Inflation

Food Fight: Sri Lanka’s Battle for Food Security

World Food Day is observed on 16 October to promote awareness and action to ensure regular access to nutritious food for all. This year’s theme is ‘Leave NO ONE Behind’. Global disruptions including COVID-19, the climate crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, have impacted food supplies worldwide. However, Sri Lanka’s food insecurity is largely a result of the prevailing economic crisis coupled with short-sighted policies enforced by local policymakers, with the burden being highest on the poor and vulnerable. The overnight ban on chemical fertiliser imports has been costly and generated a lower harvest. Although the ban has since been reversed, it continues to have ripple effects on the food system. The blog examines Sri Lanka’s struggle to safeguard food and nutrition security amidst the ongoing economic crisis and outlines policy steps to tackle the challenge.

Stagflation in Sri Lanka? Risks and Policy Responses

The emergence of a low-growth international environment together with a significant rise in inflation has raised concerns of stagflation; a period of low growth combined with high inflation. A global stagflationary environment can worsen Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis restricting growth and increasing inflation. Increased policy rates to combat inflation will result in lower investments. These factors, combined with political instability, lower-than-expected remittances, and lower productivity due to acute shortages of essential items will further constrict the Sri Lankan economy, pushing it into stagflation. Due to a global economic downturn, rising commodity prices and high rates of borrowing, Sri Lanka can expect a challenging external sector environment next year. Policymakers will need to understand these global challenges and make pragmatic economic decisions to minimise further damage to the economy.

Sri Lanka’s Runaway Inflation and the Limits of Monetary Policy

Having kept monetary policy too loose for too long, Sri Lanka started its tightening cycle in August 2021. It signalled firm intentions to regain the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL) focus on price stability by engineering a reduction in demand through high interest rates and withdrawing liquidity from the economy. Effectively, in the current dire growth outlook for Sri Lanka, the policy intention means forcing a recession to tame inflation. In choosing between the options of an aggressive hike that will lead to a recession or tolerating a prolonged inflationary spiral bordering on hyperinflation, the former is preferable. Once inflation takes hold, the damage can be corrosive, especially its deeply regressive impacts on lower income households. But a contractionary strategy to suppress demand will not achieve the desired outcomes if (a) inflation expectations are not well anchored and people expect rapid price increases to continue, and (b) supply side factors remain unaddressed.

Currency Board: A Solution to Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis?

On 08 March, Sri Lanka devalued the rupee against the US dollar, entering into a floating exchange rate regime. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka had to abandon the pegged exchange rate as defending the rupee with dwindling reserves was impossible. The inter-bank exchange rate shot up once the banks were assured that the exchange rate was floated. The initial shoot-up was followed by further rallying of the US dollar reaching close to Rs. 300 per USD. With the gradually weakening rupee, inflation is also ascending to worrisome levels calling for radical changes, including adopting a currency board. This article discusses the effectiveness and suitability of a currency board for Sri Lanka in the current macroeconomic context. It argues that a currency board will be helpful to stabilise inflation in the short run but in the long run, Sri Lanka will be better off with a more flexible exchange rate regime.

Rising Price of Rice in Sri Lanka: The Roots and Remedies

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.