Crisis in the making

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Suffering from a severe economic crisis brought on by failure on multiple levels, being able to eat three meals a day is now a privilege that sadly, an alarming number do not have. As such, concern over a severe food crisis is in the horizon.

In fact, many already are struggling to make ends meet with the skyrocketing inflation rates, which also impact the cost and price of food. Top that with a fuel crisis and the lack of fertiliser, first due to import bans and subsequently due to lack of foreign currency, Sri Lanka is in the middle of wave after wave of crises, with food shortages and lack of access to essential food being one in the making.

How bad is it?

A good example would be to understand how devastating Sri Lanka’s current situation is in terms of food security for the general population. According to the July situation report by the World Food Programme (WFP), three in 10 households are food insecure, with 200,000 households using emergency livelihood coping strategies such as eating less nutritious food and reducing the amount of food they eat. The report indicates two in five households are not consuming adequate diets.

Speaking with Ceylon Today, the Representative and Country Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Sri Lanka commented the following.

“We are extremely concerned about what’s happening right now in Sri Lanka. More than 6 million of the population are food insecure, according to our ongoing assessment carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the WFP. Food prices have skyrocketed, with inflation hitting a record high of 80 per cent in June. What we’re seeing is that people are resorting to drastic measures to cope, including reducing portion sizes and even cutting down on meals. People are also either using up their savings or racking up debts to be able to put food on the table.

“WFP is on the ground responding to the crisis. We recently carried out a programme to provide food vouchers to pregnant women who are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of this crisis. WFP is scaling up its response to provide life-saving assistance to 3.4 million people. For this we urgently need US$ 63 million. We need to act fast and we call on the international community to support and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.”

Every bite counts

In such circumstances, it goes without saying that every bite counts, and any food that does goes to waste equals more families going to bed hungry. There are many things that we as consumers can do to minimise the wastage of food. But usual domestic wastage of food at the home pales in comparison to how much food is actually wasted in the process of bringing food from farm to fork.

Arguably, for many years the agriculture industry has hardly seen any innovation towards becoming a more effective or efficient producer of essential nutrition to the nation. Too often we see in the news of food going to waste in farmland due to many reasons; a situation that has been increasing in frequency after the lockdowns due to COVID-19 and now the fuel crisis.

The logistics of transporting and distributing food throughout the country is no simple task, yet time and time again, we are reminded of how vulnerable one our most crucial and basic systems for the protection of the state are.

To be able to address the many issues that obviously plague the entire ecosystem that is involved in delivering food to our table, a proper understanding must be established. Reaching out to Prof. Buddhi Marambe from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya to share any insight he might have as a researcher on Sri Lanka’s food distribution network and the measures the country has taken to minimise food waste.

Research desperately needed

Prof. Marambe revealed that in fact there is very little information that has been researched regarding Sri Lanka’s food network, and although there are current systems where many do make profitable use of food that is wasted, more effort is needed towards minimising the food produce that perishes or is lost during transport. But that of course, isn’t the only factor that needs addressing due to the fact that the distribution of food is a massive system in itself.

Ceylon Today will continue following the story of food as it travels from farm to fork, while sharing about new technology and methods that the nation may use to minimise waste as well. We will return with the story of our food, and how it reaches our plates.

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage