Poverty has steadily declined over the last 20 years in Bangladesh. However 47 million people still live in poverty—the highest levels in South Asia—and 28 million of these people are classified as extremely poor, which means they are not able to satisfy their minimum food needs. Another 26 million people are also at risk of falling into poverty. Elimination of extreme poverty is seen by many as one of the hardest challenges facing Bangladesh … A key driver of economic growth in Bangladesh has been the private sector, through productivity gains in agriculture, small-scale entrepreneurship and garment export. Agriculture remains the largest employer in Bangladesh with approximately 22.7 million people or 48 per cent of the labour force working in the sector.
—Aid Investment Plan, Bangladesh, 2015–16 to 2018–19, DFAT
Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. It is a fertile, low-lying alluvial plain situated on the delta of three rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, making its people vulnerable to extreme weather and flooding.
Australia is helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty and respond to climate change.
Bangladesh is modernising quickly, supported by solid annual economic growth averaging 6% over the last decade. Poverty levels have halved, and real per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has almost quadrupled.
More than 15 million people have moved out of poverty since 1992, but nearly a fifth of the population (47 million people) are still below the poverty line, the highest per capita poverty levels in South Asia. 28 million of these people are extremely poor, which means they cannot satisfy their minimum food needs. Many more could fall back into poverty if they lose their jobs or natural disasters strike. Political instability has disproportionately affected the poor, exposing them to danger and price rises. The poor cannot easily move to find work, which limits their opportunities to earn an income.
Climate change threatens food production. Seasonal climate variability, reduced freshwater river flows, and seawater all damage low-lying areas and rainfed cropping systems. The monsoon season brings catastrophic heavy summer rains, cyclones and floods.
Bangladesh has a favourable geographical position, with two sea ports. Regional integration, especially with landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan, and north-eastern India, could help Bangladesh’s economy to grow. An active civil society has given Bangladesh a reputation for innovation.
Agriculture contributes around 15% of GDP, and almost half of the 54 million-strong labour force work in agriculture. Rice is the main crop, but wheat, jute, sugar cane, pulses, spices, tea and fruits and vegetables are also grown.
The development vision for agriculture under the 7th Five Year Plan (2016-2020) is to ensure food and nutritional security, sustainable intensification and diversification of climate resilient agricultural systems. It will transform agriculture from nearly subsistence farming to commercial agriculture through technological innovations, a stronger research and extension system, supply chains, and linking farmers with both local and global markets.
The 7th Plan seeks to ensure women's advancement as self-reliant human beings and reduce discriminatory barriers. In agriculture, the Bangladeshi Government plans to develop women-friendly technologies and business environments. Women will participate more in market transactions and technological innovation, and become small-scale entrepreneurs. The government will also recruit more female agricultural workers. The Plan also promotes collective action and market linkages, and adds agricultural value to homesteads.
The Australian aid program promotes stability in Bangladesh and engages Bangladesh as a partner on mutual interests in South Asia. It supports regional approaches to regional challenges, including managing natural resources, improving trade connectivity and encouraging investments to empower women to participate in cross-regional trade opportunities.
Bangladesh has been an ACIAR partner country since the mid-1990s. ACIAR’s approach includes research on conservation agriculture, farm mechanisation, saline land management and adaptation to climate change, particularly in rice–wheat and rice–maize systems. Bangladesh is developing research linkages with eastern India and Nepal, which have similar farming systems, production limits and technologies across the Eastern Gangetic Plains.
The Krishi Gobeshona Foundation, a Bangladeshi agricultural research funding organisation, has become a key partner for ACIAR in Bangladesh since 2015, and is now co-investing in three projects. The KGF is working on the intensification of cropping systems in the salt-affected coastal zone of southern Bangladesh. Poverty, food insecurity, environmental vulnerability and limited livelihood opportunities disadvantage millions of people living in this zone. In these low-lying intertidal areas, where saline water intrusion and monsoonal flooding are great problems, the project will improve crop, soil, water and salt management to increase incomes and improve livelihoods.
ACIAR senior staff develop priorities for collaboration through consulting leaders of agricultural research and development (R&D) institutions and government bodies in Bangladesh. They are concerned that Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate change will affect its food security. Because many South Asian countries have common obstacles to agricultural production, ACIAR is strengthening links between Bangladesh and other countries in South and South-East Asia, particularly India (Bihar and West Bengal states) and Nepal (eastern Terai region). Southern Bangladesh is the poorest and the most vulnerable region, and is a priority for the Bangladesh Government.
ACIAR identified the following research priorities:
- intensifying and diversifying climate-resilient farming systems
- conservation agriculture approaches to soil and water management
- empowering women and marginalised communities
- intensifying cropping in the rice-wheat system, with a focus on the southern region
- improving smallholders’ livelihoods and human nutrition through diversification into legumes, such as mungbean and chickpea
- responding to the wheat blast epidemics, detected in Bangladesh in February 2016
- Improved management of fertiliser for increased productivity and sustainability