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Officials seize 16 tons of ‘contraband’ beetroot, disguised as potatoes, in Sri Lanka food shortage

Sri Lanka is battling food shortages, but officials have seized a 16-tonne shipment of beetroots for violating a strict import ban aimed at propping up the island’s ailing economy.

A shipping container full of the illicit vegetable arrived with a false manifest claiming they were potatoes, which are not subject to the restrictions, customs spokesman Sudaththa Silva told AFP on Saturday.

“Beetroots are contraband,” he said.

“We seized the cargo which came from Pakistan yesterday and will take legal action against the importer.”

Sri Lanka banned a wide range of imports in 2020 to shore up haemorrhaging foreign currency reserves after the pandemic battered the nation’s tourism-dependent economy.

The restrictions have led to power blackouts from utility companies unable to source enough oil, while supermarkets have since late last year rationed rice and other foods.

Last year’s decision to ban imported agricultural chemicals, since reversed, compounded food shortages by causing crop failures and prompting some farmers to leave their fields fallow. Official figures show that food prices rose a record 21.5 percent last month.

Silva said that local vendors have complained that imported vegetables were undercutting local farmers already struggling in the wake of last year’s poor yields.

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