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Immediate and short-term interventions proposed to mitigate impact of current economic crisis on food and nutritional security

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Current status

Agriculture currently occupies around 40% of the land and consumes over 80% of the fresh water resources of the country. There are about two million farmers, who account for 25% of the workforce of the country; yet, they contribute only around 6% of the GDP, which shows the low productivity of both land and labour and the poor value addition in agriculture. According to the last census of agriculture (2002), of the 3.3 million land holdings, 45% were less than 0.1 ha (quarter of an acre) and over 90% of the production units were less than 2 ha (5 acres). The situation may have been further exacerbated since, owing to fragmentation. Smallholder farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of the farming population of the country are mainly engaged in primary production and contribute nearly 80% of the total annual crop production. Moreover, the bulk of land, over 80%, especially in rural areas, is owned by the government which has leased it in small lots to landless farmers. Owing to the scattered nature and small size of the holdings, they are difficult to consolidate, making it difficult to use machinery and achieve economies of scale. Besides, owing to non-ownership of land, farmers face difficulty in obtaining bank loans or investing in development, which constrains productivity improvement, value addition and the linking of rural agriculture to the global value chain.

In addition, the agriculture sector is beset with a myriad of other issues, including poor resource use efficiency, i.e., land, water and fertiliser, irregular use of pesticides, uncoordinated and unregulated production leading to unpredictable gluts and scarcities that cause drastic price fluctuations, unsatisfactory and inadequate extension service, lack of innovative business models and poor integration of agriculture with national, regional and global value chains. These issues have been exacerbated by the lack of a rational, coherent and consistent national policy with a clear sense of direction and depth, particularly in agriculture, land and trade. The recent abrupt ban of the import of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides in order to make Sri Lankan agriculture exclusively organic, is a poignant example.

Malnutrition and under-nutrition in children have already assumed alarming proportions with around 20% of children being underweight and about 15% suffering from chronic malnutrition and wasting disease. This will be further aggravated by the current food crisis, marked by scarcities, unavailability and/or price escalations of essential food items which will have far-reaching social, health economic and political implications. The crisis has led to growing unrest, tension and aggressiveness of the people affected. Therefore, while pursuing medium and long-term plans and programmes to develop robust sustainable agricultural systems, it is of prime importance to identify immediate and short-term actionable interventions to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on food and nutritional security.

It is against this backdrop that the National Science Foundation, the premier national institution mandated to promote S&T for national development, assembled a galaxy of high-profile renowned scientists, professionals, academics and community leaders in agriculture, as well as representatives from leading agro-based enterprises and farmer organisations in the country, to identify immediate and short-term interventions to minimize the impact of the economic crisis on food security. Recommendations that emanated from the deliberations are given below for the attention of and early action by the relevant authorities:

Immediate and short-term interventions recommended to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on food and nutritional security

1. Determination of the food and feed requirement, food production and food deficit/surplus in respect of the major food crops at district and national levels. This is required to understand the magnitude and gravity of food and nutritional insecurity and its spatial variation. For instance, only about 10% of the food requirement of the Western Province is produced within the Province and the deficit, i.e. 90%, is met by food produced in other areas and imports. On the other hand, the agriculturally active North-Central Province faces significantly far less food insecurity issues. Such information is vital to make effective interventions that will minimize the impact of the food crisis on the health and wellbeing of the people of the country and to ensure equitable distribution of the limited food supplies.

2. Identification of food crops and their varieties, i.e., cereals, pulses, yams, vegetables and fruits, that are most essential to food and nutritional security and import substitution.

Here, it becomes pertinent to identify crop varieties that are adaptable to low-external input sustainable agriculture (LEISA), and are relatively less affected by the shortage and/or prohibitive prices of inputs, i.e. planting material, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel for machinery (for land preparation, harvesting, etc.) based on past experience.

3.Determination of agro-climatically and edaphically most suitable areas for cultivation of the crops and their varieties identified under (2), to enable matching of crop and land for optimum yield. This can also be done based on the past experience and observations of farmers and officers of relevant institutions including Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Development to meet the urgent need. Presently, farming is done in an unscientific and indiscriminate manner and many crops are grown under suboptimal and marginal conditions, thus producing far below their potential.

