Food Insecurity in Bangladesh: the Other Crisis


by David Hulme

Global attention on Bangladesh is focused on the crisis created by the November 15th cyclone. This has caused horrific suffering, but the country also faces a more insidious and slowly unfolding crisis. Below is a note that a colleague in Bangladesh has emailed me. As the country is under a caretaker administration, backed by the military, s/he cannot reveal their identity. The recent increases in global food prices are clearly already putting enormous pressure on poor people’s incomes around the world – but, is Bangladesh really facing a ‘near famine’. Let me know what you think.

The Impending Food Crisis in Bangladesh

Food prices in Bangladesh are galloping by the day, and essential commodities, such as rice, wheat flour, cooking oil, onion and lentil are now well beyond the reach of the common man. It was not that prices were downward during the five-year period of the last elected government, but these have been continuously creating all time high records during the last one year, that is after a civilian caretaker government, armed with emergency provisions, backed by the armed forces and enjoying the blessings of the international development partners, took over in Bangladesh. Indeed, with various reforms, including a crackdown on corruption, it was widely expected that economic development would further pick up, and there would be an accelerated reduction of poverty in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the records show an unmistakable downturn in the economy with dwindling investments, both internal and external. In fact, Mr. Forrest Cookson, an American free-lance consultant living in Bangladesh, has recently commented that this year, the GDP growth rate in Bangladesh may be in the negative. Compare it with the 6 percent growth rates of recent years.

So, the question to ask is ‘what happened during the last one year’. It seems that the poor economic mismanagement under the caretaker government started with indiscriminate raids on the godowns (Wharehouses) of large food dealers and importers on the pretext of cracking down on food adulteration. This is one of the usual gimmicks of Martial Law/Semi-Martial Law governments in their initial phase to win popularity and pressure the private sector into submission. Adulteration of food is certainly a problem in Bangladesh, and action against it was progressing quite impressively during the rule of the last elected government. However, the brutal and thoughtless manner in which it was operationalised by the caretaker government had a disastrous impact. Many food importers and food merchants stopped importing and distributing food. This was despite the amendments and inducements introduced later and solemn promises made by the high-ups not to harass them in the future.

Second, the interim government has dragged its feet on importing food grains for at least six to nine months, given the slow and complicated policy-making and implementation mechanism in place in Bangladesh and despite the emergency provisions. In countries like Bangladesh suffering from food insecurity, it is important to maintain a substantial food reserve in the public sector, as a guarantee against food hoarding and super profiteering in food. Also, when there is indeed a food crisis, the reserve comes in handy in the form of open market operations, modified rationing, test relief, vulnerable group development, etc all designed to stabilise food prices, on the one hand, and address the lack of access to food by the poorest sections in the society, on the other.

Third, when the government decided to import food, it was rather late in the day. Since the international food supply was tight this year, prices had already soared high. In fact, certain sources were unable to supply food to Bangladesh simply because they did not have the adequate stocks. Fourth, India, the neighbour on three sides, formally banned export of food grains to Bangladesh on the legitimate grounds that India itself was likely to experience food shortages this year. Generally, food from India, obtained mostly through informal channels, has a cushioning effect on food scarcity in Bangladesh.

Fifth, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), lacking in experience in this field and well known for its corruption, particularly given its complicity in smuggling across the international borders, was made the only channel for distributing subsidised food among the poorer sections in the society. The amount distributed through this channel was not only highly inadequate, but there was also little public confidence in such an organisation. Under civilian government, it is inconceivable that BDR would emerge as the only public sector organisation entrusted with such a task.

Sixth, the civilian field administration, which generally has an important role in relief and rehabilitation operations, is now furthest from its normal zeal, enthusiasm and idealism to serve the people in a crisis situation like this. Heavily eroded by politicization, corruption and inefficiency over the years, the morale of field-level civil officers has taken a further beating from the “lording” they are now experiencing at the hands of young military officers placed at the field level during the last one-year. In such circumstances, and as past records indicate, the civil servants tend to retaliate by resorting to minimum actions and text-book behaviour, instead of taking initiatives and going out of their normal line of duty to tackle the crisis.

Seventh, despite the fact that many politicians are generally corrupt, they invariably stand by the people at crisis points with party-organised relief, given that they have to seek their votes at the time of election. They also act as intermediaries between the people and the field bureaucracy, local government bodies and NGOs engaged in relief and rehabilitation work. During the last one-year, they were either on the run or in jails or debarred from participating in relief and rehabilitation efforts. In fact, during the last floods, even the local government elected functionaries generally stayed away from such activities, owing to the prevailing extra-ordinary circumstances.

