Food security in Bangladesh continues to struggle due to threats posed by the climate change and additional disruptions created by the Covid-19 pandemic shock, reveals a study of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Bangladesh ranked 84th among 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2020 with an overall moderate score of 50 out of 100, and the country's position has slipped for the second year in a row.
The country's scores on all four categories in the index – Food Affordability, Availability, Quality and Safety, and Natural Resources and Resilience – declined compared to the previous two years. Its overall score was 51.6 in 2019, which is a 0.3 point decrease from 2018's score of 51.9.
Bangladesh also ranked the lowest in South Asia. Meanwhile, India ranked 71st worldwide with a score of 56.2, and came out top in this region, followed by Sri Lanka at 75th with a score of 54.8, Nepal at 77th (53) and Pakistan 80th (52.3).
Commenting on the matter, experts told The Business Standard that Bangladesh's supply chain suffered disruptions during the initial outbreak of Covid-19. Farmers dumped their produce on roads after failing to market them.
The farmers then decreased their crop production. Which in turn triggered a shortage of essential goods in markets across the country, and the prices skyrocketed too.
On the other hand, multiple floods hampered the production of rice – which is the main food grain in Bangladesh. Rice production dropped by more than 15 lakh tons during the Aman and Aush season. This is the reason behind the persisting high price of rice.
Bangladesh is trying to tackle the situation by importing rice under government and non-government initiatives, as the government's food stock has dropped, experts pointed out.
Sharpest decline in 'Natural Resources and Resilience'
Bangladesh registered its weakest performance in "Natural Resources and Resilience" among the four categories – which used metrics such as exposure to climate shocks, water and land quality issues, population pressures, and government commitments to address the impacts of climate change on agriculture, according to the GFSI study.
The country's score fell by 4 points in this category to 35.8, which is the highest decline among all four. It ranked 107th in this category globally.
In the Quality and Safety category – which measured the variety and nutritional quality of the average diet, as well as food safety mechanisms – Bangladesh scored a moderate 40.9, compared to the previous year's score of 41.
The country performed its best in the Food Availability category – which assessed factors such as the sufficiency of the national food supply, the risk of supply disruption, the capacity to disseminate food, and research efforts to expand agricultural output.
Bangladesh's score fell only 0.01 points in this category to 64.4 and the country ranked 36th globally.
The country's performance was moderate in the Food Affordability category – which assessed factors such as consumers' ability to purchase food, vulnerability to price shocks, and the presence of programs to support the population when shocks occur.
Besides, Bangladesh ranked as the third-most food insecure country in the Asia-Pacific region and once again named as the most food insecure country in South Asia this year.
Responding to a query, agricultural economist and University of Global Village's Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Jahangir Alam Khan said, "Due to floods, the production of rice dropped by 15-20 tons during the last Aman season. This has caused a supply shortage, and prices have gone up.
"Moreover, our buying capacity has dropped due to the Covid-19 pandemic shock."
Commenting on Bangladesh's dipping rank in the Global Food Security Index 2020, Prof Jahangir said, "Problems in the country's rice market will be resolved if Bangladesh gets a good harvest of rice in the Boro season.
"The government should conduct further research to create more tolerant varieties of rice, so that the Aman crops can be protected from floods every year."
The Economist Intelligence Unit – with sponsorship of Corteva Agriscience – released the ninth edition of the GFSI, which evaluates how effectively a country is able to meet its population's calorific and nutritional needs, while also examining the impact of external factors such as agricultural infrastructure, political stability and climate risks, among others.
Globally, Finland came top for food security in this year's index, followed by Ireland and the Netherlands. With a score of 77.9, Japan topped in Asia Pacific region and the only country in the region ranked in the top 10 of the index.
"Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan still have high levels of gender inequality, which adversely affects food security as women are disproportionately vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition," the report mentioned.