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Food Fight: Sri Lanka’s Battle for Food Security

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By Lakshila Wanigasinghe

World Food Day is observed on 16 October to promote awareness and action to ensure regular access to nutritious food for all. The blog examines Sri Lanka’s struggle to safeguard food and nutrition security amidst the ongoing economic crisis and outlines policy steps to tackle the challenge.

 Sri Lanka’s economic crisis continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of its people, with the burden being highest on the poor and vulnerable. The situation has progressed from bad to worse, with debt problems spiralling down to impact every aspect of the economy adversely.

Sri Lanka’s Food Crisis

Global disruptions including COVID-19, the climate crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, have impacted food supplies worldwide. However, Sri Lanka’s food insecurity is largely a result of the prevailing economic crisis coupled with short-sighted policies enforced by local policymakers. The overnight ban on chemical fertiliser imports has been costly and generated a lower harvest. Although the ban has since been reversed, it continues to have ripple effects on the food system.

The drastic drop in domestic yield has driven policymakers to spend more money importing necessary commodities previously produced locally, including staples like rice. This move has been detrimental at a time when foreign reserves are lacking. Additionally, import controls imposed by the government have led to certain food items becoming scarce. These supply shortages have led to increases in the prices of essential foods. With food inflation reaching 95% in September, Sri Lanka ranks among the top five countries with the highest food price inflation.

As food becomes scarce and prices continue to rise, more people – the poor in particular – cannot afford proper meals. Adding to the problem are inflationary pressures, the inability of wages to keep up with inflation and income losses induced by the economic crisis. Thus, households are left in a predicament to reduce expenses, including cutting down on consumption expenditure. A World Food Programme (WFP) survey reveals that 79% of households are adopting food-based coping strategies to deal with the crisis.

This affects both the quality and quantity of food consumed. Families are likely to resort to cheaper and unhealthy alternatives (78% of families) due to the inability to afford high-quality, nutritious food. They are also likely to reduce portion sizes (49%) or skip meals entirely (39%), resulting in individuals not meeting their required daily calorie intake. For children, eating less directly impacts growth and contributes to increasing the already high rates of child malnutrition in the country. For adults – considering the rapidly ageing population in Sri Lanka – undernourishment implies severe strains on the healthcare system in the future.

Government Action to Combat

Food Insecurity

The interim Budget proposed to allocate LKR 46,600 million for crisis-related initiatives, including providing LKR 10,000 per food-insecure family and an additional monthly allowance of LKR 2,500 for pregnant mothers for four months respectively. A further LKR 400 million was allocated for the Department of Agriculture to provide farmers with seeds/planting material urgently and LKR 40 billion for fertiliser for paddy cultivation for the 2022/2023 ‘Maha’ season. Additionally, the government recently initiated a National Food Security Programme. The interim Budget also proposed establishing youth agriculture companies, writing off paddy farmers’ outstanding loans, etc. While the success of these initiatives is yet to be realised, it will depend entirely on the effectiveness of implementation. However, the pressure for timely success is high and critical for combating food insecurity.

Overcoming Hunger and Achieving

Food Security

While long-term strategies are needed to counter the underlying causes of food insecurity and ensure sustainable domestic production, swift action must be taken to tackle the challenge of ensuring people do not go hungry at present. Supporting immediate food needs amid the prevailing economic crisis requires a twofold effort: protecting the (1) poor and (2) farming community. In this regard, targeted measures to support the poor and near-poor through policy interventions and strengthened social safety nets are vital. The government has already allocated funds in this regard; however, successful implementation depends on accurately identifying groups at risk of starvation and providing them with immediate food assistance through subsidised products or cash transfers.

Attention should also be directed towards middle-income earners, who often get left behind in aid processes but may be in dire need of support given Sri Lanka’s current economic standing. Measures should also be taken to guarantee food availability across all parts of the country, thus ensuring equitable access. Protecting farmers’ livelihoods require adequate fertiliser availability at reasonable prices. More efficient use of fertiliser and high-quality seeds also play a role in ensuring limited supplies last longer. This will secure a harvest that can better support domestic demand next season. The government can also repurpose idle land for crop production and encourage small-scale farming.

