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Bangladesh aid potatoes to Sri Lanka amid ongoing food crisis

Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food shortage as the island nation battles a devastating economic crisis and promises to buy enough fertiliser for the next planting season to boost harvests.

Sri Lanka is appealing for food assistance from its neighbours as the country’s debt crisis spirals into a humanitarian emergency. The government is applying for aid from a food bank operated by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which has supplied rice and other staples to member states during food crises.

The SAARC food bank was set up in 2007 to provide rice and wheat to countries during emergencies but was used for the first time only in 2020 when Bhutan sourced a rice shipment. Analysts said that Sri Lanka’s crisis could be a chance to invigorate SAARC.

The country, which defaulted on international debts of more than $50bn last month, has been wracked by severe shortages of essential goods since it effectively ran out of foreign reserves. Fuel shortages have led to long blackouts as power stations close while hospitals are postponing treatment because of a lack of medicine. Aid groups also warn of a worsening hunger crisis owing to double-digit inflation.

 Bangladesh is considering sending potatoes to Sri Lanka during the ongoing crisis. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised that her country may provide potatoes to Sri Lanka amidst the ongoing crisis. The assurance was given by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a meeting with the Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Esala Ruwan Weerakoon. Weerakoon paid a courtesy call on the Prime Minister of Bangladesh at Ganabhaban.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday urged the South Asian countries to work together in the fight against poverty, describing it as the main enemy in the region.

“We, the countries in this region, should cooperate with each other. Many problems can be solved bilaterally,” she said.

The prime minister made this remark when Secretary General of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Esala Ruwan Weerakoon paid a courtesy call on her at Ganabhaban.

As Sri Lanka has been severely impacted by a weakening economy which has resulted in shortages of essential items, including food, and a spike in food prices, hindering families’ access to affordable, healthy meals. Even before the pandemic, malnutrition rates were high among children and women. Some 40 percent of primary-age children were too thin for their height. Sri Lanka is going to receive humanitarian potato aid package from neighboring Bangladesh to help mitigate severe shortages caused by the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. They will be distributed among vulnerable families in different parts of the country. 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said recently that despite being a country with a huge population, Bangladesh may provide potatoes to Sri Lanka during this crisis.

The prime minister made this remark when Secretary General of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Esala Ruwan Weerakoon paid a courtesy call on her at Ganabhaban.

She said Bangladesh has taken steps to grow more foods amid the global food problem following the Covid-19 pandemic and Ukraine-Russia war.

Bangladeshi researchers are making efforts to develop different saline and drought-tolerant varieties of rice, said Sheikh Hasina.

Weerakoon highly praised Bangladesh for its contribution to Saarc Agriculture Centre.

He said the pandemic is also responsible for the ongoing economic crisis in his country and appreciated the support Bangladesh has extended towards the island nation.

Sri Lanka now needs fertilizer as the rice production dropped by 50% there, he added.

Prime Minister Hasina urged the South Asian countries to work together in the fight against poverty, describing it as the main enemy in the region.

“We, the countries in this region, should cooperate with each other. Many problems can be solved bilaterally,” she said.

In the wake of global food crisis, Bangladesh has proposed to strengthen the SAARC food bank.

The proposal was made when visiting SAARC Secretary General Esala Ruwan Weerakoon met the high ups of the foreign ministry on Monday.

Commenting on the proposal, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh highlights the need for a concerted effort among regional countries to absorb the shock of the current crisis.

We have earlier contributed to the food bank and are ready to continue the move, he said adding that presently Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are in dire need of agriculture inputs.

As Ukraine war and the pandemic have ignited a global food shortage, Bangladesh urged the SAARC to initiate innovative steps to get respite from it.

We have extended our cooperation to Sri Lanka and are ready to help further under the SAARC umbrella, he added.

Referring to his meeting with the SAARC Secretary General he said that both of them agreed to expedite collective action to combat food and economic crisis in the region.

Sri Lanka in March this year showed interest in importing potatoes from Bangladesh preferring the barter system in this regard.
The island nation’s  then Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage expressed his interest during a meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart Muhammad Abdur Razzaque at InterContinental Dhaka, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a press release.
The meeting was held prior to the 36th Session of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific that will end on Friday.
Razzaque said Bangladesh will consider the possibility of the barter system in exporting potatoes.
He also put emphasis on increasing bilateral cooperation with the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka.

For the first time, Bangladesh hosted the FAO regional conference that began on March 8 in Dhaka.

Potato is a starchy tuberous crop and becomes an integral part of much of worldwide food / potato food supply and suppliers. It is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following maize, wheat and rice. Bangladesh is now one of the big potato producing and exporting countries in the world. In the year 2021, potato exporters in Bangladesh produced 15 million M. Ts of potatoes among which around 50% is exported and it is increasing year by year. For the year 2025 production target is 50 million M.Ts. Potato is now one of the good export qualities agro products of Bangladesh.

The main importing countries of Bangladesh origin potato are Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Vietnam, Philippine and Russia. 

Bangladesh climate and soil is very suitable to grow tropical country potato with best competitive price as labor cost of farmer here quite low compare to any other potato and Agro product growing countries.

Asian countries are seeing potatoes as their possible salvation as they scramble to feed their people at reasonable prices in the future in a region where the population is estimated to soar by some 35 percent to 4.9 billion by 2025.

Food security is vital in the region as many governments fear unrest if food staple prices keep going up. India said in 2008 that it wanted to double potato production in the next five to 10 years. China, a huge rice consumer, has become the world’s top potato grower. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the potato is expanding more than any other crop right now.

Potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which release their energy slowly and they have only five percent of the fat content of wheat.

Bangladesh has sent emergency medical supplies worth $2.3 million to crisis-hit Sri Lanka as the island country faces the worst economic crisis since 1948, resulting in a shortage of food, fuel, and other essentials. Earlier, Dhaka had also provided $200 million in the form currency swap to Colombo. At a token handover ceremony held in Dhaka, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Health Minister Zahid Maleque handed over a few boxes of medicines to Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Sudharshan D.S. Seneviratne, The Morning reported.

Debt-ridden Sri Lanka last month announced pre-mature default on its external loan, totaling over $51 billion, as its usable foreign exchange reserves came down to just $50 million this, making it extremely hard for the government to pay for essential imports. India, which has extended assistance worth almost $3 billion this year, has also been sending medical supplies.

At the handover ceremony, Momen described the supply of 65 types of medicines and equipment as an expression of solidarity and friendship between the two countries as Dhaka and Colombo celebrate 50 years of their diplomatic relations. Bangladesh helps Sri Lanka steer economic crisis.

Related: The Sri Lankan crisis proves beneficial for Indian exporters

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