Approximately one percent of Bangladesh's total arable land is gone every year, and if this continues, the country will soon face a crisis in food production, land and environment experts said yesterday.
They came up with the cautionary remark at a roundtable on “Necessity of laws to protect arable land”, organised by Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), a non-government organisation, at Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka.
Experts suggested that the government should immediately approve the proposed “Protection and Usage of Agricultural Land Act” and implement it strictly in order to save the country from barrenness and food shortage.
Citing the data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) from 2015, ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda said the country is losing approximately 68,700 hectares of arable land every year -- most of it going to housing and industrialisation.
Besides, brick kilns are a major threat to arable land and the environment, as they mostly use top soil -- the most fertile part of land -- to produce bricks and burn a huge amount of fossil fuel, Huda said in the keynote presentation.
“The government in 2001 formed a policy to protect arable land but people hardly care about the policy. That's why, we need stringent law and its implementation,” he said.
A confusing situation has been created over the proposed act's approval as its draft was prepared in 2011. It was modified twice in 2015 and 2016. “We are yet to see the final draft or any sign of approval,” he added.
Huda alleged that a group of influential people, who want to use up arable land, are behind the delay.
ALRD Chairperson Khushi Kabir said, “The government doesn't seem to be serious about introducing the act… Laws are passed in the parliament, and most of the parliament members are involved in the non-agricultural sector.”
Besides, the parliament has no “effective opposition party” that can protest this, she added.
“So, the responsibility falls on us. For the sake of our country's future, we, the civil society, have to raise our voices and put pressure on the government so that it approves and implements the act immediately,” said the noted activist.
Dhaka University Professor MM Akash said the government's goal to be a middle-income country will not be sustainable if Bangladesh does not have enough land to produce its own food.
Former judge of Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Nizamul Haque, said, “If arable land is not protected, our future will see extinction.”
Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) Executive Director Meghna Guhathakurta and INCIDIN Bangladesh Executive Director AKM Masud Ali, among others, spoke at the discussion.