Given the debt crisis, although import restrictions on certain foods are needed, they tend to be counterproductive. As evident from the global food crisis in 2008, trade restrictions drove up food prices rather than subsidising them. Moreover, stricter regulations should be in place to ensure consumers are not overcharged for high-demand items, as was evident for milk powder and fuel earlier this year. Minimising the high levels of food wastage (approximately 3,963 tonnes per day) also plays a crucial role in satisfying immediate food needs. Not stockpiling food, purchasing homegrown products, and consuming leftovers at a later stage/restaurants donating leftovers to the poor are ways households and businesses can contribute to combating food insecurity.

A food crisis during an economic crisis is a catastrophic scenario. Given that over one-third of the population is presently food insecure, it is imperative that Sri Lanka promptly takes corrective action. While several measures have been introduced in this regard, they must be subject to timely revaluations to gauge effectiveness. Given the prevailing resource constraints, it is natural for government support to target the poor and vulnerable solely. However, working towards acquiring international assistance to support immediate food needs, especially targeting those just above the poverty line and groups traditionally excluded from aid programmes, may also be required. These actions must be coupled with medium- to long-term initiatives that ensure sustainable food production in the future. Moreover, policymakers must be willing to be flexible and change their course of action if needed, given the volatility of the current situation. The consequences of not doing so will leave lasting impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the people.

Link to original blog:

Food Fight: Sri Lanka’s Battle for Food Security

Lakshila Wanigasinghe is a Research Officer at the IPS with research interests in poverty, social welfare, development, education, and health. She holds an MSc in Economics with a concentration in Development Economics and a BA in Economics with concentrations in International, Financial and Law and Economics from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), US. (lakshila@ips.lk)



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New building extension for William Angliss Institute @ SLIIT

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The William Angliss Institute @ SLIIT, a joint venture between William Angliss Institute, Melbourne and the SLIIT campus, Malabe, recently expanded their footprint in Sri Lanka by declaring open a new building extension with the participation of six Australian Board Members of the William Angliss Institute. Chairman and board members of the Sri Lankan franchise and other distinguished invitees too were present at the event. Judith Slevison – Board Secretary, William Angliss Institute, Australia declared open the building by cutting the ribbon, following which the distinguished guests were ushered to the Hot Kitchen, situated at the third floor of the institute where they lit the traditional oil lamp in accordance with the local customs.

Addressing the students at the Institute, Nicholas Hunt – Chief Executive Officer, William Angliss Institute @ SLIIT and Anuk Weerasinghe – Managing Director spoke of the exciting opportunities before them as tourism across the world rapidly recovers from the pandemic. The contributions of Chairman Errol Weerasinghe, Management and Staff of the William Angliss Institute @ SLIIT were also lauded by Hunt and Weerasinghe. Following the opening ceremony, the guests were taken to the second floor Patisserie Kitchen where they were served with Sri Lankan morning tea. The event concluded with a celebratory lunch for all guests, that followed a tour of the building. The new Building Extension contains two kitchens (Hot Kitchen and Patisserie) that are equipped with latest European culinary equipment.

Other facilities include three classrooms, larger food stores, and modern washrooms/ changerooms. The institute is currently putting the last touches to a Roof Top Training Bar/ Student Recreation area. The new facilities enhance the teaching capacity of this center dedicated for Hospitality, Culinary Arts, Tourism Studies, and Events, as well as the quality of student life, which in turn helps the institute reach its objective of creating career ready graduates.

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Dialog enables Digital Stock Trading on CSE via its Genie Fintech

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=First platform in Sri Lanka to enable end-to-end digital onboarding and trading

Sri Lanka’s premier fintech app, genie, powered by Dialog, has launched an innovative feature that allows its users to set up a Central Depository Systems (CDS) account, add money, place orders to buy and sell stocks on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and withdraw funds from their trading account maintained with the broker, and manage their stock portfolio, all from the convenience of their mobile phone. Softlogic Stockbrokers Pvt Ltd [SSB] is the first broker to partner with genie in providing these brokering services within the app.

