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Friday March 1st, 2024

UN FAO’s two-part 37th regional conference commences in Sri Lanka

The FAO conference chaired by Additional Secretary (Agri-technology) Ministry of Agriculture Shiromani Edirimanne, flanked by Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific Jong-Jin Kim and Conference Secretary and Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer, FAO, Sridhar Dharmapuri

ECONOMYNEXT –A ‘senior officials meeting’ of a two-part high-level multilateral conference organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) commenced on Wednesday January 31 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, ahead of a ministerial session scheduled for February 19-22.

FAO said in a statement that its 37th Session of the Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (#APRC37) aims to transform the Asia-Pacific region’s agrifood systems, after multiple human and economic crises set back progress to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those to end hunger and poverty and reduce inequalities (SDGs 2, 1, 10).

The organisation said that the event marks a major international, multilateral milestone in an effort to reform agrifood systems across the Asia-Pacific region, after years of pandemic, climate emergencies, volatile markets and economies that have negatively affected millions of producers, farmers, fishers, pastoralists and consumers.

The #APRC37 is convened by FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and hosted by the government of Sri Lanka. The two-part conference began on Wednesday, with a Senior Officials Meeting which will conclude Friday, February 02. A Ministerial Session, with Ministers arriving from across the region, will follow on February 19-22, also in Colombo.

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Sri Lanka to host UN FAO’s 37th regional conference for Asia Pacific

The stakes to end hunger, poverty and inequality in the world’s largest region are higher now than any time in recent decades, the FAO said.

“We are currently going through a period of convergent crises. The long term and deep socio-economic impacts of the pandemic on food security and livelihoods have become obvious. But these are being accentuated by conflicts, the effects of climate change, environmental pollution, multiple hazards and risks, including trans-boundary pests and diseases and loss of biodiversity which are particularly affecting agricultural production,” Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative Jong-Jin Kim was quoted as saying in his opening remarks.

The latest Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, published in December 2023, shows that nearly 371 million people are undernourished in this region and this represents half of the world’s undernourished. Nearly 24 percent of the population suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity with women tending to be more food insecure than men.

Stunting among children under 5 years of age, with a prevalence of 23.4 percent, continues to be a public health problem in the region despite the declining trend from 2000.

In recent years, the average cost of a healthy diet in the region has risen to 4.15 US dollars per person per day on a purchasing power parity basis. Almost 45 percent of the Asia-Pacific population, or 1.9 billion people, cannot afford a healthy diet.

“We realise that given the setbacks over the last two years and the decline in progress in the fight against hunger precedes the pandemic, and so it is important to reshape our food systems so they become more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable,” said Kim. “Transforming global agrifood systems is very much the climate solution and effectively contributes to ensuring food availability, accessibility and affordability.”

Delegates at the APRC heard that FAO is encouraging the mobilisation of investment – external and internal – to end hunger and achieve SDG2. FAO is also assisting countries to promote tailored investment plans for poverty reduction including social protection; fighting food loss and waste and conserving water; building adaptive capacities and collectively responding to specific needs of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries and Least Developed Countries.

The organisation, on behalf of its members, is also building resilience in the plant, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors; promoting nature-based solutions; emphasising science, innovation and digitalization and disseminating climate and energy-smart agricultural practices.

Following the deliberations on these issues by the Senior Officials, a Ministerial Session from the region’s Member Nation’s will convene for high-level talks during a series of roundtable discussions. The FAO’s Director-General, Dr QU Dongyu will also participate in-person during the Ministerial Session.

When it concludes, the 37th Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific will have outlined a pathway toward a full recovery from the pandemic and other converging crises of recent years, and ways to rebuild and transform the region’s agrifood systems, delivered through better production, better nutrition, a better environment and leading to a better life for all – leaving no one behind. (Colombo/Feb01/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s RAMIS online tax collection system “not operatable”: IT Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s online tax collection system RAMIS is “not operatable”, and the Ministry of Information Technology is ready to do for an independent audit to find the shortcomings, State IT Minister Kanaka Herath said.

The Revenue Administration Management Information System (RAMIS) was introduced to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when the island nation signed for its 16th International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in 2016.

However, trade unions at the IRD protested the move, claiming that the system was malfunctioning despite billions being spent for it amid allegations that the new system was reducing the direct contacts between taxpayers and the IRD to reduce corruption.

The RAMIS had to be stopped after taxpayers faced massive penalties because of blunders made by heads of the IT division, computer operators and system errors at the IRD, government officials have said.

“The whole of Sri Lanka admits RAMIS is a failure. The annual fee is very high for that. This should be told in public,” Herath told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Thursday (29)

“In future, we want all the ministries to get the guidelines from our ministry when they go for ERP (Enterprise resource planning).”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government said the RAMIS system will be operational from December last year.

However, the failure has delayed some tax collection which could have been paid via online.

“It is not under our ministry. It is under the finance ministry. We have no involvement with it, but still, it is not operatable,” Herath said.

“So, there are so many issues going on and I have no idea what the technical part of it. We can carry out an independent audit to find out the shortcomings of the software.”

Finance Ministry officials say IRD employees and trade unions had been resisting the RAMIS because it prevents direct interactions with taxpayers and possible bribes for defaulting or under paying taxes.

The crisis-hit island nation is struggling to boost its revenue in line with the target it has committed to the IMF in return for a 3 billion-dollar extended fund facility. (Colombo/Feb 29/2024) 

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Sri Lanka aims to boost SME with Sancharaka Udawa tourism expo

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is hosting Sancharaka Udawa, a tourism industry exhibition which will bring together businesses ranging from hotels to travel agents and airlines, and will allow the small and medium sector build links with the rest of the industry, officials said.

There will be over 250 exhibitors, with the annual event held for the 11th time expected to draw around 10,000 visitors, the organizers said.

“SMEs play a big role, from homestays to under three-star categories,” Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu told reporters.

“It is very important that we develop those markets as well.”

The Sancharaka Udawa fair comes as the Indian Ocean island is experiencing a tourism revival.

Sri Lanka had welcomed 191,000 tourists up to February 25, compared to 107,639 in February 2023.

“We have been hitting back-to-back double centuries,” Gajabahu said. “January was over 200,000.”

The exhibition to be held on May 17-18, is organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

It aims to establish a networking platform for small and medium sized service providers within the industry including the smallest sector.

“Homestays have been increasingly popular in areas such as Ella, Down South, Knuckles and Kandy,” SLAITO President, Nishad Wijethunga, said.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, both domestic and international tourism was helping hotels.

A representative of the Northern Province Tourism Sector said that the Northern Province has 170 hotels, all of which have 60-70 percent occupancy.

Further, domestic airlines from Colombo to Palali and the inter-city train have been popular with local and international visitors, especially Indian tourists. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 309.50/70 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 309.50/70 to the US dollar Thursday, from 310.00/15 on Wednesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were slightly higher.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.50/70 percent down from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.10 percent from 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 12.20/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.30/45 percent up from 12.20/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.35/50 percent up from 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.55/13.00 percent up from 12.50/90 percent. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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