Sri Lanka is a small island, middle-income nation that achieved significant progress in its human development and socioeconomic spheres, following the end of its 27-year civil conflict in 2009.
The country’s progress was derailed by several events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of its economic crisis in 2022 – the worst in decades – which affected vast swathes of the population, particularly the poor and marginalized communities.
An estimated 17 percent of its 22 million population is food-insecure according to the FAO-WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment mission report 2023, indicating an improvement from 2022 when 28 percent of households were noted as food-insecure. Nearly two-thirds of the population are adopting livelihood-based coping strategies, such as borrowing money or dipping into their hard-earned savings to feed their families.
A quarter of the population is now estimated to live below the poverty line, which compromises their ability to access sufficient, nutritious food (World Bank, 2022).
Malnutrition, a longstanding concern, is particularly high among women and children. Nearly one-third of children under 5 are malnourished. Similarly, over 40 percent of women aged 18-60 are overweight or obese, indicative of poor dietary diversity and lack of access to nutritious food (Medical Research Institute, UNICEF, WFP. 2022 and National Nutrition and Micronutrient Survey in Sri Lanka. March 2023).
Additionally, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as floods, drought, and landslides, heightening the risk of food and nutrition insecurity.
WFP has been operating in Sri Lanka since 1968, working with the Government to address malnutrition, support families’ access to food, and improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers.
In 2023, WFP launched its second-generation Country Strategic Plan (CSP), with a budget of US$105 million for 2023-27, to address immediate food and nutrition needs, while promoting medium- to long-term solutions to rebuild resilient food systems and improve nutrition standards.
WFP’s CSP will help crisis-affected people meet their food, nutrition, and other essential needs.
It supports Government efforts to prevent and manage malnutrition and strengthens the resilience and livelihoods of climate-vulnerable communities. WFP also helps build capacities of national and subnational institutions to enable resilient food systems.
As Sri Lanka emerges from its economic crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) is transitioning from its emergency operation, which supports crisis-affected communities with food and nutrition, to focus on development work that helps improve food security and nutrition in the country.
WFP assists with data collection and analyses to enhance the Government’s work in improving food and nutrition security, while providing direction for policy- and decision-making.
Gender empowerment is integrated into all of WFP’s activities, to promote equality and strengthen food and nutrition security for women and girls.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Sri Lanka
WFP supports the national health system in the prevention and management of moderate acute malnutrition. Projects include strengthening national capacities to improve the availability, accessibility, and consumption of fortified foods; strengthening programmatic efforts through research on food security and nutrition; and conducting social behaviour change communication campaigns to improve dietary practices. The Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network was launched in 2019 to increase private sector engagement in nutrition-related solutions.
WFP has been supporting the national school meal programme since 2003. The programme was introduced by the Government in 1931 to bolster children’s access to education, health, and nutrition. In 2021, the Government joined the WFP-led global school meals coalition, pledging its commitment to provide healthy meals for school children. WFP provides technical and capacity-building assistance to ensure that the meals address nutrient deficiencies among schoolchildren. WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding project supports school caterers so they can self-produce the meals. This enhances the sustainability of the programme and economically empowers caterers, the majority of whom are women.
Resilience building and livelihood support
WFP, in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka, is working to rebuild food systems and ensure accessibility and availability of food throughout the year. WFP helps strengthen resilience among smallholder farmers, assisting them in preparing for recurring climate-induced shocks, such as floods and drought, through better access to climate forecasts and resources. Activities include helping farmers diversify their sources of income and enhancing their access to productive assets; improving post-harvest management; and strengthening access to markets, agricultural input suppliers, and financial services.
Emergency preparedness and response
In times of emergencies, WFP supports the Government so crisis-affected people receive assistance that meets their food, nutrition, and other essential needs. Additionally, WFP helps strengthen capacities of national and subnational disaster management and social protection institutions to better anticipate, prepare for, and respond to emergencies in a coordinated manner. WFP also works to improve the shock-responsiveness of national systems, which enables anticipatory and early action to lessen the impact of shocks.
WFP works with the Department of Samurdhi, which conducts the largest national safety net programme, to protect families in emergencies while safeguarding gains on the road to zero hunger. WFP helps strengthen the shock-responsive capacities of the programme and works to enhance existing national safety nets. This includes digital solutions to improve beneficiary management processes which enable quicker rollout of assistance during emergencies; and generating evidence and advocating for policy changes to improve existing social protection mechanisms.
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