Self-Sufficiency in Food Essay

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Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday said that the country is yet to achieve the overall self- sufficiency in food. “[When it comes to] overall self sufficiency, [I’ll say] no. But, self sufficiency in rice is yes, in food grains, mostly,” he told reporters after visiting director general of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Jose Graziano met him at his office at the Economic Relations Division (ERD). Muhith said the country has shortages in wheat production, but it is almost self-sufficient in maize output. “But, still we have a better prospect for more maize production. We always have shortages in wheat because we can’t produce more than one million tonnes a year,” he added. The finance minister said the overall self-sufficiency also means meat, egg, milk and fish. The FAO DG said the organisation has some regular and emergency programmes in Bangladesh involving $ 100 million which are engaged in tackling cyclone, drought and heavy rains. “We’ve decided to integrate these two programmes (regular and emergency),” he added ONE of the redeeming features of our economic development during the last four decades has been the steady increase in food-grain production despite all odds, both natural and man-made.

The country barely produced enough food grains to feed the population when it emerged as an independent nation. The total production of food grains (mainly rice) was less than 10 million tonnes in 1972-73. Scarcity of food, mal-distribution and incorrect polices contributed to a devastating famine in 1974 in which tens of thousands of people perished. The famine left an indelible mark on the psyche of the government since then. The attainment of self-sufficiency in food production became a major objective of economic policy notwithstanding the fact that serious doubts were raised if the famine was due mainly to a food shortage (AK Sen). Efforts of successive governments and the hard work of the farmers paid rich dividends; rice production increased by three and half times by 2011-12.

What is remarkable is that this large increase in rice production was achieved with a dwindling supply of cropped land. Bangladesh had a very adverse land–man ratio, which progressively worsened as the population size increased over time. The rising demand for land for new housing, infrastructure and other economic activities gradually encroached on agricultural land. Net cropped area declined at an average annual rate of 0.2 percent during the post-independence period (Table 1). This could accelerate in future.

In the face of a dwindling supply of cropped land, farmers took to multiple cropping to increase the effective supply of arable land. Gross cropped area increased by 0.6 per cent per annum during this long period. However, the increase in gross area explains only a small part of the increase in rice production. The greater part was achieved through an increase in the productivity of land. The yield rate of rice increased from 0.34 tonnes to 0.91 tonnes per gross cropped acre between 1972-73 and 2010-11. The higher yield was brought about by a rapid diffusion of cultivation of high-yield varieties of rice and a reduction in the area devoted to low-yield local varieties of rice.

The cultivation of HYV crops required controlled water and chemical fertiliser. The privatisation of agricultural input marketing at the beginning of 1980s greatly facilitated the spread of mechanised irrigation. Area irrigated increased from paltry 3 million acres to 17 million acres. The spread of irrigation permitted widespread dry-season cropping. Since dry season crops were less likely to be damaged by weather conditions or floods, farmers increasingly leaned toward dry season cropping. Over time the importance of dry-season crops outstripped that of rain-fed crops in total production. There was little use of chemical fertiliser in the early years. But the switch to HYV cultivation increased the demand for chemical fertiliser. The use of such fertiliser increased nearly nine-fold. Indeed, as early as 2001-02, Bangladesh was the leading chemical fertilizer user in South Asia (Table 2). The rapid increase in the use of irrigation and chemical fertiliser (together with improved seeds) led to the fairly high rate of increase in rice production of 3.26 per cent per annum.

This was much in excess of the average annual increase in population of 1.9 per cent. Thus, the per capita availability of rice nearly doubled during this period. The success of crop agriculture encouraged the government to claim attainment of self-sufficiency in food grain production. However, it is not very clear what really is meant by self-sufficiency. The general tone of discourse would suggest that it implies enough food grain is produced domestically to meet the existing demand for cereals, i.e. there is no need for net import of food grains. However, a look at agricultural statistics suggests that the country was never really self-sufficient in cereal production; it had to import a substantial fraction of its production to meet the domestic demand. Indeed, the shortage in production (to meet the domestic demand) was the highest last year since the turn of the millennium.