Customers can trade in shares listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) by using the buying and selling features on the Genie app during market hours and also they can place orders during off-market hours. Any trades input to genie after the market is closed will be placed on the CSE order book on the next trading day. Genie provides customers with simple and easy input screens to place the orders to buy and sell stocks by entering the price and quantity of each trade.

“As Sri Lanka’s premier Fintech app, we are pleased to have contributed to the widening of the retail investor base in Sri Lanka and to enable investors to gain access to the stock market and start investing and trade in stocks.” Renuka Fernando, Group Chief Digital Services Officer of Dialog Axiata PLC said. “We are confident that as we widen access, there will be better understanding and participation in our Capital markets. We will continue to foster good investment habits and educate our customers with easy access to market information. Self-directed investing is the logical extension of the genie platform which aims to democratize financial products and wealth management”, she further stated.

“We are pleased to have partnered with genie, Sri Lanka’s premier Fintech app, where customers can experience end to end digital journey from opening a CDS account to trading. We look forward to work with Genie in expanding our reach in the digital economy of Sri Lanka, whilst providing the best customer experience.” Dihan Dedigama, Director / Chief Executive Officer, Softlogic Stockbrokers said.

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Unilever Sri Lanka wins Youth Focus Corporate Award

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Recognized for its commitment to empower Sri Lankan youth at the New Generation Awards 2022

Colombo, November 25, 2022: Unilever Sri Lanka was recently honoured with the Youth Focus Corporate Award at the New Generation Awards 2022, for making the biggest youth impact in the country during 2021-2022, as a corporate entity. The event was organised by the New Generation Chapter of Women in Management (WIM), in partnership with the National Youth Services Council in Sri Lanka. This was the only corporate award category presented at the event.

The New Generation Awards aim to identify, nurture and groom young, talented Sri Lankans and celebrate their contribution to the nation. The event comprised of over 50 Awards being presented across 20 award categories, including awards for schoolchildren, young entrepreneurs, schools, institutions and corporates.

Commenting on the award, Ananya Sabharwal, HR Director of Unilever Sri Lanka said “We are truly humbled to receive this award in recognition of our efforts to upskill the youth of the country. At Unilever, we offer flexible and short-term youth initiatives that cater to undergraduates. So, by the time they graduate, they have already gained vital skills and corporate exposure that are necessary to lay a strong foundation for their career. Our talent scouts who are our own employees collectively contribute to Unilever’s youth investment by volunteering their time to conduct campus sessions and share experiences with undergraduates. This kind of real-time industry experience sharing, really enables youth in deciding the kind of career they want to have”.

Unilever Sri Lanka has committed to empower and equip 100,000 Sri Lankan youth with essential skills by 2025 and has already enabled 30,000+ local youth to become more employable over the last five years through its campus engagements, strategic industry – academic student partnerships and career opportunities. Some of its youth initiatives include its SPARKS Student Ambassador Programme which invites undergraduates from top Sri Lankan universities to become Unilever ambassadors within their universities; the Unilever Challenge which is a real time brand centered case study competition that gives first-hand experience in working with leading brands and building disruptive thinking; the Unilever Leadership Internship Programme which offers internship opportunities to undergraduates across all functions; and many others. It is noteworthy to mention that this year, 48% of the company’s contractual employees were absorbed into the management cadre.

The company has also partnered with John Keels Holdings and London Stock Exchange to launch ‘Fast-Track’, a cross-industry Summer Internship for Sri Lankan students studying locally and abroad; and has partnered with CIMA, the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University (KDU), AIESEC Sri Lanka and Gavel clubs, to help support dynamic capability building in Sri Lankan youth. (Company news release)

About Unilever

Since its inception in 1938, Unilever Sri Lanka has established itself as one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in Sri Lanka. Its current product portfolio includes 30 market leading brands in categories such as Home Care, Personal Care, Beauty & Wellbeing and Nutrition. 96% of its products are manufactured locally, in compliance with the strictest manufacturing standards.Over the past 84 years, Unilever has been deeply rooted in Sri Lankan society, curating a landscape that preserves and nurtures the true Sri Lankan way of life. Enhancing the livelihoods of the communities it operates in, will continue to be at the forefront of this effort as it continues to set industry standards.

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