Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):
Bangladesh lies in northeastern South Asia with a land mass of 144,000 km2. The country is bounded by India on the west, north, and northeast; by Myanmar on the southeast; and by the Bay of Bengal on the south.
Except for the hilly regions in the southeast and some in the northeast, and patches of highlands in the central and northwest regions, Bangladesh consists of low, flat, fertile land. About 230 rivers and their tributaries, with a total length of 24,140 km, flow across the country down to the Bay of Bengal. The alluvial soil is continuously enriched by heavy silt deposited by the rivers through frequent flooding during the rainy season.
The country enjoys a subtropical monsoon climate. Summer, monsoon, and winter are the most prominent of six distinct seasons. Winter, which is pleasant, extends from November to February, with minimum temperature ranging from 7 to 13 °C; in summer, maximum temperature ranges from 24 to 41 °C.
The monsoon starts in June and lasts until October and accounts for 80% of the total annual rainfall, which varies from 1,200 to 2,500 mm. Maximum rainfall is recorded in the coastal areas and in the northern Sylhet and Mymensingh districts, adjacent to Assam and Meghalaya, India. Minimum rainfall is observed in the districts of Jessore, Kushtia, and Rajshahi in the western parts of the country.
Bangladesh is among the most populous countries in the world. The population in 2010 was 148.7 million, nearly half of which was in rural areas. Agriculture covers 70% of the country’s land area.
Bangladesh has a rapidly developing market-based economy, which has grown at 6–7% per annum over the past few years. The service sector generated more than half of the country’s GDP, while nearly half of the people are engaged in the agricultural sector. Foreign exchange earnings come from remittances from overseas workers (mainly in the Middle East) and exports of garments and textiles. Shipbuilding and cane cultivation also contribute significantly to growth. Sound fiscal policies further encourage GDP growth. The per capita GDP (PPP) more than doubled, from $675 in 1995 to $1,652, in 2010.
The main produce is rice, along with jute, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Wheat production has increased in recent years. The poultry industry is expanding and has encouraged maize production. Other goods produced in the country are textiles, leather and leather goods, ceramics, and ready-made garments.
Recent developments in the rice sector
Bangladesh is the fourth-largest rice producer. In spite of the decline in the country’s arable land since its independence in 1971, the rice area harvested increased from almost 10 million ha in 1995 to nearly 12 million ha in 2010. Rice yield also improved in the last decade, from a low of 2.7 t/ha in 1995 to almost 4.3 t/ha in 2010. These increases in rice yield and area harvested contributed to growth in rice production, which nearly doubled from over 26 million t in 1995 to 50 million t in 2010.
Rice is the staple food of Bangladesh’s 149 million people. Average annual milled rice consumption was 173.3 kg in 2009. The daily per capita calorie intake from rice has been falling, from 74.8% of total calories in 1995 to 69.6% in 2009. Rice’s contribution to per capita protein intake also fell, from 65.3% to 56.2%, in the same period.
Bangladesh has been increasing rice production over many years and is now relatively self-sufficient in rice production. The country’s rice imports declined from about 1 million t in 1995 to a mere 0.017 million t in 2009 but increased to 0.66 million t in 2010. Exports of rice began in the 2000s. Some rice is still imported, however, mainly to control domestic prices. Major rice policies have been implemented by the government to increase production and to reduce imports. Subsidy support for rice producers is provided on different agricultural inputs to keep their price within the purchasing capacity of the rice farmers. In 2010, the equivalent of $712 million was disbursed for subsidy assistance. The government provided cash subsidies to small and marginal farmers through an input distribution card that could be used to obtain cash subsidies for electricity and fuel for irrigation, fertilizer, and other forms of government support.
The government has attempted to stabilize rice prices through open market sales since 2004. This was established when the cost of food in Bangladesh began to increase sharply as a result of global price increases. This allowed people to buy rice at reduced prices from thousands of centers in district towns and union-level dealers across the country.
