as school meals and fortified food for mothers and undernourished children due to financial constraints. “WFP’s top priority is to provide immediate food and nutrition assistance to the most vulnerable communities.” This is to prevent further deterioration of their nutrition,” said Abdur Rahim Siddiqui, WFP Representative and Country Director in Sri Lanka.
The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission visited all 25 districts in the country between June and July 2022. This was at the request of the government to analyse agricultural production levels in 2022. The focus is particularly on main staple cereals and assessing household food security conditions.
Harvests have decreased significantly.
A severe macroeconomic crisis in Sri Lanka has resulted in acute shortages and price increases for essential products such as food, agricultural inputs, fuel, and medicine. This severely jeopardizes economic activity and causes major disruptions in agricultural production.
The main food staple, paddy rice, is expected to be produced at 3 million mt. in 2022. This is the lowest level since the 2017 drought-affected harvest. According to the report, owing primarily to low yields as a result of reduced fertilizer application.
Maize production, which is mostly used as animal feed, is about 40% lower than the previous five-year average. This negatively impacting poultry and livestock production. Similarly, production of vegetables, fruits, and export-oriented crops such as tea, rubber, coconut, and spices is significantly lower than average. The results in a significant decrease in household income and export revenues.
Most food prices have been steadily rising since the fourth quarter of 2021. This reached a new high in August 2022, with the year-on-year food inflation rate at nearly 94 percent.
In 2022, the total cereal import requirement is estimated to be 2.2 million mt. More than 930,000 mt of cereals were imported in the first six months of 2022. The requirement is 1.27 million mt imports. Given the country’s ongoing macroeconomic challenges, there is a high likelihood that the remaining import requirements will not be met.
Recommendations for the mission
The joint FAO/WFP Mission’s key recommendations include providing immediate food or cash assistance to vulnerable and marginalized communities. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, women-headed households, and people with disabilities. This will help them meet their immediate food and nutrition needs. The report also advocates the immediate provision of agricultural inputs. The focus is Mainly on fertiliser, with on smallholder farmers. The report emphasises the importance of assisting households in establishing home gardens and backyard gardening to improve their nutritional status. This also includes providing adequate fuel to ensure effective planting, harvesting, transportation, and processing of food crops.
To mitigate the effects of feed shortages, the report suggests providing livestock owners with subsidized high-nutrient animal feed, vaccines, and veterinary health kits. Support for the resumption and continuation of national nutrition programmes, such as school meals, that have been disrupted due to funding constraints, was also identified as a priority.