Bangladesh ranks third globally in food import: FAO

In 2021 Bangladesh imported around 12.5 million tonnes of food products from the global market. This ranks Bangladesh at the third place among food importing countries.

This was revealed in the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s recently published World Food and Agriculture Annual Statistical Booklet 2023.

According to FAO, Bangladesh produced around 93.3 million tonnes of agricultural produce in 2021. In the same year, the country imported around 12.5 million tonnes of food products from the global market. The highest food import expenditure is still made on wheat, edible oil and milk powder.

Indicating that the cost of import-dependent food products in Bangladesh is high, FAO stated that the per capital consumption of edible oil, meat, milk and such nutritious food is the lowest. In other words, the people of the country consume these food products relatively less than consumed in other countries. However, the per capital consumption of food produced in the country, like rice, vegetable, fish and fruit, is good. In this category, the people of Bangladesh are ahead in calorie consumption.

Agriculture minister Abdur Razzak, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "We have taken initiative to increase the production of import-dependent food products. Production of edible oil, onions and lentils is increasing as a result of innovating new varieties and providing incentives to the farmers. We hope these agricultural products will curb Bangladesh's dependence on imported agricultural products."

Third in imports, lagging in exports

According to the FAO report, Bangladesh falls far behind in food exports. And in food imports, Bangladesh ranks third among food-importing countries globally. China ranks first in food imports. The Philippines comes up second. The top five countries in food exports are, in order, US, UK, Germany, China and France. Bangladesh is at the near the bottom.

Bangladesh ranks third in rice production only among the six main food products of the world. It does not rank among the top five countries in the production of wheat, corn, sugar, edible oil and potatoes. In the past years Bangladesh imported the first four products. It was not necessary to import potatoes. In fact, Bangladesh would export potatoes. With the price of potatoes suddenly shooting up this year, Bangladesh has now entered the list of potato importing countries.

Director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Binayak Sen, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "We have scope to increase production of agriculture products like sugar cane and onions. India has been quite successful in this area. We have to get help from them in this regard." He said, Bangladesh depends on India for food grains like wheat. But in recent times India has clamped down on its export of wheat, onions and some other food products. Some countries are exporting these on quota basis. Diplomatic efforts are required to ensure Bangladesh is included in this quota and can import food in times of emergency.

Bangladesh ranks among the top ten countries in the world in the production of 22 agricultural products. These include rice, masur dal (lentils), potato, onions, tea and such products as well as various fruits.

'Increase consumption of local vegetable and fish'

FAO has projected a rather dreary picture of Bangladesh's food exports. In 2022, Bangladesh export food products of USD 975,000. Half of this was frozen seafood including shrimps and sea fish. It also exported fruit and vegetables, food grains like rice and corn, meat, edible oil, ghee, honey and dairy products, the target consumers being expatriate Bangladeshis. This are hardly exported for the international market of multinational companies.

The FAO report says, Bangladesh's dependence on food import from the global market is increasing. In 2010 Bangladesh imported 9.3 per cent of its total food demand, and in 2022 that went up to 11.2 per cent. In that span of time, Bangladesh's imports of rice, wheat and edible oil has been rising. But due to the dollar crisis, hardly any rice was imported this year. Wheat imports also fell by 30 per cent from the normal volume.

The report highlighted the per capita consumption of calories of all countries. Globally on average, each person consumes 2978 calories per day. In Asia that average is 2931 calories. In Bangladesh the per capital calorie consumption is 2614 calories. In Bangladesh, of the total calories, 1288 calories is from rice and wheat or other food grain. Then comes edible oil with 203 calories, sugar with 83 calories, fruit 94 calories and potato 175 calories. People in Bangladesh get only 20 calories from meat, 55 calories from milk and eggs, 40 calories from soft drinks and 52 calories from fish.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Professor Nazma Shaheen of Dhaka University's Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, said, "Alongside increasing the production of nutritious foods, we must also increase the habit of eating such food. It is possible to get nutrition at low cost from food produced in the country. That is why we need to reduce dependence on imported nutritious food and increase consumption of local vegetables and fish."

According to FAO, Bangladesh ranks among the top ten countries in the world in the production of 22 agricultural products. These include rice, masur dal (lentils), potato, onions, tea and such products as well as various fruits. Bangladesh entered the top ranking lost over the last decade in the production of certain vegetables like pumpkin, cauliflower and such.        

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