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Food security is at risk: Professor Mustafizur Rahman

Published in The Independent on Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Short duration paddy remains a far cry

ANISUR RAHMAN KHAN

Introduction of short-duration climate-resilient varieties of paddy to ensure their unharmed harvest irrespective of wealther condition is still a far cry posing a big challegnce to the government in attaining food security for the country, experts have said. They said the government has failed to introduce farmers to short-duration climate-resilient varieties of paddy, though it has repeatedly claimed to have done so.

Food security is at risk, and this risk is increasing by the day thanks to climate change. Only recently, a huge amount of crops was damaged in the ‘haor’ (wetland) areas. Owing to the shortage of food stock in public godowns, the government has had to suspend food-related programmes in the country.

In such a situation, the government has to strengthen the management of food stock, production and marketing and to develop short-duration climate-resilient varieties of rice, experts told The Independent yesterday.

“At least 13–16 lakh tonnes of food reserve is needed to make an impact on the market. But the stock has been inadequate in recent days,” said Prof. Mustafizur Rahman, a fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

He said that prices have gone up by at least 40–45 per cent last year. There is no instance of prices once gone up to have come down in the country.

“Food security is at risk, and this risk is increasing in phases in the country due to climate change. So, scientists have to develop climate-resilient varieties,” Prof. Rahman said in reply to a query.

According to a CPD study, flash floods have caused a loss of around 1.53 million tonnes of rice, worth Tk. 53 billion, in the ‘haor’ areas during the ‘boro’ season. The study showed that monsoon floods in August affected 8.2 million people in 32 districts, causing damage to 9 per cent of croplands worth Tk. 27 billion. It also did damage to houses, roads, culverts, and embankments worth Tk. 71.0 billion. But government incentives covered only 19.2 per cent of the total cultivable land affected by flash floods, the study added.

Floods did substantial damage to the recent ‘amon’ production too, said Dr Ainun Nishat, former vice-chancellor of the BRAC University. “We had rain in October and November. Besides, there were showers in December too. Many farmers have lost their ‘amon’ crops,” the veteran green activist said.

Criticising the state’s role in this, Dr Ainun Nishat said, “The government has failed totally to introduce short-duration varieties. The varieties they have developed are still in the research room and yet to reach the farmers.”

Besides, the department concerned is yet to take steps to drain out the water from the ‘haor’ areas, he said. If it is delayed, the farmers will again have to face flash floods next year.

“The development of short-duration varieties is still at the research level. But we have already developed BRRI-51, 52, and 79 varieties, which can survive for two to three weeks under water,” Dr Md Ansar Ali, director, administration and common service (current charge), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), told this correspondent.

Besides, the BRRI has also developed 56, 66, and 77 varieties for the drought-prone northern regions, he added.

Short-duration paddy varieties could help the country attain a good harvest despite flashfloods and similar natural disasters, he said.

Considering the impact of climate change, the BRRI is working to develop new varieties of rice. But it is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) to take these varieties to the farmers, he added.

According to food ministry sources, the food stock is now over five lakh tonnes.

Sources in the DAE said the ‘amon’ crop was cultivated on 55.90 lakh hectares in 2015–16 and the production was about 1.35 crore tonnes. In 2016-17, the corresponding figures were 55.83 lakh hectares and 1.37 crore tonnes respectively.

‘Amon’ paddy has been cultivated on 57.74 hectares in the 2017-18 fiscal year, but the DAE is yet to assess the loss of paddy due to flood, the sources added.

 

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