AL far from food security pledge
Ruling Awami League did little to fulfill its much trumpeted election promise of achieving national food security though the its 2nd straight term in power ends after three months reports The New Age.
In the election manifesto in 2008, AL promised to ensure people’s rights to vote and food as preconditions for poverty alleviation. Before the controversial 2014 election, the ruling AL in its manifesto announced that it achieved self- sufficiency in food production while promising nutritious food to 85 per cent people by 2021.
In the manifesto AL also promised to ensure by 2021 that each citizen consumed at least 2,122 kcal per day, being the minimum energy requirement of a healthy person.But different studies released last year revealed that still one third Bangladesh population cannot afford enough food.
But according to food minister Quamrul Islam there is no food deficiency in the country as it was producing surplus food grains. ‘We are planning to overcome nutrition deficiency among poor people by feeding them nutritious rice’ he said.
‘I think the government became successful in achieving national food security,’ said Quamrul.
But the International Food Policy Research Institute says that about 28 million people cannot buy enough rice to fill their
A study, jointly conducted by Brac University and Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia, released last year revealed that one third of the country’s people were food deprived as they consume less than 1,800 kcal per day.
The World Food Programme said in a report released in October 2016 that one fourth of the country’s 160 million people were food insecure and hungry.
‘It is true that people do not die from hunger in Bangladesh anymore.
But there is hidden hunger,’ said former Jahangirnagar University vice chancellor Abdul Bayes.
Food security means people have access to enough and safe food at affordable prices to meet their daily nutrition requirement, explains Bayes.
Bayes, director at research and evaluation division at Brac, said that the country’s food grain production increased substantially which was not enough to meet their nutrition requirements.
‘The nutrition deficiency cannot be overcome as long as the policymakers refuse to change their mindset,’ said Bayes.
He said that policymakers were still under the impression that food security was there when people had enough rice to eat.
‘They are harbouring an erroneous concept of food security that could be achieved through crop diversification. And crop diversification is the precondition,’ said Bayes.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, the country produced 3.96 crore tonnes of food of which 3.48 crore tonnes was rice.
According to an IFPRI report, people in Bangladesh get 71 per cent of their daily energy from rice consumption.
Nutritionists attributed Bangladesh’s widespread micronutrient deficiencies, especially among children and their moms, to lack of availability and access to non-cereal nutrient-rich foods.
That’s why Bangladesh’s one in every three, or 36 per cent children suffer from stunting.
‘Bangladesh has made tremendous achievement in food security in past few years considering that over 50 per cent children were born stunted in 2004,’ said IFPRI country representative Akhter Ahmed.
‘However, challenges remain as stunting is already very low in many Asian countries,’ said Akhter.
According to him in Sri Lanka only 11 per cent children are born with stunting.
Experts said that the situation in Bangladesh would have been better had AL ensured better food management, a major election pledge of the party.
Former Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies director general Quazi Shahabuddin said that rice price rose by 30 per cent in 2017 following flash floods due to poor government response in the aftermath of flood.
‘The government responded too late and with too little,’ said Shahabuddin.
Although the floods occurred in late March, Shahabuddin said, the government spent nearly three months to take the decision to import rice after its stock fell to record low level of below 2 lakh tonnes.
Ensuring import of food at right moment was a major election pledge of AL.
Consequently, the government had to double the price of rice for selling to the poor groups at discount prices.
But poor the people were puzzled to find the government sold to them imported sun boiled and not par boiled rice.
Since sun boiled rice is not in the food culture of Bangalis even the poor could not consume it creating a serious concern regarding the state of food security the government was trumpeting about.
The poor buyers cut on their consumption and almost a half the supplies at OMS outlets for selling at discount price remained unsold.
Different reports showed that after the floods several million people were pushed below the poverty trap and even well off villagers began to feel the bite of food insecurity.
Bedeviled by rampant corruption, the government’s OMS programme and other social safety net mechanisms came under severe criticism from the media and the human rights groups in recent years.
Government dealers opened fire on people protesting misappropriation of rice for sale at discount price. Sacks of subsidized rice were intermittently discovered stacked in private warehouses in many districts.
RAB caught truckloads of subsidized rice being stolen from the food department’s Central Storage Depot in the capital time and again.
Even the affluent were no less worried about food and they were seen struggling to have access to safe food as contamination and adulteration went unabated in food production, supply and marketing ends.
The government’s food safety campaign, which began with the setting up of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority in 2013, hardly created an impact, experts said.
Outside the capital not a single case was filed under the food safety act in five years. In the capital, only 112 cases were filed, mostly against petty sellers.
‘The government has failed to create an atmosphere conducive for the food safety authority to function,’ said Social Sector Management Foundation chief executive officer AM Zakir Hussain.
He said that the BFSA lacks technical capacity to operate and its field level officers are too scared to take action against businessmen.
‘The government must ensure their security before sending them against the organized business community,’ said Zakir.
Food safety campaigner Poribesh Bachao Andolon general secretary Md Abdus Sobhan expressed disappointment over BFSA’s performance.
‘The government’s drive for safe food failed to deliver,’ said Sobhan
‘They are wasting public money,’ he added.
Food minister Quamrul Islam said that ensuring safe food is a massive and priority task for the government.
‘The other Asian countries spent seven to eight years to effectively enforce safe food law,’ said Quamrul, adding ‘We are working to make people aware about how to keep food safe from production to consumption.
Regarding allegations of rampant corruption in food distribution and management, he said, ‘We are taking punitive measures against the perpetrators. We are working to improve the situation.’