Bangladesh is a country of 165 million citizens crammed into a land area of 151,000 square kilometers about the size of Iowa. The seventh-largest country in the world, its population is increasing at a rate of 1.6% per annum, while its GNP has risen 5-7% annually for the past six years. At the same time, it faces a serious threat from the adverse effects of climate change because of its huge low-lying coastal area — roughly one foot above sea level.
But our most daunting task is to ensure the food security and sustainability for the entire population.
As an example, rice is the main staple of Bangladesh, central to the sustenance of its population. Rice production is an important source of livelihood for approximately 20 million rice-farming households, and for millions of the rural poor hired to work rice farms. Both economic growth and political stability of the country depend on an adequate, affordable and stable supply of rice.
Despite the substantial increase in rice production in the wake of the Green Revolution, important challenges remain in ensuring an adequate and stable supply of this vital commodity that’s affordable to poor consumers.
Despite a decline in per-capita consumption, major challenges are the need to produce more rice to meet the rising demand driven by population growth. These include deceleration in the growth of rice yields; environmental degradation associated with intensive rice production as well as a decline in rice biodiversity and loss of rice heritage.
In addition to global climate change, increasing competition for land, labor and water from industrial and urban sectors and changes in dietary composition with income growth and urbanization have added to the urgency.
Although Bangladesh was once a food-deficit country, it is now almost completely self-reliant in rice and many other food items. Many factors contributed to this increased food production including education in the development of diversified crop varieties through R&D, as well as their adoption with the use of technological interventions to enhance crop yields.
Modern scientific approaches and new technologies are making it possible to increase rice productivity in a sustainable manner by adding nutritive value to rice and other crops, and reducing losses from droughts and flood. These technologies are creating a positive impact on rice production and enhancing food security, reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
But Bangladesh falls far short in vegetables, meat, milk, eggs, spices and other food items that are the main source of protein and important nutrients necessary for human health and productivity. The country is dependent on imports for the majority of these staples (see Figure 1) including lentils (a good source of protein for the poor).
Under the World Health Organization guidelines, 400 grams of vegetables are required for an adult for a balanced diet. But recent statistics indicate that only 80 grams of vegetables are available per adult in Bangladesh.
At the moment, food sustainability is manifested not only through government sectors alone but also simultaneous participation of private entrepreneurs playing a significant role in many challenging fields in agriculture involving cereals, vegetables, fish, poultry, cattle and other diversified agricultural products.
Bangladesh also has one of the highest densities of ruminant animals in the world, but it is also the least productive in terms of meat and milk. Therefore, genetic improvement is essential to feed the nation with milk and meat by improving livestock in two ways: i) increasing the productivity of animals for milk, meat and fat and ii) improving the livelihood of farmers by way of increasing farmer’s income through increased production of milk and meat per animal.
The sub continental environment is suitable for buffalo within the intensive household production system. Comparatively, buffalo milk is equivalent to double the output of cow milk and easy to use in preparation of a variety of milk products. Traditionally, Bangladeshi people are used to depending on cow’s milk, which is highly insufficient (about 20% of demand is met with current production while the remainder consists of imported milk at a high cost). Whereas, demand for milk is rising fast with buying capacity of consumers and commercial users, the demand/supply gap is also growing at an alarming rate. To minimize this gap, there is a phenomenal opportunity to promote milk production through intensive buffalo production, both in household and commercial farming, along with cattle.
Various technological and policy options are available to increase the supply of food items. Given the present scenario, we at WEAB urge that the following strategy be undertaken to enhance food security:
• Increase the productivity and nutrition value of rice
• Enhance the rice and high-value agricultural product value chain by improving food quality and reducing post-harvest losses
• Improve mitigation/adaptation of farming to climate change and improve farmers’ capacity to cope with risk
• Improve the policy efficiency and reliability of domestic markets to stabilize price and supply
• Ensure equitable access by the poor
• Enhance the well-being and livelihoods of smallholders and women
• Maximize water in agriculture production
• Enhance crop varieties and introduction of intensive cropping systems
All of these steps rely on education. The learning process — from researchers to producers — is the common ingredient to all. These include better management of crops and inputs and those that involve changes at the crop/farming systems level. To mitigate the effects of climate change we must develop crop varieties that are tolerant of multiple stresses such as drought, submergence, salinity, insects/diseases and high temperature. Water is a critically important resource for rice production, but water is becoming scarce, both physically and economically.