Sri Lanka industries, SMEs partner with WFP to rally behind global Zero Hunger initiative

Monday, 22 October 2018 00:44 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lankan industries, SMEs, and consumer awareness frameworks threw their full weight behind the global zero hunger initiative (#zerohunger) of a key UN agency as part of the World Food Day celebrations of 16 October. In a pioneering linkage of this nature, stepping beyond its usual functions, a leading Sri Lankan Ministry signalled that it is ready to enlist an array of its own agencies in support of this global mission.

“As the line Ministry for all types of industries, SMEs and consumer protection, our Ministry is at the frontlines of this challenge,” said Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen on 18 October. Minister Bathiudeen was addressing Sri Lanka World Food Program (WFP) Representative and Country Director Brenda Barton, who made a courtesy call on him on Thursday. WFP Country Director Barton was requesting Minister Bathiudeen’s support for eradication of malnutrition, and promotion of nutritious foods and balanced diets, to improve the health and lifestyles of Sri Lankans. 

On 16 October, HE President Maithripala Sirisena addressed the World Food Day event organised by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations at the BMICH, and said that close to 15% of young children and 40% of school age children suffer from undernutrition, while 45% of women of reproductive age are overweight/obese. In June 2018, the World Bank said that Sri Lanka has been successful in improving the agricultural production to achieve food security but malnutrition still remains a major issue. 

WFP Representative Barton stressed: “Given such challenges, WFP is planning to support Sri Lanka in a number of ways including two key avenues: First, by enhancing the nutritional value of foods through means such as  rice fortification,  and secondly, by supporting the country’s food security especially for small holder farmers through programs that build their resilience to climate shocks. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce can play a fundamental partner role through mobilising industries to strengthen nutritious foods, for example, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) under the Ministry could be leveraged to promote better consumer choices and NEDA and its SME base could be leveraged to deliver and distribute fortified foods. Malnutrition rates in Sri Lanka have been unchanged for the last ten years, a major cause of concern. WFP believes that creating consumer awareness on healthy products a key step. In discussions with Sri Lankan companies in food sector about the need to enhance the production of fortified foods, they cited concern over the lack of market demand. As such, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce can intervene to help increase the availability of affordable nutritious foods in the market and thereby increase consumer demand.” 

Minister Bathiudeen welcomed Country Director Barton’s call to join forces. “An estimated 52% of Sri Lanka’s GDP is driven by SMEs, a sector this Ministry directly supports and oversees. A considerable number of SMEs are in the food and beverage sector. Also Industry and manufacturing such as apparel, boat building, and rubber products that play a key role in Sri Lanka’s exports and our Manufacturing Index are supported by us,” said Minister Bathiudeen, adding: “Many projects by the Ministry – such as ISO and HACCP certification support, forthcoming food certification laboratory by IDB, etc. –focus on strengthening food production chains. Many advisory committees of the Ministry along with our close interactions with various Chambers, extend our reach even further.  Therefore as the line Ministry for various types and scales of industries, SMEs and consumer protection, our Ministry is at the frontline of this challenge. We wish to back you fully in this intervention. In this, I am also open for joint projects with WFP to eradicate malnutrition and boost our food supply quality and nutrition initiatives. This type of committed partnership could help upgrade our domestic SME production capacities to global standards, while serving Sri Lanka’s vision of linking small businesses and SME output to competitive export markets.”

Minister Bathiudeen requested his Advisors and other top officials present to look into areas of cooperation with WFP. Minister Bathiudeen and Country Director Barton also delved into other avenues of cooperation during their discussions on 18 October. 

Working in more than 80 countries around the world, the United Nations World Food Program is saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development.