Credible information of crop cultivation, production and supply very important
Dr Saadat Husain, Former cabinet secretary, former chairman of Public Service Commission : A question has arisen over the credibility and authenticity of information regarding the cultivation, production and supply of food grains in Bangladesh. Everyone is coming up with information to one’s advantage. I have meticulously analyzed all the information but I have found no consistency there.
We have been hearing for more than a decade that Bangladesh achieved food self-sufficiency. Here food refers to food grains i.e. rice and wheat. In Bangladesh, food grains do not mean barley or maize. I am also of the opinion that Bangladesh is self-sufficient in food. However, we are yet to achieve the exporting capacity in this regard. We cannot say for sure when it will be possible.
Our self-reliance is very shaky. The production drops noticeably in the event of any natural calamity. Then comes food deficit, which happened in 2017. Sudden flood caused colossal damage to crops in Sunamganj and Sylhet areas. Floodwaters inundated Boro crops on vast tracts of land. Then it was learnt that the government silos were empty and the syndicates took no time to cash in on the situation. The price of rice in the market sharply increased. The price of coarse rice was selling around Tk 60, which was far beyond the purchasing capacity of the common people. The quantity of government procurement almost reached level zero, which put the government in awkward position. Agreement was signed to import rice from different countries, even from neighbouring Myanmar. A 28% import tax on the rice was in effect. The rate was so high that the importers refused to import rice. Finding no other alternative, the government lowered the rate of import tax to around 10%. The procedures to open an LC were eased. An estimate shows that more than 60 lakh tonnes of food grains were imported during 2017-18. This is the highest import ever.
Former food secretary Abdul Latif Mandal gathered a lot of information with regard to the cultivation, production and supply of food grains in the country. His analysis seems to be very realistic. According to him, the food production has been rising for the past few years. However, the growth rate is decreasing gradually.
A recent media report shows that the total cultivable land for food grains is decreasing in the country. An international report has rung alarm bells that the food grain production might decrease all over the world.
Against this backdrop, we have to take great care while making any comment over the production and supply of food grains. It will not be wise to speak for exporting food grains, at least for the next few years. Keeping the domestic market static should be our main target now. We should consider exporting the food grains after increasing the production and ensuring steady growth.
It is not a bad idea to attain self-sufficiency in food but we should not make a fuss over it.
We should bear in mind that we are not self-reliant in wheat production. Therefore, we have to import a huge quantity of wheat every year. We will have to continue it at least for next 10 years. So food self-sufficiency will continue to chase us. We can attain sustainable self-reliance in rice if we adopt well-thought-out plans for increasing rice production and decreasing consumption at consumer level. We must be careful while making any decision in this regard. There is no room for complacency here.
Translated by Hossen Sohel