Eighth, during the last one year, Bangladesh had more than its share of natural calamities, two consecutive floods to begin with and then the recent devastating cyclone, which have taken a heavy toll of lives, property and crops. Also, in the absence of a popularly elected government, the national response to these events left much to be desired.

Ninth, given the high market prices of both food and fertiliser, government decided to provide a high level of subsidy to these items, but it is precisely in such a situation that “targeting” becomes all the more difficult. Most likely, these highly subsidised commodities would ultimately end up with the “strong and the sturdy” rather than the poor farmers and landless labourers. Whatever trickles down to them would be available at much higher prices. There are already reports of riots over fertilizer distribution.

Finally, the caretaker government through its cheap and irrational policies made things worse for the economy. In the name of crackdown on corruption and non-payment of taxes, the entire business community and the professional class were simply terrorised, and this had a disastrous impact on investment and job creation in the country. In the first two/three months, there was also massive displacement of poor squatters and lower-middle class shop-owners in the name of slum clearance and cleanliness drives. Corruption and no-tax mentality did not develop in a day and these can be remedied only over the years through sustained and multi-pronged efforts. The comparison with the Indian experience also shows that quick fixes are no substitutes for long-term sustainable measures. Those who have lived through successive Martial Law regimes in Bangladesh since the early sixties, know very well that the methods employed to correct these ills are not only inadequate but are also tied to a sinister intention, namely to de-legitimise those in power, so that the new power-holders can be in power for some time to engage in exactly those very activities that they vociferously condemned when they came to power. Just look at the record of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ershad before the present semi-military rule in Bangladesh, and it would become crystal clear even to those seeking “quick solutions” that in the long run, the military rulers and their civilian cohorts prove to be no less corrupt than the elected governments. In Bangladesh, the military’s massive corruption in defence purchases is well known (the Economist in the UK pointed this out about six months ago).

Any way, the long and short of the recent Bangladesh story is that wrong policies and poor implementation of good policies have made short work of both internal and external investments in the country, and this has meant a severe blow to economic growth and job creation- in other words, the worst of both the worlds, namely severe inflation coupled with a sharp decline in purchasing power. Unfortunately, this may mean a famine or near-famine condition in Bangladesh in the next three to six months, and a breakdown in the “exchange entitlements” for the poorest sections of the population, particularly those located in the “Monga” belt extending to greater Rangpur, Jamalpur, Sirajganj and parts of Faridpur and the coastal areas recently hit by the cyclone.

Possible Solutions

– The government should own up publicly to the real situation, so that corrective measures may be taken – all is not lost as yet.
– The political parties under the leadership of Hasina and Khaleda should be allowed to organize their own relief operations among the affected people.
-Grameen Bank, BRAC and other large and medium-sized NGOs should be involved in distributing subsidised food and fertiliser among the target people, in addition to the BDR.
– The military at the field level should act in support of the civil authority and not the other way round. The field administration, along with the local government bodies and local NGOs, should be sufficiently empowered to act, but under close civilian supervision at different levels
– The development partners should come up with not only cash but also substantial amounts of essential commodities to avert the humanitarian crisis about to break out in Bangladesh
– The state of emergency should be lifted immediately, so that the business community and the professional class can feel confident enough to get on with their lives in a free market economy.
– The armed forces should be involved mainly in rescue operations, restoration of the supply lines (roads, electricity, etc), air lift of essential supplies to hard-to-reach areas, preparation of the VGD cards and over all monitoring in aid to civilian power.

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10 Responses to “Food Insecurity in Bangladesh: the Other Crisis”

  1. Nusrat Afroz Says:

    very good. it helped me in creating my report on current crisis in rice sector in Bangladesh.

  2. Md.Zahid Hossain Says:

    very good. it helped me in creating my report on current food crisis in Bangladesh.

  3. Prof Dr, Md. Ghulam Murtaza Says:

    this is very much contextual situation to understand tha fact concerning food crisis in Bangladesh

  4. Nicola Banks Says:

    This is a very interesting summary of one of the major problems facing Bangladesh’s poor population. If we want to place this into figures, a recent UN FAO Report details that the retail prices of coarse rice have increased by a staggering 82 percent from June 2006 to June 2008.

    As such, it is placing huge pressures, particularly on the urban poor who are reliant on a cash economy for all their household needs. Without any matching increase in incomes, my current research in Dhaka slums is showing that households are forced to reduce food intake, as well as forced into a cycle of debt. Many households are borrowing month after month in order to meet the gap between income and expenditure.

