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Grainy Conservation

Rice is also one of the staples for food security, despite rapid loss of land

Photos by Din M Shibly
Text by Wafiur Rahman

Rice is the cheapest and most effective means available in this region that is likely to eradicate acute undernutrition. Many studies have revealed that there is a great potential to increase the rice production in South Asia. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are among the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Recurrent floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides and droughts hugely affect the production in these countries. Still they have maintained a steady growth for the last three decades. And now with the advent of modern breeding strategies, which has proved to be much more efficient than conventional techniques, and environmental stress-tolerant varieties, the whole scenario for rice production appears better than ever.

The sudden escalation in the price of rice and wheat observed in 2008 was largely due to a steep increase in the price of fossil fuels, leading to a rise in input costs. The growing diversion of farmland for fuel production in industrialised countries, increasing consumption of meat on the part of the affluent, and loss of land to roads, houses and industries are likely to lead to acute food scarcity, severe price volatility and high food inflation by the end of this decade. Experts have pointed out that ‘the Arab Spring’ had its genesis in food inflation.

In 1981, member-states of the FAO adopted a world soil charter, containing a set of principles for the optimum use of land resources and for the improvement of their productivity as well as conservation. The charter called for a commitment on the part of governments and land users to manage land for long-term advantage rather than short-term expediency.

The rapidly growing population of Bangladesh puts tremendous pressure on its scarce natural resources. To feed the growing population, there is an urgent need to develop more efficient and sustainable agricultural production and more equitable distribution systems. Rice plays a pivotal role in all spheres of life in Bangladesh and when it comes to food security of the rural farmers it is the most important commodity in terms of livelihood and food. Contribution of the crop sub-sector to GDP is about 11.16% and 61.0% of the AGDP. The contribution of crop sub-sector to AGDP is dominated by rice. The rural work force of 47.4 million is directly or indirectly engaged in agricultural activities at farm level and different components of value/market chain. Rice is grown all year round in Bangladesh having three distinct rice growing seasons – namely Aus, Aman and Boro. It is grown in four ecosystems viz., irrigated rice (Boro), rainfed or partially irrigated (transplanted Aus and Aman), rainfed upland (direct-seeded Aus), and deepwater (broadcast Aman). More than 73% of the rice area is covered by modern varieties developed by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BBRI) and 6% by hybrid rice which are marketed by the private seed companies. The local low yielding varieties are grown in the marginal lands. Currently, the net cropped area (NCA) and the total cropped area (TCA) of Bangladesh are 7.94 Mha and 14.41 Mha respectively. More than 33.77 Mt cereals were produced from 12.62 Mha of the TCA and 31.98 Mt of rice was produced from 11.35 Mha.

On average, each person in the world consumes more than 50 kg of rice a year. Asian countries consume about 86.70% of the global rice production and Bangladesh consumes 6.50% of the global rice production. In Bangladesh per capita availability of rice per year is about 160 kg which makes it the fourth highest consuming nation of the world. Rice is still the dominant source of energy and protein in an average Bangladeshi diet. The actual intake of rice is about 416 g per capita per day. Of the 2318 kcal, 69% of the total calorie and 50% of total protein come from it. Although the desirable levels of these are 46% and 36% respectively; upsetting the dietary balance with respect to protein and fat intake.
The Government policies and strategies to improve food security are aligned with access, utilization and availability through Public Safety Net Programs, research and extension to increase productivity of agricultural crops, and stabilization of food prices. The average annual growth rate (2001-11) is about 1.34%, which translates into about two million additional new mouths every year need to be fed. The projected population for the 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050 would be 169.54, 189.85, 205.13, and 217.54 million respectively and to feed them the estimated food requirements based on the desirable dietary pattern, especially rice and wheat, would be 23.020, 25.778, 27.853 and 29.538 Mt. On top of this climate change will complicate the food security issue further.
Subcontinental land is quite capable of being self-sufficient in rice production and India and Pakistan have already proved that. Since poverty is another direct cause of food insecurity, people can move out of stark poverty if they can be employed in agricultural activities and many such projects are already in operation in many countries. From the present South Asian perspective, there is no other easier way to promote national food security than through gaining self-sufficiency in rice production. Raising agricultural production is evidently the most direct way to tackle food insecurity in agronomic countries and agronomy is essentially rice economy in South Asia. The fact that most of the poor and undernourished people of South Asia are living in rural areas, and that they are largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood can be a problem and a solution at the same time.

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