Bangladesh’s location at the mouth of three huge river systems flowing into the Bay of Bengal makes it particularly susceptible to floods. It is densely populated so overcrowding, land shortages and unsustainable farming practices mean forests have been destroyed and soil erosion has made riverbeds rise. Monsoonal floods are an almost annual occurrence, as are the seasonal cyclones.
While agriculture is the major livelihoods source for most Bangladeshis, most struggle to maintain any significant level of production. About 60 percent of farmers are functionally landless, working as sharecroppers on terrain owned by landlords. Another 20 percent of farmers are considered marginal, eking out crops on fractions of a hectare, but not enough to feed a family for the year.
In November 2007, tens of thousands of homes were destroyed by Cyclone Sidr and two major floods also wreaked havoc, causing the loss of an estimated 1.4 million tonnes of rice. Furthermore, rapid price rises of rice and other foods are putting intolerable pressure on poor urban and rural households, forcing them to abandon consumption of protein foods and causing an increase in malnutrition.
This year, rice harvests may be reduced by pest infestations. Potash fertilizer normally would reduce the likelihood of infestations, but in many cases potash simply wasn't available or was too pricey.
In September, the price of staple rice was 41 percent higher than in September 2007. As a result, most households have even less “spare” cash to buy agricultural inputs such as seed and fertilizer. Over the last year, the price of quality seed also rose around 15 percent, making it too expensive for many marginal and small farmers.
FAO already has an emergency programme that helps farmers to deal with the regular weather shocks that afflict Bangladesh. In the wake of the food price crisis, interventions include a Technical Cooperation Programme project supporting small and marginal farmers in the cyclone-affected districts. The project is valued at US$500 000 to cover distribution of 680 tonnes of high-yielding seed to 140 000 beneficiaries.
Bangladesh is also included in a regional Technical Cooperation Programme project that aims to build capacity of countries in putting in place the social and productive safety nets, such as agricultural tools and supplies, to support vulnerable people. The project also strengthens monitoring and evaluations systems as well as policymaking via national and regional institutions.
FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Mission to Bangladesh, August 2008
The Mission estimated that an increase in food prices had raised the number of “Absolute Poor” by 9 million people to a total of 80 million and increased the prevalence of undernourishment to over 55 percent.
The Mission made various recommendations to improve agricultural production in Bangladesh such as:
• Increase investment in superior rice varieties specific for areas of Bangladesh
• Improve access to fertilizers and ensure their most efficient and effective use
• Secure the electricity supply necessary to power irrigation systems
• Strengthen farmers' organizations
• Improve access to credit for vulnerable farmers so they can buy inputs
• Expand incentives to increase pulse crop production
• Explore ways to address micronutrient deficiencies