A roundtable on ‘Agricultural Innovation and Agribiotechnology for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security in Bangladesh’ was held on 28 June 2022, organised by Farming Future Bangladesh and Prothom Alo. Selected excerpts of the roundtable are presented in this supplement.
Rakha Hari Sarker, Professor, Department of Botany, University of Dhaka
Md. Shahjahan Kabir, Director General, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)
Md. Benojir Alam, Director General, Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE)
Gregory Jaffe, Associate Director, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Alliance for Science
Nazma Shaheen, Professor, The Institute of Nutrition and Food Science (INFS), University of Dhaka
Md. Abdul Kader, Principal Scientific Officer, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)
Md. Farhad Zamil, Country Director, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture Bangladesh
Md. Abdul Kader, National Lead Agronomist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Abu Noman Faruq Ahmmed, Chairman, Department of Plant Pathology, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University
Tasnima Mahjabin, Senior Scientific Officer, Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training on Applied Nutrition (BIRTAN)
A S M Nahiyan, Principal Scientist, Advanced Seed Research and Biotech Centre, ACI Ltd. Bangladesh
Abdul Quayum, Associate Editor, Prothom Alo
Moderator: Md. Arif Hossain, CEO & Executive Director, Farming Future Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a small country teeming with a big population. That is why, some innovative initiatives need to be taken to produce more food while maintaining nutritional value. On the other hand, the agricultural land is declining for urbanization. In this case, we have to focus on producing more food in small area while keeping the nutritional value. Food production decreases due to various reasons including climate change, floods, salinity which need to be considered. Harvesting paddy before the floods is very important. The easy access and use of modern agricultural technology by farmers should be considered as well. I hope today's discussion will play a significant role in agriculture.
Rakha Hari Sarker
Bangladesh has the highest potential in agriculture. With that in mind, the food and nutrition security is also important. In order to meet the food demand of our population, we have to take advantage of the immense potential of biotechnology. However, in this case, biosafety needs to be ensured.
The contribution of agriculture to the GDP is 19.6 percent. To earn their livelihood, 83% of the population in Bangladesh are involved with agriculture. Agriculture is associated with human life. After the Liberation War, the population of Bangladesh was 8.5 crore and the country faced food shortage at that time. Plenty of food had to imported from abroad. But at present the population of the country is more than 16 crores but now it is not necessary to import much.
Our population is growing, while our arable land is declining at a rate of 1.2 percent per year. Although Bangladesh has made great strides in agriculture, providing food to the country’s growing population remains a major challenge. Again, there is considerable doubt as to how much people are getting nutritious food.
Innovative crops need to be cultivated that can adapt with the climate change as well as with the decreasing of arable land at a rapid and alarming rate. Due to salinity, floods, drought, etc., agricultural production in Bangladesh is being affected. Apart from this, crop production is being disrupted due to the outbreak of various diseases, insect infestation, fungal infestation, and other reasons.
There is a global consensus on the potential risks of developing new crops using biotechnology, especially with the aim of ensuring biodiversity and the safety of human health. In that sense, it is important to follow biosafety regulations to manage modern biotechnology successfully. Bangladesh is a supporter of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, so Bangladesh is committed to comply with the biodiversity provisions.
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute has started cultivation of pest resistant Bt brinjal in 2013 with the application of agribiotechnology. Research is being done following the biosafety rules for the development of disease resistant varieties.
Their main purpose is to release one of the inventions of agribiotechnology, the Golden Rice for the betterment of humankind. In order to apply the technology successfully, we should move forward overcoming all obstacles. It should be noted that some new research in biotechnology is being implemented in the world. One of these is crop quality improvement by genome editing technology. It is important to formulate a clear and acceptable policy on how to eliminate genome editing in our country at the earliest. The government has formulated the necessary technology policies to implement biotechnology.
Md. Arif Hossain
In our country, we talk about sustainable food and nutrition security which requires innovative agriculture, agricultural biotechnology, gene engineering, gene editing and other advanced technologies. These issues need to be discussed. Bangladesh has a population of 16 crore. But for this huge population, the amount of land we have is not enough. Bangladesh's agronomists, researchers and farmers all have an integrated role to play in food production. We have achieved success in rice production. Hence, we have to go much further. Genetic engineering can play an important role in food security since agribiotechnology increases food production and the nutritional value of food. It plays an important role in the economic development of the country. India used to import cotton before but now exporting it with the use of agribiotechnology.
