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Food Security at a Glance

Bangladesh Poverty Map 2005 (Percent Below the Lower Poverty Line)
Bangladesh Poverty Map 2005_Below Lower Poverty Line
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According to the World Food Summit (1996), “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Food security encompasses many issues ranging from food production and distribution to food preferences and health status of individuals.

Food security in Bangladesh is characterized by considerable regional variations. Factors such as tendency to natural disasters, distribution and quality of agricultural land, access to education and health facilities, level of infrastructure development, employment opportunities, and dietary and caring practices provide possible explanations for this. The map (above) presents the proportion of the population below the poverty line, highlighting geographic distribution trends.  There is a similarity between levels of poverty and levels of food insecurity. The poorest upazilas are in the northwest, the coastal belt, Mymensingh, Netrakona, Bandarban and Rangamati. Districts with more than one million people living in extreme poverty include Sirajganj, Naogaon, Bogra, Mymensingh and Chittagong. Poverty can be a cause and an outcome of food insecurity. Households that are poor lack the means to acquire sufficient and nutritious food, and are likely to be food insecure; people who are food insecure may have to sell or consume their productive assets to satisfy their immediate food needs. This undermines their longer-term income potential and they may become poor. Although Bangladesh has achieved progress in poverty reduction, there remains widespread poverty and hunger at national and regional levels. There are also marked variations in poverty incidence between rural and urban Bangladesh.


Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Methodology

In Bangladesh, approximately half the population lives in poverty. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics uses two different approaches to measure poverty: the direct calorie intake (DCI) method, and the cost-of-basic-needs (CBN) method. The DCI method measures the calorie intake per capita per day. If this is below 2,122 kcal, it is defined as “absolute poverty”, whilst “hard-core poverty” refers to a calorie intake of less than 1,805 kcal per capita per day. In the CBN method, poverty lines are calculated based on the per capita expenditure required to meet basic food needs plus an allowance for non-food consumption. Firstly, a food poverty line is established which is equal to the cost of a fixed food bundle, providing the minimum nutritional requirement of 2,122 kcal per day per person. A non-food poverty line is calculated by estimating the cost of consuming non-food goods by the households close to food poverty line. The “lower poverty line” adds an amount equal to the typical non-food expenditure of households whose total expenditure is equal to the food poverty line. The “upper poverty line” adds an amount equal to the typical non-food expenditure of households whose food expenditure is equal to the food poverty line. Because prices vary among geographical areas, poverty lines are calculated separately for different regions. In this atlas, extreme poverty refers to those people living below the lower poverty line.



Food availability is ensured by adequate domestic production, net food imports, aid and national food stocks. However, even when aggregate food supplies are adequate, a number of factors in Bangladesh prevent poor households or individuals from accessing food. Their income levels may be too low to purchase the necessary foods at prevailing prices on the market, they may not have access to land for own cultivation, or may lack the necessary assets or access to credit to help cope with difficult times. Furthermore, they may find themselves outside any public assistance or programme that provides them with in-kind or cash transfers to supplement their food acquisition capacity.

In rural Bangladesh, most of the income of a poor household is derived from agricultural wage employment. However, household members may be engaged in a whole range of different activities during the year. Dependency on agricultural wage labor leaves a household vulnerable to cyclical food insecurity as agricultural employment opportunities vary according to season. During the lean seasons, March-April and October-November, prior to harvesting the main rice crops, job opportunities are low, resulting in low wage rates, while food prices are at their highest. Income derived from non-agricultural sources provides a possible safeguard against the cyclical nature of agricultural income and therefore can improve household food security.

Food security of the country has been significantly and adversely affected by recent rising of food prices, and the amount of food insecure populations increased. The country’s food insecure population is now estimated to be 65.3 million people; nearly half (45 percent) of the country’s 145 million population is now food insecure (< 2122 kcals/person/day), and nearly one-quarter (23.9 percent) of the population is understood as severely food insecure (consuming less than 1 805 kcals/person/day). Due to the rise in food prices and other basic essentials, the GoB has announced a significant expansion of food security oriented safety net programmes for 2008/09.

