Wednesday September 29, 2021 07:57 am

Food Insecurity is Rising

📝 Online Desk
🕐 2021-05-09 14:43:40

Food Insecurity is Rising

Matthew Jay Yang


The agricultural revolution is the name given to a number of cultural transformations that initially allowed humans to change from a hunting and gathering subsistence to one of agriculture and animal domestications. Today, more than 80% of human worldwide diet is produced from less than a dozen crop species many of which were domesticated many years ago.

When we talk about Agricultural Revolution we refer to improvements in agricultural techniques. To feed the ever growing population of a country the agricultural system must adapt to various innovations and tool technologies.  Good governance ensures adequate productions and surplus of food.

Scientists are in continuous pursuit of increasing food production within the limited farm land. Today’s agricultural revolution is largely driven by the advances in biosciences. Modern biotechnology applications are speeded up by plant cross breeding process with respect to conventional plant breeding approaches as well as land management. Today hybrid and genetically modified crops are grown in fields at a commercial, global scale. 

In a country like Bangladesh with high density of population requires the dependence on plant and animal domestication entailing a number of other environmental adaptations including deforestation, irrigation, and the allocation of land for specific crop cultivation. Overpopulation along with decrease of the land-to-human ratio has made the need for food security of topmost priority of the nation. About 32 percent of people in this country still live below the poverty line and do not have sufficient access to affordable food. It is worth mentioning that of recent years Bangladesh has made tremendous improvement in ensuring the food availability but in spite of it, the shocking reality is that even with the sufficient food production, 26 percent of people are still chronically food insecure.

Bangladesh is still predominantly an agrarian society. Being self sufficient in food production is the biggest challenge for the country. With limited agricultural land, proper utilization of the farm land is crucial to adequate food production. Being able to produce large quantities of farm crops alone is not the solutions to food security. Food storage and food preservations techniques are just as important.

Despite making tremendous success in food production, Bangladesh is still experiencing limited access to sufficient food. Although 60 percent of people living in the rural areas are directly or indirectly engaged with agriculture, land distribution inequalities led to people’s disproportionate access to food. Small farmers, those owning 0.5-1.49 acres of land, are the major population of Bangladesh, who consist of 44.6 percent of the farming communities. These small farmers mainly have access to cereals but other basic food items are not sufficiently available for them. Poverty is another factor that makes access to food difficult and ultimately creates food insecurity. Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing poverty rates and improved its extreme poverty situation with the passage of time but changes were not significant.

Since 2002 food production has actually been keeping slightly ahead of demand but that does not keep room for errors. The down side is that the size of arable land has decreased due to many factors like removing of the topsoil for brick making, river erosion, housing and industrial development, etc. On the upside the country has been spared from major natural calamities, like flooding, storms, earthquakes, etc. If statistics should been taken for its scientific values, Bangladesh should not be complacent of its good fortune. With inadequate food reserve should the country be struck with any sudden misfortune in the disruption of food production the country will face an insurmountable challenge in resolving the crisis.

As the graph above shows food production has almost kept pace with the size of the population, however should the food production reach its point of diminishing returns there will be catastrophic consequences.

In normal times Bangladesh’s food prices fluctuates tremendously. This volatility is an indication of the country’s unpredictable food production and food distribution management. Although the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the past five years has been pretty stable with the acceptable inflationary rate of around 5.9%, but the food inflation rate fluctuates as high as 20% for grains and 150% for farm produce. The unpredictable food prices are a constant threat to the majority of the population who are on a fixed income bracket. Bangladesh ranked 83rd, is the lowest among South Asian countries in the Global Security Index - 2019.

Bangladesh is not food secure and the probable future challenges may make the situation more critical. However, climate change is considered as one of the key challenges for food security. Food security is directly dependent on the agricultural sector and climate change influences the agriculture rigorously. The changing patterns of hazards and natural calamities such as irregular and untimely rainfalls, uneven temperature fluctuation, salinity rise, ill-timed drought, river erosion, and floods have made Bangladesh more vulnerable to food insecurity in the coming days. An expected estimation counts that climate change may cause up to US$26 billion loss to Bangladesh’s agricultural sectors during the 2005- 2050. This loss may be more in rice production and leads to 3.9 percent reduction in rice production per year. The effect of climate change is harsher with regard to the majority of farmers, since they belong to the smallholding farming community.

