SL food chain unaffected by Covid-19 | Sunday Observer

SL food chain unaffected by Covid-19

Sri Lanka will not be facing a food shortage due to the ongoing pandemic and one of the contributing factors to this is the burgeoning home gardens, Additional Secretary of Agricultural Technology at the Ministry of Irrigation, Mahaweli Development, and Agriculture Dr. Ajantha de Silva said.

He was referring to the Saubhagya National Program Harvesting and Cultivation which was formally launched in early April in a bid to encourage garden owners to grow their own produce.

In a similar move, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met representatives of the plantation sector to assess plans to increase production and ensure national food security and export earnings.

“The sector can contribute immensely to revive post-Covid-19 economy, if we work towards specific targets,” the President said in a tweet.

A discussion was held with the participation of the Secretary to the President, P.B. Jayasundera, Principal Advisor to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, Acting Secretary to the Ministry of Plantation Industries and other representatives at the Presidential Secretariat. The participants looked at increasing the productivity of the plantation sector as the country gradually returned to normalcy.

By working towards a target, the President said, the plantation sector has the potential to be a significant contributor to the national economy.

The current administration took steps to restrict the import of several items realising that much of the produce which was imported could be supplied by the plantation sector.

During the discussion the Minister of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said, “In 2018, the income from export crops was Rs. 538 billion. The Ministry is hoping to enhance this to Rs. 753 billion by 2020.”

He also said that coconut plantations, targeting both the local and export markets, will be developed. In the North, in places such as Palai, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu coconut cultivation has been most successful. Steps have also been taken to develop the cocoa and coffee sectors, he said.

Food security is being discussed at length across the world, especially after Covid-19 put a damper on food production worldwide.

President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, also addressing the issue said, “We must ensure food equity based on inclusive and efficient food systems. We need to appropriately distribute the abundant food reserves in the international market and prepare for the positive crop forecasts”.

“Considering food supply chains as an essential sector of the economy and guaranteeing movement of essential workers and food – with necessary precautions- as many member states have done, will ensure stability in the supply,” he said stressing the importance of protecting small and medium enterprises in the food sector.

“These measures would help us preserve consumer trust in the availability of food at affordable prices, which is key to stability in these difficult times,” he said.

He also addressed the global food waste which has emerged due to the reduction in demand for products as restaurants, schools and workplaces are closed.

“This has led to increased food waste in some parts and increased need in other regions. Even during the pandemic, we must continue with our efforts to bridge the gap between food waste and hunger,” he added.

In Sri Lanka, Dr. Ajantha de Silva said that Covid-19 came both as a blessing and a curse.

“It was a blessing because many people started to grow vegetables in their home gardens. It was a curse because in some parts the input distribution was hampered due to Covid-19 restrictions,” he said.

The restrictions made it hard to find labour and the one-metre social distancing rule also affected the food supply. However, with the Government’s move to make agricultural work an essential service, farmers were given the freedom to continue their cultivation.

There was chaos among the farming community when fertilisers failed to reach markets. This, Dr. de Silva said, was caused by the distribution which lagged as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

Statistics from the Fertiliser Secretariat shows that in mid-April, 2019, 17,000 metric tons of fertiliser were used for crops other than rice, and this year during the same time period it has risen to 25,000 metric tons showing that people have started home gardening.

Dr. de Silva said climate change is another problem that could affect the harvest, adding that, “In Nachchaduwa flash floods destroyed crops”.

He assured that this, however, will not lead to a food shortage in the country.