Goutam Gourab Barua
Food security has become a major concern in today's world. One of the world's leading environmentalists reported that the global food supply could collapse at any moment leading to food crisis for hundreds of millions of people, which in its turn might spark widespread food riots and bring down governments.
The collapse of food supply could occur due to extreme weather in the USA and other major grain exporting countries. Already food reserve of different countries is dwindling dramatically. In 2012 food price is already close to record level, having risen 1.4 per cent in September following an increase of 6.0 per cent in July, according to the FAO. The Oxfam warns that this high food price specially hampers those people who spend a large portion of income on food.
Bangladesh should realise its importance as a food importer nation. Despite the progress made over the last two decades, it is yet to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, as it is still an importer of wheat, edible oil, sugar etc. The import bill on account on food accounts for over one-fifth of the export earnings. Importing expensive food increases import cost, causing inflation.
Hence Bangladesh should reduce dependence on imported food.
Although now the agriculture sector contributes to only 19.29 per cent of GDP (which was 50 per cent in 1975/76), our domestic production in agriculture is increasing. Use of pesticides is decreasing and agricultural credit is also declining. Farmers are now using high yielding varieties (HYV) and standardising irrigation equipment. About 82 per cent of cultivated area is now irrigated compared to 36 per cent in 1988. All these efforts are increasing agricultural growth rate which now stands at more than 5.0 per cent exceeding population growth rate. But natural resources, water, soil fertility, diversification are dwindling. It is reported that cultivable land has been declining by almost 1.0 per cent per year (i.e. everyday 325 Bighas is lost to other uses) due to demand for increased habitation, industrial and commercial establishments and transport infrastructure. These pose threats to our food security.
Production of rice, the country's staple, has tripled since independence but its productivity is not properly utilised. According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), per hectare production of rice is about 7.0 tonnes in the research field whereas at the farmer's field it is less than 4.0 tonnes. Too much of emphasis on rice production is at the cost of other crops (vegetables and fruits). As a result price of pulses, oil, fish and meat has increased abnormally.
Natural calamities remain a major threat to our food security. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in case of natural calamity. It is reported that 2.0 meter rise in sea level can inundate almost 25 per cent of our land. Moreover, the risk in rain-fed rice farming will further increase due to erratic monsoon and frequent floods and droughts. In this case we need technology to adapt to climate change.
Bangladesh is expecting to become a self-sufficient country in food by 2013. It seems it will be quite difficult to achieve that status so quickly. Factors such as fuel, electricity, gas, transport facilities are indirectly hindering availability of food for poor people who spend 70 per cent of their income on food. Hence the present government should not only focus on the production of food but also on its availability at the level of the poor -a precondition for a better food-secure Bangladesh.
The writer is a student of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.