Planting the future: The way forward in agriculture

October 16, 2015 by


We live in a world where there are people who order more food than they can eat while there are others who tell their children stories to distract them from hunger pangs.

While many developing countries have made breakthroughs in the agricultural sector, chronic hunger remains our biggest challenge. Today about 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger globally, and around 65 per cent of them exist in Asia and the pacific. We know that the global population is expected to increase to nearly 9 billion by 2050. To meet the growing food demand we need to increase agricultural production by 60 per cent globally. In the newly formed SDGs, agriculture is a crosscutting theme.

Most global leaders agree that Bangladesh has made commendable progress in achieving the millennium development goals of hunger and extreme poverty eradication. BRAC played a significant role in shaping this progress by offering scope for farmers to improve farming methods and increase yields.  However, there are emerging challenges in meeting the new global goals: growing population, adverse impact on climatic fluctuations and inadequate investment in extensive research in this sector.

Dr Md Sirajul Islam, programme head of BRAC’s agriculture and food security programme observes, “In Bangladesh the population is growing by 1.8 million every year, but food production rate is declining as arable land is decreasing by 0.6 per cent each year. To feed this growing population we need to produce additional 300,000 metric ton of cereal every year.” A large proportion of this population, roughly 6 million, is required to inhabit chars, impermanent riverine islands that cover almost 10 per cent Bangladesh’s land mass. A lot of this land lies fallow, and to support this population, BRAC helped farmers turn these areas into maize cultivation land.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to agricultural development in the delta of Bangladesh. BRAC is working on climate-resilient aquaculture and agriculture technologies. The agriculture and food security programme disseminates drought-tolerant rice varieties. The work of the programme has allowed sunflower cultivation, along with salt-tolerant rice, to gain acceptance amongst local farmers in the coastal zones. In the northern part of Bangladesh, BRAC’s climate-adaptive research has led to developing cold tolerant rice varieties to cope with low temperatures in the winter.  By following these processes, a farmer can ensure maximum production of fish, crop and vegetable in same field throughout the different seasons of the year.

Although there has been a certain amount investment in agricultural research, some modern technological advances have actually led to the degradation of productive land. However, BRAC aims for sustainable innovation. The system of rice intensification (SRI) method is a climate-smart methodology of increasing the productivity of irrigated rice that has been popular among South Asian countries. In northern Bangladesh where ground water is scarce, BRAC introduces SRI to farmers. This cost-effective and environment-friendly process demands less water for cultivation and produces higher yields than usual from seedlings. BRAC’s reach is extensive – 500,000 farmers have been reached through the agriculture and food security programme.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC’s founder and the winner of world food prize 2015 says, “Our planet has the resources to feed its people, but we must ensure that each individual has access to the tools they need to create their own livelihoods and develop their communities. To increase food security, we involved women in the business of distributing high-yielding seeds and other agricultural inputs.”

Indeed agriculture is a tool that can be the means to empower the poorest. We must ensure not only hunger reduction but also the uprooting of inequalities in access to resources. It will be challenging to achieve the SDG of eradicating hunger and achieving food security by 2030, but innovative and inclusive action may propel us towards this end.