An estimated 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka are facing moderate to severe acute food insecurity and their situation is expected to worsen if adequate life-saving assistance and livelihood support are not provided, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned.
Two consecutive seasons of poor harvests led to a nearly 50 percent drop in production coupled with reduced imports of food grains due to foreign exchange constraints.
According to the joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) report immediate food assistance and livelihood programmes - including through existing social assistance mechanisms -- are critical to enable households to access nutritious food - particularly moderately and severely acute food insecure ones.
A severe macro-economic crisis in Sri Lanka has caused acute shortages and spikes in the prices of essential products, including food, agricultural inputs, fuel and medicine, severely compromising the economic activity, with major disruptions to agricultural production.
Production of paddy rice, the main food staple, is forecast at 3 million mt in 2022, the lowest level since the 2017 drought-affected harvest, mostly due to low yields following reduced application of fertilizers, the report finds.
Production of maize, mostly used as animal feed, is about 40 percent below the past five-year average, with negative effects on poultry and livestock production. Likewise, production of vegetables, fruits and export-oriented crops, such as tea, rubber, coconut and spices, is well below average, causing a significant decline in households' income and export revenues.
Without assistance, the food security situation is expected to deteriorate further, particularly during the October 2022 to February 2023 lean season, driven by poor harvests of staple foods, in particular paddy rice, and the ongoing economic crisis.
"Months into this crippling economic crisis, families are running out of options - they are exhausted. More than 60 percent of families are eating less, and eating cheaper, less nutritious food. This comes at a time when financial constraints have forced the government to scale back on nutrition programmes, such as school meals and fortified food to mothers and undernourished children," said WFP Representative and Country Director in Sri Lanka, Abdur Rahim Siddiqui.
Prices of most food items have been on a steady rise since the last quarter of 2021 and reached a new record high in August 2022, with the year-on-year food inflation rate at nearly 94 percent.
The total cereal import requirement in 2022 is estimated at 2.2 million mt. In the first six months of 2022, more than 930,000 mt of cereals were imported, leaving an outstanding import requirement of 1.27 million mt. Given the persisting challenges, there is a high risk that the remaining import requirement will not be met.