What was known to be 1 percent loss of cultivable land annually based on 1983-84 agriculture census, no longer holds good. A study conducted in 2008 shows an increase in the cultivated land by 0.8 million hectares over the figure in previous census. Thus effectively nearly two and a half decades up to 2008 annual rate of decline stood at 0.3 percent.
In the main, however, all the statistical gymnastics give rise to a number of questions. In the first place, even the new statistic has become obsolete at least by 4 years because the last series of findings date back to 2008. Secondly, planning for agriculture was flawed because it kept out of consideration the increase in arable lands during 24 years preceding the benchmark year. Last but not least, arrangements for inputs like irrigation, fertiliser and seed or sapling could not correspond to the ground realities in terms of exact land area under cultivation.
We, therefore, endorse the views of Mahbub Hossain, Executive Director of Brac, that since food security hinges on the availability of land the government should conduct a detailed research to find out the total land available for agriculture.
The pressure of urbanisation, industrialisation and paving new roads is inexorable but the land is scarce. This being a given we have to offset the losses through adoption of a composite strategy. It should be inclusive of identifying new accretions, developing soil capital, reclaiming fallow lands and, above all, restoring grabbed lands to government hands. In this way, we can add significantly to the total cultivable area.
To top these up, we must have the right policy package whereby farmers get remunerative prices for their produces along with some incentives in order that they are beholden to farming. Besides, new storage facilities will have to be built up on a priority basis to rev up agriculture extensively.