PM asks IFAD to boost rural economy to fight poverty

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News desk: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said enhanced investment in the rural economy under a global partnership was a key factor to fight poverty as she presented her keynote address at the council meeting of IFAD, the UN’s specialized agency on agriculture.

“We believe that in order to ensure resilience, investment in the rural economy is a key factor. This, we believe, cannot be achieved without global partnership and cooperation,” she told the 41st Governing Council Meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The Bangladesh premier asked the development partners to be “a little more generous” to eliminate poverty and hunger as “the world appears to me to be ready now for it”.

“I would like to urge you for investing in sustainable rural economies,” she told the council session with its theme being “From fragility to long-term resilience: Investing in sustainable rural economies”.

The premier said sustainability could not be achieved without creating long-term resilience while a comprehensive sustainable rural economy “requires investment in the development of the rural social fabric and climate resilience”.

She described the IFAD’s model of mutual help and partnership to be “very different” from that of other UN agencies and organizations and “we hope and pray that in continuing such a partnership, IFAD will play an important role”.

“And we sincerely believe that this ideal model will work in the promising future that is before mankind now,” Sheikh Hasina said.

She also expected the development partners continued cooperation with Bangladesh as they “came forward with eager and generous hands and jointly we made proud progress”.

The premier sought their effective support to help realize Bangladesh’s goal to be a middle-income nation by 2021 and developed one by 2041.

Sheikh Hasina said she always tried to plead for sustainable rural economies through investments to develop people’s resilience as it worked in Bangladesh as the country “has been very lucky with stable governance for almost a decade”.

“We have formulated our strategy of socioeconomic growth very carefully over a period of about four years. And then we tried to implement it in the last nine years . . . we made adjustments as needed and as demanded by circumstances very carefully,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina said despite being dubbed as a fertile land for centuries, Bangladesh reputation was marred time and again for a long period till the late 1990s while during its turbulent 1971 emergence it faced serious food shortage as the yield than was only 11 million tonnes of grains for 75 million people.

Soon after the independence, she said, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman laid utmost importance on increased agro production calling for the ‘Green Revolution’ by taking some pragmatic measures like revised land ownership and management system, relaxed land tax and launching of research bodies.

The premier recalled that nationwide installation of irrigation pumps and free distribution of agro-inputs started yielding a great success but after his 1975 assassination the agricultural sector was exposed subsequent governments negligence, resulting in acute food shortage.

“Every year for a decade and a half it (Bangladesh) had to assemble development partners for at least four times a year to meet its food needs,” she said.

The premier, however, appreciated IFAD role for boosting Bangladesh’s agriculture yields saying since its inception the specialised UN agency invested in 31 projects involving US$ 680 million while another five were in the pipeline.

“Currently IFAD is focusing on the adaptation of rural livelihoods to climate change and the scaling up of successful approaches,” she said.

But she feared the future global scenario in terms of yield as a World Economic Forum report predicted the global population to surpass 9 billion by 2050, half of them being the middle class, while the climate change phenomenon could complicate the situation.

“There will be a huge strain on declining global arable land, forests and water” as the rise in sea-level would heavily reduce arable land in many countries and “we (Bangladesh) will be its victim again without contributing to sea level rise at all”.

Sheikh Hasina said global food demand in 2050 would increase by at least 60 percent over 2006 levels and food prices are likely to increase by at least 84 percent.

“How do we respond to such a combination of adverse developments? I shall tell you the story of the agricultural growth of my country pointing out the lessons which can be adopted or more appropriately adapted in other countries for human development on a global scale,” she said.

“We don’t want to face another 1981 when we discovered that neglect of agricultural growth was most unfortunate for mankind” though Bangladeshis natural resilience to any crisis did not allow the build-up of a food crisis in a year of climatic vagaries and reduced food production in the country, Sheikh Hasina said.

She said the resolve of Bangladeshis to tighten the belt, encounter difficulties with confidence and seek alternative ways of meeting the crisis enabled us to overcome and succeed.

