Sri Lanka warns of food shortages

People block a main road as they wait for gas trucks to arrive at the station to deliver them, amid the country’s economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 8, 2022. (Reuters / Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food shortage as the island nation battles a devastating economic crisis and promised the government will purchase enough fertilizer for the next planting season to boost productivity.

A decision made in April last year by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilizers has drastically reduced yields and although the government has lifted the ban, no substantial imports have yet been made.

“While there may not be time to get fertilizer for this Yala season (May-August), steps are being taken to ensure adequate supplies for the Maha season (September-March),” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a late Twitter message on Thursday.

“I sincerely urge everyone to accept the gravity of the … situation.”

Sri Lanka is facing a severe shortage of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines, and economic activity has slowed.

“There is no point in talking about how hard life is,” said APD Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old woman who sells fruit and vegetables at the Pettah market in Colombo, the commercial capital, on Friday. “I can’t predict how things will be in two months, at this rate we might not even be here.

Nearby, a long line had formed in front of a shop selling cooking gas cylinders, the prices of which have soared.

“Only about 200 cylinders were delivered, even though there were about 500 people,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time driver who said he was in line for the third day to be able to cook food for a family of five. .

“Without gas, without kerosene, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Last option what? Without food we will die. It will happen 100 percent. “

The central bank governor said Thursday that foreign currency has been secured by a World Bank loan and remittances to pay for shipments of fuel and cooking gas, but supplies have yet to flow.

Inflation could rise further to a staggering 40% over the next couple of months, but it was mainly driven by supply-side pressures and bank and government measures were already holding back demand-side inflation, he said. added the governor.

Inflation hit 29.8% in April with food prices rising 46.6% year-on-year.

As the anger against the government spread, On Thursday, police fired tear gas and water cannons to push back hundreds of student protesters in Colombo. Protesters demand the ouster of the president and prime minister.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis resulted from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the tourism-dependent economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Rajapaksa and his brother. , Mahinda, who stepped down as prime minister last week.

Wickremesinghe, appointed to his post as prime minister, is accused of being a stooge of the brothers.

Other factors included heavily subsidized domestic fuel prices and the decision to ban the import of chemical fertilizers, which devastated the agricultural sector.

The Group of Seven Economic Powers supports efforts to relieve Sri Lanka’s debt, G7 finance chiefs said Thursday in a draft statement from a meeting in Germany after the country defaulted on its sovereign debt.

Fr Nandalal Weerasinghe, the head of the central bank, said plans for a debt restructuring were almost finalized and that he would soon submit a proposal to the cabinet.

“We are in pre-emptive default,” he said. “Our position is very clear, as long as there is no debt restructuring, we cannot repay.”

A spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund said the fund is monitoring developments closely and that a virtual mission to Sri Lanka is expected to conclude technical talks on a potential lending program to the country on 24 May.

– Additional reports by Uditha Jayasinghe and Sudarshan Varadhan; Written by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Modification of

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