The content of a report published recently by the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit (FPMU) of the food ministry is enough to arouse both frustration and hope as far as the production of food is concerned.
The report said the current level of per-acre food production in the country, on an average, for all food crops is below 50 per cent of its potential. In the case of Boro rice, according to the FPMU report, the unused potential is 50 per cent. For Aus rice, it is 63 per cent, for Aman 45 per cent, for maize 44-46 per cent and for wheat 40 per cent.
The reasons behind lower production are many. However, the failure to employ the improved varieties of crops, technology and proper agricultural practices are thought to be the major factors.
The country is now self-sufficient in food production, in terms of per capita annual food consumption level. But it will have to raise the production level further to meet the need for maintaining a healthy buffer stock of food grains. Moreover, in the event of a major natural calamity like flood or cyclone, it remains vulnerable to food crop loss that usually leads to large food imports.
However, the country's achievement in food production has been remarkable during the past three to four decades. The food production has more than tripled during this period, mainly on account of high-yielding varieties of food crops and improved farm technology. In the case of rice production, the development of improved varieties by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) played a very important role.
But the situation may not remain so in the coming days, primarily because of the slow but steady shrinking of arable land and farmers' failure to get fair prices for paddy at the harvest-time.
It is, in fact, not possible to stop the loss of agricultural land for meeting the housing and other needs of an ever-growing population. The government may lay emphasis in theory to stop shrinkage of arable land, but in practice, it is not possible to do anything on its part in this regard. For, it is a natural phenomenon.
It, however, can compensate for the loss or do even more by raising the level of food production further. The potential is there and what is needed most is doing the right things to exploit it.
According to the FPMU report, the per acre yield of Boro rice which is now 5.85 per hectare could be increased to 11.7 tonnes by employing better farm practices. Similarly, the production of other rice and food crops could be raised substantially.
There is no denying that the government has been helping the peasantry to increase the agricultural production during the past decades. The tripling of food production is a testimony to that fact. But there is scope to do more by all the relevant quarters, including the agricultural researchers, extension officials, policymakers and farmers.
Employing the right farm technology will help raise the level of food production further. But, ensuring fair price for the produce will be equally important to motivate farmers to put in greater efforts for raising the per-acre yield.
If production could be raised exploiting even half of the unused potential, the country will be truly capable of exporting food grains, particularly rice and maize. Then, there will be no need to make any false move to prove Bangladesh as a rice-exporting country.