Food security, a concept with different dimensions, pervades the public policy domain. Worlds Food Summit [WFS] provides a workable definition of food security in an inter-temporal framework with modifications to reflect the changes in the imperatives in consideration to changes in context.
The concepts, though emerged in 1974 at the time of global food crisis, dealt mainly with the supply issues that interact with the demand to ensure stability of the price of food stuffs. The vulnerability of the poor people in the shortage of food supply was a major concern during the last four decades. The balance of demand and supply of foodstuffs through appropriate policies was the main concern because a sharp rise in price of the basic staple foods is a concern for the policy makers. The illustrated Engels law tells people at the lower income bracket spends a lions’ share of their income on foodstuffs and in the face of increase they reach at the very bottom of nourishment.
The main hinge of the World Bank Report in 1986, captioned as “Poverty and Hunger” introduced the dichotomy between chronic food insecurity and transitory food insecurity. Bangladesh never faced chronic food insecurity - thanks to pursuance of sound policies backed up by substantial public investments in technology, rural infrastructure and human capital. The country attained self-sufficiency in production level. Indeed, the input package was subsidised and withdrawal on import duties on agricultural machineries accelerated food production. The current production of over 36 million tons is more than three times the base  year production of 10 million tons. Floods of 1988 and 2000 could not make a perceptible impact on food availability and there were no perceptible increase in food prices.
Unfortunately, the very recent transitory food insecurity is without any natural disaster and may be the lack of farsightedness on the part of the government on many pertinent issues such as the food stock, variation in international food prices, fluctuations in domestic food production and household income that determines cumulative effective demand for foodstuffs. The increasing prices of cereals are a concern on the food security issue. The current quoted prices by the Directorate of Marketing on wholesale and retail price of rice are Tk. 40 and Tk. 45 respectively though the coarse rice in retail market is sold above Tk.50. When the price of foodstuffs exceeded a threshold level, the marginal class fell into poverty trap. This manifests deterioration in poverty situation which Bangladesh could manage to improve over time to attain the developing country status from the least developed category. Climate change and natural disaster may often be the cause of loss of production and in the face higher food prices in international market; the transitory insecurity may be a cause of social instability. Again in the lack of appropriate policies and infrastructures, the glut in the production may lower the price to such an extent that future production may suffer. The incentive structure of agricultural production is mired in the cobweb pattern of production and in the lack of appropriate policies, the demand and supply may not match and thus results in price uncertainty. Take the current glut of potato production. The excess production is hurting the farmers who do not get a fair price at the farm level.
Bangladesh is at the 89th position in the Global Food Security Index-2017 [GFSI] among the 118 countries for which the index is calculated. The Index value for Bangladesh is 39.7. Ireland is the top country in the world surpassing the United States. The index is the brainchild of Economist Intelligence Unit and is linked closely with the 17 criteria of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, Bangladesh is in the lowest position among the South Asian countries. The Index considers 18 different criteria such as agricultural import tariffs, production volatility and public expenditure on agricultural R & D and has parallelism with 17 SDGs. The link with SDG binds the 118 countries in a framework that could help attainment of both SDG and food security at the same platform. The index includes many dimensions besides the conventional demand supply miss match and the international variation in prices but also includes the link between food security and climate change. There is reference of Bangladesh on the issue of food security and climate change; “the impact on lives and livelihoods from rising oceans could increasingly force large movements of populations, as well as wiping out big areas of agricultural land.”
The index highlighted the challenges and the strength of Bangladesh in the calculation of this index. The criteria includes economic, socio-economic and political variable. The strength lies in the nutritional standards, volatility of agricultural production, food safety, food loss and urban absorption capacity. The challenges are inadequate public expenditure on agricultural R&D, corruption, diet diversification, micronutrient availability, protein quality, and food consumption as percentage of household expenditure. When these challenges are compared in an international perspective, Bangladesh profile is very low from the threshold level of 25. While the world food consumption as percentage of total household expenditure is 30 per cent, the household expenditure on food in Bangladesh is 56 percent. When food consumption constitutes a hefty percentage of total expenditure, there is a risk of malnutrition in food shortage and in the maintenance of food safety net.
It is always pragmatic to consider the development in an international perspective that unfolds scope for improvement. GFSI may work as a guide to bolster the image on many issues and may be instrumental in attaining the SDG on time.
The writer is a professor of Economics, United International University