The data also show that Bangladesh imported more food grains than what it imported in 2010-11 in only one year (1998-99) during the last four decades. In other words, the demand for food grains more than matched the rising production necessitating greater import. The demand for food increases due to both an increase in population and an increase in income. In fact the latter is quantitatively more important determinant of the incremental demand than the former. The amount by which demand increases depends on the elasticity of demand with respect to income. In an indigent country such as Bangladesh food elasticity tends to be quite high, perhaps one-half or higher.What it means is that if the income of a household increases by 2 per cent the demand for food will increase by at least 1 per cent. The per capita income of Bangladesh has increased by about 5 per cent per annum during the first decade of the new millennium.

This alone must have raised food demand by about 2.5 per cent per annum. Add to it the rate of population growth of 1.4 per cent and the total food demand would have increased by 3.9 per cent. Disregarding substitution, the demand for the principal food item, cereals, could be expected to have increased at about this rate. However, the average growth in cereal output during this period was only 2.6 per cent, implying that production did not keep pace with the rising demand necessitating greater import of cereals. The cereal output growth was higher during the 1990s (3.6 per cent). Hence, import requirements were lower. The decadal average of cereal import was 2.75 million tonnes per year during the first decade of the new millennium. It was lower at 2.08 million tonnes during the 1990s. The import requirement was even lower during the 1980s — only 1.84 million tonnes per year. As Chart 1 shows, there is a trend increase in the import of cereals during the last three decades.

As long as cereal demand rises at least as fast as the growth in production, the absolute food gap will keep on increasing necessitating greater amounts of cereal import. This has been the situation during the past three decades, and it will persist unless the productivity of crop agriculture increases substantially. Another entrenched belief is that self-sufficiency (or surplus) in food production helps to keep a lid on the food prices, and hence on the general price level. Good harvest may bring down the harvest prices due to market imperfections but it does not have much impact on the retail prices where the market is more competitive.

The gradual integration of the domestic economy with that of the rest of the world through more liberal trade in goods and services has meant that domestic prices are determined less by domestic supply-demand balance and increasingly more by global supply-demand balance. When the domestic balance is fortuitously similar to the global balance (as happened in 2008), the domestic prices spuriously appear to respond to the domestic balance. In the current environment international prices are passed through to the domestic prices fairly quickly. This is reflected in Chart 2. There is very little difference between the domestic and the international price of rice from 2004 onward. It may be recalled that Bangladesh adopted a flexible exchange rate regime in May 2003.

Till then there was a gap between the fixed rate and market equilibrium rate resulting in a divergence between the two prices. As the exchange rate moved closer to the equilibrium rate after the adoption of flexible exchange rate, the two prices converged. The dominance of the international market can be viewed both as a tyranny and an opportunity. Domestic prices can deviate from the international trend over substantial time only at the expense of introducing various market and trade distortions. These may be neither desirable nor feasible as the costs could be very high. However, it is possible to devise policies to profit from the international price movements or to minimise the pains. The government should expend its efforts in this direction rather than in costly experiments to control the market or trade., December 30. MA Taslim is a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka

‘Mere self-sufficiency or spoon-feeding doesn’t guarantee food security’Care’s Faheem Khan emphasises building people’s capacity to survive and thrive.→ Khawaza Main Uddin

Faheem Khan

Only a near-self-sufficiency in food-grain production may not give the country full space to address remaining challenges of food insecurity and bring stability in food security situation. One such challenge, according to Faheem Khan, is how the people will overcome vulnerability to unexpected developments in their life and environment specific to Bangladesh that are likely to keep many of them food-insecure in the years to come.

Leading the process of implementation of the world’s largest food security programme, the CARE Bangladesh official concludes that ration distribution cannot ensure the people’s graduation from extreme poverty to their next stage of development.

“The near self-sufficiency in food does not guarantee access to food for all unless they have capacity to purchase… Develop their capacity, the people themselves will take care of themselves successfully,” he said of how the issue of food security could be tackled. “Our philosophy is to provide the people with input for their future sustenance.”

Lack of knowledge and poor weather forecast system, climate vulnerability, uncertainty in income opportunities, infrastructure deficiency and underdeveloped market linkage, widening disparity between the rich and the poor, problems of hygiene and food adulteration are some of the challenges of food security that Bangladesh is faced with, listed the Chief of Party of the Shouhardo programme.

In a country which is still lagging behind the target in addressing maternal mortality, he suggested that if a mother is a participant in a social safety net programme, her baby would automatically be a beneficiary. “If a woman is empowered, it is the single most important contributor to the household in terms of not only food security but also health, hygiene, education and various amenities,” he said.

