World Food Day Commemoration 2017 Caritas Sri Lanka commemorated this years’ World Food Day on October 16, at the Maithripala Sirisena Buddhi Mandapaya in Polonnaruwa under the global theme, ‘‘Change the future migration – Invest in food security and rural development”.

More than 1600 farmers, government officers, Polonnaruwa District Secretary Mr. Ranjith Ariyaratne, Ambassador of Norway to Sri Lanka and Maldives His Excellency Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther, the Bishop of Anuradhapura, Rt.Rev.Dr. Norbet Andradi, Programme Adviser to Caritas Norway Mr. Aron Halfen, Dr. V.R. Haridhas – Zonal Manager of Caritas India and Coordinator for Agriculture of Caritas Asia, Caritas Diocesan Directors and a large group of invitees participated in the ceremony.

The days’ programme commenced with a public walk where the famer communities participating at the event carried posters and placards depicting key messages advocating for a “Healthy Life and a Poison-free World” achieved through greater efforts in sustainable agriculture, organic farming practices, protection of the environment and eradication of the use of hazardous chemical fertilizer, insecticides and pesticides. Another feature of the commemoration of this years’ World Food Day was the special mini-exhibition which was organized on the sidelines of the main event which was an attempt to showcase items ranging from varieties of food products such as organic rice, new farming technology and agricultural machinery, home grown plants and food items.Welcoming the invitees, the National Director Caritas Sri Lanka-SEDEC, Rev.Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke stated that the Church through its social arm Caritas has taken on the responsibility towards contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), especially the second SDG which is ‘Overcome Hunger”, by engaging directly with the poor famer communities in the Dioceses of Anuradhapura, Batticaloa and Kurunegala through the project of “Substantiation of Community Institutions for Sustainable Agriculture to ensure Food Security” supported by Caritas Norway with financing from NORAD. It is in this backdrop that we are commemorating this years’ World Food Day, which Caritas has been commemorating each year during the past 5 years. Fr. Mahendra further noted the significant contribution of the farmer communities who have worked hard for the success of the project and the financial contribution of NORAD through Caritas Norway and said it was an honour to have His Excellency Ambassador Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther grace the occasion once again this year.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Norbet Andradi, Bishop of Anuradhapura gracing the occasion and in his Lordships’ address reminded that both Buddhist and Catholic teaching call us to be stewards and not ‘owners’ of mother earth and creation. However, His Lordship said that we have failed to take this responsibility seriously citing various examples of negative effects on human beings and the environment. In Nuwara Eliya for example, we tell our children not to bathe in the rivers and waterways because the water is contaminated; we wash our fresh vegetables in contaminated water which could be harmful to our health; we have failed to find a lasting solution to the Chronic Kidney Disease Unknown (CKDu) rampant in the north central province. He questioned if Sri Lanka which used to be a country with self-sufficiency in Rice could produce a healthy crop of Rice any longer. He concluded ‘people are living in fear’ due to all this man-made calamities. Bishop Andradi thanked the significant contribution of the Government of Norway and Caritas Norway in supporting the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security project implemented by Caritas Sri Lanka and called on the farmers to continue their good work in creating sustainable livelihoods for their future.

The key note address was given by Dr. T.S.P. Jayaweera, Senior Lecturer Faculty of Agriculture Sciences, University of Sabaragamuwa on the days’ theme “Change the future of Migration, Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”. In his address, Dr. Jayaweera pointed out at the very outset, that he was delighted to note that the famers present at the ceremony had already demonstrated with success the actualization of the theme, especially in investing in food security, and his presentation would only reiterate what the famers have accomplished. Setting the context, Dr. Jayaweera said that our country boasted 41% of our Gross National Product from an agriculture-based economy in the 1950’s and it was startling to note that in 2016 agriculture contributed only 10.6% of Sri Lanka’s GNP. We have moved from an agriculture-based economy towards a service-based economy which contributed to 61% of our total earnings, which included the foreign income earning generated through labour migration overseas.

Dr. Jayaweera, drew the attention of the packed audience to the serious social degradation caused by the continuing migration of our women and mothers for greater income to the Gulf states, the serious brain-drain to the country due to migration of our youth for employment and educational purposes and the challenges posed by rapid urbanization due to large scale internal migration of people from the rural to the urban sector. Dr. Jayaweera emphasized therefore, it was no surprise that solutions to such challenges could be found if proper investment is made on food security and rural development, which is the very call to all of us in this years’ World Food Day. Dr. Jayaweera went on to define sustainable food security; key characteristics, effects and activities of sustainable agriculture;  the multi-faceted approaches involved in sustainable agriculture; the importance of homestead gardening, organic agriculture and integrated agriculture through crop & livestock farming. He concluded that promoting sustainable agriculture will not only lead to achieve food security, but also improve food quality, affordability, consumption and leading to a healthy nation. The keynote address of Dr. Jayaweera was well received by the participating famers and all those present.

His Excellency Ambassador Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther, speaking at the occasion commended the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and Caritas for bringing much needed development to rural Sri Lanka and appreciated the direction taken towards promoting organic farming and homestead gardening as means towards sustainable agriculture and long term food security. The Ambassador went on the say that one cannot speak about food security without speaking about climate change. “There is plenty of food in the world, however, climate change, conflicts, migration, political modernization are factors that lead to food in-security. The objective of food security is to guarantee sufficient food for everyone even in times of crisis. Stable political conditions, economic growth, social protection of the most vulnerable are common factors that could enhance food security,” said the Ambassador. Ambassador Gaustadsæther also explained his country’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and how Norway is contributing towards these global commitments and concluded by encouraging the rural farmers to continue their efforts through investing in sustainable development and self-sufficiency in food.
The Venerable Dimbulagala Rahulalankara Thero, a prominent Buddhist Monk who has been associated with the Caritas Sethsaviya’s  Sustainable Agriculture Program for many years testified the positive impacts of the agriculture programe implemented by Caritas, while Mr. Aron Halfen Program Advisor, Caritas Norway, Dr. V. R Haridas, Manager, Climate Adaptive Agriculture & Livelihoods, Caritas India also spoke on behalf of Caritas Norway and Caritas Asia respectively.

A special feature of the program was the handing over of a ‘Sannas Pathraya’ containing key demands and ‘Call to Action’ to the Government of Sri Lanka by famer communities representing the three Dioceses to Mr. Ranjith Ariyaratne, District Secretary of Polonnaruwa, who promised to forward same to His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka.  The symbolic handover of a Kumbuk sapling to the District Secretary by Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, National Director Caritas Sri Lanka took place thereafter signifying an undertaking by both parties, to launch a large scale tree-planting campaign in a dedicated location in Polonnaruwa towards environmental protection.
10 Winners of the ‘Best Home Garden’ Competition in the districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa also received their Award Certificates & Prizes on the day.The ceremony concluded with the Vote of Thanks  by Rev. Fr. Srilal Fernando, Diocesan Director, Caritas Anuradhapura-Sethsaviya.