Govt. of Australia and FAO partner to improve the nutrition status of families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic–

Assistant FAO Representative - Dr. D. B. T. Wijeratne, State Minister of Women and Child Development - Hon. Piyal Nishantha De Silva and Second Secretary, Australian High Commission - Danielle Cashen hand over vegetable seed packs for families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to improve their nutritional status by establishing home gardens.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with support from the Government of Australia is providing vegetable seed packs to around 46,000 vulnerable families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka.

This is to enable selected families across the island to improve their nutritional status by establishing home gardens and urban agricultural systems. This is made possible with funding of USD 100,000 from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as part of Australia’s support for Sri Lanka’s response to, and recovery from, the impacts of COVID-19.

“Food systems globally are under pressure as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country. Australia recognises the importance of food security and is pleased to provide support for agricultural home gardens and urban agriculture systems to communities in Sri Lanka, in partnership with FAO,” stated Danielle Cashen, Second Secretary, Australian High Commission.

“The generous contribution by the Government of Australia has enabled a holistic response from the UN in Sri Lanka to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic impact on communities. We know that vaccines alone cannot win the fight against the pandemic. Food and nutrition should be an integral part of COVID-19 response and recovery in Sri Lanka where malnutrition continues to be a serious problem, especially among children under five, young girls and women of reproductive age,” reiterated Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka.

The seed packs distributed through the programme contain a variety of nutrient-rich vegetable crops that can help combat micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron, vitamin A and folic acid deficiencies, which are prevalent in Sri Lanka.

Families with pregnant and lactating mothers, infants, children, adolescents and senior citizens are prioritized in the seed distributions rolled-out by FAO in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health.

The programme also received the support of the State Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Scaling-up Nutrition People’s Forum.

“Job losses, declining incomes and other setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have made food, particularly nutritious food, less affordable for some, especially the poor,” said FAO Representative for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Vimlendra Sharan.

“The distribution of seeds and knowledge to establish home gardens will assist more families to access safe and nutritious food as well as create avenues for income generation. It will also augment the home-gardening programme initiated by the government,” he also said.

FAO also facilitated a series of training of trainers sessions to promote nutrition-sensitive agricultural home gardens, Food Based Dietary Guidelines, healthy cooking and eating habits to drive public awareness and behavior change.

The sessions conducted by the Nutrition Division of the Ministry of Health and the Dieticians Association of Sri Lanka, were mainly for Midwives, Agricultural Instructors and Civil Society Organizations such as Mother Support Groups to educate and mobilize them to train beneficiary families.

Agricultural Instructors have been mobilized through the Provincial Departments of Agriculture to provide technical knowhow from planning a home garden, to cultivation and harvesting.

DFAT and FAO are supporting the Government of Sri Lanka by contributing to a coordinated approach across multiple sectors to ensure nutritious food for the most vulnerable populations, both during and after the pandemic.