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Food Security in the BIMSTEC Region: Lessons from Sri Lanka’s Smart Farmingax



By Dr Manoj Thibbotuwawa

Sri Lanka is hosted the fifth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit on 30 March 2022. Established in 1997, BIMSTEC is a seven-member regional organisation comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. BIMSTEC pays significant attention to agriculture and food security, with agriculture included as a stand-alone sector in 2005 in recognition of its importance. Sri Lanka, the lead country for the coordination of activities in the Science, Technology and Innovation Sector, is in the midst of a food crisis even as it plays host. Against this backdrop, this blog discusses food security challenges in the BIMSTEC region, Sri Lanka’s experiences in smart farming, and its expectations from the summit.

Food Security Challenges in

the BIMSTEC Region

BIMSTEC’s growing population is exerting tremendous pressure on the agriculture sector and food security. The need is to find ways to enhance agricultural growth to meet the present and future demand for food, but achieving this goal is complicated due to the region’s numerous inherited challenges. These include the inefficient use of inputs such as water and fertiliser, poor technologies, lack of market integration leading to stagnating crop yields, declining profitability, and the deteriorating value of food production in these countries.

The BIMSTEC region remains among the poorest in the world, with lower per capita GDPs and higher Poverty Headcount Ratios. Nepal, Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh have a per capita GDP of less than USD 2,000 and a poverty headcount ratio of over 21%. Climate change, inconsistent domestic and trade policies, and weakened agricultural institutions are further aggravating the aforesaid challenges on food availability and access to food mainly for vulnerable populations including smallholder farmers and poor households.

Food utilisation is also not optimal, as shown in the FAO nutrition indicators for the region. For example, the stunting rate is the highest in India (30.9%), followed by Bangladesh (30.4%) and Nepal (30.2%). Even Myanmar (25.2%) and Bhutan (22.4%) have higher stunting rates than the world average of 22%. Another indicator of malnutrition, wasting, is highest in India (17.3%), followed by Sri Lanka (15%) and Bangladesh (10%), and these figures have not improved much over the years.

Moreover, a significant share of the population suffers from other malnutrition indicators like low birth weight and undernourishment. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a reversal of whatever achievements have been made so far by BIMSTEC countries in terms of food security. Crucially though, the continued implementation of smart farming in agriculture can help mitigate some of these food security problems experienced in the region.

Sri Lanka began its gradual push towards smart farming with its E-agriculture Strategy in 2016 which was the first in the Asia Pacific. This was motivated primarily by the belief that several opportunities exist through innovative Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions to address numerous challenges to food security. In particular, access to the right information at the right time enables farmers to make informed decisions and improve their livelihoods, thereby playing a major role in ensuring food security. The country also has a vibrant ICT sector with wide adoption and awareness of ICTs in other critical areas such as telecom and banking which provided the transformative potential for agriculture stakeholders. The rapid growth of mobile voice and the internet in Sri Lanka also provided new avenues to share and access information.

A Public-Private-Producer partnership has been identified as one of the key strategic development areas to achieve the E-agriculture Strategy in Sri Lanka. With the content support from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, private telecommunications service provider Dialog’s Govi Mithuru offers customised and timely advice to farmers on land preparation, cultivation, crop protection, harvest and improved family nutrition. Dialog is now looking at digitising the leaf colour index, helping farmers check the nutrition status and deficiencies of plants and developing Internet of Things (IoT) enabled automation tools for the agricultural sector.

Govipola is a trilingual mobile phone app and web-based programme which allows farmers, buyers and sellers to access prices. The European Union’s Technical Assistance to the Modernization of Agriculture Programme (TAMAP) assisted the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka (MASL) to launch a pilot ‘Smart Farming Village’ programme while training MASL staff, vendors and farmers in the use of digital apps with an extensive outreach and communication plan by partnering private sector Digital Service Providers and transport services such as PickMe.

Sri Lanka’s large agribusiness companies such as Chemical Industries Colombo (CIC) and Hayleys are increasingly using the latest innovation to provide crop application requirements to suit the local conditions from the Department of Agriculture and relevant research institutions. These include drones for scanning fields and distributing agrochemicals and fertiliser with minimum human involvement and wastage and cutting-edge greenhouse technology, such as automated climate control and fertigation as well as hydroponics to enable “climate smart,” year-round production. Building upon Sri Lanka’s unique experience, the BIMSTEC region can strengthen science, innovation, and technological cooperation in agriculture to mitigate food security challenges.

Way Forward

Given that the agricultural sector research and development (R&D) is very low, and the agriculture and food processing sectors continue to use outdated technologies and inefficient manufacturing techniques, the region needs more innovation to boost its global competitiveness, harness its knowledge base, enhance its economic position, and tackle the food security challenges. However, rising protectionism in technology and intellectual property rights (IPR) markets has made the acquisition of advanced technologies a severe challenge to developing countries in the region.

