More than 30 percent of Bangladeshis live below the poverty line
Eight-year-old Nafew Ahmed never knows when his next square meal will come.
“I had no breakfast today and we often don’t have lunch,” he said recently in Ramna, the Dhaka slum where he lives with his family.
His mother Sultana tries to make ends meet and feed Nafew and her second son through infrequent day laboring and scavenging.
“I’m happy when I can get food for my two children at the end of the day,” she says. “But it is not possible every day so we starve sometimes.”
In Bangladesh, at least one million live like Sultana and her family with no secure supply of food. This country of 150 million is largely self-sufficient as a food producer but grinding poverty remains a major problem, says Doctor Rezaul Karim, an official from the government’s Food Planning and Monitoring Unit.
Speaking at a seminar this week in Dhaka to mark World Food Day, he reeported a drop in arable land odf more than 15 percent in the past 40 years due to rapid urbanization, housing and commercial development.
But there is a bright side, said Dr. Karim: “We have tripled rice production from 10 million tonnes [since 1971] to over 30 million today.”
Wheat demand though has reached four million tonnes per year with just one million tonnes produced. The rest is imported.
“We realize that without controlling the population and poverty, food security is not possible,” said Dr. Karim.
Mohsin Ali, executive director of the anti-poverty NGO WAVE Foundation, noted that 31.5 percent of people in Bangladesh still live below the poverty line.
“Policy and activities at the public and private level don’t serve the needs of the bottom-rung community,” he said, recommending the government introduce a rationing system for the poorest of the poor.
As Bangladesh aims to reduce poverty to 15 percent of the population by 2021, most experts say food insecurity is likely to pose a greater threat in the future.
"The authorities should do more to guarantee employment and keep food prices in check," said Mohsin Ali.
While poverty and hunger are not unique to Bangladesh, high levels of food adulteration – where companies chemically treat meat, fish and vegetables with harmful substances like formaldehyde – is particularly severe here.
The food security challenge is not therefore just one of providing enough to eat, it is also about the right food, says Kazi Faruq, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh.
“The government should hand down heavy punishment to food adulterers to stop this dangerous business,” he said.
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