Bangladesh will face two enormous challenges in the coming decades: food security and climate change. The remarkable growth in agricultural productivity achieved over the last 30 years through intensification and diversification of crop production is not likely to continue. Already, 45% of the 160 million people in the country are estimated to be consuming less than their daily calorie requirements; 53% are also estimated to be living below the poverty line. With a population density the highest in the world for an economy occupying a large land area, Bangladeshi farm sizes are, on average, smaller than 0.1 hectares, and even triple-cropping of land under irrigation does not result in adequate incomes. Efforts to manage irrigation more efficiently, to protect and use wetlands for fisheries, and to exploit mangrove areas for intensive shrimp-production have helped to increase resource productivity, but the sustainability of these efforts, especially in light of projected impacts of climate change, is in question.
Bangladesh has made significant strides in flood prediction and disaster preparedness in recent years, but the country’s location in the floodplains of three major rivers makes it especially vulnerable. Projected changes in river flows and freshwater availability, surface drainage congestion and inundation, sea-level rise and salt water intrusion, increased floods, and coastal storms pose significant risk. Some analysts believe these changes are likely to have a major impact on both urban and rural areas, affecting living conditions as well as agricultural activities.
Since 1971, much attention has been devoted by the Government of Bangladesh (GOB), national and international NGOs, and external donors to the issues of land reform, as a matter of agricultural productivity and livelihoods, and as a matter of equity. While redistribution of land to the landless and near-landless has been accomplished in some cases, overall, peoples’ tenure security and access to land remain very limited. Conflict and political tensions relating to land are high. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) ranks Bangladesh 119th out of the 183 countries ranked with regard to the “ease of doing business” but 176th out of 183 on the specific issue of “registering property.”
To address the twin challenges of food security and climate change, Bangladesh and its external partners will need to address land and water issues more aggressively. Incentives for expanding non-agricultural sources of employment are needed, as well as measures that will enable those remaining in the agricultural sector to maintain productivity levels and achieve higher rates of labor productivity. More rational and equitable use of the state-owned khas land could, as suggested by many analysts, be a part of this transition. More security of tenure, through registration and/or titling of land as well as through more transparent and fair dispute-adjudication procedures, may be essential for flood-control structures to be improved as well as for growing urban areas to provide healthy and safe environments for families and businesses.
KEY ISSUES AND INTERVENTION CONSTRAINTS
- Registration and Titling. Land rights are insecure in large measure because of an inefficient, expensive, and corruption prone system of land titling and registration. USAID’s work on governance and economic growth in Bangladesh provides a possible foundation to support Bangladesh’s Land Use Policy, the goal of which is to streamline land transactions and registration and to reduce corruption. Donors’ support could assist the exploration of options for incremental land tenure in urban and peri-urban areas, the design of the land transfer and registration system, comprehensive institutional- and capacity-building and targeted support for registering the land rights of the poor (including homestead rights).
- Community-based Interventions. USAID’s involvement in community-based agricultural development and environmental management efforts may provide a starting point for donors to expand support for community-led initiatives for improving land access and tenure security with the goals of increasing food security, incomes, and sustainability. Interventions at the community level could also draw on donors’ and NGOs’ expertise in gender equality and promoting women’s rights by ensuring that women’s land rights are respected and improved.
Despite legislative land reforms initiated since independence in 1971, land distribution in Bangladesh is highly inequitable. Fifty-two percent of the rural population, which accounts for almost 75% of the country’s population, is landless or holds less than .5 acres of land. Agricultural productivity has been increased over the past three decades by substantial intensification of production, both through the use of new technologies and by greater intensity of land use. Nevertheless, the amount of land available for cultivation by each household is declining and the number of landless households is rising. The population of urban areas is also expanding, with the poorest households squatting on public land or living in informal settlements with no security against eviction. Dhaka is among the ten most populous cities in the world, and the percentage of Bangladesh’s urban population living in slum conditions is the second-highest in South Asia.
Given Bangladesh’s location in the floodplains of three great rivers, the country is prone to flooding. Climate change analysts now predict that the extent and levels of flooding are expected to increase in the future, greatly affecting agricultural productivity. The country’s water resources are polluted by agricultural, industrial and domestic waste, and its groundwater is contaminated with arsenic. With the exception of a few natural springs, Bangladesh has no potable surface water.
Forestland accounts for less than 7% of total land area in Bangladesh. Deforestation, resulting from illegal logging, resettlement of people, natural disasters, extraction of resources, and encroachment for agriculture, is a constant threat. People also rely on forest resources for fuel, construction materials, fodder and food. Forestland per capita in Bangladesh is among the lowest in the world.