8.7 Million Food Insecure

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Eight point seven million (8.7 million) or 39.1 per cent of the country’s population was forced to have a poor diet compared to a mere 3.4 per cent a year ago due to the rapid deterioration of the country’s socioeconomic situation, a report jointly released by the WFP and the FAO on Monday said.

The report titled “Special Report FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) to Sri Lanka” further said, “According to the food security assessment, approximately 8.7 million people (39.1 per cent of the population) were not consuming an adequate diet at the time of the mission.

This represents a dramatic deterioration compared to the third quarter of 2021, when a survey conducted by the Medical Research Institute (MRI) estimated only 3.4 per cent of households had inadequate food consumption. In that (MRI) survey, only the estate sector stood out, with 19.8 per cent of respondents consuming an inadequate diet.

 The mission found that nearly half the households across the country (47.7 percent) had applied at least one livelihood-based coping strategy to cope with the lack of food or money to buy it. This share was higher in the estate sector, reaching 73.2 per cent of households.

About one in four households were also applying crisis or emergency livelihood coping strategies, such as selling productive assets, reducing essential healthcare expenses and withdrawing children from school.

For the poorest households, diets were particularly lacking protein and iron-rich foods: 12.9 per cent and 69.9 per cent of the households in the lowest expenditure quintile had not consumed any protein or iron-containing foods in the past seven days, respectively

The majority of households (61.1 per cent) reported regularly using food-based coping strategies because they did not have enough food or money to buy food. This includes about one in every four households (24.2 per cent) reporting that they had been reducing the number of meals consumed in a day and nearly half (46.2 per cent) reporting that they had been limiting portion sizes.

Nearly four in every five households (79.1 per cent) in the estate sector were regularly using food-based coping strategies. Large households (with more than seven members), those with a member having a disability, as well as those whose main source of income was unskilled labour, were using food-based coping strategies at a similar rate.

 Of particular concern is the finding that households with pregnant and lactating women were much more likely to use various food-based coping strategies than those without these women (23.6 per cent vs. 16.8 per cent, respectively).

In June 2022, household meals predominantly consisted of rice, vegetables, oil and sugar, whilst consumption of fish, an important source of protein in the Sri Lankan diet, averaged just 0.8 days per week. By comparison, in late 2021, MRI research found that households were consuming fish between 2.5–4.5 days per week, depending on the province. Consumption of dairy products, including powdered milk, another important food product in the Sri Lankan diet, also decreased substantially compared with late 2021.

By June 2022, about 23 per cent of households were applying crisis or emergency strategies, including selling productive assets (e.g., farming equipment or vehicles), reducing essential healthcare expenses and withdrawing children from school. About 200 000 households (3.7 per cent) were using emergency livelihood coping strategies.

 The food security situation could deteriorate during the upcoming lean season, between October and February 2023 if the country is unable to import adequate amounts of rice and other food products to cover the existing food deficit and humanitarian assistance is not sufficient.

 With food prices rising dramatically, while at the same time as work opportunities decline, especially those in unskilled agriculture, transportation, construction and other informal sectors, large households are increasingly struggling to respond to the current food shock.

Livelihood-based coping strategies households were resorting included spending savings, buying food on credit, borrowing money or pawning jewels. Once these least severe strategies were exhausted, households normally resorted to strategies with higher negative impact on their medium long-term capacity to generate income and their food security.” Food for thought for policymakers beginning with President Ranil Wickremesinghe.