Food safety is important and how biotechnology will help to ensure it, should be our discussion. Exporting goods is also important. We are facing difficulties whether it is biotechnology or general process of manufacturing. Initiatives should be taken in this regard. Public-private partnerships (PPP) can play an important role in the use of biotechnology. It is necessary to take initiatives so that the results of public and private research reach the farmers quickly.
Abu Noman Faruq Ahmed
Including Bangladesh, the whole world's population is growing. The world's population is projected to exceed 950 billion by 2050. It is estimated that 60 percent more food will be produced than now. By 2030, about 40 percent of the world's population will suffer from food crisis.
We have been the benefitted by the green revolution that we started after independence. We have started the production of high yielding crop varieties. We have become self-sufficient in granular crops for various initiatives including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation. We have been succeeded in producing vegetables, fish and fruits. But there also have been some challenges. Pulses, oil, sugar are also essential products for us. If we want to increase the production of pulses, oil and sugar by 40 per cent, we have to think whether there will be any problem in the production of any crop including paddy.
There are many problems in our overall agriculture. The population is growing and the land is declining. The impact of climate change has to be addressed. Natural disasters are also a big problem. We have to think about these too. There are three things that need to be emphasized in the agriculture of the future- food security, sustainable and responsible agriculture. But our resources are limited. We want to produce much more with these limited resources. We should make the best use of our lands. So, we have transit from subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture.
The Global Gap, launched in 2006, is the Good Crop Production or Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) that ensures internationally recognized standards. From 2011 to 2013, most African countries launched their own global gaps. But today, even in 2022, the file of Bangladesh Gap is circulating in different tables.
In this case, the policy makers have failed. They did not play a responsible role. Responsible agriculture means we have to move towards biotechnology. Our corn production is higher but the demand is still not being met. We talk about the fourth industrial revolution and to be a high-income country within 2041. These aspirations will be fulfilled only when our agriculture will become sustainable. Today we have developed on various indices. The basis of this development is agriculture. Biotechnology has helped us to expand our agriculture. This technology will have to be used more in the future.
Md. Benojir Alam
We have almost achieved self-sufficiency in food grains production. Nonetheless, we are always concerned how long we can sustain this self-sufficiency. Every year 2.2 to 2.5 million people are getting involved to the food chain. We are deemed to pay more attention as it is required to produce extra food for them. We need to produce high yielding varieties for sustainable food security. As the arable land is declining, we need to increase vertical production. The profit gained from paddy is very less and considering paddy as the main crop, we will not be able to achieve success in agriculture. It is important to anticipate, what needs to be done to make agriculture profitable. Agriculture needs to be made more modern. Technology and machinery are being used in agriculture. But it needs to be enhanced further. Machines are being used to cut and thresh paddy. However, planting paddy is also a vital issue, and the use of instruments should be increased.
Due to low profit in agriculture, farmers still cultivate in the traditional way. Researchers say that 8 tonnes of crop can be produced per hectare of land. However, the farmers are not able to produce more than three to four tonnes. Unless we take effective initiatives in this regard, we will not be able to maintain self-sufficiency in granular crops.
Currently we are producing about 20 million tonnes of vegetables. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, people need to eat 250 grams of vegetables per day. Despite of this caliber of production we are not able to meet the demand. Increasing the production of vegetables and exporting them, we have come a long way. Even many foreign fruits are being cultivated in our country recently. Fruits are high value crops and farmers tend produce them with great importance and care. We are lagging behind in exports as we are not able to meet the standards required. However, we have effective initiatives in this regard. Vietnam earns 40 billion worth of agricultural products. This time we are expecting to export 1.5 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products. We hope that biotechnology will play a key role in the production of our agricultural products.
Md. Farhad Zamil
If we want to ensure food and nutrition security, biotechnology and Agro innovation are necessary. Contemporary aspects of agriculture should be taken into consideration while using technology. We have to go for research that are compatible with the environment. The results of the research should be quickly delivered to the farmers and to those who are within the value chain, so that they can work with it. The amount of land is decreasing and the demand for food is aggregating. The issue of nutrition must also be attended with urgency. Consumer tastes have changed. We also need to diversify our production. The research will benefit from various stakeholders including individual sector, farmers, consumers-based research.
