Posted by: Duncan Chowdhury | August 19, 2009

Food Security in Bangladesh

I feel comfortable to use the term food security instead of food crisis in our country’s context. Whenever we talk about food crisis, the word starvation comes up in our mind, or more commonly when we mention hunger and then the issue of death from hunger surfaces. Hunger related death, is not an issue in our country as it is relevant to the Sub Saharan countries.

The staple food of our country is rice. When we talk about food grain, it is meant rice. The vast majority of the people of the country eat rice as the a staple food. Wheat, potatoes, corn was also grown in the country however, they seldom has been used as substitute of rice, and that is an issue of food security in our country. Down through the ages, the people of this region had been depended on rice.

Bangladesh never exported rice for the last 50 years. Again, since the end of the British Colonial Period in 1947 , Bangladesh never faced severe food crisis, except in 1974. It used to import food grains traditionally, but it never exceeded 15 % of the total domestic production. There are some exceptions, in the year 1999, due to severe floods huge quantity of food stuff had to be imported. We do not produce much wheat, traditionally we import about 2.5 million tons of wheat each year on an average. Rice is not much available in the international market.

In the year 1974 we had a famine like situation in Bangladesh, there were cases of starvation to death also. This was mostly for political reasons, international politics hindered our import of food grains that year, causing severe suffering of the people.

During our liberation in 1971, we had a population of 75 million people and we used to grow 10 million tons of food grains annually. Last year, we had a bumper harvest and the estimated food grain production was around 30 million tons. Now our population is estimated at 150 million people. Our population has increased two folds and the food production has increased three folds in the last 37 years. The per capita intake has also increased by one and half folds. The annual boro rice production has increased to 18 million. This is just the double of 1986 & 1987. Our aman rice production has also increased in the same ratio. We produce mainly these two varieties of rice. During the year 1998-1999, the production of wheat also increased to the extent, where we had surplus, but unfortunately the wheat production decreased from thereon.

In short we can say that the issue of food crisis is not severe as it has been always projected. The trend is that our annual food production is in the marginal level to meet the demand of the country. Whenever there is any disruption in the normal food production, the matter of food shortage arises leading to food crisis.
Bangladesh is prone to natural calamities like the floods or cyclones. Whenever the country is devastated by cyclone or floods, this hampers the food production. In such a situation, if the governmental policy or mechanism for food imports does not synchronize well, then we suffer from food scarcity.
In the years 1988, 1989 & 1999 we had severe floods which engulfed two third of the total areas of the country, in such a situation, one crop had totally failed, however, the huge quantity and rapid grain imports had tackled the situation.

In November 2007, the southern part of the country had been totally devastated by Cyclone Sidr. This was also responsible for the massive crop failure. During the beginning of the year 2008 we were having a sort of food crisis, for the crop failure secondly for the world wide food grain shortage and also the price spiral. This had a very negative impact. The food grain price had nearly doubled and it was very difficult for the poor people to buy food. People at the lower strata suffered a lot, but there were no reports of starvation related deaths. However, situation changed with the next harvest which was a bumper crop. The prices of food grains had come down now.

The other food related issue in Bangladesh is the availability of fertilizers, seeds, proper irrigation system to the farmers. If any of these components fall short, it too has negative impact in rice production. For example, the newly elected Government after being elected at the end of last year, immediately arranged 50% subsidies for fertilizers, again we had a drought like situation here in Bangladesh during this monsoon, the Government immediately had provided free electricity to the farmers for irrigation purpose. These steps augments the food production in the country.

The other issue is that when the price of food goes up the people whom we term as ultra poor, looses the buying capacity, resulting in less food intake. The problem of malnutrition comes up then.
Similarly, in the northern part of the country, when the harvest is over during the winter season, no work is available in the field. Being unemployed the poor people loose the capacity to buy food, though food is available in the market. This is somewhat an annual phenomenon in the northern region, especially in the districts of Rangpur, Dinajpur etc. We term this as ‘monga’ a semi famine like situation. The ultra poor section of the country suffers a lot during that time. Now a days the Government takes much measures to provide work for the people so that they can have some income to buy their food and the situation is improving each year.

The food supply situtation of our country is more or less quite secure. However, we have to be cautious, especially dealing the food production during droughts, floods, cyclones. We have to see that the farmers have easy access ot agricultural amenities always and also they have a fair price of the products. Thus we can maintain a favorable condition in food production in our country.

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Responses

  1. […] Chowdhury informs that the food supply situation of Bangladesh is more or less quite secure as the country never had […]

  2. […] Colonial Period in 1947 , Bangladesh never faced severe food crisis, except in 1974 More here:  Food Security in Bangladesh « Duncan Chowdhury's Weblog Posted in Bangladesh | Tags: Bangladesh, british, british-colonial, never-exported, period, […]

  3. […] View original post here: Food Security in Bangladesh « Duncan Chowdhury's Weblog […]

  4. Dear Mr Choudhury

    I agree on the points raised by you on the food production. I beleive production of a biodivers crop is necessary to overcome nutritional deficiency and maintain a health environment. The bottom line is however to have easy, afforadble supply of inputs to farmers with ethical standards.

    Hope to see more on food security.

    Concerned citizen


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