4. A rapid multiplication programme of high-quality planting material to meet the increased demand.

This is extremely important for paddy and due attention should be paid to collect adequate seed paddy from this Yala season harvest to meet the need in the coming Maha season which is about 80,000 metric tons. This should be done as an emergency programme to make sure that the seed paddy produced from this Yala harvest will not be consumed. As there is a Faculty of Agriculture in practically every province, and about a dozen Schools of Agriculture under the Department of Agriculture (DoA), their students can achieve rapid multiplication of other planting materials as part of their training programme under the guidance of the staff with little additional funding to meet provincial needs. Agrarian Service Centres, farmer organisations, Community-based organisations and such like should also be empowered and supported in this regard. The planting material produced must be sold at a fair price.

5. Cultivation of the 3rd season (between Yala and Maha) and 2022/23 Maha season to maximize production.

Production in high potential areas in the dry zone should be maximized as the wet zone has a lower yield potential and its farmers are predominantly part-time. Island-wide awareness programmes should also be conducted with the support of outstanding farmers and relevant institutions to achieve the highest yield potential with prudent use of inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides, water and fuel.

6. Identification of outstanding enterprising farmers in each AGA division who have consistently produced relatively high yields, particularly those who adopt good agricultural practices (GAPs), including integrated farming and integrated nutrient management.

The Dept. of Agrarian Development (DAD), DoA, Mahaweli Authority, SANASA, Sarvodaya, etc., can further assist in this regard. As there are 565 Agrarian Service Centres (ASCs) in the country, with links to farmers and institutions related to agriculture, ASCs may play a leading role in this connection. However, in order to avoid possible conflicts, the whole process should be conducted transparently and credibly with the participation of key stakeholders, i.e. representatives from the divisional secretariat, DoA , DAD/ASC, farmer organisations etc.

7. Making available the expensive limited inputs, i.e. chemical fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides, fuel for machinery etc., to the most outstanding selected farmers in areas with high agricultural potential for the crops/varieties in each district.

This will ensure maximum return on investment (ROI) and minimize unregulated, uncoordinated, ad hoc crop production for commercial purposes under sub-optimal and marginal conditions.

For instance, paddy is grown in 22 districts in the country with the average yield ranging from about 2.5 to around 6 metric tons/ha. However, in all the districts, more or less comparable quantities of water, fertilisers and pesticides are used per hectare. Therefore, the use of the limited fertilizers, agrochemicals and fuel in the most effective and productive manner will produce the highest possible yield so as to mitigate food shortages and nutritional insecurity. Thus, Sri Lanka should be able to maintain the same level of national production, with about one million farmers working about half of the extent cultivated now, if farming is done scientifically through matching of crop and land with proper planning and management. This will save a lot of water – at present, about 2500-5000 litres are required to produce one kilogram of rice depending on where it is grown – which can then be used for other purposes including generation of hydropower and reduce the need for agrochemicals. This will help to minimize the environmental and health hazards associated with agriculture and reduce the drain of foreign exchange.

8. Augmenting the production of organic manure for food crop production and inoculum for the production of pulses such as cowpea, mungbean, and soybean.

The former can be achieved with support from the garbage disposal unit of each UC and MC. In addition, immediate action should be taken to increase the production Single Super Phosphate (SSP) from Eppawala Rock Phosphate and produce ash from paddy husk and other suitable material as a source of potassium. Community-based organizations and the private sector can assist in these initiatives.

9. Cultivation of lands available in government institutions, religious institutions, schools etc. with assistance of the staff of the DoA, DAD, Mahaweli Authority, Faculties of Agriculture, Schools of Agriculture, and outstanding farmers in the area.

School children and public sector employees can be mobilized as necessary for cultivating crops in their respective premises for a few hours every week on a rotational basis during the crisis period. Moreover, agricultural lands with high potential should be leased to outstanding farmers and private sector for cultivation with attractive incentives/benefits offered to landowners. Polyculture should be promoted over monoculture wherever possible.

10. Launch of an accelerated programme for increasing the productivity and extent cultivated of home gardens, which hitherto have remained under-exploited.

There are over 4.46 million home gardens in the country with a total extent of 835,000 ha spread over the 25 districts. They operate far below their potential and their productivity can be considerably increased through intensification and improved management with minimal additional external inputs or expenditure. There are around 40 types of green leaves, and over 50 types of traditional and indigenous yams and tuber crops in Sri Lanka, which are not well known and hence under-exploited. They are a valuable source of minerals, vitamins, and energy.

11. Promotion of urban agriculture (vertical farming, rooftop farming, window gardening, balcony gardening etc.) and edible landscaping in suitable common urban areas.

