Sri Lanka wants farmers to plant more paddy as part of a plan to avoid severe food shortages, a top official said on Tuesday, with experts warning of a 50% cut in production that would worsen the effects of the already severe financial crisis.
Sri Lanka is in the worst crisis in more than seven decades. The island of 22 million people has run out of foreign exchange reserves and is unable to pay for important imports, including fuel, food and medicine.
“It is clear that the food situation is getting worse. We urge all farmers to enter their fields and cultivate paddy in the next five to ten days, “Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amarabira told a news conference on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned of a severe food shortage by August and estimates that সার 600 million will be needed to import fertilizers, which the country is struggling to grow.
Most fertilizers will arrive too late for the next planting cycle, which usually begins in early June, a group of agronomists has warned. In the next two seasons, there will not be enough fertilizer to meet the nutritional needs of the main crops of paddy, tea and maize.
Buddhi Marambe, an agriculture professor at the University of Peradeniya, said that even if measures were taken in some areas, more than 50% of the rice crop would be lost.
“Even if we bring fertilizer today, it will be too late to get a good yield,” he said.
Negotiations are underway with India for procurement of 65,000 tonnes of fertilizer and applications have been made in seven other countries, Amrabira said. However, he did not give any details about when the consignment will arrive.
Last month, the central bank announced that it would default on some of its external debt “in advance” because the currency had depreciated by more than 50% and food inflation had hit 46% in April.