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The Political Economy of Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka

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Better Policies for Better Diets:

IPS Policy Insights

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have posed a critical health challenge for Sri Lanka for several decades. Estimated to account for 83 per cent of all deaths in Sri Lanka today, NCDs have serious health and economic consequences for both individuals and the country.1 In 2000 and 2010, the deaths that occurred due to NCDs were estimated as 74 and 76 per cent of the total deaths respectively.2 Unhealthy dietary patterns are one of the main behavioural causes for escalating NCD incidences.3 While 72.5 per cent of the Sri Lankan population eat less than five servings of fruit and/or vegetables on average per day4 only 26.9 per cent of the males and 28.0 per cent of the females consume five or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day.5 Further, 26.5 per cent of school children aged 13-17 years reported that they consumed a carbonated soft drink at least once per day.6 This shows how unhealthy dietary patterns are followed in Sri Lanka every day.

Political Economy and NCDs

Fiscal interventions are crucial to correct market failures, create incentives to reduce dietary risk factors for NCDs, and generate government revenue.7 Fiscal policies and regulations are implemented within complex country-specific systems. They are influenced by several contextual factors such as social norms and acceptances, stakeholders, their interests and influences, resource implications, equity and human rights, and feasibility. These factors are collectively recognised as the political economy. A country’s political economy greatly influences policy development, implementation, and realisation. A proper understanding of the political economy can help formulate better policies to meet the NCD challenge and create a healthy food environment.

Sri Lanka has introduced various measures including fiscal policies and regulations to promote healthy dietary patterns. The main objective of this policy brief is to highlight how the political economy of the food environment in the country influences the development of policies on healthy diets. The following findings are based on a political economy analysis conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) as a part of the study on ‘Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka’. The study examines the following aspects:

Policy framing – recognition of the main policy issue (underlying assumptions, perceptions, and concepts);

Policy contents – recognition of key policy elements; and Policy development – actors, stakeholders, and their interests.

The findings and recommendations are based on a review of policies introduced from the year 2000 onwards.

Key Findings

Policy Framing

Commendably NCDs, nutrition, and the food environment are recognised as important policy issues and framed well in the policy documents prepared by the health sector, mainly by the Ministry of Health.

Policy Contents

Healthy food consumption, production of healthy foods, social marketing and health promotion campaigns, nutrition labelling, nutrition education and retail sales of healthy food are the areas covered relatively well in the policy documents reviewed. However, many of the policy documents do not devote adequate attention to some crucial aspects such as funding sources, governance, gender sensitivity, and stakeholder identification. For example, the National Health Strategic Master Plan 2016-2025 Preventive Services Programme – Food Safety states, “The government of Sri Lanka will take over the responsibility in terms of finances and resource allocation to improve the food safety” as an assumption.8 But it does not either explain or present the financial sources and mechanisms to be used for this purpose. Likewise, in most policy documents, there is no explicit commitment to adopt fiscal measures to achieve the targets specified in those respective policies.

Policy Development

The Ministry of Health plays a central role in developing policies to reduce NCDs, promote healthy diets, and establish a safer food environment in Sri Lanka. Apart from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture has also demonstrated its interest in nutrition and the food environment. Production of healthy foods, marketing and trading, and nutrition education are some of the key areas covered in the policy documents of the agriculture sector. Other than these two ministries, other public sectors have not indicated any noticeable interest in NCDs, nutrition or the food environment.

Additionally, international development partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Bank (WB) are important stakeholders playing a supportive role in upgrading the nutrition status and food environment and addressing NCDs-related issues.

Recommendations

Continue to focus on policy framing and cover crucial policy elements:

The recognition and attention given to NCDs, nutrition and the food environment are progressive steps that need continuation. This is particularly important given the current NCD burden in Sri Lanka and the increasing trend of NCD-related morbidities and mortalities. However, the review of the policy documents revealed the lack of comprehensive coverage of important policy elements where some of the crucial aspects like governance structures, funding sources, and gender sensitivity are not adequately addressed.

It is essential to comprehensively confer due recognition to all the crucial aspects to implement the policies effectively and to achieve desired outcomes. For example, identifying governance structures is important for the effective implementation of policies. It also indicates the country’s commitment and responsiveness in addressing the issues identified in the policies. Likewise, it is necessary to identify funding sources to implement the proposed actions. No matter how well developed a policy is, it will not achieve its intended impact if the resources to implement the policy are not available.

Proactively seek the active
participation of all stakeholders
in policy development:

The efforts of the health sector (i.e., Ministry of Health) to develop policies on NCDs, nutrition and the food environment are commendable. Yet, the lack of involvement and interest by other sectors is a huge deterrent to achieving the expected outcomes of policies aimed at promoting healthy diets in Sri Lanka. Currently, these issues are regarded as “health issues” and other sectors/ministries either do not adequately recognise or completely ignore these concerns when they formulate policies for their respective sectors. The food environment, nutrition and NCDs are complex and interconnected issues.

Thus, policies that intend to address these issues must take a more holistic approach actively involving all the parties concerned. Further, the involvement of the highest level of the government such as the National Nutrition Council chaired by the President is recommended to lead and coordinate these processes, thereby assuring the highest level of political will and commitment.

This policy insight was prepared by IPS researcher Sunimalee Madurawala (sunimalee@ips.lk) based on findings from a study on ‘Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka’ funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. For more policy insights from IPS, visit: https://www.ips.lk/publications/policy-insights/.



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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August

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Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

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A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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