Colombo: The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday sacked the country’s top bureaucrat handling the crucial agriculture sector, a day after he warned of an impending food shortage due the ongoing economic and social crisis in the country.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has removed agriculture secretary Prof Udith Jayasinghe and appointed DMLD Bandaranayake in his position, a statement from the President’s Office said.

Though no official reason was given for Jayasinghe’s removal, observers opine that it might be due to his warning of a possible food crisis and the measures suggested to mitigate the situation.

In an interaction with journalists on Tuesday, Jayasinghe said, “There is a possibility of food shortages happening due to the current economic and social problems we are facing .

“People must be prepared to make sacrifices in order to face the shortages of food. We have to stop importing apples and oranges, priority has to be given to the needy such as the elderly, the expectant mothers and the sick, he said.

Jayasinghe asserted that it was important to address the issue rather than criticising what caused it.

According to a report in news website hirunews.lk, Jayasinghe pointed out that if the Sri Lankan economy is able to restrict the import of non-essential food and beverages and focus only on essential imports such as milk powder, it will be of great assistance to future development.

He further stated that there is no need for the authorities or officials to create a food shortage in the country, the report said.

Lanka’s economy, largely dependent on tourism, was hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and the government imposed a broad import ban to shore up foreign exchange reserves, triggering shortages of essential goods.

Supermarkets have for months been rationing milk powder, sugar, lentils and other essentials as commercial banks ran out of dollars to finance foreign goods.

Food shortages were worsened by the government’s ban on agrochemical imports, which was lifted in November after widespread crop failures.

The government since mid-year has faced the wrath of the farming community for imposing a ban on chemical fertiliser imports. Farmers had warned of food shortages due to non availability of fertiliser.

The president in May ordered the halt of fertiliser imports in order to further his government’s policy of green economy. He urged farmers to go organic.

However, critics alleged that the decision was caused by the inability of the government to pay for chemical fertiliser imports due to the foreign reserves crisis being faced by the island.

At the end of November, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves were only sufficient for one month of imports. Since the last three months many essential food items were in short supply as imports were curbed to retain the reserves.

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