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Overcoming Food Insecurity

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According to the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security “Food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) estimate 6.3 million Sri Lankans are facing moderate to severe acute food insecurity. This could be attributed to shortage of food and high food prices. The latest WFP assessment reveals that 86 percent of families are buying cheaper, less nutritious food; eating less, and in some cases skipping meals altogether. This unfortunate situation is the result of many factors among which are poverty, non-availability of agrochemicals at correct times, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves, depreciation of the local currency, etc.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has launched a programme to ensure food security in the country. The vision of this Food Security Programme is to ensure every citizen has access to enough food at a reasonable price, to lead an active and healthy life, and to ensure that no citizen of the country should starve due to lack of food, and no child should be a victim of malnutrition.

National Food Security:

National Food insecurity is attributed to inadequate food production at national level and high prices consumers have to pay. The recent banning of agrochemicals has drastically reduced food production in the country resulting in high food prices. We have been importing food costing around Rs. 300 billion a year. Most of the food such as rice, milk, sugar, lentils, etc., which are vital in raising Food Security are imported, indicating that there is no national food security. If we are unable to import the essential food items, people will not have enough food for their sustenance. Hence it is important that relevant action is taken to produce essential food locally, at affordable prices. National food insecurity is due to many factors. Among these are wild elephants roaming in some of the dry zone villages, causing death to many and destroying crops, Chronic Kidney Disease affecting thousands of farmers, inadequate water supply, lack of reasonable transport facilities, non-availability of fertilisers such as urea, and other agrochemicals at correct times, inability to sell the produce at reasonable prices etc. Authorities need to take cognizance of these issues in their endeavours to = increase national food security.

The National Food Security and Nutrition Council has been established to take appropriate action to achieve Food Security. This council will function under the chairmanship of the President of Sri Lanka, advised (?) by a former Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy. Plans are underway to produce several food items such as rice, onion, chili’s lentils etc. to increase food security in the country. Simply planning to produce rice, onion, etc. indicated above will not have any desired effect, unless an integrated plan is implemented. If national food security is to be enhanced it is essential that food is available at an affordable price. As indicated above, several factors play important roles in food production. Efforts to strengthen the national food security require an integrated approach that combines crop improvement alongside sustainable land and water management, efficient irrigation, application of appropriate fertilizers and other inputs, effective marketing etc.

House- hold Food Security:

House -hold Food Security is closely related to the economy, which has deteriorated during the last few years, mainly due to the drop-in crop production and several other factors. Prices of most food items have been on a steady rise since the last quarter of 2021, and reached a record high in August 2022, with the year-on-year food inflation rate at nearly 94 percent, further limiting the purchasing power of households.

According to the Dept. of Census and Statistics around 14.3 % (nearly 3 million) are below poverty level. Unemployment, lack of resource production factors such as land and/or capital are the main factors causing poverty. Ill-health and sickness among family members, addiction to drugs and alcohol, frequently occurring natural disasters such as floods and droughts in some parts of the country, inborn defects such as deformities, blindness, inadequate knowledge on nutrition also tend to affect food security among households.

Estate communities:

The Plantation sector plays an important role in achieving food security. There are nearly 430 estates in the country and around 200,000 families live in these estates. Poverty in the estate sector is around 34%. They are saddled with low incomes, and have to face severe food shortages. They do not have enough land to grow many crops so as to supply necessary food for sustenance.

The fishing community:

The fisheries sector plays a key role in Sri Lanka’s social and economic life. Fish products are an important source of animal protein for the population which increases food security. Around 350,000 are directly involved in the fisheries sector. During the last few months their incomes have decreased drastically, as it has become extremely difficult for them to go fishing. This is mainly due to non-availability/high prices of kerosene oil, which is necessary for them to go fishing. They are saddled with low incomes, and have to face severe food shortages. They do not have enough land to grow many crops so as to supply necessary food for the household. As a result of lowered incomes, the fishing community is unable to purchase food necessary for their sustenance.

An integrated approach is necessary to achieve food security. The factors which cause food insecurity among different communities in the country need to be examined and action taken accordingly. Simply cultivating every inch of land as some insist will not yield desired results.

Dr. C.S. WEERARATNA



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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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Opinion

Sri Lanka Now Famous For Bribery And Corruption

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Bribery and corruption are two words that Sri Lanka has become “famous” for during the last few decades. This was something rare about half a century ago. We very rarely heard of Cabinet Ministers resorting to bribery, except in two cases.

If I remember right one was indicted in courts and had to serve a period in Her Majesty’s free hostel. The other was one of the members of the multi-Member Kadugannawa constituency, but it was not a very serious one as it involved the granting of appointments like sub-Post Mistress. There was also a businessman nabbed for giving bribes and held in a house in Paget Road. However, then it was rare and only a few cases such as that mentioned were known. In addition, these instances did not in any way effect the economy of the country or the people.

Gradually, the art of bribery and corruption became so well-known that most investors and contractors from abroad and locally were not willing to tender for essential supplies and construction of buildings and roads as they had to oil the palms right down the line. At one time a Cabinet Minister was nicknamed Mr. Ten Percent indicating his ‘cut’ on any tender or contract!

This country became famous for bribery and corruption in a big way after the tsunami in 2004 with the Helping Hambantota project, where funds from abroad to assist the victims went into a wrong pocket.

It was also very recently that a Cabinet Minister was reported to the President regarding a bribe he had solicited from a foreign tenderer. The then President asked him to step down till an inquiry was held. But with the change in the top position, a retired judge was appointed to inquire into this allegation. As in the bond scam the inquiry found him not guilty, and he was reinstated in the Cabinet. It is only in Sri Lanka that this type of thing could happen.

The Sri Lankan diaspora would have helped the country to recover from the economic mess the leaders plunged it into by sending money from abroad. But they did not want to do so as they knew what would happen to such funds. Even people here requested them not to send assistance till the corrupt leaders have been got rid of.This resplendent island may have been the pearl of the Indian Ocean at one time but now it has become notorious for bribery and corruption! When will we get honest leaders to run this country as was done about a century ago?

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

The Rehabilitation Bill

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The high priests of our temple of justice has reaffirmed our faith in our legal system and the rule of law. A country without the rule of law will disintegrate into worse chaos than we are plunged in today.

It was heartening to see the determination by the Supreme Court on the Rehabilitation Bill. The legal preamble is a bit hard for an average lay person to follow. To my understanding, they have thrown some strong road blocks on the passage of this Bill. Well and good. I don’t think it will be that easy for the govt to surmount them. The legal fraternity, civil society and ordinary citizens, must fight hard to see that there is no transgression of the determination of the Supreme Court.

We need not and don’t need to incarcerate anybody. Those addicted to drugs should be handled by the health dept. or better still their families. These are our misguided sons and daughters who have taken a wrong path due to a failure in their families and the society around them. They need to be handled with care and consideration. Institutionalizing them would make the problem a costly failure.

Our lawmakers should hang their heads in shame if they vote for this draconian Bill as they may be viewed as persons who serve the wishes of the rulers and not those of the people.

Padmini Nanayakkara
Colombo-3

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