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Bangladesh looks abroad for farmland

Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:27 PM   |   Comments

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Bangladesh is looking for farmland outside the country.

"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," Minister of Food and Disaster Management Muhammad Abdur Razzaque told IRIN, the news service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

So far Bangladeshi officials are involved in preliminary discussions with Ukraine for wheat production and are considering Cambodia for rice, as well as ventures with sub-Saharan Africa, Razzaque said.

The dominant food crop of Bangladesh is rice, accounting for about 94.55 percent of the total cereal crop production.

With little arable land and frequent natural disasters, Bangladesh has often struggled to feed its population, now totaling about 160 million. It has the highest population density in the world but also one of the lowest rates of arable land per resident in the world, totaling about 54 hectares per 1,000 people in 2008, World Bank figures show.

"Frequent floods, cyclones and other natural disasters pose a threat to the country's food security. And climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of extreme weather events such as drought in Bangladesh," says Dr. Mohammed Zainul Abedin, representative for the International Rice Research Institute in Bangladesh.

In 2010, Bangladesh recorded its lowest rainfall since 1995. In 1999, it suffered the longest drought in 50 years.

Although the Bangladesh government has not carried out cost-comparison studies, Razzaque says he expects farming overseas would still be cheaper than importing greater quantities of food.

Imported food "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."

But foreign acquisition of land poses some problems, said Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

Costs associated with land preparation and infrastructure needed for planting can be higher than expected, she said.

Furthermore, land considered "unused" is instead often being used by local people with no legal deeds, sometimes families farming the land for generations with no land rights.

Contract farming with local people, in which a country buys crops at an agreed-upon price, is one way to capitalize on local expertise, Meinzen-Dick said.

But such deals generally are not always the ideal solution for the investor country. "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."

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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