Food insecurity jeopardises sustainable development

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Food insecurity jeopardises sustainable development by threatening peace, social justice, and economic well-being, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Agriculture, Ruhuna University, Professor Nalika Ranathunge said.

Taking part in a Zoom meeting organised by the Institute of National Security Studies, titled ‘Facing The Looming Food Security Threat In Sri Lanka’, she pointed out that there are four levels of security. They are individual, national, regional, and global security. “Persons experiencing individual insecurity on a daily basis tend to resort to extreme and extraordinary behaviour,” Prof Ranathunge explained.

People are compelled to protest for basic amenities. They may resort to actions which can turn violent, she said.

“People are forced to sell their kidneys or even put their children’s lives in jeopardy, while a few resort to various other anti-social activities, such as theft, burglary, robbery, and kidnapping for ransom,” she added.

Some people might force their women into prostitution and children into labour and some even commit suicide or kill their family members.

Lack of socioeconomic access to food has larger implications for achieving security, she further said.

Sri Lanka is facing a food crisis due to multiple reasons

• The main reason for the food crisis is the fertiliser shortage

The fertiliser shortage was created by the complete ban on chemical fertiliser in April 2021. In addition to the fertiliser shortage, there is also the ‘fuel crisis’ in our country. 

It is difficult for farmers to harvest, as they cannot operate their machinery without sufficient diesel, amid the country’s fuel crisis.

Farmers need different kinds of machinery to harvest, but they all need diesel to run. Given the present situation, farmers are unable to find enough fuel. They also lack other input for farming.

The crisis greatly affects this season, because farmers had bought fertiliser and pesticides at old prices during the Maha Season last year. They survived for some time with the available stocks. But now, farmers have to buy everything they need for the next season at new prices. But as a group that takes loans for each season, farmers cannot afford the new prices. They are helpless.

• Covid-19 pandemic

From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government adopted timely measures to minimise the impact on agriculture. However, many farmers still suffered severe losses due to control measures and temporary import restrictions.

• War in Ukraine

Every country has been affected by the Ukraine war and Sri Lanka’s teetering finances were dealt another blow this year, when tension in Europe sent global fuel and food prices soaring, turning the small country’s uphill economic struggle into a nightmare.

• Debt and forex crisis continue to suffocate agriculture

Due to the forex crisis, the Government is unable to import food items as much as they used to.

According to Professor Ranathunge, the above reasons have threatened food security in Sri Lanka at present.

“Agriculture has evolved since Independence. Paddy production was 650kg/ha in the 1940s and this increased to 4,800kg/ha in 2021. Sri Lanka achieved self-sufficiency in rice in 2008/2010 and there was a surplus until 2021,” she said.

Food security exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life, she said. Food insecurity is multidimensional and affects people at the global, regional, national, sub-national, and household levels. 

Prerequisites for food security

Physical availability, socioeconomic access, food assimilation.

Ignored side

Professor Ranathunge said the reasons for the lack of economic access to food is “food price volatility.”

“Inefficient governance and market distortion practices have led to an increase in prices of agricultural inputs, the increased cost of transportation due to fuel price inflation, hoarding, and panic buying,” she emphasised.

She also added that this vicious cycle continues until the supply stabilises. She said these issues can be tackled through better governance.

Way forward

Ranathunge underlined that “individual hunger” needs to be perceived as a national security threat, while social development should be prioritised. She also urged to give space for greater resource allocation to improve food security.

“Our national policymakers need to break out of denial and accept that there is food insecurity. They should strengthen the social protection system to provide targeted relief, especially for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” she said.

She further said until there is an improvement in governance at the local and national levels, international partnership and global governing bodies will not be of much help in ensuring food security.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture has come up with a new programme to minimise the food shortage in Sri Lanka, by encouraging citizens to engage in home gardening.

Director (Agri Development), Ministry of Agriculture, G.G.V. Shyamali, explained that they plan to promote home gardening and launch expeditious cultivation programmes to promote food crop production, while getting people to use food sparingly and supplementing family nutrition.

Hunger and food insecurity are closely related, and it can be argued that when one is food insecure, they will be hungry. Hunger will lead to poverty and diseases. Every government should ensure that people do not go hungry. The Government can ratify policies that promote the use of land for family farmers, protect against pollution of farmlands, make affordable credit available to farmers, and help farmers resolve their problems.

By Aloka Kasturiarachchi