|Friday, 16 May 2003|
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Food for all
Sri Lanka, being an active member of the United Nations (UN), has a close relationship with the UN's many branch organisations. Foremost among these is the World Food Programme (WFP), which has been helping Sri Lanka for several decades.
WFP Asia Regional Director Tony Banbury, who is currently in Sri Lanka, has pledged to expand WFP projects here. The WFP will also participate in the donor conference in Japan next month to add impetus to its existing commitments in this country. Banbury said the total value of the assistance provided to Sri Lanka by the WFP last year was about US $ 7 million.
Despite being commonly described a 'developing nation' Sri Lanka has consistently maintained impressive quality of life indices, sometimes on par with those of developed countries. For example, Sri Lanka led South Asia in a recent Save the Children survey on mothers and children. But one indicator, while still being low by South Asian standards, reflected the urgent need for more food assistance programmes in the country: Malnutrition. The survey found that 14 per cent of children under five suffered from moderate or severe nutritional wasting.
It is well known that poverty and hunger go together. The poorest of the poor cannot afford to have nutritionally balanced meals advocated by doctors. The children are the worst affected.
This is why the government, through its Samurdhi movement, is striving to alleviate poverty and raise the living standards of the poor. Donor countries and agencies such as the WFP also focus on providing support to this segment of society. The WFP has identified subsistence farmers, seasonally unemployed persons, landless labourers, residents of conflict-ridden areas and Internally Displaced Persons as the population groups which are most vulnerable to food insecurity and nutritional problems.
As the WFP points out, the North-East region has suffered in particular as a result of the war. The total number of refugees in this region is about 800,000. Malnutrition is also rampant there, especially among children, pregnant women and feeding mothers. The WFP plans to implement special nutrition programmes for them. This is essential if the North-East is to join the rest of the country in the social development stakes. The peace process has fortunately created a conducive atmosphere for donors to engage in development activities in the North-East and elsewhere.
Such development plans should necessarily include agriculture, which is closely linked to food security. The government has formulated a National Policy to develop agriculture to meet the country's food requirements. The government's intention is to initiate agricultural and livestock resources development using new technologies.
Growing and manufacturing more foods will also enable us to lessen our dependence on imports which cost valuable foreign exchange. A case in point is imported milk powder, on which the country spends billions of rupees a year. Improving local dairy production as well as making fresh milk widely available at affordable rates could lead to a reduction in demand for imported milk. Banning or controlling imports runs counter to the spirit of open economic policies, but self-sufficiency in food will mean a better deal for the farmer as well as the consumer.
One other factor that has to be taken into account in food security projections is exponential population growth. Eradicating malnutrition and fulfilling the food needs of a growing population will be challenging tasks. Now is the time to take up the challenge in order to ensure food for all.
Produced by Lake House