This will be of great relevance to the Western Province where only about 10% of its food requirement is produced within the province. This should be facilitated by conducting appropriate awareness and training programmes and providing the requisite planting material, know-how and show-how which can easily be done by the staff of the DoA, Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI), Faculties of Agriculture, etc.

12. Use of lands unsuitable for cultivating food crops to establish pasture or pasture/legume mixtures for increasing milk production, and of paddy fields which are not cultivated owing to shortage of fertilizer, pesticides and machinery to cultivate crops and vegetables that need a minimum of inputs.

Besides, mushroom production which requires no agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and agrochemicals should be promoted as a cottage industry.

13. Setting up of economic centres in each agriculturally important district for the purchase and distribution of agricultural produce mainly within the district, thereby reducing not only fuel consumption and carbon footprint, but also postharvest losses, i.e. 30-40%, and quality deterioration.

 Presently what is produced in Angunukolapalassa is transported to the Dambulla Economic Centre from where it is distributed to other districts including Hambantota. In addition, cottage industries should be developed in agriculturally important areas for value addition, reduction of postharvest losses, and coping with gluts.

14.

Development of innovative business models with the engagement of appropriate private sector institutions in order to increase productivity and profitability of agricultural enterprises with linkages to local (i.e. supermarket chains), regional and global markets. For instance, “Polos” has a global market exceeding $ 30 billion and Sri Lanka has a great potential to export polos to the West, where there is a growing demand for meat substitutes. Cultivation of non-narcotic cannabis is another plant with an immense global market. These can also earn much needed foreign exchange for the country.

15. Upgrading and integrating the digital platforms in operation to provide the requisite information and services to farmers and stakeholders, including weather data, market dynamics (price fluctuations and supply and demand), recommendations for the control of pest and diseases, early warning against disease outbreaks, natural hazards etc.

This will ensure a fair price for the farmers and reduce exploitation by the middlemen.

16. Putting in place price controls to prevent the exploitation of farmers by the vendors of agrochemicals who are presently the main suppliers, as well as the prescribers, of agrochemicals to the farming community.

Therefore, like medicine, sale of pesticides and weedicides should be subject to strict guidelines by the relevant authorities.

17. Making use of existing, home-grown, low-cost technologies for the preservation of crops such as jak, breadfruit and manioc and fruits such as wood apple, mango, papaya, sweet melon, “waraka” and ‘belli”.

Establishment of small scale processing centers in the relevant districts or DS divisions will be useful to reduce post-harvest losses and add value to such produce. In addition, cultivation of sugarcane in small holdings can be developed as a cottage industry to produce cane jaggery and cane treacle; they can be used as a substitute for sugar which is currently imported at a cost exceeding Rs 40 billion per annum.

18. Conduct of appropriate educational and awareness programmes, electronic and otherwise, aimed at enhancing food and nutrition literacy (FNL).

This will significantly contribute to the ability of people, especially the economically disadvantaged, to overcome the misplaced fear and apprehension due to media hype that causes panic buying, hoarding, scarcities and price escalations. Such programmes are of great relevance as young children and youth are lured into buying unhealthy, junk food and fizzy beverages by the aggressive and attractive advertising campaigns conducted by some commercial concerns.

Nutrition is especially important during pregnancy and infancy, which are crucial periods for the formation of the brain, laying the foundation for the development of cognitive, motor, and socio-emotional skills throughout childhood and adulthood. Therefore, it is imperative to identify the vulnerable segments of the population in the country and develop a mechanism to provide assistance, food and otherwise, to minimize impact of the food and nutritional insecurity on cognitive and physical development in particular and health in general, paying attention to the elderly as well who account for 12.3% of the population, i.e. about 3.3 million.

19. Introduction of an encouragement award scheme, with attractive incentives and a befitting title, in order to motivate, recognize and felicitate the TOP 10 exemplary farmers at the divisional, district and national levels.

Gramasevaka Niladhari (14,002), Samurdhi recipients (3.3 million), Development Officers (c. 100,000) , Vidatha Resource Centre Officers (260), Agricultural Research and Production Assistants (>8,000) etc. should be mobilized and harnessed as required for the above interventions at the Divisional Secretariat (331) or Agrarian Service Centre level (565) as appropriate.

