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Cablegate: Sri Lanka Remains Focused On Food Security; Will

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PP RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHRN
DE RUEHLM #0878/01 2540653
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110653Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0511
INFO RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8920
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7158
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3292
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9485
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 2520
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0412
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6786
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1300
RUEHRN/USMISSION UN ROME
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000878

SIPDIS

EEB/TPP/MTAA/ABT FOR GARY CLEMENTS AND MIKE LURIE
OFFICE OF THE COUNSELOR FOR MARISA PLOWDEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CE EAGR EAID ETRD PREL UNGA
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA REMAINS FOCUSED ON FOOD SECURITY; WILL
ATTEND UNGA MEETING

REF: A. STATE 58996
B. STATE 93894

1. (U) SUMMARY: EconOff delivered REF points to Ms. Janaki
Kuruppu, the President's top food security advisor. Kuruppu
outlined a number of actions items the GoSL has taken since
the food crisis of 2008 and expressed interest in
participating in the Secretary's upcoming food security
meeting in New York. End Summary.

2. (U) EconOff met with Kuruppu, Director of the Presidential
Secretariat and head of the President's Cabinet Sub-Committee
on Food Security on September 10. Econoff shared with
Kuruppu the Secretary's five principles for global action on
food security (REF A) as well as REF B's letter of invitation
to the September 26 meeting at the UN General Assembly and
the draft statement. Kuruppu noted that the GSL has focused
on food security since the 2008 global food crisis. Food
prices indeed increased significantly at that time, and key
trading partners (India, Vietnam) halted exports to Sri
Lanka, further exacerbating the problem. Janaki also noted
that, while outright hunger is fairly rare in Sri Lanka,
under- and mal-nutrition remains commonplace and cause for
concern.

3. (U) In June 2008, the President created and convened the
Cabinet Sub-Committee on Food Security -- an
inter-ministerial committee involving eight ministries
(agriculture, livestock, trade, utilities, transportation,
environment, consumer affairs, and labor) -- to tackle the
problems faced by both farmers and consumers. The committee
met weekly until hostilities in the north and east of the
country usurped all other priorities in February 2009. Last
month, the committee resumed meeting and agreed to meet on a
monthly basis. "The food crisis came and went, and prices
are lower than before," noted Janaki. "It's difficult to
maintain momentum, but the President and others recognize
that the problem could return, and Sri Lanka is not safe."

4. (U) Sri Lanka imports many essential commodities such as
sugar, milk powder, onions, wheat, and lentils. The
Sub-Committee has focused on increasing production of these
and other items to avoid scarcity and improve security in the
future. To achieve this goal, the GSL is urging farmers to
move away from the "two-season" harvesting method toward
year-round cultivation since favorable conditions for farming
exist in Sri Lanka during most of the year. This could help
alleviate, for example, steep price fluctuations for certain
items during different periods of the year. According to
Janaki, the Sub-Committee has already recommended five
projects to improve the food security situation in Sri Lanka,
and more are being considered.

5. (U) For example, the supply chain is corrupted, with
middle-men earning more than farmers and consumers
(especially the urban poor) paying higher prices. The GSL
has proposed opening five agricultural retail centers (two
have already opened in Colombo, in December 2008 and April
2009 respectively) which bring the rural farmer and urban
consumer closer together. Prices are lower at the centers
(while being cautious not to undercut traditional retailers)
and farmers receive more for their produce. Furthermore,
post-harvest waste is huge problem in Sri Lanka, where up to
40% of all produce is lost (mainly in transit) before it
reaches the consumer. While recognizing that the road system
in the country needs help, a quick-fix solution proposed
encourages farmers to use plastic crates rather than the
traditional gunny bags (burlap sacks) to transport their
goods. It is estimated that using plastic crates could lower
waste by up to 70%. The GSL is working with local crate
suppliers to ensure lower prices for farmers during this
transition.

6. (U) The GSL Department of Agriculture has designated
certain crops as "crop leaders" and oversees the development
of these essential items -- including rice, maize, finger
millet, onions, chili, green gram, cowpea, soy beans, black
gram, ground nuts, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, bananas,

COLOMBO 00000878 002 OF 002


papaw, pineapple, beans, tomatoes, yams, potatoes, and export
crops like ginger and turmeric. Furthermore, since only 20%
of the milk consumed in Sri Lanka is currently produced
in-country, the GoSL is developing a new policy to
dramatically increase dairy production on the island. (Note:
USAID has programs to assist the local dairy industry. End
Note.) Janaki did not expand on the efforts but did note her
hope that consumers would again begin to drink fresh milk
vice imported milk powder as a result. She did highlight the
need for proper information dissemination for farmers on all
aspects of agriculture including production, prices, stocks,
pest/disease, and other issues. As a result, the
Sub-Committee proposes an agriculture information system with
as many as 550 centers across all regions of the country to
collect information and assist farmers. This proposal is
still in its early stages but is "a vital part of our food
security program."

7. (U) In conclusion, Janaki noted her interest in
representing the GSL at the food security meeting in New
York. She will be in the United States on a Voluntary
Visitor program for the coming two weeks and will extend her
stay by a day to allow her participation. Janaki also noted
that she would share the points from REFS A and B with
interested ministries and would report back prior to the UNGA
meeting. EconOff will report any follow-up septel. Please
contact Ken Kero-Mentz with any additional requests on this
matter.

8. (U) COMMENT: President Rajapaksa has emphasized
agricultural self-sufficiency as a major goal of his
administration. The GSL often supports small rice farmers,
with very high fertilizer subsidies, rather than encouraging
production of higher value-added crops for export. The GSL
also emphasizes small landholdings for subsistence
agriculture, although the land could be more efficiently
farmed in larger holdings. Still, despite the differing
strategies, both the USG and GSL view food security as an
important common goal, and there is potential for
cooperation. End Comment.
BUTENIS

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