Food System in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is the highly populated area at the Delta of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna River. It is a developing country with GDP of $4200 U.S. per year by 2017 but its economy is growing at a fast pace with the annual growth rate of approximately 6 percent from 2005 to 2017. The country has emerged as an innovator which is trying hard to vanish poverty among people. Bangladesh got the independence from Pakistan in 1971. Population of Bangladesh is approximately 158 million which makes it eighth highest populated country in the World.
Soil of the country is rich and fertile. The three rivers carries nutrients from Himalayas to replenish the soil.
Staple food of its people is rice since the Neolithic age. The country has a very limited food varieties with rice being the major crop followed by wheat and others are fish, meat, vegetable, fruit, egg and milk. Fish is also a major food item.
Bangladesh is a low-lying country hence most prone to the threat of rising sea levels due to global warming. This is a country of many natural disasters like floods, cyclones and famine. Because of these natural disasters, poverty rate and undernutrition rate is keep on rising. Approximately 40million of the population is undernourished and is food insecure.
Bangladesh marks 68th rank in Global Hunger Index, in 2012, out of 79 countries. There is a great gender discrepancy in health education and income. For children under 2, condition of acute and chronic malnutrition is alarming. Approximately 48.6 percent children are affected by stunting and nearly half of them are under the age of 5.
The minimum dietary energy requirement is 2122kcal/capita/day and about half of the country’s population cannot reach this level and about 1/4th of the population is consuming only 1800 kcal/capita/day
Bangladeshi people are not even consuming a balanced diet. They are not only deficit in calorie intake but they are also not eating adequate amount of fat, oil and protein. This imbalance in food habits concludes that there is unavailability of non- cereal products, low income and lack of nutrition education. It can be said that people of Bangladesh are food secure in terms of energy but are still food insecure if we consider the source of the energy, whether it is fat, oils or proteins.
As mentioned above, Bangladesh is a developing country with high population. Its healthcare system is not strong enough because of lack of medical expertise and facilities. Gender and social status are the main factors that cause unequal distribution of healthcare.
Due to poor economy, the country cannot provide minimal health services to its people because of poor infrastructure and insufficient number of doctors. There are some clinics and hospitals in rural areas as well but they are ill equipped and are not appropriate to deal with some major emergency situation.
Table below shows the current health status of Bangladesh
Infant Mortality Rate (per 10000)
Maternal Mortality Rate
Years of life lost due to communicable disease (%)
Birth attended by skilled health personnel (%)
Hospital beds (per 10000 population)
Total health workers (per 10000 population)
Food System Analysis
In year 2010, approximately 4 million people, who lived in slums of the capital, did not have safe water supplies and toilet facilities. These people were either rely on well water that is unsafe, because of high Arsenic content in soil, or had to buy water for their survival. Sanitation condition was also worst in the country. If we talk about the capital only, 2/3rd of the sewage was left untreated which makes its way into waterways and ground polluting the water and soil as well.
Poor water supplies and negligence towards sanitation resulted in outbreaks of disease like diarrhoea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases. Every year thousands of people died of these diseases.
But the country has made a great progress in recent years. WASH- water, sanitation access, and hygiene has been introduced. At present, approximately 98% people gets safe drinking water by the use of some technology through a manmade structure. It has also been depicted that only 3% of the population use open toilets and practice open defecation which was 34% in 1990.
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Since most of the people live in rural areas or slums of major urban areas and almost half or the population is engaged in agricultural practices, rice is the major food for the people living there. They rely on rice for their nutritional needs which make them undernourished due to lack of consumption of other foods like fruits, vegetables, fats, oils and other cereal products. Poverty is still a major issue in Bangladesh, people who are poor have less access to resources whether it is food or health care service. They cannot afford a balanced meal as well.
Bangladesh has made many progress to remove the gender gap from its people in some areas like life expectancy, education, maternal mortality rate, etc., but women are still facing many hindrance in socio-economic and political opportunities. This discrimination is based on three factors patriarchy, class and race. Women are not even provided with equal rights and they are also deprived of their fundamental needs making them more food insecure.
Regional differences imposed a major difference in poverty status in Bangladesh. Southern region of country is the most prone area to poverty and is highly susceptible to climate change effects. Due to high salinity in soil and water, and floods, rice yield of this area has been decreased tremendously.
Food habits of the people living in this area includes rice along with meat, fish and vegetables. Due to unavailability of the proper and improved irrigation system, this area lagged behind in rice production.
Northern areas of Bangladesh are extremely food insecure. The major income source of the people in this area is agriculture. This area is seasonal food insecure due to unemployment and hence no income. Because of unequal land distribution and urbanization, this area is facing the lowest productivity. For unskilled rural poor people, major income source are the tobacco industries that is off-farm. Other income sources are rice and saw mills, earth works and other small tasks. Unemployment in this area is due to frequent flooding, river erosion, loss of agriculture activities and water crisis.
