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Food crisis looms over Sri Lanka

Across rice farms in Sri Lanka, a bleak picture is emerging that the summer harvest could be as low as half that of previous years, according to experts. In light of the already ongoing economic crisis and food shortages, the country is on the edge of a major food crisis.

The country has hardly any currency reserves to import adequate fuel, so farm machinery and trucks to transport rice to markets are in short supply. Some farmers even say their crops are not worth harvesting.

Compounding the economic misery, the lack of fertilisers and the stunted crops mean that the island will have to use precious currency reserves, a credit line from India as well as foreign aid to import hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rice.

Without synthetic fertilizers, farming could only support 3 billion people — not the 8B people it supports today

Why, then, are the U.N. Environment Programme & the Food & Agriculture Organization trying to "steer" nations away from synthetic fertilizers?

— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) August 14, 2022

No longer a self-sufficient country

Across the country, production from paddy-fields during the ongoing summer farming season could be half the average 2 million tonnes in previous years, Buddhi Marambe, a professor of crop science at Sri Lanka’s Peradeniya University said.

“This is mainly because of the absence of fertiliser during the vegetative growth stages of the crops,” Marambe added.

Sri Lanka has been self-sufficient in rice for decades but went to international markets last year to buy 149,000 tonnes of grain after the fertiliser shortage first hit production. In 2022, the country has already contracted to import 424,000 tonnes of rice.

More imports may be needed to stave off food shortages in the first two months of 2023, or until the “Maha” crop that is planted in September is harvested, the professor emphasised.

A committee appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture is currently evaluating the need for additional imports, a ministry official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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By April, Sri Lanka’s financial crisis had strangled the economy and, with foreign exchange reserves at record lows.

The lack of hard currency at a time of spiralling prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also squeezed imports of essentials including fuel, cooking gas, medicines and food.

Shortages led to an outburst of public anger against the government and the president. Mass protests eventually forced Sri Lanka’s president to flee the country and quit the presidency.

6.7 mln people not eating enough

Rice is the main food product of the country’s 22 million people and its biggest crop. According to government data, 2 million people in the country are rice farmers out of 8.1 million people engaged in fishing and agriculture in the largely rural economy.

Meanwhile, food inflation is already at more than 90 percent year-on-year, according to data from July. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that about 6.7 million Sri Lankans out of a population of 22 million are not eating enough.

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