Sri Lanka is giving government officials an extra day off a week to encourage them to grow food, amid fears of a food shortage.
The country has around one million public sector employees. It came as the island nation, home to around 22 million, is facing its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years.
Sri Lanka is struggling to pay for critical imports such as food, fuel and medicine as it faces a severe shortage of foreign currencies.
Late on Monday, June 13, 2022, the government, in a statement on its online news portal, approved a proposal for public sector workers to be given leave every Friday for the next three months. It said the decision was partly to help workers who are facing difficulties getting to work due to fuel shortages as well as to encourage them to grow fruit and vegetables to help feed themselves and their families.
“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave for one working day of the week and provide them with the necessary facilities to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards or elsewhere as a solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur in the future.”Statement from Sri Lanka governemrnt
Possible Help From the West
On Monday, June 13, 2022, the United States disclosed that it was ready to help Sri Lanka. After a phone call with Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said the US “stands ready to work with Sri Lanka”.
Earlier this month (June 2022), Mr. Wickremesinghe intimated that the country needs at least $5bn (£4.15bn) this year (2022) to pay for essential imports. The government is in talks over an economic bailout package, with an IMF delegation expected to arrive in the capital Colombo next Monday, June 20, 2022).
The fall in the value of the Sri Lankan Rupee, rising global commodity prices and a ban on chemical fertilisers, which has now been lifted, pushed annual food price to more than 57% in April 2022. At the end of last month (May 2022), the country’s Agriculture Minister, Mahinda Amaraweera called on farmers to grow more rice, saying “it is clear the food situation is becoming worse”, adding that “We request all farmers to step into their fields in the next five to ten days and cultivate paddy [rice]”. At the same time, the government raised taxes to help shore up its finances.
A Looming Food Shortage
Sri Lankan officials have been looking for ways to boost food production, as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier warned of severe food shortages by August. According to media reports, the country is also applying for assistance from a South Asian food bank, which supplied rice and other goods to countries in need.
Food Commissioner, J Krishnamoorthy, told the media in an interview that her department “just started the process” of asking the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for “food bank assistance”.
Mrs. Krishnamoorthy added that Sri Lanka is seeking around 100,000 metric tonnes of food in the form of donations or subsidised sales. The SAARC is a grouping of eight countries in South Asia, including Sri Lanka and India, which is emerging as one of Sri Lanka’s biggest providers of aid.