Per capita income has been increased in recent years. Though this increase in per capita income is linked with increase wage rate or production, but the purchasing power of people is still low due to the price hike which is still making them food insecure.
Poor Rural people are comparatively more food secure as compared to the urban poor people because they can gather food from their land unlike the urban poor, who has no other option except buying food for them. Therefore food insecurity is more prevalent in urban poor population than rural people.
Average monthly income per household was approximately measured as Tk. 16475 in urban areas whereas, in rural areas, it was estimated at Tk. 9648. The expenditure and consumption both are low in rural areas as compared to urban areas because they are mostly dependent on agriculture and has no other ways of earning which results in less expenditure and consumption.
Recently, the government has taken steps to increase agricultural production including surface water canal, introduction of crops suitable for multiple cropping seasons and are saline resistant. Bangladesh is also actively maintaining the microcredit program to reduce poverty
Vulnerability of food system
- Climate Change
Since the country is surrounded by 3 major rivers and due to its topography, it is highly susceptible to the climate change activities across the World. The country is facing several challenges to adapt to the climate change activities and their outcomes like rise in sea-level, flooding and many others.
Bangladesh has 3 distinct seasons. From March to June, the hot summer season, little rainfall occurs which leads to drought whereas from June to September, the rainy season, heavy rainfall results in flooding in most of the areas of country.
Climate change has also been found as the major reason of changes in river salinity in coastal areas, during dry season. Climate change is expected to cause significant changes in river salinity, particularly in the south-west coastal area of Bangladesh during the dry season. This high saline water is not fit for consumption and hence leads to the shortage of drinking water in these coastal areas. Salinity of soil is also increased making the soil unfit for agricultural practices. Some studies suggested that soil salinity will lead to reduction of rice yield by 15.6% and indirectly cause poverty among farmers due to low income.
Climate change also significantly affect the river flow. According to some studies, during the wet season the discharge rate of water from Himalayas is greatest and low flows are observed in dry season which results in reduced availability of water for agriculture.
- Population, urbanization and poverty
Country’s most of the population live within 144000 square kilometre of area making it densely populated. With high population load, pressure on water resources and land has been observed. To meet the needs of people, country has to produce more food and other resources which leads to pollution, depletion of groundwater and also affecting the food production.
This increase in population is, in turn, also responsible for climate change due to urbanization.
Most of the country’s water is extracted from ground. Many reports suggested that the extraction rate in 2010 was 53 billion m3 per year, whereas the recharging rate was only 50 billion m3. Moreover, the groundwater of country is also high in its arsenic content i.e. 25% more that the acceptable limit.
Current studies and status suggests that the country has sufficient equipment to meet the demands of high food production by using high performance crops but the major challenge is to increase production of rice without using groundwater sources.
Studies suggests that climate change effects are going to increase in near future and will affect Bangladesh the most as compared to any other country in world. Low GDP, lack of employment and increasing poverty is also creating additional challenges for the country in its development and adaptability for its population.
- Lack of Education
Literacy rate of Bangladesh is very low, majorly for women. Since women are being treated as lower than men, they are deprived of their fundamental rights.
Because of poverty, child labour is very prominent in Bangladesh. Children start working at a very small age due to which they cannot get the required education. Education is required not only to open ways for future opportunity, but also to understand the body’s nutritional needs and function.
People do not have sufficient knowledge about the food needs of body and nutritional importance of food products. They are eating whatever the food is available which is making them malnourished.
- Gender Inequality
Bangladesh is male dominant country. Women and men are not treating on the same platform in the country because of pre-occupied mind-set that men are stronger to do the work outside and women should stay home to maintain the household chores. This mentality narrowed the education of women and hence the employment which in turn leads to poverty at household levels, poor health status, poor food production strategies and food insecurity.
Recommendations and actions already taken
Since the Geographical location of country is the major reason for natural disasters, hence many technologies, that have been successful in other countries, won’t work here.
Government has taken many steps to adapt to climate change and natural disasters takes place as a result of that. It has developed some early warning systems to alert people about cyclones and floods. It has also developed 2100 cyclone shelters which, in emergency, can provide a safe place to live to millions of people. Government has also taken steps to plant more trees on chars to create islands which are more durable and less susceptible to floods.
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All this natural calamities are the result of climate change which is not only done by Bangladesh alone. In fact, Bangladesh is responsible for only 3% emission of greenhouse gases. Wealthy countries and developed countries are contributing most to the environment deterioration that is harming Bangladesh. Climate change is not only a nationwide concern, it demands global attention and help.
