Sustainable Fishing in Sri LankaFishing is a vital industry in Sri Lanka, both for its population’s livelihoods and its food source. However, issues surrounding economic and environmental crises have placed urgent demands on the sector to modernize.

The sight of traditional stilt fishing in Sri Lanka is eye-catching and unique. Fishers sit delicately poised atop wooden beams high above the Indian Ocean. Patience, balance and finesse are required for fishers to successfully pluck their catch from the waters beneath. The tradition originated from the post-World War II food shortages, but healthier food supplies mean it is now mostly performative. For this island nation of 22 million, fishing is woven into the fabric of its national identity.

Fishing in Sri Lanka

Not only is fishing in Sri Lanka significant because of its contribution to the diet of Sri Lankans, with 50% of its animal protein intake coming from seafood, but it is also an important part of its economy. Fishing provides a lucrative export market, valued at over $290m in 2022. In total fishing supports the livelihoods of around 3.6 million Sri Lankans.

For many years, environmental factors have threatened the livelihoods of fishing communities. A combination of overfishing and ecosystem damage has caused a decline in fish stocks. Furthermore, climate change has meant that destructive extreme weather events are now happening with increased regularity in Sri Lanka. Evidence from 1974 to 2004 shows floods and droughts are occurring more frequently, and projections have warned that the severity and regularity of cyclones could increase.

These already vulnerable fishing villages have faced yet more strain in the previous few years. COVID-19 has dealt a heavy blow to the fishing industry. In 2020, fish harvests declined up to 20% and exports were down as much as 26%, according to the World Bank. This forced Sri Lanka to import $218 million of fish in 2020 just to satisfy national food demands. To make matters worse, a national crisis has followed the economic downturn of COVID-19.

Economic Crisis

A gradually deepening financial crisis, which COVID-19 had exacerbated, exploded in 2022. The result has been economic and political turmoil that has had dire humanitarian consequences. Deteriorating social conditions such as fuel, food and energy shortages and heightening inflation prompted mass anti-government protests in the spring of 2022.

All 26 cabinet members other than the President and Prime Minister resigned on April 3, 2022, and less than 10 days later, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion sovereign debt payments it owed to international creditors, The Guardian reports. Months of violent protests culminated on July 9, 2022, when protesters stormed President Rajapanka’s residence and set Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s house ablaze. The President fled to the Maldives and resigned on July 13, 2022.

The stark reality of economic collapse in people’s lives is poverty. UNICEF estimated in June 2022 that 5,711,089 people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka. Figures from The World Bank show that between 2019 and 2022, poverty in Sri Lanka rose from 11.3% to 25%.

Sri Lankans are still struggling to access food. In September 2022, with food inflation at 94.9%, 30% of Sri Lankans faced acute food insecurity. Although beginning to ease, food inflation in April 2023 remained high at 30.6%. These numbers create more impetus to create efficient and sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka.

Growth Opportunities

In March 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $3 billion loan to support Sri Lanka’s economic policies and reforms, targeted at the most vulnerable. This gives renewed hope for economic and social recovery.

Spoilage is an obstacle to greater revenues, especially with yellowfin tuna, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular and lucrative fish. Half of all yellowfin tuna caught is spoiled before it reaches the shore and many catches do not meet export standards, according to the World Bank. Modernizing fishing vessels to improve their refrigeration capacity and redesigning fishing routes to reduce the time boats spend at sea could both reduce instances of spoilage. This could increase revenues without the need to catch any more fish.

Making Changes

Ensuring fish stocks remain healthy is also key to achieving sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka. Protecting vulnerable species, like the yellowfin tuna, could require a commitment to conserving and even regenerating coastal ecosystems. Community involvement in assessing stock statuses to protect against overfishing could also hold significance. Achieving sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka can potentially provide an example of the kind of community-focused investment required to put the nation back on a path of stability and progress.

– Henry Jones

Food Insecurity in Sri Lanka
Food insecurity in Sri Lanka has increased amid the country’s economic crisis, with disproportionate impacts on women and children. The World Bank says the poverty rate in Sri Lanka is 25.6% (based on the poverty line of $3.65 per person per day) in 2022, almost doubling from 13.1% in 2021. The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations are taking action to meet the nutritional needs of these vulnerable groups.

Women and Children

According to WFP, as of August 2022, 30% of Sri Lankans are enduring food insecurity, equating to about 6.3 million people. As such, about 66% of households are reducing their food portions and are consuming “less nutritious food,” the WFP website says.

Among those suffering the most from food insecurity in Sri Lanka are pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as well as those with physical or intellectual disabilities and children younger than the age of 5.

The economic crisis has caused a significant increase in food prices as well as a shortage of fuel. The spike in food prices means pregnant women and new moms are struggling to secure three balanced meals a day. Proper nutrition is crucial not only for their health but for the health of their babies.