Therefore, South-South Cooperation (SSC), like BIMSTEC, provides a good platform to govern technology transfer among BIMSTEC economies. Similar factor endowments such as land, labour, capital, entrepreneurship in the region can mutually contribute to addressing regional developmental needs, including rural income generation, poverty alleviation and food security. Moreover, technologies and knowledge pools available in these countries are more cost-effective and easily and swiftly adaptable to the prevailing conditions in these countries.

As decided during the 17th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in 2021, Sri Lanka must take the necessary steps to establish an Expert Group on Technology to coordinate cooperation in the technology sub-sector and to develop a Plan of Action to strengthen cooperation in technology, including in agriculture and food processing sectors. Further, establishing a regional network of Technology Transfer Offices of major research organisations like the European Technology Transfer Offices Circle will ensure efficient and effective scientific and technological exchanges, sharing technological know-how, joint R&D, and industrial application of higher technology. Finally, local industries could increasingly harness more benefits through participation in regional value chains (RVCs) and global value chains (GVCs).

Link to the full Talking Economics blog:

Manoj Thibbotuwawa is a Research Fellow at IPS with research interests in agriculture, agribusiness value chains, food security, and environmental and natural resource economics. He holds a BSc (Agriculture) with Honours from the University of Peradeniya, an MSc (Agricultural Economics) from the Post-Graduate Institute of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya, and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. (Talk with Manoj –

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Private Tutoring Amidst Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis: Issues Faced by Students



By Usha Perera

Sri Lanka’s education sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces acute challenges due to the current political and economic crises. The sudden imposition of curfews and the lack of transportation have resulted in school closures and students being deprived of structured and systematic in-school education. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for just one day causes a loss of 25 million learning hours and 1.4 million teaching hours. Alongside this, private tutoring has gained greater importance. This blog discusses the issues faced mainly by Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students in attending tuition classes based on an IPS study. The study findings are derived from a sample of about 340 students, and 16 teachers and tutors across Sri Lanka.

Affordability of Private Tuition Classes

The surge in the cost of living with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and loss of income generation channels have been unbearable for parents of school-going children. The IPS study found that students who belonged to family income levels below LKR 30,000 spend approximately LKR 3,000-Rs. 7,000 per month while students whose family income was above LKR 200,000 spend approximately LKR 18,000- LKR 20,000 per month on private tuition depending on the grade of the student. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 1.

Further, most O/L and A/L level students spend more than LKR 2,000 per month on data packages for both school and tuition online classes, while most students who spend more than LKR 2,000 per month are concentrated among the higher family income categories. If LKR 2,000 is spent on monthly data packages, it would approximately account for 1% of whose family income is above LKR 200,000, and more than 7% of whose family income is below LKR 30,000. All this highlights the perceived importance of private education, especially among O/L and A/L grades, and the financial burden it imposes on a family’s household income.

These affordability concerns were partly offset by the introduction of free online classes during the pandemic, which has provided considerable relief for financially vulnerable students according to students interviewed for the IPS study. Affordability concerns were further allayed by reduced class fees by some tutors. The fees reductions were made accounting for the structural changes of administrative and operating costs of an online setting applicable based on the scale and intensity of operations of tutors. Financial issues faced by the families experiencing household income losses during the pandemic were also considered in fees reduction.

Accessibility to Online Classes

Online platforms were the sole medium for conducting classes during the pandemic while it becomes an option in the current context considering the social unrest, curfews and travel constraints due to fuel shortages. However, many students faced accessibility issues in joining online classes. The issues faced were poor signal coverage, high data costs, lack of necessary devices, and affordability concerns in the context of lost household income during the pandemic. Most of the students who belonged to a family income level above LKR 200,000 used a laptop/tablet while most of the students who belonged to a family income level of below LKR 30,000 relied on a smartphone. Smartphones were found to be less user friendly for academic use. In addition to the above issues, the ongoing power outages also present impediments to online education.The accessibility issues are mainly experienced by students from families with comparatively lower income levels, and those who had to rely on a smartphone for academic purposes. This implies a close positive relationship between household income and the quality of the education received; financial strength being the primary determinant of accessibility.

Figure 1: Monthly Tuition Expenditure by Monthly Household Income
Source: Institute of PolicyStudies of Sri Lanka, 2021.

However, these accessibility issues were partly offset by the divergent opportunities experienced by students, especially in the context of online platforms. These prospects included the ability to join online classes conducted in distant locations that would otherwise have been restricted due to travel constraints and increased time available due to school closures. As a result, they increased the duration of tuition classes using the saved travel time.

