Sri Lanka calls on farmers to plant more rice as food shortage looms


Workers wait after unloading sacks of rice at a wholesale market, amid the country’s economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 20, 2022. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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COLOMBO, May 31 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka wants farmers to plant more rice as part of plans to avert a severe food shortage, a senior official said on Tuesday, as experts warned of a decline of 50% of production which would aggravate the impact of its already serious financial crisis.

Sri Lanka is in the grip of its worst such crisis in more than seven decades. The island of 22 million people has depleted its foreign exchange reserves and is unable to afford essential imports including fuel, food and medicine.

“It is clear that the food situation is getting worse. We call on all farmers to enter their fields in the next five to ten days and grow paddy,” Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said at a press conference on Tuesday.

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Sri Lanka’s new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has warned of severe food shortages by August and estimates that $600 million will be needed to import fertilizers, which the country is struggling to obtain.

Most fertilizers will arrive too late for the next crop cycle which usually starts in early June, a group of agriculture experts have warned. During the next two seasons, sufficient quantities of fertilizers will not be available to meet the nutrient requirements of the main crops of rice, tea and maize.

Buddhi Marambe, a professor of agriculture at the University of Peradeniya, said some areas would lose more than 50 percent of paddy yield even if action was taken.

“Even if we bring in fertilizer today, it will be too late to have a good harvest,” he said.

Talks are underway with India to buy 65,000 tonnes of fertilizer and appeals have been made to seven other countries, Amaraweera said. But he did not reveal details on when the shipments would arrive.

Last month, the central bank announced it would “preemptively” default on part of its external debt as the currency depreciated by more than 50% and food inflation hit 46% in April.

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Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe, editing by Alasdair Pal

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