Achieving food security and becoming food surplus
Shahidur Rahman Khan
DEDICATED planning and timely supports can make Bangladesh food-surplus and ensure food security for its population. This year’s net food grain shortage is only 0.1 mil. ton against a total demand of 26 mil. tons (despite 1.8 mil. tons standing crops damage by back-to-back floods and Sidr). Bangladesh produced 24.3 mil. tons of food grains in 1999-2000 matching the requirements of the then 130 mil. population and since then it is on the fringe of self-sufficiency. Presently, Bangladesh has 8.29 mil. ha. of cultivable land and about 145.6 mil. population. Each year, the country is loosing about 1 percent of its cultivable lands to non-agricultural uses while its popualtion is increasing by about 2 mil. A yearly incremental production of 0.35 mil. ton in addition to 2 mil. tons average deficit is required for food grains self-sufficiency.
World’s exportable rice has already been advanced booked upto 2010 by now. World rice price benchmark the Thai variety has risen to 3 times its price of January 2007. Recent world-wide surges in food price are themselves part of a wider range of commodity price hike linking prices of petroleum products, energy, industrial raw materials, food grains and feed stuff. UN World Food Report says that present world food prices are 10 years’ high having no chance of appreciable reduction in, at least, within next 10 years. FAO, WFP, IRRI, WB, IFAD, ADB etc. are all unanimous about continuation of high prices in the coming years. The flip side of high price is that surplus producers will get lucrative payments.
‘Net Food Importing Low Income Countries (NFILICs) have to go for long term strategy aimed at maximising food production to protect themselves from unceraitanity of unpredictable volatile external markets. An IFRI and John Hopkins University study of 2000 found that self-sufficiency in rice for Bangladesh is necessary not only to meet world market instability, but also for its comparative advantages in production. Bangladesh, the world’s 4th largest rice producer, has potentials and capabilities to attain sustainable food security and even become net rice exporter.
Food surplus in short-term
Bangladesh has to produce at least 31 mil. tons of food grains in its 7.88 mil. ha. of cultivable land (available at that time), for a projected population of 156 million to attain food-surplus in a short-term of 5 years. This is not an unachievable target, since addition of the lost 1.8 mil. tons would have pushed this year’s production to 44 mil. tons. Some of the attainments necessary for being food-surplus in short-term are:-
* Proper planning and effective coordinated implementation: ‘Grow More Food’ campaign, ‘Green Revolution’, ‘Medium Term Food Production Plan (MTFPP)’, ‘Accelerated Rice Production Programme (ARPP)’ and various national 5-year plans have consistently facilitated and enthused the farmers to grow more food crops. This resulted in higher growths of 1990s and early 2000s. Coordinated implementation of a farmer friendly long-term plan of government is a pre-requisite for self-sufficiency.
* Product price stabilisation and agricultural credit: Drastic fall in immediately post-harvest price is a common local happening. 85 percent of the farmers have to sell immediate on harvest (even sell in advance) for debt payment or other urgent necessity. Ensuring reasonable post-product price and keeping price-variation within rational limits will hold farmers’ interest in food crops. Formation of “Producers’ Food Bank” as is being experimented in India, is worth consideration.
* Financial constraint in procuring inputs is an impediment for majority of farmers: Availability of pre-product agricultural loan will boost production. Disbursement and recovery of loan, with government/private funding, can be made through “farmers’ cooperatives” in a similar system as PKSF’s loans to NGOs. Availability of pre-production credit and post-production reasonable price can do away with agricultural subsidies and their related maladies.
* Population control: Lax population growth is unwarranted in Bangladesh because of limited land and other resource bases. 1974 population growth rate of 2.48 has come down to 1.42 at present. Jobs for rural women, extensive motivation and easy availability of family planning materials at grassroots level will effectively assist in bringing down the growth rate.
* Food habit change: Nation-wide substituting one meal of rice with bread (made of 50 percent wheat/maize flour and 50 percent meshed patato) will reduce our total food grains requirement by at least 15 percent and optimise use of home grown potatoes. Food habit change motivation will need active support of media, civil society and government. Japanese per capita/year consumption of 155 160 kg of rice in mid-50s has already come down to 60 kg at present.
* Contract farming: Myanmar has offered to lease out to Bangladesh at least 50,000 acres of land for rice cultivation for a period of at least 10 years. 50,000 acres will add at least 60,000 tons of food grains to national inventory. China and Thailand are already engaged in contract farming there.
