Home / FT View/ Protectionism and food safety

Protectionism and food safety


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 27 June 2018 00:00


President Maithripala Sirisena’s call for protectionist taxes to be increased on imported fruit to benefit local consumers has triggered a renewed discourse on food security and how Sri Lanka can ensure that the poorest segments of the population are given access to affordable food. 

South Asia, despite decades of impressive growth, has startlingly high levels of food insecurity with none of the major countries managing to rank in the top 50 countries in the Global Food Index 2017. This is largely attributed to mismanaged policies, inconsistency and outdated views on how nutrition relates to trade.       

The definition of food security includes food access, availability, food use, and stability. Availability is determined by food supply, primarily at the national level. However, the perception on what food security means is vague in Sri Lanka as often, national level food security is generally confused with food self-sufficiency. With this in mind successive governments have introduced tariffs and para-tariffs that has left an illogical mismatch in terms of food security. Important sectors such as preserving fruit and vegetables, bakery products, dairy and even pasta production is among the top most protected sectors in Sri Lanka. But these are not strategic or high employer sectors but they do serve to drive up consumer prices.   

A country need not achieve self-sufficiency in food to achieve food security, because, national food security is attained when a country produces adequate food for its people or has the capacity to import its food requirements by its export earnings or a combination of both. Food imports, even though they are usually frowned upon, may actually provide food at a cheaper rate to households, thereby increasing food security.  

Accessibility depends on the individual’s capacity to purchase food at the household level, and utilisation depends on intra-household distribution of food and the nutritious use of food by the individual. The fourth dimension of food security, i.e., food stability, ensures the access to food at all times and covers the physiological, economic, social or political vulnerabilities of the population to food security. This is less universal in Sri Lanka. 

Ironically in Sri Lanka it is farmer families that are also most food vulnerable. Last year when the worst drought in 40 years hit and wiped out half the harvest over a million farmer families around the country became food insecure, some forced to reduce food intake to one meal a day. This is partly because the agriculture industry despite only contributing about 9% of GDP nonetheless employs about 25% of the labour force and has little capacity to save for when times are hard. The sector also has a large number of women workers, usually at informal level, making it harder for them to absorb market shocks. 

However, this does not mean that food insecurity is limited to just the rural poor, pockets of urban communities also struggle because access is hard for them. However, it is more economic issues, particularly inflation, that has a telling impact on these communities. Evidence also indicates that rather than harping on self-sufficiency Sri Lanka stands to gain more by focusing on building a robust economy based on exports and investment to be able to afford to feed its population.       

This means that maintaining a stable economy able to provide more jobs with stable incomes and absorb labour from the less productive segments of the economy is imperative to ensuring food security for all Sri Lankans.  


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Politicians and cricketers: Expected role, selection and performance evaluation (Part 2)

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Before commenting on the selection process, it is better to understand the ground realities and the nature of the beasts. Sri Lanka has a good theoretical education system. This system prompts students to ‘Cram-Remember-Express’ or ‘Read-Rememb


Open letter to M.A. Sumanthiran, MP

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Happy Pongal, Mr Sumanthiran! You and I are from two very different generations. In fact you belong to my uncle’s generation (sadly I don’t get along very well with my uncle). You are a child of the ’70s. I’m a child of the 90s. In a more tex


Why Gota gave me a ‘Gotler’ feeling

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Bourgeoisie venues It is no accident that presidential-candidate hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa holds his Viyathmaga meetings in bourgeoisie spots. Once, it had been Shangri-La. Last Saturday, 12 January, it had been Waters Edge. Gota’s speech offered


A lie is also a truth

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a determined contender for the presidency. His trenchant lecture to activists of the Viyathmaga forum demonstrated the man’s spiritedness and impulse to act. He is a driven man. What drives him?


Columnists More