Rice is the staple food, contributing to over 63 percent of the caloric intake for urban consumers and over 71 percent for the rural population based on 2005 household survey data by BBS. The percentages are much higher for the poor. Food expenditures accounted for nearly 54 percent of total consumption expenditures, a share approaching 60 percent in rural areas. A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) was conducted in early 2008. The Mission estimates a national average Boro rice yield of 3.78 t/ha, an increase of 9.05 percent above the national yield for the previous year of 3.52 t/ha. Rice production is estimated at 17.539 million tonnes, approximately 17 percent above the previous year and 29 percent over the five-year average.

This increase of production was mainly due to favorable weather conditions and extra efforts made by farmers and the Government in response to the high rice prices and production loss of 1.4 million tonnes in the 2007 Aman season following severe flooding and Cyclone Sidr. Due to flooding damage to transplanted Aman crops, farmers planted more Boro rice and used more inputs received for rehabilitation. The high price of rice in the local market influenced farmers to cultivate each and every available plot for Boro rice.


Food Consumption and Dietary Diversity

Food consumption behavior, nutritional status, health and food security are affected by socio-cultural factors determining food availability, access and utilization. Poverty, gender, age and disability, geographical location and cultural practices are important factors that effect food consumption patterns. Poverty directly influences food consumption due to lack of access to resources, knowledge and markets. Gender disparities in food distribution can cause malnutrition, especially for pregnant/lactating mothers and children. Lack of incomes is the principal driver of under-consumption and malnutrition for approximately 40 percent of Bangladeshis who live under the poverty line. Households most vulnerable to food insecurity include those that lack productive assets and depend on inconsistent sources of daily wage labor. Groups such as landless, agricultural day laborers, casual fishermen and beggars fall into this category. Within households, children, the disabled, pregnant women and nursing mothers, and the elderly face relatively high nutritional risks. Over 60 percent of all pregnant and lactating women have insufficient caloric intake, which can produce malnourished babies.

The human body energy requirement is the amount of dietary energy needed to maintain health, growth, and an appropriate level of physical activity. A study, conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies/ BIDS in 2008, shows that the mean total food intake for all ages and sex of average Bangladeshi population is 681 grams. The energy that an individual can derive from this food is 1894 kcal. Of the total energy intake, 76 percent comes from cereals, 17 percent from non-cereal plant sources, and 6 percent from animal sources. Considering the per capita per day energy requirement (2187 kcal) and intake (1894 kcal), there is a mean gap of energy of 293 kcal per person. Consumption patterns show that rice is the dominant energy source, which may lead to malnutrition.

Market availability of, and household access to food are not sufficient to guarantee food security. It is also important how household members utilize the food. Women, children, the elderly and the disabled often suffer from inequalities in food distribution within a household: often they eat last and least.



Bangladesh has made substantial advances in educational attendance and achievement during the past two decades. Attitudes about the importance of education have begun to shift during the past ten years. In most parts of the country, all villages have their own primary school. The government also launched programs like Food for Education and stipend for the poor students to enhance literacy among the poor. In addition, there is an extensive network of NGO schools.

In 2005, 52 percent of the population over the age of seven was literate. The corresponding rates for rural and urban areas were 46.7 percent and 67.9% percent, respectively. In some areas, literacy rates are much higher among men. Children who do not attend school will most likely grow into adults unable to read, write or do simple arithmetic. In Bangladesh, according to HIES 2005, at the national level, the enrollment rate in the age of 6-11 years was 80 percent, 79.47 percent in rural areas and 84 percent in urban areas. Drop out rates are higher for boys than girls because boys are forced to leave school in order to assist the household in income-generating activities.


Health, Nutrition and Food Utilization

Food utilization is determined by food safety and quality, how much a person eats and how a person metabolizes food to energy, nutritional status and growth. Adequate food utilization requires a diet providing sufficient energy and essential nutrients, potable water, adequate sanitation, access to health services, proper feeding practices and illness management.