The premier said Bangladesh had about a decade of self-sufficiency in food and then this year there was an unexpected shortfall due to untimely and recurrent flooding requiring her government to make some immediate adjustments in import policy.

“In my country, you may please note that we have increased our food production from 11 million tons in 1971 to 39 million tons in 2017 although one-third of arable land has been lost in the meantime,” she said.

The premier said from 2008 Bangladesh continued to see increased production of 9 million tonnes annually as the government reached agro-inputs to farmers with heavily subsidized prices alongside providing them soft and collateral-free loans particularly to landless peasants.

“We used all options that ICT could offer us . . . At present ICT is helping us to accelerate the efficiency and precision of research, particularly on issues related to climate change,” she said.

The premier said new mapping techniques using remotely-sensed data and GIS-enabled the government to assess the climate change vulnerability devise more efficient water capturing methods, locate areas with water-harvesting potential and develop suitability maps for newly developed crop varieties.

“As a result, we are now self-sufficient in food and agriculture with some additional capacity for export as well,” she said.

After the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, she said, Bangladesh aligned its march for development with its Seventh Five Year Plan based on the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind’.

“Our targets for the future remain the same and they will be incorporated in the subsequent Five Year Plans,” she said.

She said the first target is to eliminate poverty. The second one is to eliminate hunger. And the third one is to make nutritious food available to all.

Sheikh Hasina said the challenge of leaving no one behind is most significant in rural areas as some 72 percent Bangladeshis lived in rural areas and 43 percent were engaged as labour in the agriculture sector that contributes 15 percent to the country’s GDP.

She said the rural non-farm sector accounts for 40 percent of rural employment but earns more than 50 percent of rural income.

“Hence, inclusive and sustainable rural transformation is key to reaching the goals of poverty elimination, hunger elimination and leaving no one behind,” Sheikh Hasina said.

The premier with its 160 million people Bangladesh became world’s most densely populated country but it was poised to achieve the SDG goals well ahead of 2030 as it aimed to eradicate poverty altogether by 2024 and that of hunger by 2041.

“But Bangladesh also faces other formidable challenges. It is likely to lose 40 percent of its productive land by 2080 if sea levels rise 65 centimetres only,” she said fearing the changing climate to affect the production.

“Therefore, significant resources must be tapped in order to ensure better adapted and resilient agricultural practices,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina said the government’s Seventh Five Year Plan, therefore, places emphasis on the sustainable use of resources and investment in agricultural research to develop high yield crop varieties resistant to salinity, flooding and cold.

“The Seventh Five Year Plan also focuses on issues related to the development of rural areas of Bangladesh and identification of priority areas, such as increasing local production, solving energy problems, reducing poverty through undertaking programmes on agriculture, employment generation, and rural infrastructure,” she said.

Due to policies friendly to fisheries, she said, the total fish production reached up to 41.34 lakh tonnes in 2016-17 contributing to self-sufficiency in fish production.

“Our national fish, Hilsa has received geographical identification certificate. We are the fourth largest producer of sweet water fish in the world,” she said.

The prime minister said the government also has a food feeding programme for the poor and vulnerable population. “In 2017, five million families received 30 kg rice for 5 months at a highly reduced price,” she said.

She said under the food-based social security safety-net programme, about US$ 750 million was allocated while “we have also allocated US Dollar 76.5 million for rice sale in the open market for low-income families”.

The premier said the government launched One House One Farm project in the 2010-11 financial year to alleviate poverty through agro-livelihood and family farming.

She said under the project, 17,300 Village Development Organisations have been formed incorporating over one million beneficiaries and they have set up nearly 7 hundred thousand small farms with an investment of US Dollar 115.3 million.

Sheikh Hasina said the government also successfully tried to tackle the problem of nutrition. “The undernourished portion of Bangladesh’s population declined from 33.2 percent in 1992 to 16.4 percent in 2016,” she said.

The prime minister said poverty has been reduced to about 22 percent now from about 41.5 percent during 2005-06.

“Various government initiatives have played a role in this improvement,” she said.

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