Bangladesh Government Goes Shopping For Overseas Farmland

Via The Guardian, a report that Bangladesh is looking abroad for land to grow food to meet the country’s increasing demand and to create jobs for Bangladeshi migrants.  As the article notes:

The Bangladesh government is looking near and far – from Ukraine to South Sudan – to bolster food security at home, according to the ministry of food and disaster management.

“Whether from the public sector or the private sector, the government of Bangladesh is fully behind any attempts to seek out unused land beyond its borders,” said the department’s minister, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque.

Bangladesh officials are in talks with Ukraine for wheat production, are considering Cambodia for rice, and are visiting parts of sub-Saharan Africa to explore similar ventures, he added.

The country of 160 million people is seeking land to serve its food needs, as well as to create jobs for migrants, who sent home $11bn in both 2009 and 2010, 12% of GDP in 2009, according to the government. It is a way to cushion Bangladesh, where farmland is scarce and malnourishment a concern, against volatile global food prices, said Razzaque.

Bangladesh has one of the lowest rates of arable land per resident in the world, at about 54 hectares per 1,000 people in 2008, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, demographic pressures and urbanisation have caused cultivated land to decline at a rate of 1% a year, as the population grows 1.6% annually, again according to the World Bank.

At 175% usage, cropping intensity has also approached its limit.

As a result, the government has begun exploring various land-use deals abroad, from directly acquiring or leasing land to supporting private ventures that do so.

Pros and cons

While most of the demand for land globally has been in Africa, the former Soviet Union has also been targeted for its productive soils and existing – albeit outdated – agricultural infrastructure, said Carl Atkin, a Cambridge-based agribusiness investment consultant with KinnAgri Ltd. “If this is done in the correct way, in a responsible way, it can be a win-win for everyone,” he said.

But significant investment is required to coax crops from fallow land – and employing a local workforce is important so as to not disenfranchise residents, he added. “This is not a short-term fix. If you’re going to invest in farmland and farming, it’s a minimum five- to 10-year time horizon, and probably longer,” said Atkin.

Meanwhile, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a senior research fellow at the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, said foreign acquisition of land could be highly problematic.

Land that is billed as “unused” or government-owned is often used by local people with weak land rights, who have been farming the land for generations, but have no legal deeds. In addition, costs to prepare the land and necessary infrastructure for planting are often higher than expected, she said.

Contract farming with local people – whereby a country buys crops at an agreed price – is an alternative that can capitalise on local knowledge, Meinzen-Dick said. “In general, they are not a panacea for the investor country,” she said of such deals. “Many of these are not living up to expectations on the investor side, and at the same time many of them are also really harming local people.”

Of 464 largescale agricultural land acquisition and investment deals that were announced between October 2008 and August 2009, actual farming had begun on only 21% of them a year later, according to a 2010 World Bank study.

Despite the costs, Razzaque said he expected the costs of farming overseas to be cheaper than importing more food, though the government has not conducted cost-comparison studies. “Import is subjected to the prices dictated by the global food market, which is often very volatile. In comparison, this venture will only be subjected to the production and shipment costs.”

Hunger in Bangladesh, as measured by rates of undernourishment, underweight children and child mortality, improved from “extremely alarming” to “alarming” between 1990 and 2011, according to the Global Hunger Index but food security, despite improvements, is still a major concern.

Two million children aged between six months and five years suffer from acute malnutrition, including half a million with severe acute malnutrition, according to a 2009 survey conducted by the UN and the government.

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About This Blog And Its Author
Seeds Of A Revolution is committed to defining the disruptive geopolitics of the global Farms Race.  Due to the convergence of a growing world population, increased water scarcity, and a decrease in arable land & nutrient-rich soil, a spike of international investment interest in agricultural is inevitable and apt to bring a heretofore domestic industry into a truly global realm.  Whether this transition involves global land leases or acquisitions, the fundamental need for food & the protectionist feelings this need can give rise to is highly likely to cause such transactions to move quickly into the geopolitical realm.  It is this disruptive change, and the potential for a global farms race, that Seeds Of A Revolution tracks, analyzes, and forecasts.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has long held a keen interest in natural resource policy and the geopolitical implications of anticipated stresses in the areas of freshwater scarcity, biodiversity reserves & parks, and farm land.  Monty has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries spanning Africa, China, western Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast & Central Asia, and his personal interests comprise economic development, policy, investment, technology, natural resources, and the environment, with a particular focus on globalization’s impact upon these subject areas.  Monty writes about freshwater scarcity issues at and frontier investment markets at