Remedies for impending food shortages | Sunday Observer

Remedies for impending food shortages

19 June, 2022

The constant warnings from professionals, experts, and academics involved in food-related disciplines cast a pall over the country, foreshadowing a severe food shortage.

As usual, lawmakers are paying less attention to this issue, which could become a national disaster. They are more interested in grabbing power, securing power, or researching ways and means to strengthen their votes. The reality is that even if these dubious politicians make true statements, the public is beyond trusting them. The general public discards whatever remedies the politicians offer.

Instead, the general public seems to be relying on the opinions of experts. Also, creditably, most of the mainstream media, particularly on television, are consciously gearing themselves to help the national effort on food production.

Most of these television stations have already volunteered to present various promotional programs to encourage the general public, specifically home and community gardening.

War in Ukraine

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) have issued blunt warnings of multiple food crises driven by conflict, climate disasters, debt burdens, escalating costs of commodities, and the war in Ukraine.

They also warn that the war in Ukraine has aggravated the already high food and energy prices worldwide, which can affect economic stability across all regions. The statement of the two agencies named Sri Lanka as an already troubled country.

The impact of the world crisis will further worsen Sri Lanka’s food security, perhaps for an indefinite period. One of the most dangerous developments will be the refusal of food exports from even friendly countries. It is no secret that the country is heavily dependent on the import of essential food and related products. Restrictions by food-producing countries that are affected will not be able to export their crops.

The only consolation for Sri Lanka is that the entire country possesses agriculture-friendly soil and is comparatively more fertile than most other countries. This means that the current dire requirement is to encourage and inspire people to get more engaged in domestic or community agriculture. However, it is comforting to witness that ordinary people show much more enthusiasm for producing food than on any previous occasion in recent history.

The Government is also planning several positive steps at the instruction of President Rajapaksa. The distribution of Government-owned uncultivated bare lands to youth in their areas; the organising of collective agriculture development programs; the revitalisation of abandoned State-owned agriculture farms; and the development of livestock are some of the projects the Government has already commenced.

The Western Province home gardening project, launched by the Government, is another timely move. Under the program, the target is to develop 34,000 home gardens in the Western Province under the guidance of agriculture instructors. Also, proposals are underway to develop uncultivated paddy lands in the Western Province.

In another highly optimistic move and providing immense relief to the farmer community, the Prime Minister has declared that he will waive off all agricultural loans obtained by farmers who own less than two hectares.

Legal ownership

He also said that the Government is considering providing legal ownership to those who are engaged in agriculture in Swarnabhumi and Jayabhumi programs on Mahaweli project lands. Even though these moves are seemingly political, the result is immensely beneficial to the farmer fraternity.

More importantly, the attempt to improve and utilise the Eppawala Rock Phosphate (ERP) to assist the country’s fertiliser production positively is laudable. The concern, however, is whether State machinery that possesses legal authority will continue to engage with genuine enthusiasm in such projects. Hence, continuous motivation is required to attract public workers for these Government-sponsored programs.

According to experts, in providing solutions for food security issues, priority must be given to organic and environment-based strategies. By adopting such methods, the consumer receives healthy food products that lessen the intake of artificial chemicals in the body. However, for mass food production, most often, chemical fertiliser has to be used even though organic food is healthier.

The infamous fertiliser ban that has affected the overall food security negatively took place due to bad advice and haste in implementing that advice. If the conversion from chemical fertiliser to organic was done with a proper long-term plan, the result would have been beneficial to the country and the current crisis would have been averted.

In these awfully troubled times, community intervention, sans political differences, is a hugely important factor. Although individual commitments are essential, the efforts of a group collectively can achieve far more effective results. Community gardening is one such group effort that can help solve the oncoming food shortages.

Government assistance

With the prevailing conditions, a considerable portion of the population, particularly urban residents, may require Government assistance to survive. Therefore, popularising community gardening in urban areas, specifically in the cities such as Colombo, Kandy, Galle, and other similar main cities, can solve a part of the problem.

Food wastage in Sri Lanka has been a growing national issue for the past several decades. Not only does wastage occur during transportation, but also the disposal of food from numerous small and large hotels and restaurants is a colossal waste.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Sri Lanka produces a staggering 7000 tons of organic waste, out of which over 65 percent is perishable organic material. The presumption of experts is that a vast majority of these organic perishables are food-related.

The irony However, awareness among the general public about this critically important factor is substantially low. Hence, it is time that the Government consciously commences a strong awareness campaign to educate people on curbing food waste.

It is a cinch that every electronic, print, and social media platform will provide their best assistance to such an effort as a national duty. Simple actions such as being conscious about portion sizes, using leftovers appropriately, timely and mindful purchasing, and donating surplus food to the needy are some of the actions that will reduce food wastage. According to expert opinion, the largest amount of waste occurs when the vegetables and fruits are transported from the farm to the markets.

Medical specialists in the child health sector have recently made an extremely alarming revelation that the Sri Lankan children’s population is heading for malnutrition.


They state that this can be attributed to the ongoing economic crisis and unbearable food prices. Doctors at Lady Ridgeway Hospital claim that 20 percent of the children admitted are malnourished. This is a frightening prospect for the country. If the situation is not taken under control immediately, the future population will suffer immense psychological and physical trauma.

The predicted food crisis is a national issue that can cause immense distress in society. Therefore, instead of pointing fingers at others and wasting valuable time, the entire nation must get together as one to face the challenge.

Even the smallest contribution is precious at this point in time. Food security is as important to a nation as national security. Hence, it is time to let go of previous mistakes and rally round to improve agriculture domestically.