Bangladesh must reduce population growth to 1% to establish grain balance

by Teresa Acklin
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   DHAKA, BANGLADESH — Bangladesh could become self-sufficient in food grains by the year 2005 if it can reduce its annual population growth rate to 1%, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said recently.

   If present trends continue, Ms. Chowdhury said, the country expects to produce 25 million tonnes of food grain by 2005. “At that level we would become self-sufficient in food grains if we could attain a 1% population growth rate,” she said.

   The current population growth rate in Bangladesh is 2% or more.

   Ms. Chowdhury said total food grain output in 1999 could reach 21 million tonnes, including 19 million tonnes of rice and 2 million tonnes of wheat. Factors affecting production will be favorable weather, a steady supply of inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, improved bank loan facilities for farmers and efficient management, Ms. Chowdhury said.

   Potatoes are the third staple crop for this country of 126 million people. Ms. Chowdhury said the government had recently started to export potatoes to help poor farmers.

   Bangladesh has overcome the effects of last year's devastating floods, which destroyed 4 million tonnes of rice in the fields. The losses were offset partly through imports and partly by increased production of the Boro variety of rice paddy, estimated at 9 million tonnes this summer.

   Ms. Chowdhury said the increase in Boro production was made possible, despite a prolonged drought, by extended irrigation.

   However, the drought threatened production of jute, the country's chief cash crop and the source of some U.S.$350 million in annual export revenue for the cash-strapped country. Bangladesh's total annual exports are worth U.S.$5 billion.

   Jute production this year may drop by 33% because of delayed planting from the drought, Ms. Chowdhury said. The jute crop needs a lot of moisture in the soil to grow, she said.