ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed to identify all underutilized lands owned by plantation companies and prepare an expeditious programme to cultivate food crops, his media division said on Saturday as the crisis-hit island nation is facing a food shortage in the near future.

“Plantation companies own more than 9,000 hectares of uncultivated land. The President pointed out the need to identify suitable crops for cultivation in respective estates owned by 23 companies,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said in a statement citing Rajapaksa made the remarks at a discussion held at the President’s House, o Friday (03).

The president’s instructions come as the island nation’s agricultural experts have warned of a possible shortage of rice and other essential foods possibly in September because of lower production due to the impacts of chemical fertilizer ban last year and inability to import amid dollar shortage.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has already warned of an acute food shortage by August and said the island nation would require $600 million to import fertilizer amid Sri Lanka’s near zero foreign currency reserves.

Crop scientists have warned that Sri Lanka could produce enough rice only for seven months of this year due to the fertilizer ban. Before the fertilizer ban, Sri Lanka had self sufficiency in rice production.