With more than 800 million, or 10% of the world’s population, going to bed hungry, the subsequent sanctions and counter-sanctions following the Ukraine war have only exacerbated the problem, which was “most unfortunate in our world of abundant resources”, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said.
Speaking at the inaugural session of the World Food Forum 2022, organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the PM said given the remarkable contributions of science and technology, there was “no dearth of food in our planet.
“The scarcity is simply manmade. Politics and business interests with food, challenges of climate change, and pest and disease attacks are all putting pressure on our agri-food systems.”
On the war, she stressed that even if a fraction of the money invested on manufacturing weapons was spent on food production and distribution, “no one would go hungry in this world.”
Pleading the international community to stop war, stop politics over food, and stop wastage of food, she said it was time to focus on ensuring food supply to areas facing the shortage.
Revisiting Bangladesh’s birth during a blood-soaked war which threw the country into a huge food shortage, she said, “The Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the impoverished Bengali people to the war of liberation, saw the catastrophe facing the new nation, and immediately concentrated on increasing food production.”
She said Bangabandhu’s call was for a Green Revolution for the economic emancipation of farmers and the working class, to realise which he allocated a fifth of the development budget for agricultural development.
On her own achievements, she said, “When I assumed office, there was a 4 million tonnes of rice shortage, and when I left office at the end of my first tenure, there was a surplus of 2.6 million tonnes of rice. In my present tenure, we have again made remarkable progress in rice production. Total rice production was increased to 38 million metric tons last year from 28.9 million metric tonnes in 2008.”
On her government’s key tool to achieve this, she highlighted mechanisation, promoting new technologies, giving agricultural appliances to farmers at subsidised rates and having individual bank accounts for over 20 million farmers.
“These cardholders are given loans directly in their bank accounts for crop production and subsidies for agricultural inputs. Also, our central bank adopted an agricultural and rural credit policy for investment in agriculture. Thus, in the period 2020-2021, over USD 2 billion loan was provided to 2.25 million small and marginal farmers.”
Hasina, however, said despite it all, Bangladesh’s agricultural sector was challenged by climate change and natural calamities.
Hasina also promoted Bangladesh as a great investment opportunity.
“Our policies are liberal and laws conducive to investment. This includes fiscal policies related to FDI, tax benefits, incentives for exports, and other inputs as technology and competitive labour. Bangladesh has good potentials for agro-processing industries. I would especially like to invite foreign investors to invest in this agro-sector.”
The premier also emphasised FAO’s support in Bangladesh graduating from a food-deficit to a food-sufficient country.
The 36th Asia Pacific Regional Conference of FAO in Dhaka took place at a time when the global food system is reeling from the Russia-Ukraine war, sanctions and counter-sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the droughts across Africa, South Asia, and the Middle-East.