From Thu Jun 15 16:42:44 2000
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 23:19:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: AGRICULTURE-BANGLADESH: Saving Farms From Urban and River Erosion
Article: 98491
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Saving farms from urban and river erosion

By Tabibul Islam, InterPress Service, 13 June 2000

DHAKA, June 13 (IPS)—A growing human population, urban and industrial growth, along with its wayward rivers, are fast eating away cultivable land in Bangladesh that could cause widespread hunger and undo anti-poverty efforts, warn land use experts.

The country has lost more than one million hectares of arable land in over a decade on which Bangladesh could have grown an extra 1.5 million tonnes of foodgrain every year, according to government statistics.

Waking up to the danger, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's government is planning to tighten land use in the country considered vital for the well-being of the nation's 127 million people who live on an average income of less than a dollar day.

Junior Minister for Land, Rashed Mosharraf, announced last month that the government was finalising a national land use policy that would, among other things, put a cap on land use for urban housing. A senior ministry official told IPS that the draft policy has been readied and awaiting the cabinet's clearance before it is tabled in Parliament.

The aim is to check further decrease in the land available for farming in the mainly rural nation. For this, the draft national land use guidelines would even put limits on the acquisition of land by government agencies and instead, emphasise proper use of land that has already been taken over.

Farm experts caution against complacency over the abundant harvests on Bangladesh's farms that are growing thanks to the increased use of chemical fertilizers, high-yielding seeds and expanded irrigation. They point out that agricultural production has reached a saturation point and further shrinkage of cultivable land will undermine food security.

A large chunk of arable land is being eaten away by roads, highways, schools, markets, industrial estates, townships and embankments along flood-prone rivers. From about 10 million hectares in 1983, the cultivable land area in the country had shrunk to less than nine million hectares by 1997.

This has also reduced farm work opportunities in a country where agriculture generates nearly a third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and gives livelihood to two-thirds of the estimated 55 million workers in the country.

According to official figures, while the number of non-farming families almost doubled to more than six million in this period, the number of agricultural households declined by nearly three million in the same period.

Experts blame the growing population for the increasing pressure on land by swelling the demand for houses, jobs and food. With some 3.5 million babies born every year, the population is growing at 1.6 percent annually.

The increase in human numbers has also led to fragmentation of rural land ownership within families under land inheritance laws. Farm experts say this results in inefficient use of arable land. According to one estimate, the fragmentation of rural land holdings is responsible for lowering farm output by one million tonnes every year.

Another threat is the clearing of forested areas to make way for housing and to meet rural fuel needs. The forest cover of Bangladesh is estimated to be shrinking by three percent annually.

According to A.B.M. Saleuddin, former head of the Forest Research Institute, on average, about 10,000 hectares of forest is destroyed every year. Against a desirable one-fourth of the land under forest, less than a tenth of Bangladesh is under green cover.

The countless rivers that crisscross the deltaic nation also eat away the land along their banks. An estimated 0.2 million people are displaced every year from their homes due to river erosion. Bangladeshi peasants dread river erosion even more than the floods which cause widespread havoc every year.

While floods inundate farms and submerge their houses, they leave behind fertile silt that nourishes the crops. But river erosion washes away their most productive asset—land. A survey by the Bangladesh Development Partnership Centre found that nearly a quarter million hectares of land was washed away by rivers between 1990 and 1994.

All this means that more and more people in the countryside no longer have traditional livelihoods to fall back on and therefore head for the cities where they live in squalid conditions. These include the 3.5 million slum residents in the capital city. In the last three decades, the rural influx has pushed up the country's urban population four-fold to a fifth of the total population.