In August 2022, a doctor at a hospital in Sri Lanka told BOOM journalism that “pregnant women who have visited the hospital in the last few months are all showing signs of anemia.”

Gayani Dilrukshi, who is 23 years old and seven months pregnant, only eats two meals every day with her 4-year-old daughter because she does not have the budget to afford three meals, according to an interview with BOOM journalism. The meals that Dilrukshi can afford are not nutrient-dense and, as such, she is not in overall good health at a critical point in her pregnancy, according to doctors.

Taking Action to Address Food Insecurity in Sri Lanka

The WFP is taking action to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups in Sri Lanka. However, the WFP requires $63 million worth of funding to adequately respond to the crisis in Sri Lanka. As of August 2022, the WFP’s response plan includes providing “3.4 million people with food assistance.”

In addition to this, WFP is looking to strengthen social safety-net programs that already exist. For instance, through the existing national school feeding program, the WFP aims to help 1 million Sri Lankan children. Through an existing state initiative that provides “fortified food to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children,” the WFP hopes to impact an additional 1 million individuals.

In November 2022, the United Nations amended its Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) Plan to further help vulnerable citizens throughout Sri Lanka. The HNP raised $79 million in funds from different organizations and countries such as the United States and Australia. Organizations such as Brandix Apparels and the Citi Foundation also contributed funds for Sri Lanka. The United Nations has revised the HNP plan, which will last through 2022, calling for an additional $70 million.

The revised HNP plan would give food aid to 2.4 million vulnerable Sri Lankans, plus assistance, such as fertilizer supplies, to at least 1.5 million farmers in Sri Lanka. Pregnant women and schoolchildren would be included in nutrition support efforts. This plan will also supply more than 900,000 people with clean and safe drinking water. As many as 867,000 people will receive aid in the form of integral medicine and health care.

Fortunately, organizations are addressing food insecurity in Sri Lanka, especially among vulnerable groups. Through aid, Sri Lanka can recover from its current economic crisis.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

 Sri Lanka
Compared to other states in its region, Sri Lanka is doing well economically as a middle-income country. It is lagging, however, in certain aspects that include hunger and chronic malnutrition. The following are the top 10 facts about hunger in Sri Lanka.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Sri Lanka

  1. Despite reducing maternal mortality rates and cutting poverty in half, Sri Lanka is still struggling with food insecurity. Undernutrition of its population remains a prevalent issue in Sri Lanka. While the country has been making big strides, food insecurity has the ability to get in the way of socio-economic development.
  2. Sri Lanka’s levels of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, is the lowest in the region at 13 percent. Compared to its peers (India has an alarming rate of 38 percent), this rate is not high. Stunting prevents proper brain and body development in children, leading to a less prosperous and healthy population.
  3. However, Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in the world. Just behind Djibouti and South Sudan, Sri Lanka ranks third with rates between 14 and 35 percent throughout the country’s districts, which is particularly concerning for the health of Sri Lanka’s population.
  4. Sri Lanka has a 19.6 percent prevalence of wasting. Wasting refers to a low body weight compared to height ratio, illustrating the considerable effect of undernutrition.
  5. Sri Lanka’s island status makes it vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns. Since 2016, Sri Lanka has been suffering from a severe drought that is still affecting 1.2 million people across the country. This significantly contributes to food insecurity because it wipes out large amounts of crops and agricultural food sources.
  6. The government of Sri Lanka estimates that 480,000 food insecure people will need humanitarian aid because of the effects of the 2016 drought. This aid is necessary to prevent the hunger problem from getting worse.
  7. As of 2017, the Sri Lankan government announced its plan to prioritize ending hunger and malnutrition. Working with the World Food Programme, the government is focusing on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2. This goal includes improving food security, ending hunger and advancing sustainable agriculture by 2030.
  8. Rice production has dropped severely since the drought hit Sri Lanka. A rice harvest in 2017 yielded 63 percent below normal. The population depends greatly on rice for sustenance and survival, and it is the main item affected by the drought.
  9. Among developing countries, Sri Lanka ranked 87th on the Global Hunger Index. This list was calculated by taking into account rates of stunting and wasting in children under 5, amount of population undernourished, and infant mortality rates. From “Low” to “Extremely Alarming,” this gave the country a status of “Serious” in 2016.
  10. The government of Sri Lanka and the World Food Programme have been working together for 50 years. The WFP focuses on supporting the population to gain access to a more steady supply of food. They address not only emergency situations like the 2016 drought but also long-term solutions to hunger.

Although Sri Lanka is improving in many ways, the country has a long way to come in regards to food insecurity. These top 10 facts about hunger in Sri Lanka provide clear insight into the humanitarian efforts that need to be made to mitigate this issue.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr