Food policies and nutrition transition in Sri Lanka: historical trends, political regimes, and options for interventions

To understand the background of Sri Lanka’s current food security and nutrition challenges, this paper analyzes the political economy and policy processes that shaped the country’s food security and nutrition interventions and their outcomes. Interventions by successive governments of Sri Lanka to increase availability and accessibility of food date back to 1942 with the implementation of a universal food subsidy scheme. Along with implementation of open economic policies, a targeted food stamp program was introduced in 1979. While such programs enhanced the availability and accessibility of energy and protein overall, successive governments improved food utilization by attending to the specific nutrition needs of its vulnerable populations, such as pregnant and lactating mothers and preschool children, through direct food provision including school meal programs, the Thriposha program, and the “nutrition bag” program. This paper shows that political objectives of the governing parties largely shaped the design of the food policies in the early phases of development of the economy. Subsequent policies have become more targeted to the food and nutritional security of marginalized segments. Moreover, contrary to the policies in the present era, the policies implemented in the past had some profound effects on food price levels.