Excessive reliance on food import can never bring stability in food security in any country on the globe. With food many vital things including sovereignty is closely interwoven. A country may not be subdued by might, but if that country suffers from vulnerability in food production, ways automatically open up to allow entry of aliens coming with food aid and in the event of scarcity such ‘humanitarian assistance’ is not possible for any government to reject.
No doubt, attaining food security for an over populated, land-starved and miss-governed country is arduous and impossible in many cases due to factors beyond control. Scarcity of water, small land holdings, dearth of able manpower, exodus of growers/farmers from the agriculture sector due to lesser return or rapid absorption of manpower by the industries, growth in the prices of agricultural inputs, unplanned urbanization and most importantly natural calamities caused by climate changes are keeping the dream of many countries becoming self-reliant in food far away. Without a substantial production of cereal at home food security for any country would remain a pipe-dream.
To meet these challenges a well thought-out work plan is imperative and the government(s) must keep vigil whether a well-intended plan is causing more harm to the people instead of paving the way for food security. And for carrying forward the work plan, international /multinational cooperation or assistance is essential for the food-starved and developing countries with over population likeBangladesh.
Food security automatically focuses on agriculture and this sector in the southAsiaregion has been facing major and minor problems or challenges for quite sometime back. Many problems in the countries in the southAsiaregion are common and many are not. For example, gradual decrease in the availability of irrigation water, disproportionate use of fertilizers, (hitherto) small-scale exodus of growers from the agriculture vocation, shrinking of agriculture land holdings especially in the eastern part (Bangladesh) are common among the countries in the region.
Of the similarities, in almost all the countries women are getting more involved in direct farming replacing their men due to demographic change, growing mechanized farming and commercial scale production of cereal. On the one side countries are getting industrialized and on the other side involvement of woman in agriculture production is on the rise. This is the real picture in the agriculture in southAsiaregion now.
But one thing would perhaps remain and become acute in the coming days especially inBangladeshdubbed to be the most densely populated country. Here, as of to-day, the chance of expanding the land holding through the merger of very small holdings is slim because of too-much individualistic mentality and age old land law. Cooperative movement in this country began long ago but that has hardly been able to hold together contiguous small holdings for large scale farming of rice, cereal and high value vegetables for long. This is really a problem indeed.
Rice production inBangladeshtrebled in last 40 years mostly due to application of high yielding variety seeds, expansion of fertilizer use and irrigation facility. But the benefit of the increased production mostly negated due to population boom and natural disasters (flood, cyclone, tidal surge) visiting every year. On the natural calamities the government or people might have little control but population boom perhaps could have been checked smoothening the way to attain a dependable food security.
A woman in Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, separates rice from husks using a traditional sieve.
In the southAsiaregion agri-product storage capacity, supply chain, fertilizer production (exceptBangladeshfor the time being) and use of tractor in cultivation are on the rise. In Baluchistan of Pakistan women are running tractors. These are all encouraging developments. But more miles have to go to reach cereal to the people who still subsist on government’s food distribution programme.
Recently a high level workshop cum seminar of the agriculture experts, researchers and agro-commercial entrepreneurs was held in Sri Lankan capitalColombowith the purpose of delving the problems and finding the appropriate way to mitigate the problems towards attaining food self-sufficiency in the southAsiaregion. The presentation of the experts including Sri Lankan Minister, Dr. Sarath Amunugama were very much close to the reality on the ground. All the presentations were thought provoking and path-showing. Some of the experts dealt with micro and macro matters in the field of agriculture. The GDN-IPS seminar could properly focus on the problems already stated in the previous chapters, but did not go for an imposing resolution perhaps considering the point that much more should be known about the agriculture and its socio-economic impact in the southAsia. The seminar in one word could be said that it is one more step towards eliminating the blocks in the way to attain a sustainable food security for the region.
The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Global Development Network or its Board of Directors.