Bangladesh faces major food-security challenges
Updated:Mar 9, 2018
By Minhazur Rahman Rezvi
Agriculture is essential for food security in two ways; it produces food for people to eat and it provides sources of livelihood for 36% of the world’s total workforce. In Bangladesh, almost half the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, providing food security and employment.
Despite a slight decline, agriculture is still a large employer in Bangladesh, where around 45 percent of the labour force is engaged (BBS: 2016). Around 84 percent of the rural population depends on agriculture, directly or indirectly.
Bangladesh did well till a few decades ago in ensuring food security and achieved self-sufficiency in food production. It attained self-sufficiency in 1999–2000 with a gross production of rice and wheat of 24.9 million metric tons, which met the country’s requirement of 21.4 million metric tons (MT).
Bangladesh has managed healthy progress in rice production, tripling from 11 million metric tons in 1971 to 33 million metric tons in 2012.
However, climate change has become a new challenge for the agriculture sector in Bangladesh. The impact of climate change has seen Bangladesh experience several floods, flash floods, cyclones and tornadoes in recent years. This phenomenon has adversely affected food production. The decline in agricultural production has caused a major challenge to food security.
In Bangladesh, rice is the main staple food that accounts for 92 % of the total food production. Rice production is disastrously affected by the impacts of climate change.
The World Bank in 2009 predicted that national rice production would decline in all climate change scenarios and the annual growth rate would decline from 2.71 % to 2.55 % under the Average Climate Change Scenario during the period 2005–2050. High increase in temperature has reduced the production of high yielding varieties like aman, aus & boro rice in all parts of Bangladesh. An increase of 4°C in temperature would have a severe impact on food production in Bangladesh, resulting in 28 per cent reduction in rice and a 68 per cent reduction in wheat. Among the most obvious fallouts of climate change is the gradual drifting of the rain-fed rice season (aman) due to drought and delayed monsoon. The production of rice and wheat could fall by eight per cent and 32 per cent respectively by 2050.
The intensity and frequency of floods and flash floods has increased in recent years. Last year, floods occurred in several places, causing devastation of agricultural crops (rice, wheat). Sudden and severe flash floods caused devastation of standing crops, infrastructure damage and human suffering.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), flash floods submerged 141,000 hectares of farmland in six northeastern districts, affecting around 423,000 farmers. Devastation of crops and submerged farmlands in flash flood-affected areas caused decreasing agriculture production last year.
Increased intrusion of salinity in farmland in Bangladesh is another impact of climate change in the world. Particularly in coastal areas, increase in sea levels has led to increased salinity of the soil.
According to the Bangladesh National Adaptation Programme of Action, the sea level along the Bangladesh coast is rising about 3 millimetres a year. Salinity intrusion increased by 27% from 1973 to 2009 (Soil Resource Development Institute, 2010).
Due to salinity, water logging and drought, about 30-50% of net cropped areas have been rendered ineligible for crop production. Salinity affected 1.1 million hectares of land in the coastal areas. Due to this salinity, rice production will fall by 8% and wheat by 32% until 2050. Increased of proportion of salinity, both in coastal and inland areas, may result in significant reduction in rice production, as much as 15.6 percent in the next 30 years. The increasing rate of salinity will lead to a significant shortage of irrigation for rice production.
Bangladesh faces the most severe food crisis due to climatic change as well as anthropogenic causes (U. Habiba et al. 2015). There are a number of anthropogenic factors that affect agriculture production; population pressure, urbanization & loss of arable land. Population growth is a major challenge for food security.
Figure 3: Demand of rice production and population.
Bangladesh is among the most densely populated countries in the world, with a population of 160 million and annual growth rate of 1.6%. Population growth rates are increasing but food production is not keeping pace in Bangladesh.
Unnayan Onneshan ( 2014 ) reported that, if the present trend of population growth of two million people per year continues, Bangladesh will undoubtedly face far more severe food shortages in the next few years, reaching a critical level by 2050. While growth of the country’s farm sector has slowed in the last five years, Population Division of United Nation has estimated that the total population of Bangladesh will be 194.353 million in 2050 and the total rice demand will be 49.07 million.
This is a tremendous challenge, to ensure food is provided to the increasing population. The decline in food production has seen the Bangladesh government importing food from neighbouring countries to bridge the shortfall. In 2017, Bangladesh imported 600,000 tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam to overcome the food shortage in the country.
(The author is studying for Bachelor in Social Sciences (BBS) in Development Studies at Dhaka University. He can be contacted at email@example.com)