7.1 Food Security and Nutrition
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a decent life, including enough food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services.
The experience of food insecurity has a high cost to individuals, families and the community as a whole in terms of reduced physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. Good nutrition depends on the availability of quality food and people having sufficient knowledge and understanding to make good choices and the desire to eat healthy food. As imported food varieties become more accessible and available, we believe food labelling information needs improving to include country of origin and the nutrient content of the food.
Currently Sri Lanka produces about 80 percent of its national food requirements and imports the rest. However, rice cultivation has become increasingly less profitable with farmers abandoning paddy fields. Agricultural productivity has stagnated with about 28 percent of the country’s agricultural workforce contributing to only about eight percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Food inflation have surpassed levels of general inflation and is forecast to do so in future.
Sri Lanka strongly lags behind in terms of food security and nutrition. Despite the recent progress in child and maternal nutrition, Sri Lanka has continued to experience ‘triple-burden malnutrition’, a condition due to under nutrition, micro-nutrient deficiency and rising overweight and obesity. Among children between six months and five years of age, 17 percent have been found stunted and 21 percent underweight. Women at reproductive age are found to be under poor nutrition. Low agricultural productivity, vulnerability of agricultural eco-systems to climate change and natural disasters have increased risks of failure of food harvests with more food insecurity and less nutrition. Yet, the rate of food wastage in Sri Lanka continues to increase and it represents one of the highest globally.
The causes for food and nutrition insecurity in Sri Lanka are complex and appear to be caused by income inequality, rising costs of food, climate change, resource constraints such as water, fertiliser, energy and land, land fragmentation, soil degradation, stagnating agricultural productivity, urbanisation and aging population. For overcoming these challenges, we will use a multi-disciplinary and holistic food systems approach to improve small to medium holder productivity and make food production economically and environmentally sustainable.
Food security is intrinsically linked with sustainable agriculture. A food system, from agricultural production to processing, depends on reliable access to good quality water. Food crops depend on pollinating insects that face extinction due to habitat degradation, use of pesticides, climate change, diseases and pests resulted in mainly by profit maximisation at any cost. Committing resources for rural water infrastructure and efficient water management and investing in research to understand crop pollination by native insects are critical for ensuring food security.
Our vision is to ensure access to safe, culturally appropriate and nutritionally adequate food for all, now and into the future through developing a food system that is secure, healthy, sustainable, thriving and socially inclusive. After a comprehensive study, a State of the National Food System report will be tabled to the Parliament at the end of the first year and then regularly every three years. This report will collate all the key information about the food system such as, production capacity, land use, workforce and food security and related vital health indicators including dietary intake, food consumption patterns and food insecurity.
We will establish a native grains gene bank and a pasture gene bank so that we could conserve and manage national genetic resources. These genetic resources will be used to improve agricultural productivity and create new food products. This will contribute to making the industry viable, supporting food security and helping producers adapt to climate change. To do so we will develop a National Food Plan for Zero Hunger within two years in power, via extensive public consultation with all relevant stakeholders on the food security and nutrition goals that need to be realised.
The diverse topography and climatic conditions will enable our farmers, fishers and other food producers to make a great variety of food available in sufficient quantities. We believe Sri Lankan farmers; livestock owners and fisher folk can produce enough food to feed the population and create a sufficient surplus to export. The national government’s broader strategy with input from provincial councils and relevant stakeholders like those involved in the agricultural sector to reduce social disadvantage has to be addressing individual food insecurity needs. We will review the current systems and arrangements for managing food safety through a specialist committee under the relevant portfolio and improve our systems as per the committee’s findings.
In consultation with provincial Councils, we will launch school and community educational programs around approach, attitude and engagement in food production and preparation. We will encourage supporting community and cooperative food enterprises and their activities that will cater for healthy and sustainable food options. Among such activities could be community and backyard gardens, community kitchens, city farms, school kitchen gardens, food hubs, cooperatives and farmers’ markets. Under the education curriculum, students from kindergarten to GCE can learn about food, nutrition and agriculture, including how food is produced and marketed, and the sustainable use of resources and waste recycling. Children’s behaviour and attitude toward healthy living can be influenced by teaching them about where food comes from, how it is produced, and how to prepare healthy, seasonal, nutritious meals and, most importantly, to sit together with their friends to enjoy food.
In this light, we will also support community participation and volunteering in food production by encouraging the establishment of food co-operatives. We will support community gardens, farmers’ markets and other activities through programs developed around education, health and social cohesion. We will fund establishing a foodbank to deliver food and grocery supplies to agencies that help individuals in need. We will also implement a program for disadvantaged groups to establish better links with relevant services to avoid or resolve financial difficulties and to provide the frail and partially able people assistance with food preparation at home, delivery of meals, transport and mobility etc.
We will help farmers and other crop producers’ access to new agricultural technologies. Sharing the international research and development expertise including that of the NRSL communities with targeted stakeholders will help develop sustainable, safe and nutritious food varieties. We will also explore digital technologies such as the use of 3-D printing for food printing in order to prevent resource scarcity and improve food diversification.
We will ensure food safety interventions are well targeted, that research and development priorities are set for the future. Soil is essentially a non-renewable resource because it forms and regenerates very slowly but can degrade rapidly. Erosion, salinity, depletion and changed dynamics of soil biota reduce the land’s capacity to produce food. To raise awareness of the important role soil plays in agricultural productivity, we will establish an Authority for Soil Preservation. This Authority will engage with stakeholders on the importance of maintaining healthy soils and application of innovative solutions for this.
We will seek to develop close institutional linkages with the neighbours in the Indian sub-continent and the trading partners for strengthening investment and technological cooperation to enhance food security and strengthen research and development into agri-foods. Regional integration will provide better opportunities for exports, if we can identify high value, premium food products for such export. We will do this by reducing trade barriers further, open new markets and improve access for our food exports through building new global partnerships.
Grants will be made available for the prospective exporters so that they can target priority markets or sectors. Priorities will be set in consultation with industry groups, agricultural producers and diplomatic network. We will give prominence to domestic producers who could find overseas partners to collaborate with; who are willing to adopt new technologies; who could create new opportunities for the broader agricultural industry and who could provide a basis for the development of commercial ventures to export food.
Collection of digitalised data on the status of food production that underpins decision-making needs to be conducted efficiently. Digital innovation will create new channels for food distribution making virtual supermarkets a reality. In future, farmers may sell directly to their customers via the internet. We will monitor and keep up‐to‐date data, policies and research relating to food security. A State of the Food System report that brings together key information about the food system and how it is performing will be published every five years to monitor the progress of our National Food Plan goals. We will monitor and evaluate our Food Security Policy every five years.