Foodgrain production in many areas of the country has been adversely affected by both drought and floods in recent months. In the north-west of the country, around Dinajpur, a record 21 inches (535 mm) of rain fell in 24 hours at the end of September, causing massive flash-flooding, while in Mymensingh, Comilla, Dhaka and Manikganj the aman (main crop) paddy fields were flooded for the third time, ruining the late crop there. The floods meant that the harvest of the transplanted aman rice crop, sown between July and September, could not make up for the disappointing harvest of the aman crop sown by traditional broadcasting in March and April, which had been badly affected by the very hot, dry summer.
According to early reports, up to 1.6m tons of the aman rice crop were lost in the northern districts, representing 35% of the 4.6m tons forecast to be grown in the area and about 17% of the country's total aman rice crop. Altogether about 810,000 ha of the standing rice crop were destroyed, with losses reported in 51 out the country's 64 districts. Overall, aman losses were estimated at more than 2.6m tons, because the floods took place at the end of September, giving farmers no chance of replanting.
--and a serious shortfall is expected
In August the World Food Programme (WFP) had estimated total rice production in Bangladesh in 1995/96 at 16.7m tons and the total foodgrain requirement for the country at 20.5m tons. At that time, the WFP estimated the total foodgrain production shortfall at 753,000 tons. The aman losses of 2.6m tons in September mean that the shortfall will have risen to around 3.3m tons, a figure confirmed by the food ministry at the beginning of November.
Later in the month the food minister, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, said that the deficit may turn out to be less than 3.3m tons, because the area planted to aman rice had increased this year by 1.4%, and wheat production had risen by 200,000 tons to 1.4m tons. Consequently he forecast a maximum shortfall of 2.9m tons, possibly falling to 2.5m tons.
Announcing measures to deal with the food shortage, Mr Bhuiyan said that the donors had committed 900,000 tons of grain as food aid and that the government would be importing a further 725,000 tons, with the private sector expected to import 1m tons. The government would pay for whatever food the country needed this season from its own resources or from normal food aid and would not be seeking special foreign assistance.
However, the high price of rice and wheat on the international market underlines the seriousness of the situation. Even if the food is available, it might be too expensive for many of the people most in need, unless its price is heavily subsidised.