Food for the cities programme

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Background

Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, is home to 11.4% of the country’s total population. Colombo is also considered the economic capital of the country. Due to its geographic location, the city is specifically vulnerable to climate-related shocks. The country’s colonial past contributed to a socially and culturally diverse population, leading to very diverse dietary habits. Furthermore, given the island’s diverse agro-ecological areas, meeting the capital city’s demand with locally produced food is challenging.

The city region of Colombo

In Colombo, the city region is confined within the Colombo district boundaries. The city region was mainly defined on the basis of population density and food demand, data availability – better availability at district level rather than municipality level – administrative and judicial boundaries.The main commodities consumed in Colombo come from all over the country, with only a small proportion coming from the peri-urban and surrounding rural areas. 

 

Main challenges of the Colombo city region food system

A first appraisal of the different components of the food system in Colombo city-region was conducted in collaboration with the RUAF Foundation and the International Water Management Institute. It highlighted 4 key priorities for Colombo city region:

  • Food security, nutrition, and safety: Colombo district records the lowest ratings for dietary energy intake among all districts in the country, despite low poverty levels. At the same time, more than 30% of the population is overweight. Food safety is also considered as a major issue and is yet to be addressed.
  • Food waste and losses: Food waste is currently a high priority issue, as it makes up a considerable proportion (approximately 50%) of the total waste generated in the Colombo city area. Despite the high potential for reuse or recycling, the majority (62%) of business entities just dispose of their food waste. Food loss of selected food items during transportation ranges between 2.5-10% and total food losses vary between 2-50% depending on the commodity.
  • Value chain management: More than 95% of the food demand has to be supplied by other regions or countries. This high dependency leads to high price fluctuations in case of natural or manmade disasters. Moreover, long food transport distances can lead to quality concerns. In addition, the competition between local farmers’ products and imported goods is high, especially during the off-season, when imported goods overflow the markets at lower prices.
  • Climate change and natural resource management: The Colombo CRFS is particularly prone to floods, sea-level rise, and temperature increase, impacting food supply and related possible price hikes. At the same time, natural resources management is a matter of concern, especially at the production level, with non-appropriate use of agro chemicals and mono cropping practices.

The way forward

Within a multi-stakeholder and participatory process, policy strategies and intervention plans have been identified to strengthen the city region food system. These include amongst others:

  • Amendments to the national food act strengthening food safety & hygiene aspects and institutional food quality while empowering local level authorities.
  • Amendment to provincial policies through the introduction of the CRFS concept and better natural resource management.
  • Introduction of new council by-laws covering: resource recovery from food waste, segregation of municipal solid waste and food safety. 

In collaboration with