The major rice ecosystems in Bangladesh are upland (direct-seeded premonsoon aus), irrigated (mainly dry-season boro), rainfed lowland (mostly monsoon-season transplanted aman, 0–50 cm), medium-deep stagnant water (50–100 cm), deepwater (>100 cm), tidal saline, and tidal nonsaline. Bangladesh receives about 400 mm of rain during the premonsoon months of March to May, which enable farmers to grow a short-duration drought-resistant crop.
Rice area in Bangladesh expanded slightly during 2001-10; however, rice area under irrigation increased from about 30% to 73% from 1995 to 2008. During the same period, its share under modern varieties also increased from 52% to almost 80%. Two flash-flood-resistant varieties, BRRI dhan51 (Swarna-Sub1) and BRRI dhan52 (BR11-Sub-1) for submergence-prone areas; and an early-maturing variety, BINA Dhan7, were released. BRRI dhan51 was developed in 2004 when IRRI scientists implanted a submergence resistance gene in a popular high-yielding Indian rice variety. This variety has become very popular in submergence-prone areas in the country. The high-yielding rice variety BINA Dhan7 can be harvested a month earlier than other rice varieties and, hence, can avoid drought stress. This variety has high quality so it can command higher grain prices. Farmers can also get a better price for rice straw because feed is in shortage when this variety is harvested.
The urea deep placement (UDP) technology, an option for increasing nitrogen-use efficiency, involves the placement of 1–3 urea supergranules or briquettes at 7–10-cm soil depth a week after transplanting. In 2008-09, the Bangladesh Department of Agricultural Extension (with IFDC assistance) disseminated UDP technology to 0.5 million ha and achieved an annual increase in rice production of about 0.3 million t. UDP use reduced Bangladesh’s urea imports by 0.05 million t in 2008.
Bangladesh has almost attained self-sufficiency in rice. However, sustaining this level in the coming years may be difficult considering that the country’s population continues to rise ominously and rice production growth has to be achieved with fewer resources (e.g., land and water).
Sustainability is always a problem where intensified cropping systems are followed and crop residues are removed for fuel and feed. Cow dung, a traditional source of fertilizer, is being used as fuel in rural areas. The spread of modern rice varieties is associated with an increased use of chemical fertilizer. However, the removal of fertilizer subsidies in the late 1980s caused imbalances in fertilizer use, wherein there was excessive consumption of N and less P due to unfavorable prices of largely imported P and K. The increased cost of fertilizer, chemicals, and fuel accounted for the high costs of rice production in Bangladesh relative to other Asian rice producers (e.g., India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam).
Drought is a common problem although the northwestern region of the country is more prone to it than elsewhere. Farmers deal with drought through supplemental irrigation during the late monsoon. Subsurface groundwater is available throughout the country. Irrigation by small-scale tube wells and low-lift pumps commenced in the late 1970s and spread extensively when the importation of agricultural machinery was liberalized in the late 1980s. Overexploitation of groundwater, however, is becoming an environmental concern with adverse effects on the supply of drinking water; there are suspected links to arsenic-contaminated water.
Although flooding occurs yearly, it causes severe damage only about once every 10 years. Usual flooding is merely a part of the ecosystem and helps maintain soil quality. The flood-prone areas are mainly suited for boro rice, since water is available during the dry season and the cost of irrigation is low.
Soils in coastal areas are affected by salinity. Most soils are low in organic matter (many less than 0.5%) and subsequently low in N. Zinc and sulfur deficiencies are prevalent; replacement amounts of P and K are inadequate.
Targeted breeding works well in Bangladesh’s diverse environments. The development of more high-yielding, different maturity period, drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant, disease-resistant, submergence-resistant, and possibly nutrient-rich varieties will further boost rice production and nutrition. Effective fertilizer and other crop management strategies will likewise enhance rice production. Hence, the government should increase investment in rice research and extension to further improve yield and reduce the costs of rice production in the long run. Providing a subsidy to reduce the cost of groundwater irrigation will encourage risk-averse and resource-poor farmers to continue to engage in rice production.
Source: FAOSTAT, AQUASTAT database of the FAO, and national statistical sources as of September 2012.