By Erina Haque
Food security is stated as one of the citizens’ fundamental rights in the Bangladeshi Constitution. Food security means that everyone has access to enough wholesome food at all times to sustain their health. The availability of food, whether through domestic production or imports, and everyone’s access to the necessary quantity of food at all times at affordable costs are among the fundamental components of food security. Food self-sufficiency is not the same as food security. Many nations, including England and Japan, are food secure but not food self-sufficient. On the other hand, nations that are able to feed themselves may nonetheless experience food insecurity, meaning that a sizeable section of their inhabitants may not have adequate access to the necessary amount of food.
Bangladesh experienced a food shortage during the Liberation War. As a result, after Bangladesh gained its independence, the government’s top priority changed to food security. The idea of food security has been expanded to include food and nutrition security over the past ten years. Bangladesh has achieved significant success in feeding 168 million people through domestic agricultural production despite the ongoing loss of arable land. This development has been facilitated by consistent economic growth and the close to 40% of the population who work in the agriculture industry. As a result, the country’s population that is undernourished has decreased from 16% in 2000 to 9.7% in 2019.
A significant increase in domestic food production, improved household income access, and strengthened social safety net programs all contributed to higher per capita food availability. Food safety and social protection programs, which have a favorable effect on the food security of the poor, are funded in large part by our national budget. There are several food safety net programs in place, such as test relief, vulnerable group feeding, vulnerable group development, food for work, employment guarantee scheme, etc. The Awami League government has implemented social safety net programs like assistance for impoverished women and old age pensions to help the food security of the extremely poor. The government has provided a number of incentives, including loans with flexible terms and tax rebate options, to support the commercial expansion of domestic animal, bird, and milk production. The National Agriculture Policy 2018 and the National Agricultural Mechanization Policy 2020 are two of the programs that the government has launched in an effort to achieve both lucrative and sustainable agriculture. Additionally, the government has undertaken a number of steps to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) objectives and end hunger by 2030. (Goal 2 of SDG).
Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of fish, vegetables, potatoes, and grains. Bangladesh currently ranks fourth in the world for rice output, third for vegetables, third for fish, seventh for mangoes, and eighth for potatoes. All of these show Bangladesh’s agricultural success and crop variety. Wheat, sugar, edible oil, legumes, and drinks, on the other hand, lack self-reliance and are heavily dependent on imports. The nation depends on imported oil, oilseeds, processed goods, and indigenous production of mustard, sesame, sunflower, and rice bran oil to meet its needs for edible oil. According to data, Bangladesh only produces 1.8 thousand metric tons of sunflower oils and 0.343 million tonnes of crude rice bran oil annually, which is insufficient to meet global demand. Despite the growth of poultry farms, the domestic production and supply of meat and milk have remained insufficient. Due to overhead costs and outdated equipment, sugar production is also insufficient and expensive.
Bangladesh shown to be somewhat resilient despite the COVID-19 epidemic having a significant impact on the global food supply chain, increasing food insecurity and driving up food prices worldwide. Rural households experienced a spike in moderate food insecurity at the beginning of 2020, but by the end of 2021, the situation had recovered to its pre-pandemic level. Bangladesh is not an exception, as food insecurity has worsened as a result of the conflict in the Ukraine. To maintain low import food costs in the midst of the global financial crisis, the Bangladeshi government has lowered import tariffs and value-added taxes and started several initiatives to regulate the domestic food market.
Bangladesh’s food and nutrition security are mostly reliant on domestic food production, political stability, governmental and private stockpiling, and international food supply and commerce. Our food security is impacted by population expansion, declining soil fertility, increased use of natural resources, insect and disease-affected crop types, political unrest, natural disasters including floods and drought, and pest and disease-affected crop varieties. Export restrictions of the countries that supply, instability brought on by pandemics or conflict, and increases in food prices on the international market all reduce access to food in the nation and create uncertainty about the availability of food there. To comprehend how Bangladesh may achieve sustainable food and nutrition security goals, it is necessary to explore practical solutions that take into account both domestic and global obstacles as well as issues with climate change. The current administration has already created a number of initiatives and policies to ensure Bangladesh’s food and nutrition security. However, the pandemic and the war serve as a reminder that we still have more short- and long-term measures to consider and implement in order to deal with any undesired circumstance in the event of a global crisis, a domestic production shortfall, or a natural disaster.
