The country's farm land is decreasing at a rate of 0.19 per cent every year, according to the Agriculture Census report released early this week. Based on the findings till 2019, the census conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) shows that the country's net arable land has declined to 18.68 million acres in 2019 from 19.09 million in 2008.
Losing arable land in a land-scarce country is no doubt worrying. However, while this is a reality one has to live with, the important aspect that must not be lost sight of is whether this is due to the negligence of relevant authorities, or is it an irreversible outcome of factors beyond human control. The known reasons are not many; but how these leave an impact on farm lands and what measures required to be taken to offset the situation certainly demand urgent attention from relevant quarters. Clearly, one of the main causes of decline is the increased demand for land due to increasing population. More and more lands are required for raising homesteads and the requirement is met mostly from agricultural lands. The same is the case with the requirement for new roads that come up to meet the demand for better communication of an increasing population leading to a decrease in agricultural land. The problem gets worse with the recurrence of river erosion that takes its toll on farm land. According to the findings of the Centre for Geographic Information Services (CGIS), river erosion accounted for 1,655 hectares of agricultural land in 2016 which was even higher in 2017 at 2,178 hectares. Besides these, the menace of brick fields coming up mostly on farm lands has been a cause for serious concern for quite sometime. Not only are the brick fields invasive on farm lands, the worst thing about conventional brick making is that it affects adjacent crop fields rendering them infertile and even uncultivable. Use of modern green technology replacing the ruinous brick kilns could be a way forward to hold back the deteriorating situation.
There is an apparent note of complacency in recent times due to bumper harvests of paddy, but the matter of food security that is being anticipated as a result of increased production of the staple does not seem to hold a strong ground as decrease in farm lands is accompanied with a considerable decrease in the number of rural population engaged in agriculture. In this connection, it may not be out of place to refer to another issue that needs to be clarified. For some years now, the government has been speaking about reclaimed lands but not providing precise information as to the size of such lands.
Looking at the overall scene, it appears that the loss of farm land could have been partly avoided had there been a legal bar on the use of the same for purposes other than cultivation. There were opinions many a time from the quarters concerned in the past to bring some legal instrument in force so that agricultural lands could be protected.