Bangladesh’s food security not at stake but access to all needs to be ensured: Experts
Publish- April 12, 2020, 11:09 PM
Abdur Rahman Jahangir - UNB Staff Writer
Update- April 12, 2020, 11:51 PM
Though the UN has warned that coronavirus protective measures could jeopardise food security around the world, experts said Bangladesh is unlikely to face such a problem if the government can ensure people’s access to food as it has enough food stock.
They also said the government should not be complacent with its huge food stock as it has a big challenge to ensure its availability at the doorsteps of the affected people through various social safety net programmes and food ratioing system, and keep the prices of the essentials affordable through proper market intervention in a bid to ensure food security.
According to the experts, the government’s measures to provide people with food aid are not sufficient when millions involved in the informal sector have become temporarily unemployed with the gradual loss of their buying capacity due to the shutdown of economic activities.
They also warned that food security will not be ensured even after having adequate volume of food grains as the system may fail to ensure its availability at every nook and corner always within the buying capacity of all.
Contacted, Sarwar Mahmud, the Directorate General (DG) of Food, said the country is unlikely to face any food crisis even if the coronavirus situation prevails for a long timed due to adequate stock of food grains, including rice, wheat, potato and other essential commodities.
“We’re not worried about food security since Bangladesh is not a food-deficit country. We got a bountiful Aman production while we’re expecting an impressive production of Boro paddy as well,” he added.
The DG said they have around 14 lakh metric tonnes of rice and 3 lakh metric tonnes of wheat while rice traders, millers, wholesalers and farmers have more food grains stock than the government has. “Many people also hoarded food out of their fear of food crisis. So, our food grains stock is adequate to meet the country’s demand for more than a year.”
Besides, he said Boro harvest will begin just after a month which will boost the food grain stock further.
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman said coronavirus has no impact on Bangladesh’s agriculture sector and they do not think the country’s food security will be at stake if the corona situation prolongs.
“We’ve got a bumper production of Aman and Aush crop. We’ll also have had a good production of Boro. We produced almost all crops and vegetables this season much more than what we did last year. So, we won’t face any food crisis under any situation,” he said.
Nasir said farmers produced around 23 lakh metric tonnes of onion last year while they expect it to be more than 25 lakh metric tonnes this year. “We got over one crore metric tonnes of potato last year while the farmers produced around 1. 09 crore metric tonnes of the crop this year against the local demand for 70,000 metric tonnes.”
Besides, he said, farmers also this year produced over 5,000 metric tonnes of vegetables more than what they did last year. “Agricultural activities remain unaffected amid the coronavirus shutdown as farmers usually work maintaining social distancing. Most of our crops, except Boro paddy, jute and maize, have already been produced. So, there’s no reason to be worried about any food crisis.”
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi at a recent press confrere said the government has enough stock of food grains and daily household items.
“There’s no scope for shortage of food since the government has stockpiled about 40 percent more goods this year than it had last year," he said.
The minister said 2.6 lakh tonnes of pulses were imported in 2018-19 financial year, while 2.1 lakh tonnes pulses have already been imported over the last seven months.
He said they have also imported enough edible oil and onion to meet the local demand of the items.
Talking to UNB, former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said the country may not face any food crisis as the stock looks enough to deal with the coronavirus situation. “But the main worries are whether people will have the access to food or the food will be available for people at affordable prices.”
He said people’s buying capacity is declining with the suspension of most economic activities to prevent the virus. “Besides, many people have lost their sources of earning and become temporarily jobless. So, it’s the main challenge to ensure food for them by widening the social safety net programmes.”
The noted economists said the government must strengthen its food aid support mainly for the day-labourers and those involved in informal sector alongside the BGF and OMS programmes for the poor to ensure food safety of all citizens.
He said the government announced a stimulus package of Tk 5,000 crore for the RMG sector, but it did not spell out any such package for those engaged in informal sector, the source of 85 percent of total employment in the country.
Mirza Aziz said the rich should come forward and corporate houses should use their CSR funds to stand by the affected people alongside the government to ensure food security.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said Bangladesh is in a better position than may other coronavirus-hit countries in terms of food production and food stock. “But food security means not only having adequate food grains. The proper distribution of food, availability of food and people’s purchasing capacity involves the food security notion.”
He said nearly 1 core day-labourers have lost their jobs while the overwhelming majority of 2.70 crore people in the informal sector has become temporarily unemployed and they are gradually losing their purchasing capacity. “The government should look into this matter so that these huge number of people can have food.”
Besides, Mustafiz said, many people returned to their village home but they have no income now. “So, the government must introduce food rationing system alongside strengthening other programmes under social safety net. Food security will be ensured when people will have access to food.”
He said the government also must remain alert and strengthen market monitoring so that unscrupulous businessmen cannot create artificial food crisis taking advantage of the situation.