  5. Nasrin Jahan Says:

    nice presentation. But it would be really great if some data would be included here as reference.

  6. Suffering groups Says:


    Dear Sir
    From 1972 after independent ,Bangladeshi Nationals started to Established Industries investing family resources ,adopting innovative technology as SELF EARNER & to create job for million of unemployed & to achieve economic freedom when everything were damaged and leftover .
    Government also start helping these fast growing PRIVATE SECTOR INDUSTRIES with fund received from International Grant / Loan giving Agencies and stated to distributed through different Bank. From 1980 period..
    But unfortunately Owner of Industries becomes victims of deep rooted conspiracy & Anti Propaganda .. The Bank Official refrain themselves from ascertaining production capacity of imported machineries and to provide required working capital loan in time extending total non-cooperation, negligence or even were reluctant to receive back their loan money if any Industrial Owner decided to pay back the loan for non-banking activities These have been done willingly to Jeopardize the Government Decision & Policy of Privatizations as well to occupy the mortgaged properties of the Owner of The Industries
    In this way Hundreds & Thousand of Industries in Bangladesh have been destroyed by Bank Officials & Policy Maker who are not aware of First Changing Technology of the World even .
    Due to Such Conspiracy , Negligence’s , Fraudulent Activities including Non – Banking Activities of Bank Official & Policy Maker, most of the these Industries have became in-operative or closed & have lost their Cash Capital, Expatriate Capabilities. And became helpless victims of such deep rooted conspiracy. Having no Legal Protections and remedies throwing large number of WORKER & STAFFS – JOBLESS who were engaged in these Industries for their livelihood.
    In 1992 &1996 the Sick Industries Rehabilitation Cell were formed by GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH & have Identified and Registered these Industries as SICK INDUSTRIES declaring not as defaulter but victims of Violation of Contract, Negligence, Fraudulent Activities, Malpractices of Bank Officials including Policy Maker. And due to lack of Accountability at most of the organization of Bangladesh which are no more hidden matter .
    The owner of Industries of Bangladesh are deprived of Legal Right due to enactment ARTHA RIN ACT ACT ( Money Landing Act ) on 1989 which were amended several time till 2007 and Bankruptcy Act on 1997 treating the OWNERS OF INDUSTRIES SECTOR as like as SLAVE of Primitive Age.

    But these laws are not applicable in Nationalized Sector where Billions of Dollars are invested, an unaccounted till today .
    Total outstanding Defaulted Bank Loan are about 60 to 70 % lying with Government Sector / Nationalized Concern
    And less then 10 % Bank loan are lying with Small & Medium Size Industries of Private Sector & Bank Official can explain well about the balance of the remaining out standing Loan.


    OWNER OF INDUSTRIES OF PRIVATE SECTOR CAN NOT CLAIM ANY COMPENSATION OR SET OFF on the Suit filed by the Bank Official or Loan Giving Agencies FOR VIOLATION OF CONTRACT, NEGLEGIENCES, MALPRACTICES, including fraudulent activities of Bank officials instead of huge loss and damages although Bangladesh is known as DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY and never was a COMMUNIST COUNTRY.
    CONDITION OF SICK / DISTRESSED INDUSTRIES are deplorable due to lack of Accountability of Bank Official / Policy Maker & total Indemnity offered to Bank Official / Loan Giving Agencies These have been done to hide out existing high profile Malpractices, Corruption and Fraudulent Activities & Negligence as per opinion of Expert Personals depriving the Owner of Industries from Justice .
    Also Common PEOPLE WHO ARE FACING ANOTHER TYPE OF REPRESSIVE LAW UNDER CERTIFICATE CASE for realization of Taxes , Agricultural Loan , including Weaver’s Loan etc.
    The Owners of Industries in Bangladesh have no legal right to protect themselves and from the oppression of Bank Official & Policy Maker & Officials which are no more hidden matter rather a part of deep rooted conspiracy till date helping the process of HUMAN TRAFFICKING .
    Bank official have given absolute Indemnity for Violation of Contract , Negligence Malpractices & Fraudulent Activities
    OWNER OF INDUSTRIES can only file a separate suit for compensation in separate CIVIL COURT CREATING MORE complicacy for life long litigation WITH OF NO RESULT due to restriction to obstruct or resist any order / decree of ARTHA RIN ACT / COURT by any other DECREE OR ORDER OF OTHER COURT or even of by HIGHER COURT. THE RIGHT OF EQUITY OF LAW HAVE COMPLETELY BEEN DENIED TO THE INDUSTRIAL ENTREPRENEUR OF PRIVATE SECTOR IN BANGLADESH

    Sections 12, 12 ( khan ) 18 ( 2 ) & (3 ) 19, 20, 21, 34,40, 41, 42, 44, 47 and 50 of ARTHA RIN ACT are directly repressive types violating of ARTICLE NO : 8, 15, 26 and 27 of BANGLADESH CONSTITUTION and self contradictory to the policy of Government to resist Malpractices and Corruption and Privatization programmed ax Mentioned in Industrial Policy adopted time to time having no force of law at all.

