Food security has become a pressing concern for many Sri Lankans amidst a deepening domestic economic crisis, drastic loss of rice production, and post-Ukraine crisis commodity price surge in the world market. International organisations have started humanitarian programmes targeting the country’s most vulnerable citizens, while policymakers are pushing for increased domestic food production. Meanwhile, Sri Lankan households are bracing for a looming food crisis. Google search data shows a renewed interest in food security and home gardening-related search terms by Sri Lankans. Against this backdrop, this article assesses the role of imports and trade policy in safeguarding the food security of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is hosting the fifth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit from 28-30 March 2022. Established in 1997, BIMSTEC is a seven-member regional organisation comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. BIMSTEC pays significant attention to agriculture and food security, with agriculture included as a stand-alone sector in 2005 in recognition of its importance. Sri Lanka, the lead country for the coordination of activities in the Science, Technology and Innovation Sector, is in the midst of a food crisis even as it plays host. Against this backdrop, this blog discusses food security challenges in the BIMSTEC region, Sri Lanka’s experiences in smart farming, and its expectations from the summit.
Sri Lanka’s social protection and food insecurity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic came into focus at a webinar panel discussion held recently to mark the release of the ‘Sri Lanka: State of Economy 2021’ report, the annual flagship publication of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The event featured presentations by Dr Ganga Tilakaratna and Dr Manoj Thibbotuwawa from IPS, along with insights from Prof Udith Jayasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, and Prof Dileni Gunewardena, Professor of Economics, University of Peradeniya. IPS’ Lakshila Wanigasinghe moderated the discussion.
Rice is the dietary staple and the major domestic crop cultivated in Sri Lanka since ancient times. Therefore, the production and availability of rice are closely tied to food security as well as political stability in the country. Every government since independence has given prominence to the goal of achieving self-sufficiency in rice. Accordingly, a significant amount of resources are allocated for the supply of irrigation water, land development, research on technological improvements, farm mechanisation, and support facilities such as credit, subsidised inputs, and farmer welfare measures. As a result, the cultivation of paddy and production of rice increased steadily with Sri Lanka reaching near self-sufficiency in rice and rice imports dropping to an insignificant amount. Despite these achievements, problems relating to the paddy and rice sector continue to occupy a foremost place among the country’s socio-economic issues. At present, supply shortages and rising retail prices have caused severe social unrest. In this background, this blog identifies the current problems in the rice sector and suggests some policy recommendations.
Many countries, including Sri Lanka, started practicing mobility restrictions from March 2020. As a result, in parallel to the slowdown of global merchandise production, trade volume also contracted from the second quarter of 2020. However, the World Trade Organization (WTO) estimates that the realised trade contraction in 2020 was just 5.3% contrary to the April 2020 forecast of a sharp contraction by between 13% and 32%. Meanwhile, countries used trade policy to ensure that essential food, drugs, and medical equipment are available domestically. In addition, countries like Sri Lanka used trade policy tools to contain imports to allay pressures on the domestic currency. This article discusses global and Sri Lankan trade during this pandemic, the impact of the pandemic and trade policy on Sri Lanka’s trade and food imports, and policy options for sustained growth in trade and domestic food security.