The World Bank recently stated its concern about an impending global recession. In the meantime, Bangladesh has also begun to feel the heat of the recession. Along with the rise in the cost of many essentials of life, inflation has also increased. In recent speeches, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has discussed the potential for a recession and famine. In addition, the political climate in Bangladesh is heating due to the upcoming national parliamentary elections. But, in light of the current scenario, the focus of all stakeholders should remain on ensuring food security for the people.
Three billion people worldwide cannot afford a healthy diet as the conflict in the Ukraine has caused a spike in food, fertilizer and energy prices. Moreover, the pandemic, climate crisis, environmental degradation, violence and widening inequities are all wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable. Worldwide, domestic food price inflation is still very high. Nearly all low and middle-income countries have high inflation. High income countries are also facing the heat.
The number of countries imposing trade-related policies has increased since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. The increased number of food trade restrictions implemented by nations in an effort to boost domestic production and lower costs has contributed to the global food crisis’ deterioration. Twenty nations had enacted 25 food export bans as of October 21, 2022, while eight had implemented 12 export restrictions.
According to an FAO-WFP estimate, 222 million people in 53 countries and territories are expected to experience severe food insecurity and require immediate assistance. Bangladesh and 44 other countries will experience severe food shortages in the upcoming year, according to the FAO. An IMF research estimates that an additional $5 billion to $7 billion in spending is required to support disadvantaged households in the 48 nations most impacted by the higher import prices for food and fertilizer. It will need an additional $50 billion to end severe food insecurity.
The Prime Minister warned her fellow people of a potential famine on multiple occasions, advising them not to waste food and to enhance food production. On November 1, she urged young people to get involved in growing and processing food in order to address the looming global hunger and food disaster that international organizations have predicted as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak and the Russia-Ukraine war. To combat the global issue, she continued, they must make the best possible use of the productive land and human resources they have. She stated that the youth can work in their own communities to grow more food and process it to successfully combat the crisis.
On October 17, against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war, Prime Minister Hasina reiterated her plea for cooperation in food production, bringing every square inch of land under cultivation to safeguard Bangladesh from a potential worldwide famine or food catastrophe. She also emphasized on October 13 that Bangladesh must exercise austerity, save money, and grow food on every square inch of its land in order to prevent a famine that international groups fear may engulf the world in 2023. Almost every speech she has given in the past few weeks on various occasions has brought up this subject.
In this situation, economists are suggesting to increase the social security program to ensure the food security of the low-income people. The impact of the recession has already started to take its toll. The number of people living below the poverty line has increased recently in the country due to various reasons. As a result, social security programs should be accelerated to ensure people’s food security.
Today’s food crisis is global. The war in Ukraine has disrupted the global supply chain, including the food supply chain. After a long lasting deadly COVID-19 pandemic, two spells of rain – one in April and the other in June – caused a devastating flood in Bangladesh. Moreover, the recent cyclone also devastated our crops. As a result, Bangladesh’s harvest in the year dropped more than it was expected. Nearly 24.69% of the total workforce of Bangladesh is engaged in agriculture in the agrarian state. The contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP is 13.29% as the nation is blessed with a highly arable land in the delta and perfect climatic conditions for several nutritious and protein crops.
The father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had given top priority to agriculture. Following his footsteps, Awami League has identified six thematic areas: Agriculture research and development, supplying agricultural inputs, expansion of agriculture, economical use of water in cultivation, facing the climate change effect and enhancing institutional capacity and human resources development to ensure food and nutrition security. The current government has taken a few special drives for the farmers and agriculture sector. The program of providing food assistance at low costs to nearly 50 lakh poor people of the country is also ongoing.
As the foreign reserve of Bangladesh has declined drastically, the Bangladeshi government has already reduced imports in every area. Food is no exception. Although the state is not self-reliant on food grains yet, the state has tasted success in exporting fishes and vegetables. The shortage in the production of agricultural products is a matter of concern, but Bangladesh is trying its best to overcome the food crisis in the coming years though serious challenges remain.
Though we need to focus on food production to the fullest right now, the upcoming national election will hamper that cause. The agricultural labors will tend to participate in political programs to a great extent during the upcoming months as they often receive money for their participation. If money can be earned by simply participating in a political program, they may avoid hard labor. Hence, it is the duty of all political parties to encourage the people to get involved in agricultural works more keeping everything else aside.
Regretfully, due to unplanned urbanization, we have lost a large area or cultivable land. The wastages from urban areas – metros, divisional cities, district headquarters, upazila headquarters, pourosovas and even union headquarters – pollute the nearby water sources. This water mixes with the land and the land loses its cultivability. Huge lands of our country hence lost nutrients to grow crops. So, we will not be able to utilize those lands despite being so nearby. Additionally, due to soil pollution and excess usage of chemical fertilizers as we are focusing on hybrid crops now, the crops are mostly contaminated. It actually causes huge health expenditure, which we are often ignoring in our policy.
We do not have planned irrigation facility yet like our neighbor India. So, we have to arrange water for irrigation from distant sources. As we are facing power scarcity, irrigation will also be challenged. If we could have adopted the planned pipeline based irrigation system alongside the agricultural fields and arranged solar power electrification system for agriculture, it would have been of much help in this crisis period. Moreover, we should put focus on crops like potato, wheat etc. which reduces pressure on main staple food rice and should avoid producing low-scale unimportant food products.
Despite several calls, the people are still ignoring the threats of food crisis in Bangladesh. But the situation can suddenly turn highly challenging. It requires strong commitment from the government, the administration, the political parties and the people. While the high-income countries are fighting the crisis, due to people-oriented leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are yet to face the heat. But Bangladesh cannot beat the inevitable if the global scenario remains same. Hence, we hope all stakeholders work together to ensure food security in Bangladesh.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela