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ECONOMYNEXT – The United States is ready to help Sri Lanka advance agriculture US Ambassador Cindy McCain said during a visit to an Agri biotechnology lab at the University of Peradeniya.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization had already supported the lab.

“I am so pleased to see that FAO is a large part of this as not just a donor but is also very invested in what is going on here,” Ambassador McCain who is the US Permanent Representative to the UN agencies in Rome said in a recent visit to Sri Lanka.

“The work that you are doing is ground-breaking and necessary. I would love to hear more about what your plans are, where we as the United States can be more helpful, if that’s the case and also how this fits in for the food crisis happening now.”

Sri Lanka’s domestic food production fell in 2021 after a fertilizer ban.

Though supplies are improving in 2022, less affluent sections of society can no longer afford food – especially proteins – after Sri Lanka’s soft-peg with the US dollar collapsed from 200 to 360 after two years of money printing.

Inflation has now outpaced wages, creating ‘food insecurity.

Officials of the Agriculture Faculty of the university have prepared a long-term strategic work model to revive the fallen food and agriculture sector.

The strategy recommends an enhancement of availability and accessibility to seed stock, chemical fertilizer and pesticides, fuel, and animal feed through a proposed ration system.

Employing gene-based technologies and bio-technological interventions to enhance plant and animal productivity and reduce post-harvest losses and pest damage and adopting a “system biology” approach to improve the quantity and quality of yields are parts of the strategy.

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The implementation of the Overarching Agricultural Policy (OAP) for Sri Lankan agriculture sector was recommended to aid the agriculture sector in the long run.

The plan focuses on food supply, agricultural exports, trading, and research and development.

“When preparing it we have taken into account the overall current context and the demands of the country,” M.D Lamawansa, Vice-Chancellor, University of Peradeniya said.

Prof. M.D. Lamawansa (Vice Chancellor, University of Peradeniya), Ambassador Cindy McCain (Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture), Ambassador Julie Chung (US Ambassador to Sri Lanka), Prof. S.S. Kodituwakku (Dean, Faculty of Agriculture), Prof. Pradeepa Bandaranayake (Director, Agricultural Biotechnology Centre).

The price of Sri Lanka’s key food crops, rice and maize, which is the main raw material for animal feed has been kept higher than the rest of the world to ‘save foreign exchange through import controls, keeping food prices permanently high.

“We have to support the export-oriented agriculture if we want to retain the much-needed foreign exchange with us,” Buddhi Marambe, Professor of the Department of Crop Science told Ambassador McCain who was accompanied by US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung.

“What we’ve just seen in your biotechnology lab is truly amazing and to see the state-of-the-art technology equipment donated by the FAO,” Chung said. “And of course, the United States is the largest donor to FAO and I believe a lot of this equipment just arrived two months ago,”

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Assessment Mission to Sri Lanka reports that 6.3 million people in the country are currently food insecure as of September following the collapse of the currency and forex shortages.

Sri Lanka is struggling to import enough fertilizer for the upcoming Maha season due to forex shortages.

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“We categorically advise the government, in this Maha season, if at all the resources are limited, then look at tea as our main food crop, maize as our main animal feed crop,” Marambe said.

Classical economists and analysts have called for a flexible inflation targeting framework with output gap targeting (stimulus) which caused three currency crises and drove a country at peace to default to be junked in favour of a more credible externally anchored regime.

A credible single anchor regime will protect the poor from currency depreciation, keep inflation low and allow free trade and free movement of the capital end.

It will also end the need to ‘save foreign exchange at the expense of import controls on food and malnutrition. (Colombo/Oct03/2022)

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