Agricultural production and food security
It is a positive development that the government has drafted a Country Investment Plan (CIP) under the National Food Policy (NFP), which was formulated as far back as in 2006. The main objective of the CIP is to prepare detailed programmes for an investment outlay of about $10 billion until 2015 in the agricultural sector. Being still the economic backbone despite its declining share in the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP), the agricultural sector is critically important to help ensure food security and nutrition for all. The food planning and monitoring unit of the ministry of food organized last Sunday in Dhaka a day-long discussion on the CIP, in cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). At least three cabinet ministers, high government officials and representatives of donor agencies, among others, took part in deliberations there, highlighting the importance of agricultural productivity.
Food security is an issue that concerns every nation, big or small. But the issue has assumed far greater importance in a country like Bangladesh than the case with many others. Land resource of Bangladesh is scarce and its population growth rate is also high. Nearly 2.0 million new mouths are added to its population every year when, according to a study, almost 1.0 per cent of its arable land is lost to new infrastructures, homes and other economic activities. Some people have already underlined the need for enacting laws to stop any further loss of agricultural land. But, if the issue is considered from a practical point of view, it would be hard to stop the use of agricultural land for other purposes, to any substantial extent, because of the rising demand for the same for housing and other economic purposes. However, none is supposed to oppose any move to stop the abuse of valuable resource such as land.
Under the prevailing circumstances, the best option would be to raise the agricultural productivity through optimizing the use of the available land, deployment of the most efficient farming technology and placing a greater emphasis on research activities with an aim to develop the stress-resistant crop varieties. There is no denying that the production of rice in the country has more than doubled over the last three to four decades, mainly because of the use of high-yielding varieties (HYV) and application of improved farming technology. But the per-acre yield of rice and other crops is still low in Bangladesh compared to that in other countries of Asia. This is primarily because of lack of adequate field-level extension activities and imbalanced use of farm inputs. Besides, one of the striking features of the development in farming practices in Bangladesh has been the declining production of pulses, oil seeds and spices. Since rice is occupying more importance in the production plan of the growers, the acreage under those crops has declined over time, leading to import of the same in higher quantities.
The implementation of the CIP, being otherwise capital-intensive, would require substantial support from the development partners. Last Sunday’s discussion was aimed at sensitizing the donors about this. However, the availability of external funds would largely depend on the government’s seriousness and quality of its plans and projects aimed at ensuring food security and beefing up the national nutritional level in an integrated manner. It would not be, however, out of place to mention here that the availability of food in adequate quantities does not necessarily ensure food security for all. Here, the buying capacity of the poorer section of the population is an issue that needs to be dealt with due seriousness by the policymakers. The government has public food distribution system and safety net programmes for the poor and vulnerable sections of the population. But a large section of the poor people still does not have access to such programmes. So, efforts to improve the buying capacity of the poor should be made, side by side with the implementation of plans and programmes to increase agricultural production.