Prime Minister, Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena expressed confidence Sri Lanka will bounce back with the support of the farmers, friendly nations and United Nation agencies and become a food secure nation within next year. “Our government is committed to that goal. We need to build a sustainable Sri Lanka where everyone, has access to nutritious food. No one should be left behind.”
Delivering the keynote address at the World Food Day event held at the United Nations Office in Colombo, the Prime Minister pointed out that with nearly 30 to 35 per cent of the population directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, Sri Lanka needed to invest deeply in modernizing and developing the agriculture sector, adding that his “government is fully committed to achieving this gigantic task. Agriculture and food security remain a national priority.”
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera announced the introduction of a new Agriculture Policy to Parliament focusing on modernizing and building resilience to enable the agriculture sector to withstand future crises. “I thank the FAO for the technical support extended to build a modern, resilient agriculture sector in Sri Lanka,” he concluded.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), marked World Food Day at an event held under the auspices of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera yesterday (14). The event theme called for collective action towards “better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life”.
Full speech of the Prime Minister:
At the outset let me extend my warmest greetings on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka as we mark World Food Day today. As I understand, the day is celebrated to mark the anniversary of the founding of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of The United Nations in 1945 and FAO Sri Lanka along with the other agencies have been organizing this event for nearly 45 years now. I consider it a privilege to deliver the Keynote Address for this year and to be here with you to mark World Food Day. Today is the day that we celebrate our progress in ending hunger and malnutrition, but also a day to pause, rethink and recommit ourselves to the achievable yet the ever eluding goal of a World Without Hunger.
Unfortunately, 2022 finds us with an ongoing pandemic, conflict, a climate that won’t stop warming, rising prices of both inputs for agriculture as well as food commodities and international tensions. All these are affecting global food security along with those global negative impacts, Sri Lanka is also in a very challenging situation in terms of Food Security.
However, I am certain Sri Lanka will bounce back with the support of our farmers, friendly nations and UN agencies and become a food secure nation within next year. Our government is committed to that goal. We need to build a sustainable Sri Lanka where everyone, has access to nutritious food. No one should be left behind.
The theme for World Food Day this year is “leave no one behind”. Adequate quantity of good quality, nutritious and safe food for all of our people is our aim. However, today all our citizens feels the importance of food production like never before. World Food Day is more important than ever before to Sri Lankan people.
Agriculture production has hit a significantly low rate in known history. We are all aware of the massive drop in agricultural production over the last two cropping seasons and the challenges faced by the forthcoming season. This fall in production coupled with the galloping inflation, some on account of our internal policies and much on account of external factors have made accessing essential commodities, including food extremely difficult for the common man.
We have sought global assistance and I am thankful that the global community has responded very positively to our request. However while consumption aid may be required in these difficult times, I firmly believe that that Sri Lankan agriculture and our farmers have the capacity and the spirit to fight against all odds to make our country self-sufficient in staple food commodities once again. As a country where over 80% of the population is living in semi urban and rural areas and where nearly 30 to 35 per cent of our population directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, Sri Lanka has to invest deeply in modernizing and developing its agriculture sector, including Fisheries sector.
Ensuring national food security and adequate nutrition levels in the country by achieving targets of the National Food Security and Nutritional Council (NFSNC) chaired by HE the President. The programme is expected to be rapidly activated through the proposed new approach for rural economic revival and food production program covering all 12,022 GNDs in the Island. The optimum productivity of all public, private, non governmental, UN, CBO sector employees and stakeholders serving at national, district, divisional and village level are expected to empower rural economy by ensuring food security and rural economic revitalization.
On this occasion, I must recall the support given by our friendly nations, UN agencies, especially FAO, WFP, UNICEF and IFAD over the past in developing agriculture and nutrition related sectors in the country. For the last 40 years and beyond, FAO has stood firmly with Sri Lanka as a reliant, trusted and able partner in developing technical and financial assistance to the agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors.
I can still recall, back in 2004 when the disastrous Tsunami hit Sri Lanka, how the UN system came forward and supported us to rebuild affected areas. Once again, we seek your much needed assistance, to build a strong and vibrant agricultural sector.
We are living in an era with many natural as well as man-made disasters and conflicts. Sri Lanka is a bio diversity hot spot as well as a climate change hot spot.
We all know that climate change is no more at our door step, in fact it is an uninvited guest inside our house. It’s impact is already being felt across the globe including in our own country, and its time we came together to act and deliver. The word “sustainability” will remain a dream if we follow the same old path. We must change.
While I accept the need to increase our crop productivity and production to meet the food requirement of the country as well support global needs, we must do this in a resource neutral way. Our bountiful natural resources, beautiful ecosystems, our biodiversity and the wellbeing of our people must be protected while taking initiatives to improve production and productivity. We need to select the pathway of sustainable agriculture blending modern technology with traditional indigenous knowledge which we’ve retained through history.
We, as a nation, are proud of our rain water harvesting systems, over 40,000 tanks “the tank cascade systems” in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka, built by our kings. But we must go beyond that to make sure we use this precious rain water in a more scientific and judicious way. the oldest policy on rain water harvesting is the famous proclamation by Sri Lankan King Parakramabahu the great “ let not even a drop of water obtained from the sky , go to the sea without benefiting man” showing the wisdom and commitment of ancient kings and people to conserve and efficiently manage water resources.
Agriculture is often blamed for lavish usage of fertilizer which pollutes the edaphic environment. While over the years our usage of chemical fertilizer has come down, there is still so much more we can do to improve our fertilizer use efficiency. We need to make sure that the exact requirement of fertilizer and agrochemicals are used in crop husbandry while increasing the crop productivity by using the correct blend of organic fertilizer, with correct management options. This is modern agriculture.
We need to make sure that all farmers use integrated nutrient management systems, improved water use, and minimum use of agrochemicals and make sure that they produce enough food while preserving the environment that sustains life. We need to adhere to “Precision Good Agriculture Practices”, P-GAP. I am glad that FAO has already embarked on this path in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture
I must also extend my thanks to all our multilateral partners including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, all our friendly nations, UN agencies, bilateral donor agencies for assisting us during these challenging times. Your support in securing us food and fertilizer as well as your help in bolstering our social security scheme targeting the most vulnerable are without parallel and extremely commendable.
With your support I am confident that Sri Lanka will be a food secure country once again within two years.
I Hope when FAO celebrate next year that all stakeholders, specially farmers and fishermen participate in a discussion at least by way of communication technology.
The United Nations has been one of our strongest development partners and on this occasion today I take the opportunity to thank each one of you for your unstinted support and understanding. My special thanks to FAO, WFP and IFAD who jointly commemorate the event in Sri Lanka for the excellent work being done by them.
I conclude with the guarantee that our longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership and friendship will remain for the years and decades to come.