Bangladesh faces both challenges and opportunities for agriculture-led growth and food security. Since 2000, its GDP has grown at an average rate of six percent. Rice production has tripled over the last 30 years. The extreme ($1.25 per day) poverty rate fell from about 59 percent in 2000 to about 43 percent in 2010. Yet Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of undernutrition in the world, with poverty, lack of access to agricultural land, and poor eating habits contributing. Similarly, Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child stunting. Forty-eight percent of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector and a large majority of the rural population is involved in fisheries. Population growth, urbanization and soil and natural resource depletion have led to degradation of Bangladesh’s land, water bodies, wetlands, and forests and pose a significant threat to the agriculture sector. Gender-related factors further complicate food insecurity and undernutrition: Women are heavily engaged in agriculture but do not have access to extension services or other inputs like seeds and fertilizer. They are also often the last to eat at mealtimes.
Policy improvement affecting agricultural productivity and growth in Bangladesh is principally influenced by the capability to make timely and informed decisions based on rigorous empirical evidence and analysis. To this end, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) established the Agricultural Policy Support Unit (APSU) with support from USAID. The APSU was officially launched by the MOA Minister in November 2012 and twenty-three APSU government positions were cleared by the Ministry of Public Administration in December 2013 and submitted to the Ministry of Finance for approval in February 2014. In addition, APSU is supported by researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Policy Research Strategy Support Program (PRSSP) in Dhaka.
In March 2014, the MOA Secretary commissioned APSU to select and prioritize the Ministry’s agricultural development programs for the next five years commensurate with the National Agricultural Policy. The process involves ranking all programs selected by the 16 different MOA departments and marks an important opportunity to promote key policy reforms to increase smallholders’ incomes and develop an agriculture sector that values both nutrition and gender equity.
APSU works as a reservoir of information on the specified sector having basic capacity to assimilate extant research findings, and summarize information to present alternative options to policymakers to facilitate evidence-based policy choices. Once equipped, APSU will act as a situation room for agricultural policy planning; and will:
Several outputs are expected from APSU that will address the information needs of policy makers at different levels on various topical issues. Some examples are:
To fill the existing knowledge gaps in the agricultural sector, IFPRI researchers, in collaboration with MOA technical staff, will undertake research to meet demands from MOA. IFPRI will also assist APSU to work with partners in the national agricultural research system, universities, and NGOs to conduct collaborative policy research. APSU will disseminate research results to feed into the policy processes in the medium and the long term. The research output will be published in the form of working papers and discussion papers series.