The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is imposing threats on different attributes, aspects and extents of the world, as we know it. This war seems to prolong for months and even years as Russia might be looking for broader targets for the war while US-Led European alliance including NATO will continue to support Ukraine. This war came at a time when the whole world was trying to recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic. The world is experiencing a mild economic depression right now but that can turn into a major one in the blink of an eye and ensuring food security will be of utmost importance in that scenario.
Even before Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, the year 2022 was on track to face challenges of excessive food prices, food shortages and deep hunger in many parts of the world. WFP warned that, the situation was quickly becoming catastrophic.Russia and Ukraine were major exporters of wheat, corn, barley, rye, sunflower seeds and more. The two countries supplied about 30 percent of the global wheat trade. Ukraine, ranking first in Europe in terms of arable land, is a global agricultural powerhouse. Ukraine accounts for 16% of global corn exports. Russia is also one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers, which will drive up prices of nearly all crops in the coming months.
Rich nations such as the United States, Australia and much of the European Union will see food prices jump even higher, hurting lower-income households that already reported they are struggling with inflation. But at least they will still have food products on the shelves. In many parts of the developing world, there will be a genuine risk of starvation and famine. Fifty countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for major food supply and many are among the poorest nations in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This war will definitely hurt them.
Not only the developing countries but also the developed countries will have to face the heat. If the food crisis intensifies, the social security measures for the citizens of developed countries will not be sufficient. Food is the most basic need of human and scarcity of food can trigger even the worst of war. Though there is no scarcity of food in Bangladesh right now, we also need to be alert as a global food crisis will lead the developed countries towards storing of food products.
The Bangladeshi government has on different occasions assured the people that there is no scarcity of food. Recently also, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reassured that. It is true that, we have enough food right now. But there are many food products, for which we have to depend on foreign suppliers. Moreover, we face seasonal scarcity of different food products throughout the year in the form of sudden price hike. The demand-supply equation always comes out as a cause though syndicates are to be majorly blamed while in few cases, we really face scarcity of certain food products.
Considering the global political scenario, silent economic depression and especially major climate change, Bangladesh must remain prepared to fight food scarcity. PM Sheikh Hasina recently hinted at a looming food crisis due to current wars across the globe and repeated her call to the countrymen to ensure maximum utilization of land to produce highest amount of foodstuff to meet the growing demands. She advised every citizen of the country to produce something on whatever land they possess as it would not only meet their demand but also help the country to become self-reliant in food production. In this connection, she asked all concerned to disseminate this message that “no inch of land would remain uncultivated”.
After liberation war, Bangladesh was a country with many challenges. To address the issue of food security, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman initiated ‘green revolution’ in 1974. The concept was to cultivate every possible land around- beside the houses, the school field, the roadside empty spaces – everywhere. The initiative brought good results too.
Bangabandhu, with his visionary leadership, realized that, without food security of the people it will be impossible to stay out of the influence of foreign powers as well as to maintain stability in the country. Hence, he focused on food security of the people. The following governments in Bangladesh also kept their focus on food security and the current government is also working vividly on this issue. In today’s context, Bangladesh should take initiatives like Bangabandhu’s ‘green revolution’ again as it was emphasized by Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina.
Bangladesh is currently in a good economic state with strong foreign currency reserve. It is due to consistent earnings from foreign remittance and export of RMG. But if food crisis hits globally, then both of this foreign currency-earning sectors will face severe challenges as demand for RMG will go down as well as many Bangladeshis, working abroad, will lose their jobs. Hence, food crisis is a challenge which cannot be taken lightly.
Bangladesh should take policies and strategies for at least next five years as global food scarcity is very much evident during this period. The nature is also playing a great role in realization of this threat. Around the globe, people are facing sudden, irregular and even extremely unusual calamities like; floods, droughts, snowfall, wildfire etc. So, our set standards to predict the nature are not sufficient to plan our food productions any more. This year, we are facing early floods in Bangladesh. Tonnes of paddies were destroyed in the ‘haor’ areas due to sudden floods.
As we are at the bottom part of several rivers, which originates in India, we have to face strong flow of downstream water. It is almost impossible to control the strong tides with mere embankments. But we are spending millions to build such damns every year. If we stop the water flow at a point, it actually comes out through another point. Rather than investing heavily on such damns, we should utilize these ‘haor’ areas during only dry season. During monsoon, we should use these lands for production of such plants, which survives in strong water.
We must think beyond the box to address the issue of food crisis in Bangladesh. We must focus on maximum production of not only the main staple foods but also supplementary food products like; potato to reduce pressure on staple foods like; rice. If we have surplus production, we can import those food products. Fortunately, our land is very fertile and agricultural production is comparatively easier. Additionally, if we can integrate new harvesting technologies, we can really fight any food crisis. We can also practice agricultural outsourcing to harvest in other countries with plenty of unused lands.
We must also put extra focus on meat, fish, egg and milk production. We should promote small farms at every household of rural areas and suburbs. We also need to think about ways to reduce dependency on the imported food products while finding domestic alternatives. The government, local government officials and political leaders and workers must participate in this drive to inspire people to utilize every piece of land or space for food production.
With a little bit of good intent, Bangladesh can be fully self-sufficient in food. To keep stability in the country food availability is a must, especially considering our huge population. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with her farsighted leadership, has repeatedly asked every citizens to be a part of the food production process. Considering the global context, there is no alternative other than to be prepared for the next few critical years. We hope, none will remain hungry in Bangladesh if we put out hearty effort to reach the solution.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela