Soaring world food prices have become a problem not only to developing countries but also to the superpowers.
High fuel costs have resulted in higher agricultural costs. The drop in food stocks and using land meant for food production to produce biofuels are the other disturbing factors. The international community should help countries which are more prone and ensure some sort of relief for the poor.
Many international organisations feel that the world food crisis is a man-made problem, rather than an issue which has developed with the emerging world trends.
Experts have said that it could take at least a decade to bring down the current food prices to a realistic level. Analysts have attributed two major reasons for the soaring world food prices - billions of people the world over are buying larger quantities of food. Several countries have either ceased or reduced growing their own food as they have the cash to buy much more. This has been one of the main causes for the world food crisis with the booming economies of China and India demanding more food.
For example, the increasing meat consumption has stepped up the demand for grain, and correspondingly the price.
Apart from the main issue, several other factors too have contributed to the sky-rocketing world food prices as never before. The hike in oil prices, which hit around $150 per barrel in recent months, has pushed up fertiliser prices, as well as transport costs.
Another factor which has a direct impact on high world food prices is climate change. Freak weather conditions, including the prolonged droughts in Australia and in the southern parts of Africa, coupled with floods in West Africa, last winter s deep frost in China and unusual warmth in northern Europe too have adversely affected harvests.
The US-led drive to produce bio fuel as an alternative source to hydrocarbons is straining food supplies further. Generous subsidies for ethanol in the US have lured thousands of farmers away from growing food crops. As a result, the area used for bio fuel is increasing rapidly.
Due to these unexpected trends, Asia recently experienced a severe shortage of rice, raising prices of the widely sought-after commodity in the continent to an all-time high.
We in Sri Lanka too felt the impact of those world trends during the first six months of the year but could meet the challenge, if we gear ourselves properly.
Unlike in Europe where the four-season weather pattern does not permit cultivation throughout the year, we in this part of the globe are fortunate to have the ideal conditions for cultivation. Compared to most Asian countries, Sri Lanka has rich soil and the ideal weather conditions for cultivation at any time of the year.
This indeed is a distinct advantage for a small country such as Sri Lanka to face the new trends in the world market. If we don t gear ourselves fully, we would not be in a position to face the challenge of soaring world food prices. By this extra effort, we could also market the remaining produce to earn an extra income.
Having understood this well, the Government has embarked on the Api Wawamu, Rata Nagamu, the massive cultivation program. If this program is fully implemented with public support, Sri Lanka could well capitalise on it.
A world food crisis or no crisis - the only way for Sri Lanka to overcome economic hardships is by increasing local production. In the good old days, we had a strong agro-based economy. However, with the introduction of the open economy policy in 1977 by the then J. R. Jayewardene Government, most people gradually abandoned the habit of cultivating even a few crops in their home gardens.
If we could revert to the pre-1977 era and make use of our home gardens to grow fruits and vegetables for the family needs - that alone would be a great achievement in facing the world food crisis.
The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has always encouraged local farmers. Paddy farmers, especially, have been getting a massive fertiliser subsidy which is a big relief for the rural community. With the increasing demand for fresh milk, local dairy farmers too are reaping handsome returns.
True, the prices of food items and milk have gone up in the local market. However, local farmers in the provinces are the ultimate beneficiaries. This has strengthened Sri Lanka s rural economy, increasing the purchasing power of rural farmers.
If we could focus more on agriculture, dairy and the fishing industries, we would be in an advantageous position to meet the challenge posed by the world food crisis. Increasing local production is the only answer to the global problem. Unlike most other countries in the West, we in the sub continent have an added advantage to overcome this problem.
If we could concentrate more on agriculture and lend a helping hand to the thousands of families engaged in cultivation, we could definitely increase food production. This cannot be gainsaid. If we could be self-sufficient in most essential food items, that would not only be a solution to the problem but would also enable the country to save valuable foreign exchange.
Hence, more stringent measures should be taken to increase local production and we should ready ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead. If we make a determined effort, Sri Lanka could well set an example to the world in dealing with the world food crisis.