The government necessarily should not be the sole authority to conduct research. It can be done in public-private partnerships as well. Many private owners are now investing in agribusiness. In this case, they have to think about how to be more involved in the agricultural sector. Providers of fertilizers and pesticides should be trained so that they can give proper advice to the farmers. There is a shortage of water in the Barendra area. Mango is the most valuable crop in that area and there is an ultra-high-density mango plantation. Earlier, 60 mango trees could be planted in 1 hectare of land and currently about 600 trees can be planted there. This technology must be disseminated everywhere. Farmers want to increase production and reduce costs. This can be done through the best use of pesticides. Through the use of technology, the farmers can reduce their labor cost. The farmers lose their investments in natural disasters. To address this problem, we have to produce weather-based crops.
Md. Abdul Kader
Rice is a major dietary staple food. Rice is not just produced to meet food demand. Nutrition has a big relationship with this. Our diet consists of six ingredients. We get 75 to 80 percent carbohydrates from rice, 60 to 75 percent nutrition and 8 to 10 percent fat. Rice also harbors enough minerals. For this reason, we do not only produce rice just to eat but to get many more ingredients. We have fortified rice with zinc, iron and vitamin A.
Food and nutrition security will take a longer to establish. Because, we have yet to able to meet its normal need. There are some barriers to the use of biotechnology, food security will not come if those are not removed. BRRI has conducted a lot of research with rice. From diabetes relief to Reich, BRRI has undertaken many initiatives that will ensure nutrition and food security, including antioxidants, Low G.I., black rice. BRRI does not have plan until 2050.
Once Bangladesh could not produce enough food for 70 million people even though the cultivable land was much more than it is now. That Bangladesh is now producing food for about 160 million people. Agricultural scientists have revolutionized agricultural production in our country for which we are grateful to them. Bangladesh is now playing a significant role in food production.
The population of Bangladesh is increasing day by day and will grow further in the future. Innovative agriculture has an important role to play in this regard. According to a recent study, there was a significant reduction in appetite among the Corona population in the past. Almost everyone except the poorest people ate enough food. The study also found that 30-40 percent of the population is at health risk as a result of inadequate intake of seven nutrients. So, it is not adequate only if food security is ensured. Food security is a must along with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will ensure good health for all and this will only be possible through a healthy diet. To ensure that, we need to focus on nutrition along with food production.
Our list of foods contains food with less and others with more nutrients. Therefore, consumption of enough food does not guarantee sufficient nutrition. To resolve this issue biotechnology and new innovations are definitely important.
It must be seriously considered whether the varieties being developed or will be developed through biotechnology have any additives or effects. High yielding varieties or disease resistant varieties are developed through crossing of different varieties such as domestic and foreign varieties. Biosafety is important to battle against the issue, but there is no regulation available for it in Bangladesh.
However, the recent research has shown the presence of new potential allergens in barley-invented lentils and mung beans. We will use biotechnology for human welfare, and it must be strictly ensured that it does not create new health problems or risks. Supervision should be maintained for both GMO and crossing. It remains to be seen whether biotechnology will have an adverse effect on the environment. Adequate funding needs to be ensured for these studies, including state-of-the-art laboratories.
Md. Abdul Kader
Others talking about the development of the agricultural sector makes me feel proud to be an agriculturist. We have come a long way in the production of paddy, maize, vegetables, and fruits. In particular, the issue of paddy production is discussed widely. Amount of cultivable land is declining and comparing it with the land of 1971, we will see that proportion of our paddy land has decreased. But with the amount of land decreased the amount production has quadrupled. In recent days enough paddy is being produced to feed 16 million people and genetic engineering is playing a vital role in this.
We need to take more bold steps towards advanced biotechnology. Gene crossing also falls under biotechnology. We have improved production in a few crops and food security has been ensured. According to the World Food Program, a couple of weeks ago, about four crore people in the country are still not getting the right amount of nutrition. Along with food security, the issue of nutrition security also needs to be considered seriously.
The population will increase further in the future. The amount of crop land will continue to decrease. In the current state of our production, we need to take production even higher. To do so, there is no alternative to gene engineering. Crop production should be increased by dealing with various natural calamities including floods, droughts, and tidal surges. Here too we have to rely on gene engineering.
Adequate production as well as sufficient nutrition should also be looked at. There have already been some successes in this regard. Hope to see more in the future. We have some highly nutritious foods that are consumed in less amounts, such as oats, barley, China, kaon etc. We need to raise awareness among the people about these issues.
