Feeding 9 million mouths by 2030: are we ready?

Under the proposed Sri Lanka Development Policy Framework’s Megapolis project, the Western region will have an estimated population of 9 million by the year 2030. Whilst focusing on building the infrastructure, planning and policy making, it is a dire need to plan for a quality food supply to this foreseeable population increase. These thoughts were highlighted in the key note speech by Madhawa Waidyaratna – Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, at the 21st Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka Food Processors’ Association.

The Development Policy Framework consists of 4 key areas; strengthened governance, equitable economic growth, improved competitiveness and infrastructure development. The Megapolis project falls under the latter and is aimed to be achieved through developing 10 diverse areas, which are the Central Business District, Aero City, Maritime City, Logistics Corridor, Tech City, Administrative City, 2 Industrial Cities, 2 Tourism Zones, Forest City and Plantation City. In addition there will be the functional areas of Transport and Solid Waste Management. The increase of mobility through various proposed transportation models such as the Light Rail System, Multimodal Transport Hub and Inland Water based passages together with the rapid development will attract a large number of the population towards the Western region and the Colombo city in particular.

Increased supply, enhanced supply chain, improved quality and safety are key words associated with such a transformation. Waidyaratna posed the question of how the much needed sustainable food security in this region, and the whole country could be achieved. Explaining further, he pointed out that we live in a shockingly unequal world. “Hunger is a constant feature in the lives of millions of people whilst obesity has become an epidemic in the developed countries. We can witness the same scenario in the Western region of Sri Lanka as well,” he stated.

The economic wealth and socio-cultural imbalance has resulted in more than half the population of the Colombo metropolis living in less than the prescribed calorie intake per day.  Moreover, as the most urbanized region of the country, the population records to have nutritiously unbalanced dietary patterns and food quality does not meet the necessary standards. The need therefore is created to move away from primary agriculture to processed and value added agriculture. This initiative requires a combined strategy with the expertise of urban planners, agricultural and health departments.

With the high population density and complex socio cultural dynamics, the Western region probably has the most diverse food systems in the country, which requires vastly different types of food. With the proposed development this situation will only increase. Therefore this issue needs to be viewed as a multi-faceted domain in terms of food supply, food waste management, nutrient and food safety, and food prices. The key note speaker pointed out that the responsibility mainly lies in organizations such as the Sri Lanka Food Processors’ Association to formulate the correct strategies which will cover these issues.

Waidyaratne also drew attention to food waste management, which is a huge problem in the region since the city area is heavily utilized for commercial and residential purposes. The Megapolis project will focus on creating suitable locations to dispose food waste and converting solid waste to energy.

Adding to these sentiments was Mario De Alwis, Managing Director of Ma’s Tropical Food who predicted a deficit in water and food in the next 2 decades resulting from global warming and environmental damage. In societies like Sri Lanka with an agrarian past, the issue at present is that agriculture is not profitable enough to motivate the next generation to take it forward. He highlighted the importance of the State’s role in creating adequate incentives, use environmental friendly technology and enable remote management of agriculture. “We should move away from politicizing agriculture and look at it as a national effort, beyond political boundaries,” he added. The food processing sector has an important task in picking up seasonal crops and processing and storing them for off-season.

Overall, it was envisaged that there will be drastic changes in food patterns and consumption in the region, with more demand for processed and packaged food. Alongside this development, new sets of problems will inevitably crop up. Members of the Sri Lanka Food Processors’ Association need to individually and collectively foresee this situation and adapt suitable strategies to face the changes as well as the challenges.

Founded in 1997 as an advocacy group, the Sri Lanka Food Processors Association currently consists of over 130 member companies, which include large and multi-national, as well as small and medium enterprises (SME’S) committed to the development of the country’s processed food and beverage industry. The Association consists of members from all relevant sub sectors addressing issues such as national policy and regulations, intra-regional cooperation, technology, knowledge transfers and marketing. The Association further offers leadership to the small but vibrant National Processed Food Industry, which is vital to the island nation’s agro based economy, and directly employs over three hundred thousand persons while supporting over four million back stream producers. The new committee of the association consists of President – Sarath Alahakoon, Mr. Hon. Secretary – Thusith Wijesinghe, Treasurer – Mr. Nadishan Guruge, and Mr. Maliek De Alwis – the immediate past President.