Food security in doubt: Current phase of Bangladesh
Bangladesh has made significant progress in the context of its food security. The country has achieved self-sufficiency in its rice production; however, it is still vulnerable towards the loss of its food production that is caused by natural calamities.
This improved production of rice has helped Bangladesh increase its Global Food Security Index from 34.7 in 2012 to 36.8 in 2016, but is still in the vulnerable category. Here's a feature by Bangladeshi journalist Zulker Naeen, published in Eurasia Review.
Bangladesh is especially dependent on rice, a food source that causes an unbalanced nutrition intake when being too dominant in a diet. However, the production of rice has helped in reducing the prevalence of undernourishment, it has managed to improve its average dietary energy supply too.
The achievements as regards to food security in Bangladesh have been somewhat satisfactory. However, natural calamities like floods, cyclones and droughts have made the records unstable. This year, the challenge has been intensified by the influx of an estimated 604,000 forcibly displaced Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine State of Myanmar.
The recent threats to food security are largely a result of the damage caused by two successive floods: the flash flood during April and the monsoon flood since late June. It was estimated that farmers lost two million tons of rice this year because of the floods.
Just three months into the 2017-18 financial year, the government and private traders imported over a million tons of rice, an eight-fold rise already from last fiscal’s import.
Dr. Sue Lautze, FAO country representative in Bangladesh said: “Rice import has increased significantly. There are macroeconomic pressures. Such a huge influx of Rohingyas in a short span of time, it is really admirable that Bangladesh is tackling this humanitarian crisis.”
The most evident threat to food security is the recent price volatility in the rice market. Apart from the production loss of mainly Boro rice during the floods, the incompetence of the responsible authorities in handling the initial uncertainties also made the food grains market unstable. Similarly, the opportunistic rice millers; information asymmetry regarding the export of rice by the Indian government; the government’s lack of vigilance; and phased reduction of import duties on rice have fuelled the upheaval in the rice market.
As a result, the lack of availability of food grains at a reasonable price has started afflicting households below the poverty line. Even, the marginally non-poor, food-secure households are in the poverty trap with no access to food.
The current food shortage and price hike crisis would persist beyond November when farmers would start harvesting Aman paddy. However, on the question of Rohingyas, a lot depends on the international community’s assistance and food supports.
During critical situations like this, the inflation of the food price cannot be ruled out. However, the government has taken market-based procurement policies, it has been able to attain only one-fifth of the targeted procurement for Boro rice.
What is encouraging yet is Bangladesh’s ranking has gone two notches up in this year’s global hunger index, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said in a report.
Bangladesh has ranked 88 out of 119 countries on the global hunger index. However, Bangladesh is ahead of its neighbors India and Pakistan. Bangladesh stood at 90 positions among 118 countries in last year’s ranking. According to the report, among other South Asian countries, India ranked 100, Pakistan 106, Nepal 72, Sri Lanka, 84, and Afghanistan 107.
Between the early 1990s and 2007, Bangladesh drastically cut the number of its malnourished people from an astounding 36.1 percent to 16.4 percent. According to this year’s global hunger index, some 15.1 percent of the Bangladeshi population still faces hunger.
Bangladesh is in a vulnerable position, as a flood-prone country, and it is an alarming prospect that climate change is making this worse. In 2017, three episodes of severe flash floods affected large areas of the country, particularly the northern districts. The floods affected the livelihoods of at least 8 million people.
The country sits at the head of the Bay of Bengal, across the largest river delta on Earth. Nearly one-quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level; two-thirds of the country is less than 15 feet above sea level. Sea surface temperatures in the shallow Bay of Bengal have significantly increased, which, scientists believe, has caused Bangladesh to suffer some of the fastest recorded sea level rises in the world.
According to the Bangladesh government’s 2009 Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, “in an ‘average’ year, approximately one-quarter of the country is inundated.” Every four to five years, “there is a severe flood that may cover over 60% of the country.”
A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20 percent of the entire country and displace more than 30 million people. Some scientists project a five-to-six-feet rise by 2100, which would displace perhaps 50 million people.
These changes are happening to the people of Bangladesh, not caused by them. As a country, Bangladesh emits only 0.3 percent of the emissions producing climate change.