Where has gone the ‘surplus’ food, asks NHRC chairman

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Prof Dr Mizanur Rahman on Tuesday raised question about the claim that the country has achieved food autarky and said if it is so where has gone the ‘surplus’ food.

“If we are surplus in food why are people hungry? Why the food prices are skyrocketing?” he told a dialogue at CIRDAP auditorium in the city.

Citing statistics from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), he said, “Bangladesh has been self-reliant in rice and wheat production since 2005. Around 6 million tonnes of food grains were produced in the last two fiscal years. But people are hungry.”

The Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), an alliance of 200 local, national and international organisations, and Oxfam’s new global campaign ‘GROW’ organised the dialogue tiled ‘Food, Human Rights and State at CIRDAP auditorium in the city as part of its three-day solidarity launching programme.

Referring to the present state of the country’s food, he said there is no sustainable food security in Bangladesh where hunger, malnutrition and poverty are a common scenario, and half the country’s population is struggling to meet their food demand.

“One third of its population has been living with poverty, whose incomes are less than a US dollar a day. Around 30,000 children become blind each year due to lack of Vitamin A,” the NHRC chairman said.

Bangladesh, he said, is still an agro-based economy, where two-thirds of rural population are landless and their number increasing day by day.

“Sharecroppers cultivate others’ lands with unequal deals. Around two million people live in erosion-prone and char areas… So, we can‘t produce adequate food grains in the areas to ensure their food security.”

He said: “Even if we can produce adequate food grains, ensuring food security remains far cry due to the widening gap of inequality between the poor and the rich, misdistribution of food and lack of proper management.”

About the challenges in establishing the right to food, Prof Mizanur Rahman said, “It’s a wrong idea to think that we are to be fed by the government. Right to food is an entitlement where the state’s duty is to create such an environment so that one con be fed by oneself.”

Referring to the FAO hunger index, he said around 925 million people go to sleep every night without taking dinner where about 1000 million are the worse victims of malnutrition. “The highest hungry people live in the Asia and Pacific region - 578 million.”

The NHRC chairman stressed the importance of taking an integrated agrarian reform to help the poor to have their access to land, water and natural resources to ensure their food security.

He suggested increasing government allocation under the social safety net programme to meet the fundamental rights of people and to create a food security net.

Mizanur Rahman also recommended storing food grains at national, regional and local levels, and providing assistance to the marginal farmers so that they can produce more food grains.

Chaired by CSRL convenor Dr CS Karim, the dialogue was addressed, among others, by former permanent representative at the Bangladesh Mission in Geneva Dr Toufiq Ali and researcher Dr Pratima Paul Majumder.

CSRL member secretary Ziaul Hoque Mukta presented a research paper on recent food price hike in Bangladesh.

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