Striv­ing for Food Se­cu­rity

Fish­ing wars ham­per more than just geo-pol­i­tics.

Southasia - - Contents - By Fa­tima Si­raj

In­ter­est­ingly, the first and fore­most tar­get of The Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals (MDGs) de­vel­oped by the United Nations, is the re­duc­tion of global poverty and hunger by half. While the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion has seen much suc­cess in this re­gard, South Asia con­tin­ues to face a grave sce­nario of food in­se­cu­rity. Ac­cord­ing to the World Food Sum­mit of 1996, “Food se­cu­rity ex­ists when all peo­ple, at all times, have phys­i­cal and eco­nomic ac­cess to suf­fi­cient, safe and nu­tri­tious food that meets their di­etary needs and food pref­er­ences for an ac­tive and healthy life.”

From this def­i­ni­tion, it can be de­duced that food se­cu­rity de­pends on three ma­jor fac­tors: phys­i­cal ac­cess to food, eco­nomic ac­cess to food and the food in ques­tion be­ing suf­fi­cient, safe and nu­tri­tious. South Asia, and in par­tic­u­lar Bangladesh, cur­rently suf­fers from a se­vere food cri­sis be­cause of prob­lems re­lated to all three as­pects.

Phys­i­cal ac­cess to food is di­rectly linked to cli­mate change, since agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity is pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent upon cli­mate. Given South Asia’s ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, the re­gion suf­fers ex­tremely from cli­mate change. Global warm­ing has not only af­fected crop­ping sea­sons but has also re­sulted in the rapid melt­ing of the Hi­malayan glaciers. These wor­ry­ing changes have surged up flood­ing and raised sea lev­els, gravely im­pact­ing ru­ral liveli­hoods in the re­gion.

Fur­ther­more, poverty is deep and wide­spread throughout the re­gion. Ap­prox­i­mately 600 mil­lion South Asians live on less than US$1.25 a day. Dur­ing cli­matic crises, mil­lions of poor peo­ple are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected, mainly be­cause of their heavy re­liance on nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion for sus­te­nance. Cli­mate change in Bangladesh con­tin­ues to ad­versely af­fect agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. Since mil­lions of Bangladeshis rely heav­ily on nat­u­ral re­sources from coastal ar­eas for sus­te­nance, ris­ing sea lev­els have se­ri­ously threat­ened their liveli­hoods.

Apart from phys­i­cal ac­cess, eco­nomic ac­cess to food is also an im­por­tant fac­tor that con­trib­utes to food se­cu­rity. Ac­cord­ing to The Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit’s (EIU) Global Food Se­cu­rity In­dex 2012, Bangladesh is the least food se­cure coun­try in South Asia. The in­dex as­sesses peo­ple’s abil­ity to af­ford food along with avail­abil­ity and qual­ity of food in 105 coun­tries around the globe. Bangladesh is not only the world’s third poor­est pop­u­la­tion af- ter China and In­dia but its hun­gry pop­u­la­tion of over 60 mil­lion peo­ple is larger than most other nations. Nearly half of Bangladesh’s chil­dren are un­der­weight, mak­ing it one of the most se­vere cases of mal­nu­tri­tion in the world. While Bangladesh may cer­tainly have more food than it had thirty years back, al­most half of Bangladesh is still far from be­ing food se­cure.

Ris­ing food prices con­trib­ute greatly to ris­ing food in­se­cu­rity by im­pact­ing eco­nomic ac­cess to food. As EIU’s re­port says, “Global food prices rose three times as fast as in­fla­tion in the last decade, im­prov­ing mil­lions at a time when poverty re­lief cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion. Huge price swings for wheat, maize, soy­beans and rice sta­ples crops for much of the world, made mat­ters worse, dis­rupt­ing mar­kets and harm­ing both pro­duc­ers and con­sumers.” Since Bangladesh faces a pro­duc­tion deficit in fruits, veg­eta­bles, pulses as well as milk and meat, it is forced to im­port a num­ber of these highly priced agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, de­spite be­ing an agrar­ian econ­omy it­self. Fur­ther­more, it also faces a de­cline in the pro­duc­tion of fish, which will need to rise by three per­cent if the na­tional re­quire­ment is to be met by 2015. This in­ef­fi­cien-

cy in pro­duc­tion is why Bangladesh faces the most se­ri­ous threat to food se­cu­rity in terms of avail­abil­ity.

Some of the per­sist­ing prob­lems of in­creas­ing crop pro­duc­tion in­volve de­creas­ing soil pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­ef­fi­cient wa­ter and fer­til­izer use, in­ad­e­quate sup­ply of qual­ity seeds, low la­bor pro­duc­tiv­ity, and higher in­put price. Fur­ther­more, the in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity of re­search, ex­ten­sion and seed pro­duc­tion sys­tems in terms of fa­cil­i­ties and hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources have weak­ened and are not geared to ad­dress the emerg­ing prob­lems. Weak­nesses also per­sist in plan­ning, co­or­di­na­tion, mon­i­tor­ing, re­source man­age­ment and part­ner­ship with the pri­vate sec­tor and NGOs. These prob­lems are more prom­i­nent in the livestock sub-sec­tor com­pared to crops.

In terms of the third as­pect of food se­cu­rity that de­pends on nu­tri­tion, Bangladesh again falls short. WFP’s VAM (Vul­ner­a­bil­ity Anal­y­sis and Map­ping) in­di­cates that poverty is not nec­es­sar­ily the cause of mal­nu­tri­tion. Ad­di­tional and of­ten stronger de­ter­mi­nants of this are lack of aware­ness and in­ap­pro­pri­ate cul­tural prac­tices. Poor ac­cess to wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and in­creas­ing ar­senic con­tam­i­na­tion (which is linked to the over-ex­ploita­tion of wa­ter tables) fur­ther ag­gra­vates this.

Faced with the chal­lenges of an in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion, de­creas­ing avail­abil­ity of agri­cul­tural land and in­creas­ing food prices, Bangladesh needs to adopt a multi-pronged strat­egy to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. It can start by tak­ing mea­sures to­wards in­creas­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity; learn­ing from re­cent ex­per­i­ments in rice pro­duc­tion and cut­ting down on huge yields losses by re­duc­ing wastage. Fur­ther­more, it can di­ver­sify its food bas­ket to at­tain self-suf­fi­ciency in the non-ce­real food grains. It can also im­prove uti­liza­tion by ed­u­cat­ing the pop­u­la­tion on nu­tri­tion. Huge im­prove­ments in food se­cu­rity can be achieved through im­prov­ing knowl­edge on food-based nu­tri­tion (right meth­ods of cook­ing, bal­anced diet, from locally and cheaply avail­able food­stuffs). Pro­mo­tion of for­ti­fi­ca­tion of food­stuff can also be done as it pro­vides a proven and cost-ef­fec­tive strat­egy of deal­ing with mi­cronu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies. Lastly, ac­cess to food can be im­proved through gov­ern­ment strate­gies such as pro­vid­ing sup­ple­men­tary nu­tri­tion to chil­dren (such as mid-day meals in schools) and preg­nant women, the pro­vi­sion of un­em­ploy­ment and pen­sion ben­e­fits and de­vel­op­ment of food banks and food dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems for the in­di­gent peo­ple (Safety Nets). By im­ple­ment­ing these poli­cies, Bangladesh can hope to ef­fec­tively deal with its alarm­ing food cri­sis. Fa­tima Si­raj is cur­rently pur­su­ing a BBA de­gree at the In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion. She fre­quently writes on mar­ket­ing and so­cial is­sues.

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