Way Forward

While private tutoring became a way of bridging the gaps in the education system during the crisis, learning losses for the most vulnerable groups have further widened with accessibility and affordability issues. Since these issues were mainly observed among O/L and A/L student groups, there is a higher risk that vulnerable student groups would be highly challenged during their most decisive years leading to higher education and career development. Thus, it is necessary to address the affordability issues, focusing more on the vulnerable student groups. Financial assistance could be provided in terms of a certain number of free hours of teaching for selected financially vulnerable students and allocating a selected proportion of students to be taught at a concessionary rate.

To address the accessibility issues, recording the lessons and distributing the notes on different platforms will help to a certain extent. Providing digital equipment and networks for selected tuition centres and schools could also be considered since the lack of facilities and resources was identified as major accessibility issue for distance education. These would require collaborative efforts among the government, tutors, parents, non-government organisations and any other well-wishers.

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Allianz Divitharana: A new take on Life and Health Insurance



The world’s number one insurance brand Allianz has announced the launch of its new Divitharana Insurance product, which provides comprehensive life and health insurance for policyholders and their loved ones, at an easily accessible and affordable price. The product, which has been designed for the mass market, a segment that is highly price sensitive, comes with a host of benefits and features, making it a truly comprehensive insurance product, that covers all of life’s important bases, protecting life’s most precious things.Tailored for the mass market, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, technicians, teachers, executives and other members of the general public, Divitharana Insurance provides life insurance at a flexible and economic price point, with the option for policyholders to settle the premium in monthly, quarterly, biannual or annual instalments, while also providing the convenience of increasing the cover provided during the policy period, without having to go for a new policy. These are particularly important features amidst the present economic challenges the nation is facing, as it allows everyone to have access to good and reliable insurance, regardless of their income level and style.

A key differentiator of Divitharana insurance is that each policyholder will be entitled to an individual investment account, on which an annual dividend will be declared and the proceeds credited to the policyholder’s account. On top of this, policyholders will also be entitled to an additional loyalty bonus of 20%, which will be added to the maturity value for continued on-time premium settlements. other than the life cover provided by Divitharana, policyholders can also opt to include additional covers such as Disability Benefit, Critical Illness and Hospitalisation cover, while also enjoying the flexibility of extending the insurance cover to include their spouse & children.

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SLT-MOBITEL doubling the cloud with country’s first-ever VMware Cloud Foundation deployment



Understanding the importance of breaking new ground to reap the benefits of Enterprise premium cloud services, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider, has become the country’s first-ever service provider to enable VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) deployment in the island and importantly the first telco provider to have two clouds. Amidst the changing dynamics, the deployment milestones are supporting SLT-MOBITEL’s Cloud programme in accelerating digital transformation.SLT-MOBITEL Enterprise premium cloud was launched in 2018. Having a successful journey for over three years, the new mobilization now elevates and transforms the premium cloud through VMWare Cloud Foundation. Importantly, SLT-MOBITEL is the first local organisation to partner VMWare as a Business Continuity Certified Planner (BCCP) and initiate VMWare Cloud Foundation in Sri Lanka.

VMware Cloud Foundation is a suite of VMware products that provide building blocks necessary to implement an integrated software-defined data center platform. Its components combine to automate deployment and lifecycle management, helping to simplify IT operations and reduce administrative overheads for enterprises.With its Cloud Verified Status and as a VCF Enabled Partner, SLT-MOBITEL is now in the forefront as the only service provider in the country offering a range of new differentiated services such as automate infrastructure and application delivery with self service capabilities to help organizations plan, manage and scale their data center operations especially dramatically reduce provisioning times and cut operational costs.

The SLT-MOBITEL VMware VCF deployment ensures customers transition to the industry’s most advanced cloud platform with a complete set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management to run enterprise apps in private or public environments.By doubling the cloud SLT-MOBITEL establishes customers have both production and disaster recovery sites with different scales, located at two different Data centres with required ROP and RTO. The Disaster recovery site can be deployed at any scale with respect to production sites according to the enterprise customer’s requirement. SLT-MOBITEL also provides migration as a service with the features from NSX –T.

Through VCF, SLT-MOBITEL is offering customers the benefit of real disaster recovering services, a Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) and monitoring services, latest networking enablers with NSX – T up-to-date versions of VMware software vSphere, vSAN and intelligent, advanced VMware capabilities including ESXI and VSAN and efficient and effective migration services. SLT-MOBITEL also provides IaaS services, Virtual Machines, and Virtual Data Centers along with a range of other support facilities such as Disaster avoidance with Stretch Cluster (RPO 5 minutes), Disaster Recovery as a Service, and Backup as a service.Above VCF deployment is directly done by Vmware Professional Service team to ensure the highest quality deployment .

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