This report constitutes recommendations pertaining to only the Food Crop sub-sector. Fisheries & Aquaculture and Livestock & Poultry sub-sectors also contribute greatly to improve food security. Similar reports for those two sub-sectors are in preparation. Implementation of the above proposed interventions through a holistic approach with the participation of the relevant public and private sector institutions, and community-based and farmer organisations will contribute in no small measure to mitigating the impact of the current economic crisis on food and nutritional security of the people of the country.

Prof. Ranjith Senaratne

, Chairman, National Science Foundation and Professor Emeritus, Department of Crop Science, University of Ruhuna

Dr. Sepalika Sudasinghe, Director General, National Science Foundation

Prof. Gamini Senanayake

, Chairman, Council for Agricultural Research Policy and Professor Emeritus, Department of Agricultural Biology, University of Ruhuna

Rizvi Zaheed

, Chairman, Steering Committee on Agriculture, NSF and Chairman, Agripreneurs Forum

Dr. W.M.W. Weerakoon

, former Director General, Department of Agriculture

A.H.M.L. Abeyrathna

, Commissioner General, Department of Agrarian Development

Dr. Sirimal Premakumara

, Chairman, Industrial Technology Institute

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne

, President, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

Samadanie Kiriwandeniya

, Managing Director, SANASA International (Pvt) Ltd.

Prof. Asha Karunaratne

, Dean, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Sabaragamuwa University

Prof. S. Subasinghe

, former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture and Senior Professor, Department of Crop Science, University of Ruhuna

Prof. Jeewika Weerahewa

, Senior Professor in Agricultural Economics and Business Management, University of Peradeniya

Prof. S. Sutharsan

, Professor in Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Eastern University.



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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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Opinion

Challenges, and need for an all-party govt.

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Whoever wants to take charge, must first disclose how they are going to set about it. making statements that ‘WE WILL PUT IT INTO ORDER’ is not acceptable. Even SJB, the main Opposition party, hasn’t put forward at least an outline plan as to how they will set about it.

What did the current President promise? What did the current PM promise.? What are their results? Can the country afford more of such vague promises? Three months have gone and still there is no plan from any Party in Parliament. How can any country or institution assist one who has no plan?

Challenges are many and very unpopular decisions have to be made. Resistance from entrenched interests, such as trade Unions, including the GMOA, some corrupt business interests, political interests, mafias, monopolies, etc., has to be countered. Are they prepared to overcome them?

Why go far? Are they prepared to reduce the Parliamentary allocation substantially, and even reduce the number of MPS from 225 to about 150 – on par with countries of similar size, population, GDP, etc.

Parties trying to form a Govt. must first agree amongst them on their Plan, at least on the following:

(i) on their strategy to get Foreign Exchange to purchase limited quantities of fuel for essential services, food, medicines. and fertiliser for the next 6-9 months. Their strategy to increase exports, foreign employment and foreign investment so as to increase Foreign Exchange in the short and medium term. With current conditions it is futile to expect tourists to come to Sri Lanka.

(2) as to how to balance the budget. Are they unitedly prepared to close down or privatize CEB, CPC, AirLanka and Water Board, etc.? Budgetary Allocation for Defence is another, which has to be drastically reduced, the developed countries spend only 2 to 3 % of their GDP on Defence. What does SL do? Out of the Defence allocation, Navy must have the major component for they have to patrol the sea area, which is many times larger than SL land area. SL sea resources are at risk from illegal fishing, human smuggling and illegal dumping, etc.

 (3) Are they prepared to close down unnecessary Ministries, Corporations, and Departments, most of which were created for the benefit of politicians, especially for Ministerial Positions.

(4) Staff levels in Ministries, Departments. Corporations that are to function, have to be drastically reduced, so that they could function efficiently and cost effectively. Reducing staff will also reduce the need for large office spaces, electricity, telephone cost etc.

(5) What are their plans to support and or rehabilitate the staff so retrenched.?

(6) Their plan for distribution of essentials? Rationing?

(9) Can they agree on a small, efficient and capable cabinet? Let not the country have too many Ministers and or Officials telling the country different versions, confusing the people as to which is correct, and that too hoping that at least one will be correct.

(10) How will they source the revenue? Are they prepared to increase the direct tax component to 60% or even 75 % for the present? The majority of the population have been badly affected due to the current crises. Their only crime being they misused their votes. They should not be burdened further with indirect taxes. To reduce their burden indirect taxes have to be the lesser component of the revenue, at least for the present.

(11) Can they do away with duty free cars, and all other special privileges given to some sections of the society. All Laws must be equally applicable to all. Other than the First citizen of the country, all others (be it state employees or Parliamentarians) must be taxed on the same basis as others.

