A project of the General Economics Division of the Bangladesh Planning Commission funded by the Government of the Netherlands

  • Agro-economy of coastal Bangladesh

    Agro-economy of coastal Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is one of the promising economies in the world. Per capita gross income (PCGNI) of the country is $987 in 2014 (Bangladesh Economic Review, BER, 2014). In terms of Development Index, Bangladesh ranks 140 out of 177 countries (Human Development Index, HDI, UNDP 2007). According to latest SVRS estimation (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, BBS, 2008), 144.5 million people live in an area of 1,47,570 sq. km. The rate of population growth is 1.39% per year. The population density (979 per sq. km.) makes Bangladesh one of the most densely populated geographical areas in the world, and adversely affects the land-man ratio. Per capita cultivated area has steadily declined from 0.27 acres (1983-84) to 0.15 acres in 2005 (BBS, Agriculture Sample Survey, 2005.)

    About 75% people of Bangladesh live in the rural areas, with most of them dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture is the single largest sector — contributing about 19.09% of GDP and employing about 48.1% of the labour force (BBS, 2008). The coastal zone has a significant place in the economy of Bangladesh. About 3.6 million hectares of coastal land constitute nearly 25% of the geographical area; according to 2011 Population Census (BPC) about 25% of the population live in the coastal region. The agriculture sector in the coastal region of Bangladesh is extremely important. The coastal belt is about 710 km. in length.

    Bangladesh is an overwhelmingly agricultural country. The contribution to GDP and overall employment in the agriculture sector indicate its predominance in the national economy. However, the available information reveals that the contribution of agriculture sector to the national economy, in percentage terms, is declining. The share was about one-third of the total national production in the nineties, while it was about 40% in the seventies. The share of coastal zone has also gone down from about 25% to 23% during the last decade. The number of people engaged in the agriculture sector has declined from 78% in 1970 to about 60% at the end of the twentieth century.

    The coastal belt plays a vital role in the national economy. We have the world famous mangrove forest (the Sundarbans) and two seaports — Chittagong and Mongla — in the region. Besides this, shrimp culture is an important activity in the region, and noticeably influences foreign currency earning. Despite having the potential to accelerate growth, the coastal belt of Bangladesh is one of the depressed, if not neglected, regions of the country. The backwardness of the region is creating inter-regional imbalance, causing confusion and frustration among the population living in this vibrant but volatile region.

    Since the mainstay of the region is agriculture, the development of the region along with the overall growth process of the country is not possible without solving the problems and increasing the prospects of the agriculture sector of the region. Agriculture — field crop cultivation — in the coastal region is hindered by some problems, and undue control measures undertaken in the coastal region have adversely influenced the soil and water salinity of vast coastal areas. The creation of polders and embankments, though helpful for shrimp culture, threatens the main activity of the region, agriculture. Reliance of the people on field crop cultivation is declining, while allied agricultural (mostly non-crop) activities are increasing. The future prospect of the coastal region possibly lies with this tendency to adjust with the changing environment.

    Bangladesh is a rural country. Agriculture is the dominant occupation of the people. However, the importance of the agriculture sector in the national economy and also in the coastal belt is declining. Contribution of agriculture to the economic progress of the nation is on a declining curve. The share of agriculture products in GDP has been coming down. This sub-sector alone contributes approximately 71% of total agricultural product (TAP), and he remaining 29% comes from allied activities — forestry, fishery and livestock. Livestock contributes the least among these three sub-sectors, about 9%. All the components of non-crop production branch have experienced export-led growth.

    The nation is about to be self sufficient in the food front. Bumper growth of agriculture sector — crop sector in particular — is the primary reason. Total food grain production of the nation averaged around 2 M. metric ton during the ’80s. The output crossed 2 M metric ton (in 1997-1998), which has resulted in reducing food deficit. Indiscriminate spread of shrimp culture in salinity inflicted paddy fields is, however, unwelcome because of ecological considerations and because it hampers sustainability of crop activity in the coastal zone. Conflict between shrimp culture and field crop cultivation is identified as a major problem of the coastal agriculture sector.

    It is worth mentioning at this juncture that both crop production and the area under paddy cultivation in the coastal zone are increasing. Productivity level, however, is far below expected level compared to other regions of the country. It is right to say that improved performance of the agriculture sector across the region is essential for bridging inter-regional imbalance, which exerts a downward pressure on national economic growth and development in developing economies. At the same time, it is difficult to address the problem of food deficit without removing the problems in crop production.

    Written by Muhammad Abdul Mazid, collected from the Daily Star


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