Sri Lankan army battles food shortage with farming drive
As Sri Lanka is grappling with an impending acute food shortage, the Sri Lankan army has decided to pitch in by initiating a farming drive aimed at cultivating over 1,500 acres of barren or abandoned state land. This will help to amplify food production and avert any shortage in the future, said a news report.
A Green Agriculture Steering Committee (GASC) was set up by the army on Thursday (June 16) to supplement and promote the food security programme in Sri Lanka, which is facing its worst economic crisis since it got its independence from Britain in 1948. This emergency project will take off by early July.
The economic crisis has resulted in an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas, fuel and toilet paper, and Sri Lankans were being forced to wait in lines for hours outside stores to buy fuel and cooking gas.
This project by the army, which will be a support to the government’s cultivation drive, is being spearheaded by lieutenant general Vikum Liyanage, commander of the army, while major general Jagath Kodithuwakku, the chief of staff, will supervise the entire project.
The troops will first prepare the ground by weeding, tilling and preparing beds for the cultivation of selected seed varieties in consultation with agricultural experts, newsfirst.lk reported on Friday.
All Security Force Headquarters and formations across the country are currently involved in trying to see how they can add their weight to the task at a regional level. The identification of state lands at regional level will be done in close consultation with respective governors, district and divisional secretariats, land officials and Grama Seva officials before the commencement of preliminary ground-preparing work in selected lands, the report said.
Sri Lanka has decided to import 50,000 metric tonnes of rice under the Indian credit line to curb an abnormal rise in rice prices, prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Thursday. The decision was taken after a discussion held at the PMO to allocate funds to the State Trading Corporation under the Indian loan assistance programme, news portal EconomyNext reported.
In March, India extended a USD 1 billion credit line to the cash-strapped Sri Lankan government to tide over the current economic turmoil as well as in dealing with the food shortage. After an agreement to extend the line of credit was inked, ministry of sxternal Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India has always stood with the people of Sri Lanka and will continue to extend all possible support to the country.
In April 2021, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a ban on chemical fertilisers, which led to a crippling blow to the production of rice and other essential food items.
Prior to the fertiliser ban, Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in rice production. The situation was exacerbated by an acute scarcity of foreign exchange reserves, which meant that the Sri Lankan economy would head into a tailspin.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said recently in parliament that Sri Lanka will need USD 5 billion to ensure the people’s daily lives are not disrupted for the next six months.
The nearly bankrupt country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year, out of about USD 25 billion, due through 2026.
Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.
Sri Lanka is awaiting official confirmation from India on a new credit line that would allow the cash-strapped nation to have supplies of petrol and diesel for the next four months, energy minister Kanchana Wijesekara said on Friday.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that a new credit line provided by India will support the cash-strapped island nation’s fuel purchase for another four months from July, even as an LPG shipment of 3,500 MT reached Sri Lanka.