* Cultivation of fallow lands: Fallow lands in Bangladesh are either lying fallow in between two crops or remaining vacant for a year or more. About 75,000 ha. lying fallow after an Aman harvest in Rajshahi region is capable of producing additional 0.2 mil. tons of wheat with timely irrigation. 737,363 ha. was lying fallow for a year or more against a net cropped area of 7.97 mil. ha. in 2005. Even raising a single crop there would have increased total national production by at least 9 percent.
* Improvement in seed quality and production techniques; dissemination of information and stable supply of inputs: Wide dissemination of updated and validated information on quality seeds, production techniques, balanced fertiliser use, irrigation, harvesting, storage, marketing etc. to grassroots level augments agricultural growth. Average yeild of 1.5 tons/ha. of late 70s has come up to more than 3 tons/ha. A Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) experiment has more than doubled per ha. rice production, with timely provision of proper inputs alone. Raising the average rate of production to 4 tons/ha. to achieve food-surplus is not unattainable. According to Dr. Mahabub Hossain, only ensuring availabilty of good HYVseeds will increase local total food grains production by 10 percent.
* Efficient post-production crop management: Post-harvest loss in Bangladesh, amounting to 30 percent – 40 percent of production, is very high. 50% savings in post-harvest loss by efficient management of production and storage alone can make Bangladesh a food-surplus country.
Bangladesh can immediately become surplus in food grains by accomplishing any one of the factors like (i) cultivation of all fallow lands; or (ii) improvement in seed quality and production techniques, stable and timely supply of inputs; or (iii) efficient post-production crop management. Nation-wide food habit change will accrue sufficient food-surplus and make Bangladesh a net rice exporter.
Food security in medium-term
Though availability is a necessary pre-requisite, mere availability may not ensure food security for all, as access is also related to economic capability. Individual food security, cumulatively leading to national food security is the choicest option in this regard. To achieve food security in a medium-term of say 15 years, Bangladesh has to produce at least 35 mil. tons of food grains in the 7.05 mil. ha. of cultivable land available at that time, for a projected population of 176.6 million. The factors mentioned before can provide food-surplus in a short-term but for long-term food security, cultivable lands available at that time will simply be not enough. According to Prof Abdul Bayes, land is the only source of food security at household and at national level.
Much of the land-mass of Bangladesh is created by deposition of GangesBrhmaputraMeghna (GBM) sediments and the normal delta development is still going on. Retaining the yearly passing 2.4 billion tons GBM sediments would give rise to 200 sq. km of new lands. Natural depositions are random, slow and fragile. Partial sediment retainment is neither technically difficult nor economically prohibitive. Land reclamations in Bangladesh require less cost-intensive interventions. Artificial interventions can make land reclamation sustainable by accelerating deposition at desired places and holding them there. New jobs, food security and rice export, for Bangladesh in the coming decades, are all linked toghether to adequate cultivable lands and land reclamation can ensure that.
BWDB’s Land Raclamation Project, Meghna Estuary Studies etc. were preparatory works for long-term land reclamation activities. More than 1000 sq. km of lands have been reclaimed by hands-on activities like Meghna Cross Dams 1 and 2 , Muhuri Closure Dam etc. A ‘BWDB Task Force’ recommended erection of 19 priority cross dams to assist and accelerate Meghna Estuary’s natural land development activities. Present Meghna Estuary and its future vision are shown in Figures 1 and 2 respectively. ‘The Royal Netherlands Government’, ‘Global Environment Facilities (GEF)’, ‘Cool Earth’ partnership of Japan, UN’s ‘Least Developed Countries Fund’ and ‘Special Climate Change Fund’, JBIC, JICA, DFID, WB, ADB etc. are some of the sources of support funding.
Estuary Development Programme (EDP) initiated by BWDB in March’07, with Dutch grant funding, is a logical follow up of land reclamation activities in Meghna Estuary. The project limped for one year and since then is passing through a scaled down phase, for circustances beyond its control. Invigorating the EDP will put in motion the process of reclamation of hundreds of sq. kms of new lands from sea and push the national boundary further south resulting in a geographically bigger Bangladesh and expanding the apparently finite land resource base. The process will go on ensuring food security, in the coming decades, for millions of Bangladeshis.