    Now there are no other alternative way but to draw the kind attention of Concerned Authority Including International Community / Organizations seeking help for JUSTICE and Support to save & protect the OWNER OF SICK OR DISTRESSED INDUSTRIES OF Bangladesh under Private Sector, including their properties from such deep rooted conspiracy and oppressive laws as well to protect the interest of large number of workers, staffs of the Private Sector and also for CHANGE of such oppressive laws to restore Accountability of Bank Official / Loan Giving Agencies including Policy Maker to ensure for National Interest

    ( A ) – Humble appeal before the Government of Bangladesh to kindly allow Industrial Entrepreneur to claim Set Off or Compensation on suit filed by the Bank or loan Giving Agencies. or allow to Run Compensation Suit Simultaneously with suits file by Bank Officials under ARTHA RIN ACT with equal opportunity and equal right so as to restore total accountability .

    (B)- Considering the Heavy loss and Damages of Government Registered and Identified SICK INDUSTRIES of 1992 & 1996 of Private Sector since last 25 years due to Non-Banking Activities of Bank Officials and Policy Maker may kindly be allowed 100 % weaver of all type of Bank loan liabilities to minimize their heavy loss and damages to certain extent

    ( C )- The system of keeping mortgage of Land & Properties from the Owner of Industries by Bank or any Loan Giving Agencies as Securities are mostly responsible for Malpractices and ever growing Corruption, & Fraudulent Activities in Banking Sector, which are now proven matter and may kindly be completely abolished as a part of reform programs at earliest possible time to ESTABLISH ACCOUNTABILITY and Check Malpractices, Fraudulent Activities which are now growing by large in Banking Sector or in other Loan Giving Agencies upto root Levels

    ( D ) – All suits of Artha Rin Court may kindly be transferred to Civil Commercial Court providing Equal right for the end of Justice or preferably be stopped unconditionally


    The above mentioned Sections 12, 12 ( khan ) 18 ( 2 ) & (3 ) 19, 20, 21, 34,40, 41, 42, 44, 47 and 50 of ARTHA RIN ACT may kindly be abolished immediately to unearth y & check existing Negligence , Malpractices & Fraudulent Activities of Banking Sector.

    ( E ) – And Section 28 ( Ka ) of BANKING COMPANY of 2001 which explain WRITTEN OFF does not mean Weaver were included just to or misguide the International Community & Bangladesh National so as to serve the interest of the Vested Group & to hide out the above also

    ( F ) And also take immediate steps to reform or abolished the system of CERTIFICATE CASE Which are nothing but abuse of Law for realizing Government Taxes , Agricultural Loan etc and is one of the worst system of CLONIAL RULE

    ( G ) – It would be an extreme favors if your good self kindly collect the PRINTED COPIES OF THE ABOVE MENTION LAWS for confirmation of mentioned facts .& to help the Suffering Groups by circulating this appeal among Honorable Member of your Organization and Partner’s Organizations & to Publish in WEBSITES or News Bulletin or News Media, Electronic Media of your territory to bring to the knowledge of Concern Authority including International COMMUNITY OR ORGANIZATIONS working for HUMAN RIGHT & FUNDAMENTAL / Democratic Right of People to prevent legal abuse for immediate help and support to protect the Owner of the Sick Industries / Distressed Industries of Bangladesh and their properties from such OPPRESSIVE LAWS for which they all would be ever grateful as well for change of all types of oppressive laws restoring accountability at all organization of Bangladesh.

