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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

UN calls for urgent change in water-stressed Sri Lanka’s agrifood systems

ECONOMYNEXT – A collective of United Nations food agencies have highlighted an urgent need for Sri Lanka to transform its agrifood systems due to the island nation being a highly water stressed country that also ranks high on the Global Climate Risk Index.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) at an event held in Colombo to mark the World Food Day called for urgent action towards sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture in Sri Lanka.

In a 2021 report by FAO and UN Water, Sri Lanka was classified as ‘highly water stressed’ with a 90.8-percent indicator, reflecting the significant pressure from human activities on its freshwater resources and their sustainability, a statement from the FAO said.

Total freshwater withdrawal in Sri Lanka, the organisation said, is estimated at 12.95 billion cubic metres annually with about 82 percent of the total withdrawal used for paddy irrigation alone and a little over five percent used to irrigate other crops. Sri Lanka also ranks consistently high on the Global Climate Risk Index, particularly in terms of climate risks associated with impact on water resources.

Considering this the UN food agencies (FAO, IFAD, and WFP) highlighted the urgent need for Sri Lanka to “transform its agrifood systems”.

The event, held on Tuesday October 17, also highlighted the “modern approaches supported by the agencies with potential for national scale-up towards sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture,” the statement said.

Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera speaking at the event reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s “unwavering dedication to achieving food security for all”. According to the FAO statement, Amaraweera had emphasised the importance of agriculture and food security as national priorities and stressed the government’s commitment to bolstering the agricultural sector to withstand future climate-induced challenges.

UN Resident Coordinator Marc-André Franche who also spoke at the event said: “In the face of increasing water stress and climate vulnerabilities, sustainable and climate-resilient practices are not just an option; they are a necessity. The United Nations continues to work together with Sri Lanka to fortify its water and food systems and is committed to ensuring a future where everyone has access to sufficient and nutritious food, and where no one goes hungry.”

FAO Representative for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Vimlendra Sharan said: “FAO is committed to working with the government to ensure that Sri Lanka’s agriculture and fisheries sectors are climate-resilient to ensure food security in Sri Lanka for generations to come. We are working with farmers and fishers across the island to reduce waste, pollution, and climate vulnerabilities,” he said.

Sherina Tabassum, IFAD’s Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives noted that climate change has made availability of water for agriculture precarious. Small-scale farmers sometimes do not have enough water, and other times too much, she said.

“That makes irrigation systems increasingly important, so small-scale farmers can continue to produce food with uninterrupted water supply. IFAD works with the government and farming communities to enable farmers to access innovative technologies such as solar-powered tanks as well as to rehabilitate traditional methods like tank cascade systems, so that farmers can cultivate around the year, helping them move from low-productivity subsistence farming to irrigated agriculture that feeds the country,” she said.

“Food security has been in the spotlight in the recent past, but too often we forget that there is no food security without water security,” said Gerard Rebello, Deputy Country Director and Officer in Charge at WFP, Sri Lanka.

“WFP, together with our partners, is supporting the government to make food systems more sustainable and resilient to extreme weather conditions, with emphasis on improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, so that food travels uninterrupted from farm to table all year long,” he said.

FAO, IFAD and WFP together with the United Nations system in Sri Lanka are on the ground actively promoting sustainable and climate-resilient approaches towards food security in Sri Lanka, the statement said. (Colombo/Oct19/2023)

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Sri Lanka parliamentary committee says electricity tariffs should be reduced by 20 pct

ECONOMYNEXT — A parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Alleviating the Impact of the Economic Crisis has recommended to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) that electricity tariffs be reduced by at least 20 percent.

A statement from parliament said on Monday February 26 that, following an analytical review of the figures presented by the Electricity Board, Public Utilities Commission, etc. and taking into consideration all other factors affecting the price of electricity, including considering the opinion given by experts that the existing electricity price can be reduced by about 33%, price of electricity should be reduced by at least 20% in the year 2024 so that the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) will not suffer any loss.

PUCSL officials have informed the Committee that by the end of this month, they can submit the necessary recommendations to reduce the electricity bill, according to the statement.

The matter was taken up for discussion when the committee, chaired by MP Gamini Waleboda, met in the Parliament on February 22.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Public Utilities Commission, Industry Development Board, Enterprise Development Authority, Department of Population and Statistics, Department of Inland Revenue and from government institutions including the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Industries Board and a group of industrialists had also been called for the meeting.

“The Committee gave several directives to the relevant institutions and officials to identify the micro, small and medium scale industries that are directly affected by the economic crisis and to activate the local economy and increase the foreign exchange earnings by reviving the industry sector.

“The Committee pointed out that due to the increase in electricity bills, the number of electricity connection cuts reported across the island has exceeded one million. It was also emphasised that in order to alleviate the pressure on the industry and the society, it should be arranged to provide electricity connections again by charging only 50 percent of the outstanding charges at the initial stage with the concessional basis of payment of outstanding electricity charges on installment basis,” the statement said.

