Sri Lanka's debt restructuring likely to be complete by September: IMF
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Colombo: Nearly 6.3 million people in crisis-hit Sri Lanka are facing moderate to severe acute food insecurity and their situation may worsen if adequate life-saving assistance and livelihood support is not provided, two UN organisations warned on Monday in a new report.

Two consecutive seasons of poor harvests led to a nearly 50 per cent drop in production coupled with reduced imports of food grains due to foreign exchange constraints, according to the joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said in joint report.

The joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission visited 25 districts in the country between June and July 2022 to analyse agricultural production levels in 2022, particularly of main staple cereals, and assess household food security conditions.

Without assistance, the food security situation in Sri Lanka is expected to deteriorate further, particularly during the October 2022 to February 2023 lean season, driven by poor harvests of staple foods, in particular paddy rice, and the ongoing economic crisis, the report warned.

In order to avert a further deterioration of food security conditions and to support restoration of agricultural production, livelihood assistance targeting smallholder farmers should remain a priority, said FAO Representative in Sri Lanka Vimlendra Sharan.

With around 30 per cent of the population depending on agriculture, improving the production capacity of farmers will ultimately boost the resilience of the agricultural sector, reduce import requirements amid shortages of foreign currency reserves and avert the rise in hunger, Sharan was quoted as saying in a FAO press release.

Months into this crippling economic crisis, families are running out of options – they are exhausted. More than 60 per cent of families are eating less, and eating cheaper, less nutritious food. This comes at a time when financial constraints have forced the government to scale back on nutrition programmes, such as school meals and fortified food to mothers and undernourished children. WFP’s top priority is to provide immediate food and nutrition assistance to the most at-risk communities to prevent a further deterioration of their nutrition, said WFP Representative and Country Director in Sri Lanka, Abdur Rahim Siddiqui.

The report noted that a severe macro-economic crisis in Sri Lanka has caused acute shortages and spikes in the prices of essential products, including food, agricultural inputs, fuel and medicine, severely compromising the economic activity, with major disruptions to agricultural production.

Production of paddy rice, the main food staple, is forecast at 3 million mt in 2022, the lowest level since the 2017 drought-affected harvest, mostly due to low yields following reduced application of fertilisers, the report said.

Production of maize, mostly used as animal feed, is about 40 percent below the past five-year average, with negative effects on poultry and livestock production. Likewise, production of vegetables, fruits and export-oriented crops, such as tea, rubber, coconut and spices, is well below average, causing a significant decline in households’ income and export revenues.

Prices of most food items have been on a steady rise since the last quarter of 2021 and reached a new record high in August 2022, with the year-on-year food inflation rate at nearly 94 per cent.

The key recommendations by the joint FAO/WFP Mission are the immediate provision of food or cash-based assistance to vulnerable and marginalised communities, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, women-headed households and persons with disabilities, to help them meet their immediate food and nutrition needs.

The report also recommends the immediate provision of agricultural inputs, including fertilisers, focusing on smallholder farmers.

The report outlines the need to support households to establish home gardens and backyard gardening to enhance their nutritional status, while providing adequate amounts of fuel to ensure effective planting, harvesting, transportation and processing of food crops.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, declared in mid-April its international debt default due to the forex crisis.

The country owes USD 51 billion in foreign debt, of which USD 28 billion must be paid by 2027.

There have been street protests in Sri Lanka against the government since early April due to its mishandling of the economic crisis.

A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas, and other essentials while power cuts and soaring food prices have heaped misery on the people.

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