    ********* N.B. the Summery of above mentioned Section of Artha Rin Act at a Glance:

    (A)- In section 18 ( 2 ) & ( 3 ) Defendant or Owner of Industries will not be able to claim any set – off or to make counter claim against the Bank or Bank Official nor will be allowed to claim any Compensation by submitting any Suit against Bank ( Plaintiff ) analogously or simultaneously in Artha Rin Court due to violation of contract, fraudulence activities including negligence, malpractices of Bank officials.
    (B)- Section 21: Settlement Conference between Borrower and Bank is a misnomer of Law of Arbitration or just to divert the attention of common people in the name arbitration or to make everybody fool .
    (C) -As Per Section 19 (6) of Artha Rin Act of 2003 no suits can be declared to be dismissed or discharged for default or above mentioned fault of Bank Official. As per Section 20 regarding any order or proceedings of Artha Rin Act can not be raised to Higher Court or to any Other Superior Authority without paying 50 % of claimed or Decretal Amount if the order is totally misleading or against any law or illegal one even .
    (D) – As per Section 34 Defendant or the Owner of Industries in Artha Rin Adalat Case can be put to the Jail for compelling or forcing him to pay the Bank Money without considering the fault or negligence’s of Bank Official without allowing him to proof the matter of violation of contract, fraudulence activities , negligence, malpractices of Bank officials. V- As per section 41 and 42 -The Owner of Industries are not allowed to file any appeal or revision to High Court or Superior Court against any order of Artha Rin Court without paying 50 % of the claimed amount or Decretal amount in advance , But the Bank Official are not require to pay any amount in advance in the Higher Court, allowing A Great Disparity of Law and Justice.
    (E) – Under section 47 and 50 , The learned Court under Artha Rin Act of 2003 have been bared to make any exemption of principal loan amount for Violation of Contract , Negligence’s Malpractices, including fraudulent activities or any fault of the bank official uni laterally

    (F)- Section 12 ( Kha ) Imposed a bar for filling write petition to Higher Court which are direct violation of human right and constitutional right of the citizen and reflects the negative attitude of Policy Maker and the Law Maker .

    Suffering Groups of Owners of Industries of Bangladesh under Private Sectors

  7. Tazul Islam Says:

    Hundreds and thousands of Suits / Litigations are pending in Different Courts of Bangladesh due to illegal occupation of land ignoring documents and title right by miscreants. .
    The officials of Land Survey Department, Settlement Office and their Subordinate Office are also responsible for many of the litigations as in many cases they prepare records & parcha and other related records of land in the name of other people or concern ignoring the deed & title right., depriving the actual land owner willfully and deliberately.
    Such type of malpractices of officials of Land Survey Department, Settlement Offices including their subordinate offices upto uphajila level are known to all corner.
    It shall continue as the officials of the above organizations can not be made responsible nor they can be taken to the court for loss and damages of owner of land as there exist no law since 200- year back of British Period / colonial period to till date.
    Correction of records, parcha & related documents of concerned lands at present are very much complicated , lengthy and expensive system.
    Due to which majority of effected person can not efforts due to which they loss the right of ownerships of his land.
    Due to such the illegal / force occupier of land changes the faces or position of the lands depriving the owner. for all

    Government may come forward to take immediate steps to ensure accountability at all stages of land survey department including settlement office and their subordinate offices against manipulation and malpractices during land survey, preparation of records , parcha including area map in the name of force full occupier of land or other organizations intentionally & willfully .
    Experts opinions are that, application of TORT LAW also can help the process of accountability & prevent existing malpractices by officials to some extents

    TORT LAW also protect poor people becoming more and more poor due to repression, oppression

    It will be highly appreciated if you kindly circulate the above to all level for creation of awareness among the people, international community as well as patriot political worker. leader or intellectual group, & policy maker .

    The Peoples

  8. The People Says:

    Land Survey by settlement office of Bangladesh

    When Government has fixed up high rate of Taxes and fees for Registration of Land at the time of transfer of ownership,

    But unfortunately the Land Survey are conducted by Settlement Office of each District and Thana level and DLR Office , Dhaka jointly in different time . .

    Survey Official during completing their job adopts several stage operations for fixing up land ownership.
    And in most cases the title ownership are changed recording new holding number , and ownerships , thus deprived the actual land owner of his title right ,

    These are done for personal interest or illegal gain ignoring the Title Right of actual owner ,

    Government have decided that the wrong made by Land Survey Official should be ratified by the Court of each District .

    The intention of Government is good , but actual facts are different , In whole life correction may not be possible

    The actual Title owner became undone and help less , can neither transfer his Land nor he can sell the land to meet emergency expenditure like education cost of children or matrimonial ceremony etc

    Will the Ministry of Law and Land Ministry of Bangladesh please take immediate steps to protect the interest of such Land Owner . or Declare that these land based o actual Title Deed may be transferred or sell .

    The People

  9. Zaman Says:

    I appreciate the blog.
    This kind of blogs are most helpful for people who are concerned
    with food security issues.

  10. lawlesovi Says:

    this helped me alotz

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