Policy Seminar on the ‘Economic Crisis, Soaring Food Prices, and Nutritional Wellbeing: Options for Safety Net Interventions in Sri Lanka’

23 May 2022

‘Economic Crisis, Soaring Food Prices, and Nutritional Wellbeing: Options for Safety Net Interventions in Sri Lanka’ was the topic of this month’s in-house seminar. Prof Jeevika Weerahewa, Professor, University of Peradeniya, Dr Pradeepa Koralegedara, Senior Lecturer, University of Peradeniya and Dr Suresh Babu, Head-Capacity Strengthening, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) were the speakers at this seminar. IPS Research Fellow Dr Manoj Thibbotuwawa moderated.

Prof Jeevika Weerahewa cited seven causes behind the recent increase in food prices, namely: 1) adverse world market conditions; 2) depreciation of the currency; 3) imposition of food import restrictions; 4) removal of price ceilings on essential food items; 5) the sudden move to organic agriculture and increase in world fertiliser prices; 6) adverse weather; and 7) food hoarding. She noted that although the symptoms are present for a potential food crisis, it is not possible to be conclusive due to the absence of national-level data.

Dr Pradeepa Koralegedara presented an in-depth analysis of the effects of the soaring prices on diet costs and the adequacy of existing safety net interventions on food and nutrition security. She said that the prices of basic food items such as rice, bread, eggs, and milk powder have risen sharply, resulting in people resorting to different coping methods. The most notable method is utilising a part of the non-food expenditure allocation in household budgets to cover the food cost, short-term borrowing, and changing the diet such as reducing the quantity and quality of the diet. These coping strategies can result in certain demographics becoming vulnerable to nutrition insecurity, especially adolescent girls and lactating women. Dr Koralegedara added that such vulnerability can be reduced with effective safety net systems, which are adequate in size, targets the correct people, supports in the best form (i.e. cash transfer or direct food transfer), and is free from implementation inefficiencies.

Dr Suresh Babu focused on how best to create effective safety net systems during crises by learning from international experiences. He asserted that the policy environment should be conducive for effective safety net programmes to be implemented, and multiple pathways created to protect the vulnerable. Dr Babu also stated that international and regional trade negotiations should be leveraged to facilitate an adequate supply of food to the country during emergencies.

Watch the full seminar here.