Proper care during pregnancy and child birth are important to the health of both mother and a child. An infant born to a mother that is undernourished will likely be low in weight. If the infant survives, her growth will be more likely to falter. The stunted child has a decreased ability to learn in school and acquire other essential skills. She/he will be more susceptible to chronic diseases. For young women during their childbearing years, they may give birth to low-weight children. Half of the children in Bangladesh face this scenario.

Malnutrition, particularly chronic energy deficiency (CED) and anemia, contribute to poor maternal health and pregnancy outcomes for both mother and child. Severe anemia increases the risk of maternal mortality which accounts for over one-third of maternal deaths. Recent data indicates that 40 percent of adolescent girls, 46 percent of non-pregnant and 39 percent of pregnant women are anemic. In Bangladesh, 36 percent of the births are birthed underweight. Malnutrition rates in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. Approximately 50 percent of children under the age of five are stunted and underweight (WB, 2004).

Data from the 2007 BDHS shows that the under-five mortality is 65 per 1000 births. This means that one in 15 children born in Bangladesh dies before their fifth birthday. The infant mortality rate is 52 deaths per 1000 live births and the child mortality rate is 14 per 1000 children surviving to 12 months of age. Between the period 1989-1993 and 2002-2006, infant mortality declined by 40 percent, from 87 deaths per 1000 live births to 52 deaths per 1000 live births.

Access to safe water, proper sanitation and adequate health facilities are important aspects of nutritional status. Unsafe drinking water and lack of proper sanitation are leading causes of diarrhea and other infections. When these infections repeatedly affect a child, they become a cause of malnutrition. The use of unsafe water for bathing, washing clothes and kitchen utensils is a source of diarrhea and other infections. The use of open space as a toilet is associated with the highest rates of malnutrition.



Vulnerability can be defined as the exposure and sensitivity to livelihood shocks and risks. Households in Bangladesh face a variety of risks which can, individually or in combination, force them into poverty. There are shocks that affect many households at once, likely to overwhelm social coping strategies based upon support within families and communities, and there are case-specific shocks that impact contained units. Vulnerability can be lessened by reducing exposure to risks and increasing the household’s ability to cope with shocks, but responses depend on the scope and severity of damage.

In Bangladesh, damage caused by natural disasters is one of the main risks faced by poor households. Every year, floods, cyclones, erosion, and droughts cause extensive damage to crops, houses, livestock, household and community assets, which can lead to illness and death. Disasters hamper physical access to food, food stocks and crops are destroyed, and markets are temporarily dysfunctional which can lead to an increase in the price of essential foods. Natural disasters directly affect household food security status by undermining their asset base and, indirectly, through a loss of employment opportunities, an increase in health expenditure and an increase in necessary food expenditure.


Food Vulnerability

Food vulnerability is manifested in two ways: inadequate access to food throughout the year and acute food shortage on a seasonal basis. Food security indicators developed by Murshed, et al. (2008) study show that 7 percent of households faced acute distress in accessing food on regular basis, while up to 30 percent of households encountered such conditions sometimes, marking the latter group as potentially highly food vulnerable. Besides, 12-15 percent of households had chronic under-consumption and "worry about food access frequently," while up to 30 percent of households confronted such food vulnerability sometimes. A recent IRRI synthesis of Food Security for Sustainable Household Livelihoods (FoSHoL) Programme shows that more than two-thirds of landless and marginal agriculture-dependent, resource-poor households faced food crisis in the months of Kartik, Aswin, Choitra and Boishakh when they had to reduce the number of meals and quantity and quality of foods. Some households ate reduced portions/ fewer meals throughout the year.

Poor households adopt a range of strategies to cope with hazards in Bangladesh. As a first response, households typically reduce the number and the quality of meals consumed, and/or switch to cheaper but less preferred foods. Often, elderly and female members of the household are the first to reduce their food intake, allowing men and children to eat as normal. As the crisis persists, households increasingly adopt more drastic methods of coping. Female members of the household, who for cultural reasons normally do not engage in work, take up manual labor. In addition, children are taken out of school to engage in income-generating activities, and male members migrate to urban areas in search of employment. A widely practiced strategy for reducing food insecurity is taking loans from relatives and moneylenders, or salary advances from employers. This is often followed by consumption and sale of animal and household assets.  



Control Area


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