Since gaining independence in 1971, food security issues in Bangladesh have been amongst the highest priorities on the government’s agenda. This is because Bangladesh faces a number of demographic, social and ecological challenges, which make it particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. These challenges are further exacerbated by climate change, including the consequences of sea level rise. Silent threats such as soil and river salinity and arsenic contamination have direct and indirect effects on agricultural production and households’ access to food.
In order to target the continuing food security threats the Government of Bangladesh has developed a number of high level policy initiatives, including Vision 2021 and the related Perspective Plan. Achieving food security is also a key objective of the country’s poverty reduction strategy and has been recognised to be the highest risk in the Bangladesh Climate Change Action Plan. Strategic objectives include realizing universal food security, which implies that the country needs to be not only self-sufficient in terms of food production but also manage equitable distribution of nutritious food. Ensuring universal food security is particularly challenging given the multidimensional nature of the food security concept which comprises food availability, physical and financial access to food, food utilisation and food stability.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Imagine a world in which we had to eat with long spoons and chopsticks or could not bend our arms to bring food to our mouths... What would we do? How would we eat? The parable of the long spoons teaches us a valuable lesson: focusing solely on ourselves leads to struggle and hardship, but focusing on others gives us the freedom to find new solutions.
The following video from Caritas International's One Human Family, Food For All campaign uses this parable to encourage viewers to consider their own food choices and proactively reduce the hunger of their neighbors. FAO estimates that about 805 million people were/are chronically undernourished in 2012–14, the vast majority of which live in developing countries, where 13.5% of the population is undernourished. However, by working together, investments in agriculture can be made, food wastage can be reduced, and hungry people can be fed.
For nearly three-fifths of the world population, the lack of access to energy is a major challenge to economic development and poverty reduction.
Increasing cross-border trade in electricity can play a major role in helping overcome these challenges. Trade in electricity can help bring down energy prices, mitigate against power shocks, relieve shortages, facilitate decarbonization and provide incentives for market extension and integration.
Yet, countries have been reluctant to trade electricity across borders. Global exports of electricity are currently around 3 percent of total production. This is an anomaly in the energy sector. Think of oil. Roughly 64 percent of all oil produced is traded between countries.
A recent working paper published by the World Bank looks at the institutional arrangements of regional power pools in both developing regions and those in developed countries. In understanding how the regional integration of electricity markets has developed, the paper is able to draw useful lessons for the promotion of future trade arrangements.
Conventional wisdom holds that Sub-Saharan African farmers use few modern inputs despite the fact that most growth-inducing and poverty-reducing agricultural growth in the region is expected to come largely from expanded use of inputs that embody improved technologies, particularly improved seed, fertilizers and other agro-chemicals, machinery, and irrigation. Yet following several years of high food prices, concerted policy efforts to intensify fertilizer and hybrid seed use, and increased public and private investment in agriculture, how low is modern input use in Africa really?
From my seat as an Education economist at the World Bank, I go through a number of strategies from countries and sectors in Africa outlining how best to achieve economic growth and development. I am repeatedly struck by a key question: Who will do it? Who will add value to African exports? Who will build? Who will invent? Who will cure? The answer is, of course, that graduates from African universities and training institutions should do it. But the problem is one of numbers and quality—there are simply not enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and programs are of uneven quality.
About twenty years ago, while working for BRAC in Bangladesh, I was accompanying some visitors to one of BRAC’s non-formal education schools in a village about two hours out of the capital city Dhaka. To my surprise, instead of the usual sight of a classroom full of children, we found that only about 10 out of the 30 enrolled had showed up. Upon enquiry the teacher pointed out what seemed obvious to her: it was December and many children were in the fields helping harvest the rice crop or doing household chores. To be honest I didn’t think much more of the issue at the time.
History shows that investments in agriculture can be a catalytic force in the fight against hunger, poverty and malnutrition and a well-performing farm economy can be an instrument for achieving sustained structural economic transformation. Agricultural growth was the precursor to industrial growth in Europe and, more recently through the Green Revolution, in large parts of Asia and Latin America. The Green Revolution bypassed Africa.
When I was elected President of the Republic of Ghana in 2000, agriculture was a mainstay of the nation’s economy, accounting for 35% of its GDP, 55% of employment and 75% of export revenues. But it was a lagging, orphan sector, suffering from decades of neglect and lack of investment. Ghana’s agriculture had sadly changed little from the kind practiced generations ago. Farmers were still eking out a living, tilling the land by hand, much like their ancestors.
Delivering food and nutrition security in the face of climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. So it’s encouraging to see influential stakeholders around the world taking action today at the Climate Summit. From the private sector’s efforts to put a price on carbon, to the energy sector’s focus on lowering emissions, key stakeholders are realizing that inaction is not an option.
But one sector has yet to get its act together. Climate action may be gaining momentum, but the agriculture sector is largely stuck in ‘business as usual’ mode. Unlike other areas of the economy, it hasn’t made any big, transformational moves towards climate resilience or reducing emissions. We are missing our “electric car”.
Agricultural transformation is a priority for Africa. Across the continent, the significant information needs of farmers—accurate local weather forecasts, relevant advice on agricultural practices and input use, real time price information and market logistics—remain largely unmet. To the extent that rural regions are typically sparsely populated with limited infrastructure and dispersed markets, the use of innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) overcome some of these information asymmetries and connect farmers to opportunities that weren't necessarily available to them earlier. Harnessing the rapid growth of digital technologies holds hope for transformative agricultural development.