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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

Change of food prices is imminent in the world

By Quintus Perera - Asian Tribune

Large number of people’s organizations. Organizations protecting and working for the welfare of farmers and several prominent personalities in a joint statement point out that Sri Lanka food prices have beaten the world food prices as while the world food prices were increased by 40 percent last year, Sri Lankan prices are much more higher.

The statement indicated that in this worst phenomenon prices of essential food items such as rice, bread and milk increased two or three times and the impact is greatest on the poor who s p end about 80 percent of their income on food. In this global crisis people are finding it difficult to feed themselves and their children.

Signatories to the statement are: Alliance for Protection of National Resources and Human Rights, Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), National Farmers Assembly, Peasant Information Centre, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Development, National Movement of Milk Farmers in Sri Lanka, Savisthri-Movement of Women in Alternative Development, National Fisheries Solidarity, Future in Our Hands Development Foundation, Nilwala Nimna Govi Sanvidhanaya, Dimbulagala Independent Farmers Organization, Ruhunupura Govi Jana Samuluwa, Pragathiseeli Govijana Sammelanaya, New Environmental Resources Alliance, Uva Farmers collective for poison Free Agricullture, Vikalpani Organization, Religious Unity alliance, Mahasen Govi Sanvidanaya, Osu Govi Gammana Sanvidhanaya, Oxfam, Dr. Gamini Kulathunga (Open University ), Professor H. Sriyananda, and Mr. D.L.O. Mendis

Income levels of the poor in Sri Lanka - far below the world averages.

The statement goes on to state that people receiving incomes less than US $ 2 /day are defined as poor globally. In Sri Lanka the official poverty alleviation programme (Samurdhi Movement) states that 2.1 million families receive less than Rs. 1500 /month which is US $ 0.5 /day income. This is nearly half the country’s population.

Nutritional status of the poor

The statement indicated that according to government figures, only half the population receives the minimum daily calorie intake of 2,030 kcal and according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Sri Lanka has a significantly higher child underweight rate than would be expected on the basis of its per capita GDP. The child underweight rate may be three times as high as what would be expected from a country with Sri Lanka’s level of infant mortality.

According to UNICEF, 14 percent of children under five years in Sri Lanka showed signs of wasting and stunting, and 29 percent of children younger than five are underweight for their age. (Districts affected by conflict record higher rates).

The statement indicated that continuing conflict between government and the LTTE has also raised concerns regarding overall food security and nutrition levels in the conflict zone and there are fears that national nutritional levels will deteriorate further due to rising food prices caused by a record high inflation rate.

World food prices will not come down

The statement predicts that going by the present global food crisis, food prices will not come down. The poor are compelled to go hungry to feed the greater appetite of the rich. More meat consumed by the rich in fast growing countries has led to more food being produced for animals than for humans and more fuel is produced using food and food- producing land to feed motor cars than to feed the poor.

More urbanization reduces the proportion of food producers compared to consumers and climate change has an adverse impact on food production worldwide.

Attitude of the Government of Sri Lanka

It indicated that Sri Lanka’s President and Minister of Agriculture have taken steps to strengthen domestic food production by small-scale farmers and have some control over rice prices, but these measures have been half-hearted, inadequate and ineffective.

For the last 30 years government has followed the ex p ort-oriented growth model. This neo-liberal model assumes that globalization enables the country to achieve faster economic growth which “trickles down” to reduce poverty.

The statement points out that they are now at a high point in a process of disastrous failure of that model. There has been a lack of economic growth, no “trickle down” to the poor and in fact increased economic and social disparities. A new approach is urgently needed.

A radical transformation in food and agriculture is recommended globally

The statement indicated that there should be radical transformation in food and agriculture for future sustenance.

The final re p ort of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development [IAASTD], endorsed by 60 countries, was published in April. In a press release, “Agriculture-the need for change”, April 15th, they state:

“It indicated that the way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to co p e with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse.

Modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production. But the benefits have been s p read unevenly and have come at an increasingly intolerable p rice, p aid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment.

The re p ort calls for radical changes in world farming to avert increasing regional food shortages, escalating prices and growing environmental problems.

The statement points out that responding to the re p ort, a group of international environment and consumer groups, including Third World Network , Practical Action, Green peace and Friends of the Earth, said, "This is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities."

The statement indicated that Lim Li Chung, of Third World Network in Malaysia, said that it clearly showed that small-scale farmers and the environment lose under trade liberalization. Developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap subsidized products from the north.

Potential in Sri Lanka to avoid hunger and poverty and the
crisis of high food prices

The statement indicated that Sri Lanka can avoid the disaster of a famine by ado p ting a new a p p roach. There is much that can be learnt from the past, from policies ado p ted by governments in early post-independence decades before the country began to be misguided by international financial powers, as well as from ancient ecological and regenerative agriculture.

Food sovereignty:

It indicated that all people should be assured of healthy food at affordable prices at all times. Small farmers should be able to make good livelihoods through agriculture. This is what is known as “food sovereignty”, a concept advocated by the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers, “Via Campesina”, with 150 million members in 56 countries. Many people’s movements, including farmers in Sri Lanka , advocate ecological agriculture.

Ecological agriculture:

It indicated that to be viable for small farmers, small-scale agriculture has to be ecological, based on the potential of small farmers, unauthorized settlers, and landless people including plantation workers, small-scale fisher people and rural women.

Conservation and regeneration of land and soil fertility is an essential aspect. Damage caused by external chemical inputs, commercial, and hybrid seeds that are not only expensive but require external inputs that damage soil fertility have to be avoided.

Methods of farming that increase soil erosion and loss of biodiversity have to be avoided.

Small-scale agriculture :

It said that small-scale agriculture, basically for domestic food production, is the only way out of the p resent crisis. Although there are more and more programmes trying to address hunger and poverty, to be effective a more comprehensive approach is needed.

Radical and comprehensive policy changes needed :

It is essential to change current policies that are counter- productive.

Trade in the hands of the private sector has resulted in large, private monopolies controlling food and other consumer markets which act against the interests of small-scale rural producers and consumers.

Large investments to promote foreign investment and the private sector are one of the biggest obstacles to any strengthening of small-scale domestic production and distribution which could benefit the poorer sections of society and therefore the statement suggests that a comprehensive shift away from the neo-liberal economic model that has failed for the last 30 years is essential. It is time for a radical and comprehensive shift in economic policies.

- Asian Tribune -

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