Besides, the increasing conversion rate of agricultural land to nonagricultural land could have adverse impacts on food security. One-third of the agricultural land was lost in the last 30 years due to the unplanned urbanization in this country. This losing pace does not seem to slow down considering the overpopulation and tendency of people to convert into urbanized citizens. The population of Bangladesh is predicted to reach about 260 million in the mid-21st century, which will bring about severe food shortage in the coming years.

Investment in sustainable agricultural and fisheries’ productivity growth should be ensured to get sustainable supply of food over the long term. This includes investment in innovations, such as climate-resilient varieties that can enable the sectors to respond to the challenges posed by climate change

If global warming is something to be taken seriously and the rise in water level will inevitably inundate a good portion of the country then adaptability is the solution for Bangladesh. More commercial farming of aquatic plants should be introduced as well as growing from soil planted vegetables to growing from water surface. Closer to the shores in the Bay of Bengal the ubiquitous “Sea Weed” the high nutritious plant used in Sushi and snacks can be grown commercially.

As rice is the main staple diet contributing to over 63 percent of the caloric intake for urban consumers and over 71 percent for the rural population, with a much smaller percentage wheat or maize in the form of flour consumed, more than 73% of the arable land is utilized for the plantation of these crops. That leaves about a quarter portion of the land for cultivation of other basic essentials so Bangladesh must tackle not only proper land management but also crop management to ensure food safety net for the country. Also Bangladesh household and income expenditure for food accounted for nearly 54 percent of total consumption expenditures, a share approaching 60 percent in rural areas. These data underscore the predicament not only of the 60 million Bangladeshi still struggling to climb out of poverty, but of the millions more that soaring food prices are dragging below the poverty line. 

Contemporary technologies should be developed and disseminated to the farmers. Farmers should be encouraged to cultivate diversified crops. Besides, more studies should be conducted on the climate change and the strategies to cope with it.

Bangladesh goes through periods of bumper farm harvest without benefitting much on the windfall due to poor infrastructure support for the farmers. Middlemen are the biggest hurdles to the farmer’s interest. As logistics are the main determining factors in the profitability of the farmer’s product, other solutions can be implemented to provide solutions to seasonal uncertainty of market price of their product.

In the last decade Bangladesh has managed double and even triple the productions of fruits and vegetables. But in spite such bounty farmers could not really capitalize on the efforts as most of the time their product has no means to reach the market. World Food Program estimates that every year about 35% fruits and vegetables are discarded by the farmers because of their inability to market them in a gainful manner.

To tackle food security and promote agro based economy the country need to focus on the following ideas:

l               Developing production efficiency

l               Adaptation of innovative farming methods

l               Introduction new breed of fruits and vegetables

l               Application of Agricultural mechanization

l               Educate on Food Processing and Preservation

l               Food Storage

Agricultural Production Efficiency is how farmers can produce the maximum harvest from a limited amount of land.

Innovative Farming means adapting to newer cultivation method as humans constantly discover better ideas to growing better crops.

Planting Diversified Crops will enable farmers to leverage their risk in the dependency of a sole crop. Different types of crops can also revitalize the soil conditions.

Agricultural Mechanization is the trend in human evolution since animal draught power has gradually been supplemented by the use of two-wheel tractors. However, there are opportunities to use these machines more widely for transport, for threshing and other agricultural tasks.

Food Processing and Preservation not only extends the life of perishable farm produce but can also convert them to Value Added Products.

Food Storage ensures the availability of continuous food supply year round especially in times of national calamities.

In Bangladesh the following percentage of crops are planted in the Cultivated Area:

All types of Rice 67%

Wheat/Maize 6%

Potato 3%

Jute 5%

Vegetable 5%

Mustard 3%

Other Oilseed 1%

Pulses 6%

Spices 4%

The purpose of this report is to identify the imminent food security threat and finding solutions to it. As Bangladesh is experiencing significant reduction in per capita farm size due to factors like growing population, conversion of farm lands to non-farm use and land erosion, all aspects of farming deficiencies are addressed here and proposals are suggested.

