Bangladesh will face two enormous challenges in the coming decades: food security and climate change. The remarkable growth in agricultural productivity achieved over the last 30 years through intensification and diversification of crop production is not likely to continue. Already, 45% of the 160 million people in the country are estimated to be consuming less than their daily calorie requirements; 53% are also estimated to be living below the poverty line. With a population density the highest in the world for an economy occupying a large land area, Bangladeshi farm sizes are, on average, smaller than 0.1 hectares, and even triple-cropping of land under irrigation does not result in adequate incomes. Efforts to manage irrigation more efficiently, to protect and use wetlands for fisheries, and to exploit mangrove areas for intensive shrimp-production have helped to increase resource productivity, but the sustainability of these efforts, especially in light of projected impacts of climate change, is in question.
Bangladesh has made significant strides in flood prediction and disaster preparedness in recent years, but the country’s location in the floodplains of three major rivers makes it especially vulnerable. Projected changes in river flows and freshwater availability, surface drainage congestion and inundation, sea-level rise and salt water intrusion, increased floods, and coastal storms pose significant risk. Some analysts believe these changes are likely to have a major impact on both urban and rural areas, affecting living conditions as well as agricultural activities.
Since 1971, much attention has been devoted by the Government of Bangladesh (GOB), national and international NGOs, and external donors to the issues of land reform, as a matter of agricultural productivity and livelihoods, and as a matter of equity. While redistribution of land to the landless and near-landless has been accomplished in some cases, overall, peoples’ tenure security and access to land remain very limited. Conflict and political tensions relating to land are high. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) ranks Bangladesh 119th out of the 183 countries ranked with regard to the “ease of doing business” but 176th out of 183 on the specific issue of “registering property.”
To address the twin challenges of food security and climate change, Bangladesh and its external partners will need to address land and water issues more aggressively. Incentives for expanding non-agricultural sources of employment are needed, as well as measures that will enable those remaining in the agricultural sector to maintain productivity levels and achieve higher rates of labor productivity. More rational and equitable use of the state-owned khas land could, as suggested by many analysts, be a part of this transition. More security of tenure, through registration and/or titling of land as well as through more transparent and fair dispute-adjudication procedures, may be essential for flood-control structures to be improved as well as for growing urban areas to provide healthy and safe environments for families and businesses.