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Sri Lanka gives workers extra day off to grow food

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Sri Lanka is giving government officials an extra day off a week to encourage them to grow food, amid fears of a food shortage / Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Sri Lanka is giving government officials an extra day off a week to encourage them to grow food, amid fears of a food shortage.

The country has around one million public sector employees.

It comes as the island nation, home to around 22 million, faces its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years.

Sri Lanka is struggling to pay for critical imports such as food, fuel and medicine as it faces a severe shortage of foreign currencies.

Late on Monday, the government approved a proposal for public sector workers to be given leave every Friday for the next three months.

It said the decision was partly to help workers who are facing difficulties getting to work due to fuel shortages as well as to encourage them to grow fruit and vegetables to help feed themselves and their families.

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“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave for one working day of the week and provide them with the necessary facilities to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards or elsewhere as a solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur in the future,” the government said in a statement on its online news portal.

Also on Monday, the United States said that it was ready to help Sri Lanka.

After a phone call with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US “stands ready to work with Sri Lanka”.

Earlier this month, Mr Wickremesinghe said the country needed at least $5bn (£4.15bn) this year to pay for essential imports.

The government is in talks over an economic bailout package, with an IMF delegation expected to arrive in the capital Colombo next Monday.

The fall in the value of the Sri Lankan rupee, rising global commodity prices and a ban chemical fertilisers – which has now been lifted – helped to push annual food price rises to more than 57% in April.

At the end of last month, the country’s Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera called on farmers to grow more rice, saying “it is clear the food situation is becoming worse”.

“We request all farmers to step into their fields in the next five to ten days and cultivate paddy [rice],” he added.

At the same time the government raised taxes to help shore up its finances.

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