Sri Lanka tells workers to grow their own food on Fridays amid fears of shortages

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Public sector workers in Sri Lanka will now have to work only four days a week and use Friday to overcome the economic crisis in the Asian country by growing their own food, the government announced on Tuesday.

Under the freshly sanctioned proposal, the Sri Lankan cabinet has allowed public sector workers to be given leave every Friday for the next three months.

“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave of one working day... to engage in agricultural activities in their back yards or elsewhere as a solution to the food shortage that is expected,” the government information office said.

The administration has noted that the shortage of fuel in the country has prevented some civilians from commuting to work and it has also asked the people to farm.

This comes at a time when Sri Lanka is limping back from its worst-ever financial crisis post-independence and prepares to rebuild an economy battered by chronic fuel and food shortages that brought millions onto the streets last month.

Food inflation rates rose to 57 per cent in April after Sri Lanka was hit by currency depreciation, spiking global commodity prices, and a ban on chemical fertiliser, which was then overturned.

Around one million people constitute Sri Lanka’s public sector in a country marred by a foreign exchange shortage and the struggle to pay off global debts for critical imports of fuel, food and medicine.

Workers transport essential goods at a market in Colombo last month (AFP via Getty Images)
Workers transport essential goods at a market in Colombo last month (AFP via Getty Images)

Even as political stability returned in the country after Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to the premiership in May, bringing the simmering protests across the country to a halt, civilians are still struggling to cope with the financial crisis.

Many of the 22 million people in the country are still queuing up outside fuel stations for hours and have had to endure poor power connections for months.

The United Nations has sounded an alert for a looming humanitarian crisis in the country and said it will spend $47m (£39m) to help the vulnerable population as many inch closer to the brink of poverty.

A delegation of the International Monetary Fund is expected in Colombo next week as the administration prepares to hold talks on a bailout package.

Meanwhile, the west has also offered help after Sri Lanka said it would be forced to use Russian oil.

Mr Wickremesinghe, also serving as Sri Lanka’s finance minister, said he would first look to other sources, but would not stop the country from buying more crude from Moscow.

He indicated that he would be willing to accept more financial help from China, even as the island nation struggled with its debt.

Earlier this week, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that Washington can help out Colombo and reported that he spoke with Mr Wickremesinghe late on Monday.

"During these economically and politically challenging times, the US stands ready to work with Sri Lanka, in close coordination with the International Monetary Fund and the international community," Mr Blinken said on Twitter.

Sri Lanka needs at least $5bn to meet essential imports for the rest of the year, Mr Wickremesinghe said.

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