Agricultural growth versus food security and safe-food securityby Dr Aminul Islam Akanda
Food security refers to the availability of sufficient food at a national level and adequate access to food at the household level. The government of Bangladesh is responsible for supplying food for active and healthy lives of people, as per Article 15 of the constitution. Meanwhile, domestic food production has gradually increased and import has been facilitated. Food supply systems have also evolved aimed at ensuring access to food in adverse circumstances. This is a review of food production and food security amid safe-food security.
A. National level availability of food
Water-intensive high yielding variety (HYV) rice farming has trebled its production from 10 million to 34 million metric tons (MT) during 1973–2011, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). The World Food Statistics and Graphics shows that yearly per capita rice consumption of the country reached 205 kg, with almost full self-sufficiency. This self-sufficiency is a ratio of domestic production to the country’s consumption, which was 96 percent in the 1970s. In spite of consumption being higher than the requirement of 180 kg, about 1.56 million MT of rice was imported in 2011. The recent fall of wheat production seems not to hamper foodgrain security but a steady growth in wheat consumption led to its higher import from 1.1 million to 3.7 million MT during 2001-2011.
The growth in production of vegetables, potato and fruits was respectable, which increased for vegetables from 0.8 to 2.9, for potato 1.0 to 7.9 and for fruits 1.4 to 3.1, in millions of MT, during 1980–2010. With technological progress, and due to a cut in farming, production of pulses largely decreased from 525 thousand MT to 221 thousand MT, and that of oilseeds from 471 thousand MT to 377 thousand MT, during 1995 –2010. According to the FAOSTAT, the import of pulses reached 0.5 million MT in the late 2000s, from only 2500 MT in early 1980s. Moreover, import of palm oil increased from 75 to 1175 thousand MT and that of soybean oil from 43 to 375 thousand MT during 1981- 2011.
Higher production has also raised availability of animal and fish foods as shown in the BBS statistics. Egg production increased form 1,240 million to 5,742 million during 1980-2010. Moreover, meat production, in million MT, reached 1.3 from 0.2, milk reached 2.4 from 1.2 and fish reached 2.9 from 0.7 over the same period. On the other hand, the import of milk increased a lot, from 88.9 to 343 thousand MT during 1973-2010. However, the imports of fish and meat in 2010 increased to 5240 MT and 9710 MT respectively, from the very negligible amount seen in 1981. All these imports have contributed to larger availability of food in addition to increased domestic production.
B. Household level access to food
The HES 1996 and HIES 2010 of the BBS reported that the country’s food intake (per capita per day) increased from 914 gm to 999 gm during 1996-2010, and that of energy intake from 2244 kilocalories to 2318 kilocalories. However, there was a drop in rice intake from 464 gm to 416 gm, but still remaining higher than the suggested 312 gm by the FAO. Until the year 2010, the intake of wheat increased to 26gm against requirement of 60gm, potato to 71 gm against 130gm, fruits to 45gm against 57gm and vegetables to 166gm against 262gm. On the other hand, intake of pulses remains around 14gm, with a huge gap of 52gm, and that of spices at around 9gm, with a small gap. There was an insignificant rise in intake of edible oil from 10gm to 20gm, keeping shortages of oil at 18gm. On the other hand, the higher intake of proteins like meat, milk, egg and fish added only 1.3 gm to the 65 gm that was in 1996.
Such a pattern of consumption is inversely related to poverty. According to the poverty index, as per the cost of basic need (CBN) method, 31.5 percent of people fell under ‘upper poverty line’ and 17.6 percent under ‘lower poverty line’, in 2010. These lines were very high in 1991 respectively at 56.6 percent and 41 percent. Besides, the Gini co-efficient of income decreased from 0.467 to 0.458 during 2005-2010 and that of consumption expenditure from 0.332 to 0.321. Though the values raise much debate, they show a bit of improvement of inequality and a slight rise in access to food. However, the food intake, other than rice, is unequal among income groups and between rural and urban people. Moreover, unruly food inflation and volatile markets could not ensure access to food for those whose income has not risen as needed.
To help poor and disadvantageous households to get access to food, the government has some safety net programs like VGF, VGD, FFW, etc. Around 1.3 million MT of foodgrain is kept as pubic stocks, from where discounted sale is also made under the Open Market Sale (OMS). In the last few years, the food security allocation was around 30 percent of total social safety budget. Meanwhile, food allocation has nearly been doubled to 2.7 million MT within the last decade. The HIES 2010 reported that a total of 24.8 percent households have received benefit from at least one type of program in 12 months. Besides, the NGOs work for non-farm income generation and transfer mechanism, during disaster and crisis period.
C. Challenges ahead towards food and safe food securities
Land-scarce agriculture is losing about 0.10 million hectares every year to non-agriculture. Likewise, soil degradation from excessive use of fertiliser (282 kg per hectare in 2009) and pesticides (3.7 kg per hectares in 2009) and water scarcity from excessive irrigation tend to make rice farming vulnerable. In addition, arsenic is contaminating crops, except potato and a few vegetables, through groundwater in some southwest parts of the country. Moreover, the production of crop, fish, meat, milk and egg will be distorted by temperature extremes, uneven humidity, submerging coastal areas and increased intensity of natural disasters due to climate change. One option lies with raising potato and vegetable intake, the low water demanding crops to grow. But the barrier there is the curry-dominated dishes. Another challenge lies with importing rice during scarcity, that the country already faced in 2008. In this regard, higher domestic production is the only reliable option for food security when food is no longer a cheap item in the world.
Food insecurity also arises from institutional weaknesses, for which public transfer mechanism has largely been criticised. In addition, inconsistencies of estimations by public bodies were found responsible for inaccurate supply. A difference between two estimations of the BBS and the DAE in 2009-10 was over 1.2 million MT. That is almost equal to the amount the country imported. However, some suggested reforms, among others, by the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, which is expected to direct the nation towards more access to food at household level. However, all these efforts fall into a black hole when unsafe food has largely spread into the market.
Regarding safe-food, the quality of HYV crops is inferior to organic foods, like culture fisheries are to captured ones, and non-natural livestock are to natural ones. Additional questions arise when hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties replace HYVs. Moreover, the rice produced in the country’s arsenic prevalent areas is contaminated, at 1.7 milligram per kg, which is above the maximum safe limit of 1.0. In addition, safety standards are hampered by using harmful additives, colouring materials and preservatives in foods. Notably, a rise in consumption of animal foods could not proportionately raise the intake of protein, which is partly related to modification of variety and adulteration of animal foods. Weak enforcement of laws against food adulteration here is a threat to the development of a safe-food production and marketing system.
The writer is associate professor and chairman of Department of Economics, Comilla University
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