MUJIBNAGAR is first seat of governing power of independent Bangladesh. Currently known as Meherpur, it came into being as one of the smallest Upazilla in 1983. This place is recognized famously where the first Sovereign Bangladesh government was convened. Meherpur is basically an agro based district where 68.95% of the local population earns their livelihood through agriculture. Bangladesh’s Public Private Partnership Authority (PPPA) has proposed a PPP model to initiate a pilot project for Equipment based Agricultural Farm Revolution. For this purpose they are soliciting Foreign JV Partners to help make this plan a reality. Should this pilot project be successful then the idea is to duplicate the model nationwide.

Sino Bangla SilkRoad Company Limited, a consultancy firm, shares the idea of the PPPA and has already worked on constructing the model of this pilot project. We have a comprehensive study and proposals will work exactly to a successful outcome of project. We have also contacted Chinese Agricultural institutions and government departments and have received favorable response to which we hope we can arrange cooperation according to the PPP model.

As the name suggest, Equipment based Agricultural Farm Revolution, emphasis is given on the mechanization of farming for the pilot project in Meherpur. Along with the transfer of technology to be introduced in modernizing the farming method will revolutionize the agricultural development of Bangladesh.

China and Bangladesh share much similarity in the type of farmland available. Unlike western countries where farms are typically of mega size in hundreds or thousands of acres at a stretch, but farms in this region are mostly family owned subsistence farmers with land size ranging from half an acre to an acre. For such types of farm land specially designed farming tools are needed. When we talk about mechanized farming we typically mean large farm machinery cultivating large expanse crop land for as far as eyes can see. Whether it is soil tilling, planting, irrigation are harvesting wev have watched videos of machinery at work in the great plain of America, Argentina or Ukraine but these equipments are of no use to a country like Bangladesh.  China has been leading the way in many innovative small scales farming machinery that are perfectly suited for Bangladesh. So we believe a PPP plan can be structured involving both the governments of Bangladesh and China and private agricultural machinery companies of China and participate with their equipments and expertise to a business model for a win win objectives for all parties.

Sino Bangla SilkRoad Company Limited (SBSCL) a consultancy firm, has communicated with many farm machinery manufacturer having patents to many innovative technologically advanced farm equipments that are ideally applicable to Bangladesh agricultural community. SBSCL has also conducted meetings with Agricultural Research Institute of China for extending support from the government level in developing and growing the agriculture sector of Bangladesh. SBSCL believes that a concerted effort from multiple participants like Local, Provincial and Central Chinese government along with Chinese agricultural machine manufacturer and Chinese food product importers can participate in some form of cooperation with the Public Private Partnership Authority of Bangladesh to strategize a plan to completely revolutionize Bangladesh’s farming technique and business model of marketing their products from farm to consumers both domestically and internationally. As China has recently opened their market for Bangladesh’s product tax free, it is high time Bangladesh gear up its production capabilities to access that market. Agriculture product manufacturing is a labor intensive industry so Bangladesh will stand to benefit in the near and long term. The objectives are to help the farmers understand and learn the greater benefits in preserving their farm perishables and ultimately converting them to Value Added Products. A new farming model and marketing system will be designed and implemented and for that a qualified farming community will be selected as a pilot project. 

These are the objectives of the revolutionary farming system:

l               Minimizing or efficient consumption of farm resource like water, fertilizers.

l               Maximizing the farm output.

l               Efficient use of labor.

l               Reducing or eliminating the use of harmful pesticides.

l               Introduction of new varieties of cash crop.

l               Learning how to operate farm equipments to maximize efficiency in planting and harvesting.

l               Teaching farmers how to process and preserve the perishable crops for storage.

l               Teaching farmers how to convert their crops to Value Added Products.

Several scenarios of farming model can be adopted to ensure a successful outcome. The following plausible method can considered.

l               Farm will run as cooperatives under the directives of the Chinese partners.

Farm will remain independent but they will participate in the program.

Farm will be contracted to PPPA and partners and farmers will work as business partner.

Agrivoltaics Farming.

