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.
The Bangladesh government wants to enhance support for university research as a part of its strategy for higher education (Strategic Plan 2006-2026). Supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), researchers in Bangladeshi universities are conducting advanced research on some of the most pressing economic challenges in key sectors of the country such as agriculture, environment, and health. With upgraded research facilities and equipment, Bangladeshi faculties are publishing more on international scientific journals and training competent PhD graduates.
Vaccination is one of the effective strategies to prevent FMD infection. Due to a high rate of mutation in FMD virus, there is an urgent need for the development of safe and effective vaccines for FMD.
“Bangladesh spends a lot of money to import FMD vaccines – but these are produced for foreign strains of FMD viruses, and they are ineffective against the virus strains circulating in Bangladesh. We need to have vaccine development capacity of our own,” says Prof. Anwar Hossain, Department of Microbiology of University of Dhaka and Manager of the sub-project titled, Foot and Mouth Disease in Bangladesh: Genome Analysis and Vaccine Development Project.
Prof. Anwar’s sub-project was awarded a competitive research grant of BDT 23.7 million (about US 304,000) from the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). His project is conducting studies to determine variation in FMD virus of Bangladesh origin and developing appropriate methods of prevention against FMD viruses. Using the fund, Prof. Anwar and his team upgraded their laboratory with essential modern scientific equipment such as real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine to read DNA sequences and bio-safety cabinet together with a lot of indispensable laboratory consumables.
Since its inception in 2011, the sub-project has made significant achievements on their research work. These include completion of epidemiological study of serotype and lineage of FMD viruses, isolation and genome-wide analysis of FMD virus in Bangladesh, and publishing papers in international academic journals.