The committee was also of the view to allow the customer to pay the connection fee in installments so as to avoid discouraging new entrepreneurs to start micro, small and financial industries due to high charges for getting fixed electricity connection and instructed to review the new connection fee and work to reduce it as much as possible.

The committee chair has instructed the PUCSL to conduct an audit on the electricity consumption in the public sector as an approach to ensure energy security.

“The Committee recommended to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to start a loan scheme at subsidised interest for the purchase of solar panel systems with a view to promoting solar energy as a source of energy supply to industries. The Ministry of Finance expressed its agreement to provide refinancing facilities subject to a maximum as per the proposal made by the Committee to implement a loan scheme targeting micro, small and medium scale industrialists under subsidized interest rates.

The committee has also recommended that raw materials that must be imported from abroad and impose tax concessions on such raw materials be identified to ensure the supply of raw materials required for the smooth running of micro, small and medium scale industries. Copper, lead, aluminum and other industrial scraps used as raw materials in various domestic industries currently being sold by the CEB to external buyers and other entities should also be issued to micro, small and medium scale industrialists recommended by the Ministry of Industry and the Industrial Development Board, the committee has recommended.

The definition used by the Department of Population and Statistics for micro, small and medium industries and the definition used by other institutions such as the Industrial Development Board and the Central Bank for those industries are different from each other, which is an obstacle in making policy decisions, the committee had noted, directing the Department of Population and Statistics to support to the policymakers by releasing statistical data based on a common definition.

“The committee also recommended that the Credit Information Bureau should take prompt action to remove their credit information from the blacklists so as to facilitate access to credit facilities for micro, small and medium scale industries facing financial crisis to activate their balance sheets and to review all existing laws and procedures for registration of micro, small and medium scale industries as well as to obtain licenses and introduce a simple system.

“The committee informed all the parties to establish a steering Committee headed by the Ministry of Industry to implement the recommendations given by the Committee and to report its progress within a week,” the statement said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka sets up fund to help children of Gaza

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is mandated to provide education, health, relief and social services, and emergency assistance to refugees. (Pic courtesy UNWRA)

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up a fund to help children caught in the war in Gaza, a statement said.

The government will contribute a million US dollars and use funds allocated by state agencies for Ifthar celebrations.

Public contributions are also called.

The Presidential Secretariat is requesting public donations citizens for the “Children of Gaza Fund” to be contributed to account number 7040016 at Bank of Ceylon (7010), Taprobane Branch (747) by 11th April.

Deposit receipts should to be forwarded to 0779730396 via WhatsApp. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Top US official calls for inclusive reforms, deeper defence ties with Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma in discussions with Sri Lanka officials had called for inclusive reforms and stronger human rights and also discussed deeper defence and maritime cooperation.

The United States remains committed to the economic growth and prosperity of Sri Lanka, statement from the US Embassy in Colombo quoted the official as telling government, civil society and economic leaders during his February 23-24 visit to Sri Lanka.

“Verma met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss progress on Sri Lanka’s IMF program, including inclusive economic and governance reforms aimed at keeping Sri Lanka on the path to sustainable economic growth.  Deputy Secretary Verma stressed the vital need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. They also explored opportunities to deepen defence and maritime cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka, including strengthening the Sri Lanka Navy’s capabilities to safeguard national security and promote a more stable Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

 On February 23, aboard the SLNS Vijayabahu, one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters transferred by the United States to Sri Lanka, Deputy Secretary Verma said: “I am pleased to announce that the Department of State has notified Congress of our intent to transfer a fourth medium endurance cutter to Sri Lanka.  The Department obligated $9 million in Foreign Military Financing to support this effort.  We look forward to offering the cutter, pending the completion of Congress’ notification period.  If completed, this transfer would further strengthen defense cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka.  The ship would increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, monitor its search and rescue area, and provide additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.” 

 Participating in the announcement at Colombo Port were Sri Lanka State Minister of Defense Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, who remarked, according to the statement: “The United States has previously transferred three cutters to the Sri Lankan Navy, which deploys these ships for maritime operations and law enforcement missions, countering human trafficking and drug trafficking, while supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts. The eventual transfer of a fourth vessel would be just one more point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” 

Verma also visited the site of the West Container Terminal (WCT), a deepwater shipping container terminal in the Port of Colombo. The WCT, currently being constructed by Colombo West International Terminal (CWIT) Private Limited with 553 million US dollars in financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will provide critical infrastructure for the South Asian region, the embassy said.

“Operating near capacity since 2021, the Port of Colombo’s new addition will be the port’s deepest terminal and aims to boost Colombo’s shipping capacity, expanding its role as a premiere logistics hub connecting major routes and markets, boosting prosperity for Sri Lanka without adding to its sovereign debt,” it said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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