Developed countries should help Bangladesh in construction of safe and sustainable resources, power plants and infrastructure to make the country capable of safeguarding its own population.
More and more policies should come in action to fill the gender gap as women empowerment is directly related to food security at household level and global level.
Government should assess the vulnerability of the system more deeply to understand the action plans that needs to be taken to secure the future of its youth. Government should combine social approaches to the ecological approaches to deal with the problems for better results.
Government of Bangladesh initiated many programmes in past decade to make its people more food secure and to provide them with the best health care facilities possible.
One programme is Food for Education (FFE) program. The programme was launched in 1993 by the Bangladesh Government. This program provides free monthly ration of rice or wheat to the families of children who are attending the primary school. The major aim behind this program is to encourage more education in children their families and to improve quality of education.
At first, the program was started on a large-scale pilot basis. The designing of program was done to reduce the poverty and malnutrition. Because of the poverty and poor financial conditions of the families, many children start working at early age in Bangladesh hence they drop out of their schools or never even attend one. The family can either consume the food, gained by sending their kids to school, or can sell it to earn the money and meet other expenses.
FFE program is helping poor families to meet their food needs at present but it is also making the children educated which in turn will help them in future. Studies have shown that the implementation of program enhanced the enrolment of kids in schools and even promoted the attendance. It has also been observed that more girls are now engaged in studies now as compared to boys.
Government of Bangladesh launched the first-ever Food for
Education (FFE) program in 1993 on a large-scale pilot basis.
The program was designed to combat the country’s poverty and
malnutrition by developing long-term human capital.
Second programme is Vulnerable Group Development (VGD). This programme is assisted by the World Food Program (WFP).
The programme was started in early 1970’s with the aim of assisting in wars and helping flood victims. Over the years, the programme evolved and its focus get shifted towards poor and vulnerable women in Bangladesh. The aim of this programme is to improve the lives of Ultra-poor households.
VGD is a two-year cycle programme and the participant can only participate in one cycle. There are two forms of this programme:
- Income Generating Vulnerable Group Development (IGVGD) – Under this programme, the participants are provided with 30kgs of wheat/rice or 25kgs of atta (flour) as a monthly ration.
- Food Security Vulnerable Group Development (FSVGD) – FSVGD is basically a cash assisting programme. The participants are provided with cash (100Taka) and 15kgs of flour.
At present, approximately 750,000 are participating in the programme and belong to the poorest households. They receive a monthly ration as well as developmental services. These services includes trainings and life skills to develop new income generating ideas. They are also provided with personal savings programmes and access to NGO membership.
According to the studies conducted for the cycle of 2005-2007, about 345 women participated in the programme and benefited from each of the programme (IGVGD and FSVGD).
Since Bangladesh has already taken many steps towards reducing poverty and making its food system more sustainable but there are still some measures that must be taken by the country. It must come up with some long term solution to natural disasters which are tearing the food system in every way possible which is making the country more prone to food insecurity and shattering the food systems.
Climate change is the responsibility of all. Safety measures needs to be taken globally to prevent the climate and our resources or else in next two decades, we might lose 90% of our resources which will eventually lead to global food insecurity.
- Mozdalifa Jannatul, 2012, State of food Security in Bangladesh, Unnayan Onneshan, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- Analysis of public food grain stock and distribution system in Bangladesh, 2002, Food planning and monitoring unit, Ministry of Food.
- Ali Shawkat M. M., Jahan Ishrat, Ahmed Akhter, and Rashid Shahidur, 2008,public food distribution system in Bangladesh, IFPRI publication, Baltimore, MD.
- Szczepanski, Kallie. “Bangladesh: Facts and History.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2019, thoughtco.com/bangladesh-facts-and-history-195175.
- Food and food habits in Bangladesh, Bangladesh2000.com, Viewed on 2nd October 2019.
- Bangladesh, Food security Portal, Viewed on 3rd October 2019.
- Jahan Sharmin and Chowdhury Hoque Mozammel M., 2014, Assessment of Present Health Status in Bangladesh and the Applicability of E-health in Healthcare Services: A Survey of Patients’ Expectation toward E-health, World Journal of Computer Application and Technology.
- Ismail Haweya, 29th March 2016, Climate Change, Food and Water Security in Bangladesh, strategic analysis paper, published by Future Directions International.
- Akhter U. Ahmed and Carlo Del Ninno, March 2014, Food for Education Program in Bangladesh: An Evaluation of its Impact on Educational Attainment and Food Security, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute, published by IFPRI.
- World Food Programme, 2007, Vulnerable Group Development, Food planning and monitoring unit, Ministry of Food.
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