THANKS to Agriculture Minister M. K. Anwar for having said it. While speaking at the two-day international annual meeting of the Consortium for Unfavourable Rice Environment (Cure), held recently at the Brac Centre in Dhaka, he has reportedly said, "theoretically speaking there would be no tillable land left in Bangladesh in 50 years if the arable lands are taken away for non -farm purposes at the current rate". This writer also expressed similar anxiety in an article published in this newspaper last month explaining why there should be some realistic policies to regulate construcion of rural roads and homesteads. It is reported that Dr. Mahbub Hossain of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), who is also the coordinator of Cure, concurred with the Agriculture Minister in his speech in the same meeting on this point. The Bangladesh Rice Foundation has meanwhile come up with statistics indicating that the farmlands of 14 million hectares of the country are now shrinking at an alarming rate of 80,000 hectares annually. In accordance with the Malthusian theory, this alarming rate will become further alarming with the passing of every year.
In plain words, what Mr M. K. Anwar has said means that, after 50 years from now, he will have no successor as the Agriculture Minister. With no land left for agriculture, what will be the justification for having a ministry of agriculture and a minister for that non-existent ministry? Those who knew M. K. Anwar as a bureaucrat will not perhaps expect that he will consider his duty done barely by making this realistic but untimely observation. The observation is untimely because we do not usually awake to a problem unless the problem itself awakens us with its devastating effects. As a bureaucrat, M.K. Anwar was known for his precision, firmness, knowledge and temper. Now as a minister, does he only retain the last two qualities? Mr Anwar should prove with precision and firmness in discharging his ministerial responsibilities that extensive study of the history of Meiji restoration in Japan in many universities, which was, among others, featured by outstanding students first being inducted in bureaucracy and then in political offices, a practice that is largely credited for the subsequent economic resurgence of that country, has a meaning. Aren't many of the post-war Prime Ministers of Japan former civil servants?
M.K. Anwar should show that he retains all the qualities he was once known for by taking some firm steps for saving our farmlands from avoidable encroachment by all such sectors whose expansion in our circumtances are considered economically essential but should be engineered in a more planned way. One may consider temper also as a quality since, without it, an individual cannot be aggressive enough to mount a decisive assault on a problem with the fullest degree of commitment. The British icon, war-time leader, Churchill had it. He was highly effective as a war-time leader and is yet remembered with reverence by his countrymen. That could be also the reason why the Americans consider background of a candidate as war vateran in the senate, gubernatorial or presidential election as a positive qualification.
Agriculture minister M.K. Anwar does not appear to have indentified his main task now. He has reportedly stressed on the need for more intensive agriculture research as he finds no possibility of increasing corplands, which are fast depleting because of use for other purposes. If he has already surrendered to the current realities, he must remind himself that the ruling prices of different varieties of rice are about 38 times higher than what the prices were in 1970. The prices will surely go further up. How then will we feed our growing population when there will be no cropland left for tilling?
We should never follow in their entirety the US examples in economic fields, a country stretched over half a continent which accounts for one fourth of the global production and one third of the global trade. Nor should we follow the British examples, without justifiable modification. America's empty lands together will be bigger than a few Bangladeshes. Put the Americans in an area twice the size of Bangladesh as the size of their population is twice that of ours and then see how they plan. If one collects from across the world all the people of British origin and then put them on the British isles, then alone one should decide to follow the future British examples without modification. But you won't be able to follow such future British examples because Britain then will sink with a huge human burden below the North Sea. These are crude utterances, meant for whipping up a vision. Economist Keynes used to reportedly say, " Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking".
Though not exactly, we have some proximity to Japan in respect of size of the country although the size of its population is less than ours. Japan has developed rail commanication as their principal mode of internal communication perhaps to save land. They consider self-reliance in food as a requirement of national security. Instead of developing the railway, which can transport both people and goods in bulk, we have developed road communication more extensively and have continued to do so without being mindful that land in this country is really scare. Have we yielded to pressures from operators of commercial road transports and their exporters or to the hysteria aspect of fame, which one can easily earn at the cost of the country with populist policies? It seems if Venice were a part of our territory, we would have constructed roads there to have boats replaced with fast moving autos. Thre is still time at our hand. Corplands have not yet vanished.
We should develop the railway as the major means of transportation. Roads may be constructed here and there as feeders of the railway. We have already constructed so many internal roads to connect quite a large number of growth centres with the main highways. If these growth centres transform into real growth centres instead of gossip centres, as many of them are, the economy should become vibrant with affluence. If Belgium, being a bit larger than old Dhaka district, can have about one per cent share in world trade, why not Bangladesh with its existing road communication facilites? All the least developed countries, like Bangladesh, taken together do not now account for that one per cent. Extensive internal road networks seem to have also facilitated the awesome phensidyl invasion whose effects are now felt deep inside the country. Perhaps, one could assess its impact better if one could check how many of the active workers of the Jama'atul Mujahidden Bangladesh (JMB) are also drug addicts. Noriega of Panama, was captured by the Americans while he was the President of his country in a full-scale military assault. While he rots in a US underground jail with a life sentence for abetting drug smuggling inside America, the Noriegas guilty of the presistent phensidyl invasion on our country with the dubious intention of softening our nation from within remain beyond our touch as we are a weak nation.
One should appreciate that grain exporting nations are few. When we will have no land for tilling, if they at some point, on their own or at the request of some country, ask us to kowtow them, we will have to do it for survival, and, on refusal, they will make us prostrate by unleashing a famine. Those who may say food security from internal production is not essential in these days of globalisation should realise that globalisation could not stop the invasion of Iraq. Nor will it be able to stop one on Iran if they decide to launch it. The world at the apex, as represented by the United Nations' Security Council where five veto-power countries actually decide everything, is not at all democratic. Mao Tse Tung is right there- power lies in the barrel of a gun. Czeck-born Madelin Albright, while accepting her nomination as the US Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, also glorified the gun-power. She said, "the United States must have a world-class diplomacy to match its world-class military to retain its supremacy in the world." When the question of supremacy comes, no one is equal to the supremo. But democracy is all about equals.
M . K. Anwar should take it as his mission to save the croplands of this country from the mindless encroachment of other sectors, the growth of which should be encouraged and managed more realistically with farsight and wisdom. Have we used all the industrial estates, established by the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation in prospective growth centres across the country? If not, can't they be groomed with necessary facilities to accommodate industries, which are being set up in a scattered manner? We will utterly fail to control pollution if we permit industrial growth to take place in this manner. We should think about the possible adverse consequences of aggravating pollution on those for whom economic growth is meant? Industrialisation should take place in a more orderly manner in view of the ground realities in our country. Similarly should develop our communication sector. There must be a firm check on ill-planned construction of rural roads and homesteads which requires new roads. The scarce croplands must be saved from avoidable encroachments.