Agrivoltaics  or otherwise known as farming crops under solar panels) can boost food production, electricity, and save water. Building resilience in renewable energy and food production is a fundamental challenge in today’s changing world, especially in regions susceptible to heat and drought. Agrivoltaics, also known as solar sharing, is an idea that gained traction in recent years. Few studies, however, have monitored all aspects of the associated food, energy, and water systems, and none have focused on dryland areas—regions that experience food production challenges and water shortages, but have an overabundance of sun energy. Many of us want more renewable energy, but where do you put all of those panels? As solar installations grow, they tend to be out on the edges of cities, and this is historically where we have already been growing our food, So which land use do we prefer? Food or energy production? This challenge strikes right at the intersection of human-environment connections. Agrivoltaics is the answer to balancing both.

Research has found that the Agrivoltaics system significantly affected three factors that affect plant growth and reproduction—air temperatures, direct sunlight, and atmospheric demand for water. The shade the PV panels provided resulted in cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures than the traditional, open-sky planting system.

There was also a lower vapor pressure deficit in the Agrivoltaics system, meaning there was more moisture in the air. It is also found that many of our food crops do better in the shade of solar panels because they are spared from the direct sun. In fact, total crops like pepper, jalapeno, and cherry tomato plants production was three times greater under the PV panels in an Agrivoltaic system, and tomato production was twice as great. Jalapenos produced a similar amount of fruit in both the Agrivoltaics system and the traditional plot, but did so with 65% less transpirational water loss. It is found that the Agrivoltaics system significantly affected three factors that affect plant growth and reproduction—air temperatures, direct sunlight, and atmospheric demand for water. The shade the PV panels provided resulted in cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures than the traditional, open-sky planting system. Its been found that each irrigation event can support crop growth for days, not just hours, as in current agriculture practices. This finding suggests we could reduce our water use but still maintain levels of food production. It is noticed that soil moisture remained approximately 15% higher in the Agrivoltaics system than the control plot when irrigating every other day.

Combining Solar Power Generation and farming is becoming very practical and efficient use of land and resource. This project is one which uses available space in the most effective possible manner. Taking advantage of space under solar panels is an innovative way to create a good environment for mushrooms to grow. The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn. This idea is suitable to create environment for farming by making use of vacant space under the solar panels. The newest developments in solar technology is to discover how mushroom farming and solar power are being combined to make improvements for farms. Beside mushrooms many other vegetables can be grown under the solar panels that require partial shade to grow. Most importantly for remote or far flung areas from main power grid, the power generated from this Solar Power can be utilized locally.

Climate change is already disrupting food production across the globe so this methodology is an innovating and game changing solution to our two very basic challenges, growing food and producing electricity.

Examples of a few exportable Value Added Products:

Fermented Radish

Preserved Kolrabi

Preserved White Cabbage

Preserved Cabbage

Preserved Green and Red Chillies

Fermented Bean Curds

Fermented Kimchi

Flash Frozen Precut Mix Vegetables

Dehydrated Seasonal Fruits

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Licorice Sweetened Fruit Snacks

Conclusion:

PPPA’s vision of revolutionizing the agricultural sector can be realized with a well founded plan, a bold move and the right partners. As mentioned earlier, all participants willing to come together for a win win cooperation in a true public private partnership of bringing economic emancipation for the farmers while supplying safe and wholesome and farm products that are free from harmful chemicals to consumers domestic and international. Farm production will increase significantly by means of adopting best seeds, implementing innovative planting techniques and utilization of mechanization for efficient and speedier harvesting.

Teaching the farmers how to convert the farm perishable to non perishable Value Added Products will finally bring the farming community of Bangladesh into the 21st century. Procurement of farm machinery and other major investment like cold storage and climate controlled warehouses can be structured with the participation from JICA or World Bank and Bangladesh Bank. Government can also help by initiating a special regulatory order to waive most taxation for this program. Chinese government will provide all training and transfer of agricultural technology free of cost and Chinese food product importers will in some form facilitate the exports of these farm products to China and elsewhere including the handling of logistics.

Realizing a true Greener Sustainable Bangladesh.

 

Matthew J Yang (Matt) a Chinese-American researcher has a Masters of Business Management from the USA and has worked in the US financial market for the past three decades. During the 2008 Financial Crisis, Matt was a contributing member team in the framing of the Bill for the Frank-Dodd Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act after the worst financial meltdown in the history of the US. Quartz, a company formed by Matt is a think tank to collect, research and evaluates business data to help the investors in Bangladesh including the State Owned Enterprises.