No food crisis in Bangladesh

Uninterrupted food supply to the poor a big challenge

When coronavirus scare pervades the agricultural sector, the government’s agro-friendly initiatives and adequate food production are likely to be the saviours for the country from falling into food crisis. To avert any possible food crisis, experts say the government is to increase food stock and provide food to the poor people now.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already directed that an inch of land should not be uncultivated. She urged all to cultivate paddy and all kinds of vegetables. As part of the government’s initiative to ensure food security and fair prices of the farmers’ produces in the country, the premier on Monday announced that the government will procure 21 lakh metric tons (MT) of food grains in the current season.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, like previous year, the country is going to see a bumper rice production during the current Boro paddy season. The harvesting of Boro paddy has already begun from the middle of this month. Besides, Bangladesh is almost self-sufficient in most of the food products, including potatoes, vegetables and fishes, so that there is no risk of food crisis.

However, analysts envisage that at least 20 to 25 percent of the population will fall into newly impoverished situation due to coronavirus. The present situation will lead to unemployment while many will not be able to afford their food despite adequate supply. At this time, the government's challenge will be to keep food aid supply uninterrupted for the poor.

The world’s top economists, researchers and development partners, particularly the World Bank and the IMF, are regularly predicting a deep recession. The IMF issued a stark warning about the coronavirus’s economic toll, saying that the world is facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression as shuttered factories, quarantines and national lockdowns cause economic output to collapse. There is already a food crisis in African countries. Food crisis is also being feared in developed countries as trade and production processes are disrupted.

In such a situation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for precautionary measures to prevent a food crisis in the country by monitoring the global situation. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the target for paddy and rice production in the next one year is nearly 3. 75 crore MT including two crore MT Boro production. Last year saw 3. 75 crore MT paddy production, crossing the target. Currently, there is no shortage of rice in the country.

Officials of the concerned ministry said several lakh metric tonnes more rice will be produced than the target of this year. Ministry sources further said that harvesting of paddy started in Haor area from April 14. More than one lakh and 20 thousand workers have already joined the work. About 244 rice cutting machines and 186 harvesters have been provided for the area. Paddy will be harvested in 4 lakh and 43 thousand hectares of land in Haor area, of which eight percent of the paddy has already been harvested.

Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman told The Bangladesh Post, “We expect more production than the target. I hope it will be possible to harvest paddy before the flood.” On steps to ensure bumper production, fertilizer prices have been reduced side by side with reduction irrigation cost by half by BADC (Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation).

The secretary said, “There will be a huge supply of rice in the market. However, many will not have jobs because of coronavirus. As a result, they will not be able to buy it despite adequate supply. So the government has to take alternative measures for them so that they can buy rice.”

About the target of rice purchase from the farmers, he said, the government will buy 8 lakh MT paddy, 10 lakh MT rice, 1.5 lakh MT Atap (sunned) rice and 75,000 MT wheat this year. Besides paddy, Bangladesh holds a good position to produce potatoes, wheat, maize, vegetables, oilseeds and spices.

According to a report prepared by Department of Agricultural Extension, one crore and 10 lakh tonnes of potatoes were produced last year. This time, the quantity of production will increase, sources said. Besides, according to the report, last year, 48 lakh tonnes of maize, 11 lakh tonnes of mustard, groundnut, linseed, sesame, soybean and sunflower oil, and about 10 lakh tonnes of pulses, including lentils, mugs, mashkalai, saffron pulse, peas and arahars, were produced.

Furthermore, about 38 lakh metric tonnes of spices, including onion, garlic, coriander, chilli, ginger and turmeric, were produced last year. According to the Department of Fisheries and Livestock, the poultry, fisheries and dairy sectors are currently incurring losses due to coronavirus. The price of chicken has fallen due to transportation problem while the price of milk has also come down due to disruption in supply.

Senior Secretary of the Planning Commission and Professor of Economics Shamsul Alam said. “This time, we are expecting a bumper production of paddy. If this Boro crop can be harvested now, there should not be any food crisis.”