We now have to move towards nutrition-based agriculture. And the issues of food security like access to food, adequacy, and type of food intake. Nutrition is lost to the kind of food intake. I think genetic engineering will help us with these issues. Another concern is public health. I have worked on the use of pesticides in eggplant. About 42 types of pesticides are being used in eggplant. It is stated which pesticides can be used in eggplant. But the farmers do not follow the guidelines. We need to be aware of these issues.
Our main target is to help the farmers. If the farmer could produce resources, in that case they will do even better. There is a great impact of Genetic Engineering. But the factor of nutrition security is very crucial in this regard. In most cases how much crop will be produced, that is considered. But whether its nutrition value is up to the mark is often left out.
We are capable of producing crops that can tolerate the adversity of the climate and environment. But we are not being concerned of the commercial products to that extent. Almost 1 Lac MT potato is produced. 75 thousand MT potato is we need. Unable to export 25 thousand MT potato properly. This quantity is more than that of the total production of Japan. Every year Japan imports potato. But for not being able to produce various nutrition-added procedures, we are unable to export potato to Japan. The farmers could improve with the production of standard commercial products. His socioeconomic state will improve.
I think the government needs to have plans, guidelines, and supervision in biotechnology. In this case, an international standard must be maintained. Science-based decisions have to be made. I think biotechnology is still not being used in Bangladesh while maintaining international standards. There must be transparency among those who will make decisions about this technology and who will apply it. Then success will come in crop production by using this method.
Md. Shahjahan Kabir
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published the Global Food Outlook in June 2020. They said that in 2022, our rice production would be 36.4 million tonnes. We expect 36.5 million tonnes from BRRI. We want to increase the production of Aman due to the floods. For this, I am holding a meeting with the hon’ble minister-Secretary. The annual food demand for our 170 million people is 25.31 million tonnes. Fish, livestock and other sectors need 10.12 million tonnes of food. Then we have more than 3 million food surpluses. These 3 million tonnes cannot be seen with the naked eye. According to one of our calculations, one person needs 405 grams of rice daily. Our food demand in one day is 70,000 tonnes of rice. Some 2.1 million tonnes of rice are required per month.
The 3 million tonnes of food surplus is probably 40 days’ worth of food. It is owned by many people, including mill owners and farmers. There is a supply of rice in the market. But the price is high. We also don’t think there’s any reason to be so expensive. Now there is no rice in the farmer’s house. The whole thing depends on the rice mill owners. This may be creating problems. In December, we produced 15 million tonnes. We have produced more than 20 million tonnes of Boro paddy. About 3.2 million tonnes of Aus paddy are also produced. We have no crisis in rice. The demand for wheat is 7.5 million tonnes. We have to import about 6.5 million tonnes of wheat.
BRRI has developed 108 varieties. We have developed wide new varieties, the yield of which is much higher. By 2050, the demand for food will increase significantly. We need to take different initiatives to meet this demand. Something special has to be done. Only biotechnology can solve this problem for us. Our food is wasted due to various reasons, including food processing. We need to reduce waste like these. Insects spoil food, so our scientists have started genome editing. We have developed 12 varieties that can tolerate salinity. Wheat has some gluten. Rice is absolutely gluten-free. No one can say that eating rice has caused damage. A study in the United States found that 100 grams of rice contain 100 grams of free sugar. Three hundred grams of free sugar in 100 grams of wheat. 3,200 mg in cauliflower. 6,600 mg in papaya. In countries where people eat rice, people are less obese.
In comparison, people in Europe and the United States are obese. Paddy production keeps the environment the best because paddy absorbs greenhouse gases. So, we have to make paddy production more profitable. In this case, there is no alternative to biotechnology for more production in less time. Now we need to use this method.
Md. Arif Hossain
On behalf of Farming Future Bangladesh and Prothom Alo, my gratitude to you all for your participation in today’s roundtable discussion. Thank you, everyone.
Nutritious and safe food should be ensured with innovative initiatives.
It is important to focus on genetic engineering as well as other agricultural innovations to combat the effects of climate change, increase food production and ensure public health.
Following the biotechnology policy, the use of biotechnology in agriculture should be increased to ensure future food demand and nutritional security.
More research should be conducted and emphasized in the use of agricultural technology and policy implementation based on science-based decisions.
All hurdles have to be overcome in successfully using agribiotechnology for sustainable agricultural development.
It is important to formulate a clear and acceptable policy regarding the liberalization and implementation of genome editing in the country.
Initiatives should be taken to expand agribiotechnology on a public-private partnership basis.