Meeting Food Security Needs through Sustainable Agriculture:
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A perspective with reference to Bangladesh
By Mohammad Abu Taiyeb Chowdhury
Professor Department of Geography and Environmental Studies University of Chittagong, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a rural-agrarian country in the humid tropics of Asia. Agriculture plays an important role in the growth and stability of the country, producing nearly one fourth of the economy's output and providing livelihoods to more than two thirds of the population. The sector, however, is facing many problems such as declining agricultural productivity, soil degradation and land conversion. Due to rapid population growth, Bangladesh is confronted with the question of how to achieve sustainable food production and food security for all. This can be addressed by adopting appropriate policy measures and institutional changes which are conducive to agricultural growth, while maintaining and sustaining the natural resource bases, i.e., land and water.
Food security has been and will remain a major concern for Bangladesh. This article addresses the issue of whether Bangladesh will be able to sustain intensive agriculture through monoculture, that is, self-sufficiency in rice production. In this paper, an attempt has also been made to examine the factors that influence the supply side (availability) of food security with a focus on physical constraints, development or technological issues and environmental challenges. The paper then discusses the prospects for sustainable agriculture in response to sustainable food security, while protecting human health and the environment.
Food plays a crucial role in the developing agro-based economy of Bangladesh. About 58 per cent of the total income of the population is allocated to food (HIES, 2007). The Government of Bangladesh is firmly committed to achieve food security for all, which exists "when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life" (FAO, 1998).
In Bangladesh, food security is integrally linked with agricultural production of staple foods such as rice. Typically, it means that food needs to be available at a national scale, which may be achieved through ensuring that major domestic cereal (rice and wheat) production and availability (including net food imports and national food stocks) are together sufficient to cover national requirements. Since the independence of Bangladesh (1971), the National Food Policy has focused on increasing total cereal output as one of the main strategies of national food security.
Food grain production
Since 1971, growth in the agricultural sector has been led by food grain production - mostly rice. It is evident from Figure 1 that rice dominates the food grain sub-sector in Bangladesh. As the principal crop, rice covers about 75 per cent of the total cropped area, accounts for 70 per cent of the value of total crop output, and constitutes 92 per cent of the total food grains produced annually in the country. Since the stable supply of rice has great implications for food security and political stability, its production in Bangladesh has been synonymous with national food security, particularly with achieving self-sufficiency in its production and stabilization in its prices (Hossain, 1989; Ahmed, 2001; BBS, 2007).
Implications for National Food Security
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in increasing rice production through intensification of agriculture, mainly using modern seed, fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation technologies. This has made the food supply abundant and affordable. Advances in rice science and technology have enabled Bangladesh to meet the food needs of a fast growing population. Between 1971-1972 and 2004-2005, rice production has more than doubled; it increased from 9.8 million metric tons to 25.2 million metric tons (Chowdhury, 2009). Figure 2 shows that the total food grains production (including wheat) in 1991/92 was 19.3 million metric tons, which has gradually increased to 29.8 million tons in 2007/08, 6.13 per cent higher than the previous year's production. Total rice production rose to 28.9 million metric tons in 2007-2008, some 5.9 per cent above that of the previous year and 12.7 per cent above the five-year average. Bangladesh agriculture has grown at 3.2 per cent annually during 1991-2005 and the dominant source of this growth has been the crop sub-sector growing at 2.3 per cent per annum. During the same period, livestock and fisheries productions have grown annually at about 3 and 5.7 per cent, respectively (WFP; BBS, 2010).
Although acceleration of rice production has resulted in an increase in per capita availability, and has led to self-sufficiency by the early 1990s (Syem and Chowdhury, 2011), food security remains an elusive goal. Since the benefits of agricultural growth have bypassed many, especially the poor, it has become a major development issue now. Moreover, the availability of other foods has not significantly increased during the reference period, and the progress in nutritional outcome has remained slow. Although food grain is more available in good harvest years, Bangladesh still has a very low level of nutrition. In 2000, Bangladesh produced nearly 500 kilograms of cereals per head. Yet, amid this abundance, around one third of the population was living below the lower poverty line and income inequality has been worsening (World Bank, 2005). The availability of, and access to food produced domestically is now a key issue affecting basic survival, nutrition, national security and stability, making agricultural growth vital to addressing these challenges.
According to conservative estimates, the population of Bangladesh will reach 169 million by the year 2025. As a consequence, land-man ratio will decline gradually; to feed the extra millions, Bangladesh will need to produce about 27.8 million mt of clean rice by the year 2025, which is roughly 21 per cent higher than the production level of 2000 (Bhuiyan et al., 2002). The demand has to be met from our limited and shrinking natural resources bases - land and water. It is striking to note that agricultural production growth has already declined from a high of 4.7 per cent in the late 1990's to 2.8 per cent by 2008. In just one decade, agriculture has lost about 2 per cent of its momentum. While agriculture contributes to only 22 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, it provides jobs for 80 per cent of the total population. Moreover, only 37 per cent of Bangladesh's total area is arable land and natural disasters such as frequent floods, cyclones and droughts pose special problems for assuring food security (USAID, 2012).
The state of food insecurity
Despite remarkable economic progress, Bangladesh remains highly food-insecure. The country is ranked 129th out of 169 countries in the 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) published by UNDP, and ranked 70th among 122 countries in the 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Around 60 million people consume less than the minimum daily recommended amount of food (BBS, 2012). Achieving gender equality remains a challenge, as significant disparities persist in health, education and income. The country's flat deltaic terrain, high population density, susceptibility to n