Someone who came all the way from the United Kingdom with sober and sophisticated ideas to serve the people of his own roots, Faheem Khan believes Bangladeshis — one of the most hard-working people in the world — would turn their future into a prosperous one.

He recalled, during an interview with daily sun, how he was touched by the hospitality of a poor woman in Rangpur. “She had hardly any scope to offer us food as it was even difficult to sit with them. The woman, who was not still a member of our programme, tried to make food whatever she had ready for us. I understood it would be a shortfall for other members of the family should she give some food. This is the uniqueness of the Bangladeshi culture and an amazing experience,” said the leader of Shouhardo which literally means ‘amity and friendship’.

He witnesses a change in Bangladesh’s social fabric now in the making that is likely to make people dependent mainly on jobs rather than banking on own resources to survive and thrive. “I see the people here are very different from those in Africa or anywhere… The people gain from their own resources – a fabric of the Bangladesh society that is going to change because of the fragmentation (in land and families),” he said hinting at a bit more complicating situation for food security.

Khan, an engineer-turned-humanitarian-programme chief, led the transformation of the Shouhardo from its phase I worth US$126 million to phase II worth US$130 million, to streamline and scale up its benefits, offering a model that truly tries to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

He reiterated the importance of four-prong approach to overall national food security – availability of food-grains, the people’s access to food, utilisation of food and stability in food supply chain, distribution and public consumption for a longer period.

While Shouhardo-I provided benefits to 400,000 people, Shouhardo-II targeted another almost 400,000 people – a programme which is being considered USAID’s largest non-emergency food security programme worldwide.

“Shouhardo-II is not an extension of Shouhardo-I although we tried to utilise lessons learnt and replicate the best practices. It involved a lot of research and efforts to improve further our targets,” he said defining the ethical dimension that they wanted to do something for the poor and extremely hard-to-reach people banking on their experience.

The programme has been ranked one of the best programmes in CARE International and considered a model programme for replication elsewhere, said the Shouhardo chief who joined CARE’s Shouhardo-I programme in 2006 two years after its inception. Shouhardo-II began its journey after the expiry of phase I in 2010 and is set to be concluded in 2015.

A key goal of Shouhardo-II is to transform the lives of the poor and the extremely poor ‘households in 11 of the poorest and most marginalised districts in Bangladesh by reducing their vulnerability to food insecurity’.

Funded mostly by USAID and partly by the government of Bangladesh, Shouhardo operates in extremely vulnerable areas — the char and haor areas and coastal belt of Cox’s Bazaar, covering 11 districts, 30 upazilas, and 172 unions.

Dwelling on Shouhardo’s achievements, he pointed out that reduction in stunting in the programme-covered areas was recorded at 4.3 percentage points a year, a rate which is double than the global standard of attainment. “We are targeting pregnant and lactating mothers so that the children under an age of two years do not suffer and could be brought up as a healthy person for the rest of his/her life,” he added.

Khan emphasised the role of the government in ensuring food security as Shouhardo continues to be an important contributor to Bangladesh’s poverty reduction initiative. As many as 13 ministries are members of the National Programme Advisory Coordination Committee (PACC) while 13 non-governmental organisations are engaged in implementing the programme,

“Thankfully, we have found everyone – from public representatives to the government officials – to be quite cooperative in implementing the programme. I believe CARE will go some day, but such programmes will be implemented properly for the benefit of the people,” he expressed his conviction.

He cited example of the people’s voluntary participation for their own welfare saying that a submergible embankment was built in a haor (marshland) area, without any monetary support from any organisation, to save the rice from flash flood until they could harvest. “I saw replication of such initiative in northern region and it involved every party – local people, representative from each government agency and NGO. Such social volunteerism needs a bit of institutional inspiration,” he said.

Faheem Khan and his team are proud to be part of a food security programme, especially serving the distressed humanity that is an everyday picture in many parts of Bangladesh. “I wake up in the morning with a sense of enthusiasm to do better and better. At office I am dedicated to daily duties and at the field I try my level best to serve the people as I remain devoted to my family at home,” he spelt out.

