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BD's cereal output gets thumbs-up from ADB

Rural development, food security forum opens

A Z M ANAS, From Manila | October 29, 2019 00:00:00

The Asian Development Bank has lauded Bangladesh for achieving self-sufficiency in rice output, but voiced worry over falling income of the farming community.

"This progress was largely driven by the Green Revolution technologies that put high yielding seed varieties in the hands of our farmers," Takehiko Nakao, ADB president, told the three-day "Rural Development and Food Security" Forum that opened in Manila on Monday.

The advancement was also accompanied by investments in upgradation of rural roads and irrigation, and agricultural extension, he added.

Bangladesh's rice production has tripled to more than 35 million tonnes since 1971 when the country gained independence from Pakistan.

The food security situation in the Asian region saw "remarkable" improvement in the last four decades.

The region's share in global food production, crops and livestock, has increased.

In Bangladesh, the incidence of poverty more than halved during the last quarter century, thanks to sustained growth, aided by exports, remittances and robust farm output.

The economy eked out a growth of 8.1 per cent in the fiscal year 2019, a feat the ADB labelled as the highest in Asia and the Pacific region.

In the last 40 years, Asia and the Pacific made tremendous progress in reducing poverty and achieving food security.

When the ADB opened for business in 1966, agriculture was among its top priorities, since many parts of the region were facing food shortages and even risk of starvation.

On the poverty front, in 2010, Asia and the Pacific achieved the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger five years ahead of schedule.

Extreme poverty, defined as $1.90 per day threshold, declined in developing Asia from 69 per cent in 1980 to about 7.0 per cent in 2015. The agriculture sector played a pivotal role in delivering these developmental outcomes.

Despite the reduction, there are still more than 300 million people living below the poverty line.

An additional 900 million who live on less than $3.20 per day are constantly at risk of sliding back into extreme poverty of below $1.90 per day.

Still, the ADB president said, poverty incidence continues to be higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

The top executive of the Asian lender fretted that farmers, who were at forefront of the food security situation in the region, cannot make what he called "a livable" income.

In May, paddy prices in Bangladesh ebbed to their lowest in three years due to record harvest, but this unleashed nationwide rowdy protests, leading farmers to burn paddy.

The continued inability of farmers to generate a livable income "risks rolling back many of the poverty reduction gains we have made in the last four decades," Mr Nakao warned.

Also, he said extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, and degraded farmland and water resources are making the task of finding sustainable solutions even more difficult.

Noting that rural development and food security is one of seven operational priorities of the Bank's Strategy 2030, he said, "We need to deepen and accelerate our knowledge sharing efforts with key stakeholders around the world."

Market infrastructure and related policies and regulatory frameworks in most developing Asian countries require significant improvements.

Giving an example, he said cold chain infrastructure is practically non-existent in most developing Asian nations, including Bangladesh.

"This results in post-harvest losses of 30 per cent to 40 per cent, lowering the quality of produce, and generating worm and bacteria contamination," the ADB top boss said. "This issue is especially serious for perishables, such as fruits and vegetables."

He promised to assist its developing member countries to ramp up agricultural productivity and profitability, enhance food safety, and improve climate resilience and sustainability.

Consumers open their wallets to buy higher-quality foods, especially when their income level soars.

Mindful of this situation in the developing Asia, the Asian lender has come up with "innovative" practices to make sure that the countries get access to "sufficient, nutritious, safe, and affordable food."

For example, in Uzbekistan, the ADB's $280 million project aims to modernise the country's horticulture wholesale markets by reducing distribution and marketing costs, and increasing agribusiness profitability and farmers' incomes.

In China, the Bank's project is supporting farmers' access to high-value e-commerce markets by developing smartphone applications. The project is also introducing sensors to monitor in real time temperature, moisture and soil nutrients for smart farming and to support food traceability.

The ADB remains a key multilateral lender of Bangladesh, committing as much as $23 billion since 1973. In 2018, the Manila-based lender's loan and grants portfolio totalled $2.1 billion, the highest level for the country.

On the opening day, the two sessions dedicated to "Farming Crisis" and "Dysfunctional Agricultural Markets and Malnutrition" were held.

More than 700 delegates representing governments, farmers, youths and international agencies from across Asia are taking part in the Forum, the second of its kind.

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