Food crisis looms in Sri Lanka as fertiliser shortage stunts rice crop

Nallathambi Mahendran walks through his 1.6 hectares of emerald green paddy fields in northern Sri Lanka’s Kilinochchi district, indicating the height the plants should have reached by now.

They are several feet too short.

The standing paddy crop across most of this major rice-growing belt is stunted for the second successive season because of the lack of fertiliser, according to farmers, a union leader and local government officials.

In 10,900 hectares of land under cultivation in Kilinochchi, the average yield is likely to hit 2.3 metric tonnes per hectare, according to government estimates seen by Reuters.

Mr Mahendran gestures to show the ideal height of his rice paddy plants.(Reuters: Devjyot Ghoshal)

In previous years, paddy fields in the area delivered around 4.5 tonnes per hectare, according to a local government official who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Across rice farms in this Indian Ocean island, the bleak picture is emerging that the summer harvest could be as low as half that of previous years, according to experts.

With rice being Sri Lanka’s staple food, it points to further pressure on a country already struggling with its worst economic crisis in modern times, including runaway inflation and growing levels of malnutrition.

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