Bangladesh hopes to achieve self-sufficiency in food production by 2050, with an ambitious scheme called the Blue-Green Revolution. Listen: Bangladesh pins food security hopes on Blue-Green Revolution (Credit: ABC) With a population predicted to rise from 164 million to 220 million in just under four decades, demand for food will soar in a country that’s “highly-vulnerable” to climate change. But Bangladesh is aiming to produce more food from the same land area, and without a huge environmental impact. Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Professor Dr Nesar Ahmed, Bangladesh Agriculture University and the University of Stirliing, Scotland DR AHMED: You know that Bangladesh population is currently 164 million, and by 2050 the population will increase to 222-million. So by that time, our agricultural land will reduce and the population will increase and Bangladesh will face a lot of pressure. So in that case, if we ensure food security, we must go for rice-fish farming. We have ten million hectares of rice fields, in addition, we have two-point-83 million hectares of seasonal rice fields, where water stays for a couple of months. If we use this water body for the next decade, if we convert 2.83 million hectares of rice fields to rice-fish farming and also prawn farming, Bangladesh would get around one million tonnes of fish, 1.5-million tonnes of additional rice and Bangladesh would earn around ten billion US dollars per annum.

That would accelerate our economic growth. So if we adopt this farming system, Bangladesh would be a poverty-free and food secure country within a decade. As we have 700 rivers and tributaries criss-cross the country and we have fertile land, around 10-million hectares of land, suitable for rice-fish farming, and we have found that as Bangladeshi people eat rice and fish, both, and when they culture fish in their rice fields, that means they’re getting their staple food, rice and fish. Also, coastal areas, a few advanced farmers culture prawns with fish in their rice fields. LAM: And of course, the prawns, one presumes, would bring extra income, because they can sell the prawns? DR AHMED: Yes, rice and fish for staple foods and household consumption and local markets, but when they culture prawn, that’s a high value product for the international market, as almost all Bangladeshi prawns are exported to the USA and Europe, so culture of prawn may bring enormous earnings and bring benefits to poor fish farmers.

LAM: Food security of course has long been a challenge for Bangladesh, so is this Blue-Green Revolution happening, catching on, in rural communities as we speak, or has it been slow in taking off? DR AHMED: Actually, Blue Green Revolution has not yet been widely cultured in Bangladesh, but a few number of small farmers have been adopting rice-fish farming. As Bangladesh is a small country, and our population is around 164 million. LAM: What are the obstacles, what’s stopping Bangladesh from adopting it full-scale? DR AHMED: Our main problem is water management. There’re floods and drought. So there’s too much water during the monsoon when fish escape, and the farmers are not interested in rice-fish farming, and the drought also is one of the major constraints for fish culture in rice fields, as they can’t go for rice-fish farming, if there’s no water. Actually, the northern part of Bangladesh is a drought-prone area.

LAM: So in terms of water management, how is Bangladesh coping? DR AHMED: I think it’s possible to cope very easily. If a flood happens, we can use a net around the ponds or rice fields, so the fish cannot escape. Or we can also build hard dykes so we can conserve rain water or flood water, that is also one of the coping strategies of climate change. And in case of drought, we can provide irrigation facilities. Our challenge is irrigation facilities require electricity supply or power, and Bangladesh has been a little behind in this opportunity. So we intend to introduce ‘micro irrigation’ facilities. You know Bangladesh invented micro-credit. This year, it’s ‘micro-irrigation’. So if we introduce ‘micro irrigation’ in our system, we can easily go for integrated rice fish farming. If we need huge irrigation, we need huge power – that is not possible because our government’s first priority is industrial development, even though the government is keen to develop our agriculture sector.

So in that case, we use our rain water, flood water and side by side, small-scale irrigation facilities – that would help and be of enormous benefit to our food production. Sometimes, the farmers’ association or a community-based irrigation management would work very accurately. We have good contact with farmers, it’s a two-way process – sometimes farmers come to us, and if we discover a new findings, we’ll introduce them to the farmers. So it’s a two-way process. As our research is mainly associated with agriculture, the farmer is always our friend. LAM: And one of the consequences of the green revolution is ‘chemical agriculture’ which can be destructive.

Is this issue being addressed? DR AHMED: Oh, yes, the green revolution is actually not so green, because it means high-yielding varieties of rice monoculture, that is not sustainable. And it requires huge amounts of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides that have negative impact on society, environment and bio-diversity. Similarly, the Blue revolution also a negative impact, as it too requires huge fertilisers and chemicals. So that’s why we suggest rice-fish farming, to help the integrated management of rice and fish, reduce fertiliser use, insecticide use, pesticide use and bring alot of environmental benefits.

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