The approach of self-sufficiency in staple foods is a workable solution to endure any food issue. Therefore, increasing agricultural investment is essential to reducing our reliance on imported food. To obtain a supply of food items that are necessary for nutrition, the government, business organizations, and citizens must invest sufficiently. The government has already started developing plans and programs to finance the adoption of more advanced farming techniques and technologies. Precision agriculture has to be investigated as a means of increasing land production. This necessitates more funding for research and free extension services for farmers.
The production of oilseeds has increased recently due to increased domestic demand and favorable market prices. The government should encourage diversification in order to increase oilseed production. In order to decrease our heavy reliance on imported vegetable oil, we must produce more rice bran, mustard, sesame, coconut, and coconut oil locally and establish our own edible oil market.
The traders in our nation take advantage of the changing availability and price of food on the global market by storing up on food grains to increase their profits, which causes the market to become unstable. In this regard, the government should improve its capacity for food storage in order to exert market control and guarantee food security.
Almost 60% of our female employees operate in domestic vegetable cultivation and subsistence poultry and livestock farming. Women working in agriculture should receive intensive training on how to make organic and affordable fish, poultry, and cattle feed. They should be given the skills necessary to process fish and meat, swiftly identify flu and animal infections, and have access to technology and low-interest loans. To help our nation’s agricultural sector, women should receive more support from the government and private investors.
Agriculture in Bangladesh has undergone digitalization, as with many other industries. In order to solve their difficulties, farmers can now video call agricultural officers directly thanks to digitalization. To advance food production, the benefits of digitalization should be further investigated. It is important to establish fresh strategies and initiatives to increase subsistence agricultural production while taking smallholders’ needs and capacities into account. In this endeavor, businesses might be encouraged to become farming service providers, offering machines for rental and sharing, agricultural equipment, and economical machine upgrading. Smallholders and agricultural service providers can be connected through the development of digital apps to provide low-cost equipment rental services. This might increase our agricultural output and inspire the next generation to engage in innovative agricultural services.
Increases in overall food output, according to experts, do not ensure food security. Reduced waste and sustainable consumption habits are also essential for food security. Sustainable consumption is crucial since food production and consumption habits have an impact on the environment and the resources that are available. Food and nutrition security can be improved by developing and implementing sustainable food consumption regulations based on the social practice’s theory.
During her visit to India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the neighboring nation to provide a steady supply of rice, wheat, sugar, onions, ginger, and garlic. Since everyday necessities make up one-fifth of all imported items, it is crucial for the government to reach agreements with nations like Indonesia, India, Russia, Japan, the USA, Malaysia, Brazil, and the UAE to guarantee the supply of essential commodities. It may be possible to assure a reliable supply of food and reduce prices if bilateral agreements can be formed with countries that import critical commodities. Bangladesh does not need to concentrate on local sugar production, which is quite expensive, if a deal can be reached with Russia to provide sugar at a lower price.
Everyone’s access to food security is a priority for the Awami League government. The Awami League’s manifesto and program agenda for 2019 effectively addressed initiatives and strategies to guarantee food and nutrition security for everybody. As a result, the Awami League government has made efforts and is implementing many policies related to improved social safety net programs and agriculture. To fulfill the needs of the expanding population, to deal with the rise in food prices on the global market, or to deal with any issue connected to food security, ongoing efforts must be taken to ensure a sustainable food security system.In this respect, the Awami League can think about promising in its upcoming manifesto and program agenda for the 12th general election – developing a market for agricultural service providers and creating digital apps to connect smallholders with farming service providers, improving the government’s ability to store food to control the domestic market, entering an agreement with importing countries for the timely supply of essential commodities, exploring the opportunities of practice.