All Parties joining must undertake that they will no longer do politics with these issues, nor will they withdraw from the interim govt when it undertakes unpopular decisions on above issues. They must all commit to swim or sink together.

None of those who served as Ministers in failed Governments, or who were Ministers in MR’s Govts which decided on vanity projects, should not be given Ministerial positions. Same should apply to those Parliamentarians who voted for the 17 ,18,19 and 20th amendments should be excluded, as it shows they neither have principles, nor care for the country. Corrupt and convicts too should be kept out. KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY should be the criteria in the selection of the Ministers. Those who are unable to deliver within 3 months must be made to stand down.

To the party leaders who want to form the government, may I say, first divulge your plan to the country.

Please, do not tell the country that you have a better plan. You can afford to fail but not the country or its people at large!

A. K.RATNARAJAH

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Opinion

Fuel tokens, a big farce

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A file photo of fuel tokens being issued

The Minister of Power and Energy who covers a very responsible Ministry, was selected by the President probably due to his membership of the ‘Viyath Maga’, has undoubtedly proved to be a very inefficient Power and Energy Minister, and a complete failure without any doubt.

He is very capable of giving false hopes always of fuel and gas laden ships arriving on Sri Lanka shores, which have proved to be absolutely wrong. One wonders whether it is a gimmick to keep the fuel and gas starved motorists happy, and avoid the unending queues at fuel stations. This has proved to be a wrong system.

In order to control the daily queues, and knowing there will be no fuel ships for some time, he introduced the fuel token system out of the blues, and with no proper organizational effort. The policy announced regarding the token system, was to enable vehicle drivers to enter the fuel stations on a pre-selected day of the week, allocated to him/her, and dependent on the last digit of the vehicle number plate. This was again to avoid the long queues, according to the Power and Energy Minister.

With the latest innovative fuel token system announced, I visited the petrol station, in close proximity to my home on Monday 27th June, with much hope, and was among the first hundred with the details of my address, profession, NIC Number and contact mobile number. The relevant officer, who recorded the details, informed me that this was a pilot project, from Ratmalana to Moratuwa, and that when the fuel arrives at the petrol station, I will receive an SMS requesting me to report at the petrol station, at the allocated time, once again to avoid queues. But I did not receive the fuel token as it was not available. I was told that there was no necessity to have the token, as I will receive the SMS on my mobile phone.

The following day I received news that the fuel tokens are being issued. When I visited the fuel station, to obtain the token, there were four different long queues, along the road registering three-wheelers, motorcycles, vehicles needing diesel, and cars needing petrol. I met the S LAF officer, registering the cars queued up on the Galle Road, and told him that I am already registered in the book he was entering details and requested the token, which was denied to me. As the queues were there during the next two days, I visited the fuel shed on day four (30th June) when the officer was registering a few people. When my turn came, I showed the serial number and my name registered therein. I was told to wait until the SMS was received. He said that my registration will be cancelled if the token was given at a later date! Then I met the SL Air Force official and explained my position. He then approved the issue of the token. The delay in obtaining the token was nearly 15 minutes. By this incident it was evident that the advice given to Air Force officers to register and issue tokens was not properly given.

I was surprised to receive the token which was a slip of paper, with dimensions only 10cm x 6 cm. Inside it there were printed, Name of the Fuel Station, Type of fuel, Contact Number, Name, NIC Number, Vehicle No, , Date , Time, Signature of authorized Officer and Signature of vehicle Owner. With a microscopic piece of paper, it was with great difficulty that the necessary details were entered.

However, congratulations to the Minister of Power and Energy for drying up all the CEYPETCO FUEL STATIONS in The Island, without fuel for another three weeks or more, without queues, due to lack of fuel. Also causing unending long queues by supporting the LANKA IOC Fuel Stations, to issue your Fuel without Tokens at a higher price.

I politely ask you, Minister Kanchana, is not this another gimmick of yours to handover the CEYPETCO fuel stations to LANKA I O C?

So, we now know the reason for the latest gimmick of the Minister of Power and Energy to issue fuel tokens.

Do you now realise in your conscience, the problems created by you, especially to three-wheeler drivers, who are dependent on a daily living for their families by earning from hires, and now completely out of any earnings to feed their children, to give even a single meal?

Without creating further problems please resign from your post as the Minister of Power and Energy.

Eng. B.R.O FERNANDO

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