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Food insecurity, debt rise in Sri Lanka’s north

Sep 30, 2013

While there is still enough food in the smaller number of villages surveyed, fewer people can afford it, said Kathy Derore, head of the programme unit at World Food Programme (WFP) in Sri Lanka.

Colombo: In two northern districts of Sri Lanka, now slowly recovering from decades of conflict, almost seven out of 10 households are “food insecure”, according to a recent survey.

Of the 300 households interviewed over two days in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts in August 2013, half reported selling jewellery to cope with falling income and rising debt.

Food cost 10 to 30 percent more in local markets in the two surveyed districts than in the Northern Province’s central markets, which have better road access. This is on top of an estimated 12 percent increase in the average cost of food nationwide.

While there is still enough food in the smaller number of villages surveyed, fewer people can afford it, said Kathy Derore, head of the programme unit at World Food Programme (WFP) in Sri Lanka.

The situation has worsened since 2012, when a more comprehensive assessment in late March 2012 in Northern and Eastern Provinces found that 44 percent of the population could not get adequate, nutritious food.

Some households have not recovered from a year-long drought that began in late 2011 and ended abruptly in December 2012, when fatal flooding affected more than 400,000 people, Derore told IRIN.

Although more than half of the families received some form of drought aid, it was still “inadequate” said Derore. In response to WFP’s appeal earlier this year for $2.6 million to provide three months of aid to 60,000 flood survivors, no donors responded and no distributions were made.

A lack of cultivable land since the back-to-back disasters, combined with poor irrigation and the rising cost of pesticides and fertilizers, has hit farming households hard, according to the still unpublished August survey by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Vision, Save the Children, the Ministry of Economic Development and the quasi-governmental Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI).

“Borrowing to afford food for the day is different than borrowing [to purchase] new assets,” Derore pointed out.

The government’s most recent Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey, which analysed income sources by district in 2011, reported that 32 percent of the labour force in Vavuniya (about 18,000 people) and 55 percent in Mullaitivu (more than 12,000 workers) depended on agriculture for their livelihood. Overall, an average 40 percent of Northern Province’s one-million population survive from agriculture.

Rising debt

Liyanapathirana Rupasena, assistant director of research at HARTI, told IRIN that debt can easily multiply. “Farmers will also mortgage plots to raise money to fund harvests. In rural areas these loans are very rarely raised from banks, but from area money lenders, who will lend at high rates and with very high collateral.”

Wijerathane Thenakoon, 47, a farmer from Anuradhapura District in North Central Province, (where nearly 245,000 workers depended on agriculture for most their income in 2011) said he and his wife are struggling.

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SOURCE: IRIN

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