If population 14cr, food in surplus
The preliminary findings of the latest census that put the country's population at 142.3 million do not correspond with the current figures of domestic demand for food, its production and import.
"Had the population been 142.3 million, we should have been sitting on sacks full of food grains now, and there would have been no requirement of food import," Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said yesterday.
Talking to The Daily Star exclusively, she said, "I can say the preliminary findings are at best unrealistic. There is a big gap between the census outcome and the reality."
The agriculture ministry has confirmed that the country's cereal output was over 30 million tonnes both in fiscal 2009-10 and 2010-11. The volume of output is sufficient to meet the annual food demand of 150 million people provided they consume the standard per capita 182.5 kg of rice.
Matia said she will raise the issue at the next cabinet meeting so that a constructive debate follows. She, however, hoped final report of the census due to be released in September would give a better picture of the population and food demand.
Officials of both the ministries of food and agriculture mentioned that over 5.3 tonnes of rice and wheat were imported in fiscal 2010-11, the highest ever volume of food grains import.
The agriculture minister said the domestic production and imports last year together could meet the food needs of over 160 million people.
She emphasised the need for accurate statistics since sound decisions relating to the plans and investments of a country depend on proper statistics.
Contacted, experts spoke of a mismatch between some sets of cesnsus statistics.
Dr Mahabub Hossain, who keeps a constant watch on food statistics in the country, said if the population is 142.3 million, then the country should have surplus food in hand.
"There must be a mismatch somewhere in any of the statistics. We've to revisit three statistics to get things right -- the size of population, grain production volume and per capita rice consumption level," said Mahabub, a former head of social science division at the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and now executive director of Brac.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies will carry out a post-census sample survey. "The census statistics can be readjusted once we get the margin of error," said Mahabub, also a former director general of BIDS.
The preliminary findings of the Population and Housing Census 2011 were released on July 16 at a press conference in the capital. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics officials said on that day the tally could increase by five to seven percent in the final report of the census.
Mahabub said if there is any margin of error in the census process and if that is identified, the total tally could always be readjusted as it happened after the 2001 census also.
On reports that many people were left out of the headcount when enumerators were to go door-to-door for the census, he said he also is among them.
Dr Hamid Miah, IRRI liaison officer in Bangladesh, said, "There is a mismatch between the population and the food production figures."
He went on, "Besides the population census, we need a fresh field-based statistics of food production."