Foodgrain refers primarily to rice, wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn and millet for consumption. The consumption level depends upon the availability of these and the affordability of different income groups of the population. food habits vary in different sections of the community according to their customs and traditions, taboos, rites, and economic conditions.

Paddy (dhan) has been cultivated since antiquity and rice is the product of paddy husked with the help of dheki and other indigenous methods as well as modern mechanised systems. The price of rice in Bengal has remained low historically, as has also been the case with the income of the population from land or trade and employment. During the Mughal suba of Bengal in the 16th and 17th century, the average price of coarse variety of rice remained more or less static over a long period at 300 kg a rupee, although there were short-term fluctuations in the market. Surplus rice, wheat, and other agricultural products were exported to various parts of India and the eastern islands. During the reign of Murshid Kuli Khan (1704-1727) the average price of common variety of rice was about 200 kg a rupee. The nawab used to exert himself to keep the food price low and did not allow rich people to hoard foodgrain. After winning in the Battle of palashi in 1757, the British east india company gained virtual control of trade in the country. diwani was entrusted to the company by the Nawab in 1765. famine and scarcity began from 1768. Up to 1789, the country was never entirely free from scarcities or famines, either regionally or nationally, with rice price increasing in this period to 10-15 kg a rupee. During the first half of the nineteenth century (1800-1858) and under the administration of the East India Company, the price of rice generally remained in the range of 40-50 kg a rupee. After the sepoy revolt was suppressed in 1858, the British government took control of a greater part of India, and the whole of Bangladesh came under its jurisdiction. During 1858-1900, common varieties of rice, except in famine years generally remained available at 25-30 kg a rupee.

During the period from 1901 to 1940, the price of rice remained in the range of 10-12 kg a rupee except in 1914-1929, when the price doubled this amount. During the Great Bengal Famine in 1943 the price of rice soared to half kg or less a rupee, although in some areas it was available at 1.75 kg a rupee. About 2.5 million people died of starvation at this time.

The geographical area now called Bangladesh was not self-sufficient in foodgrain in British days. A regular source of supply of rice was neighbouring Burma. Wheat and wheat products used to come from western areas, which are now part of India. Undivided Bengal in the 1930s had a demand of estimated 7.5 million tons of rice and wheat and had to import about 0.5 million tons, half in wheat and half in rice, through private traders. The food situation in Bengal began to deteriorate with the advance of the Japanese forces in Burma in 1941 and the total stoppage of rice supply from Burma. The 'denial policy' (one form of scorched earth policy) adopted by the government destroyed boats and other forms of transport. The government removed all food stocks to safer place to prevent access of the enemy to food. This created unprecedented panic. As a result, the price of rice skyrocketed. To combat the situation the Civil Supplies Department was established in 1942. In the process, the government had institutionalised food management for the first time in the history of the country.

In the wake of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, the government took over full responsibility of supplying foodgrain to the people of some notified areas at fixed quota through promulgation of the Bengal Rationing Order 1943. Under this order, the government declared a number of commodities as rationed articles for distribution through wholesale and retail dealers to residents of selected areas on production of ration documents. Thus came into being the Statutory Rationing System, popularly known as SR, under the direct control of the government. Regular supply of foodgrain was ensured to defence personnel, special priority groups, employees of large establishments, including industrial enterprises, members of labour committees, staff of local government authorities etc. and managers or persons in charge of shops, canteens and stores. Specialised ration shops were opened and ration cards were issued to the residents of notified areas.

In 1946, procurement of rice and wheat was made a government monopoly. Domestic procurement was done under a compulsory levy. Under the Essential Supplies (Temporary Powers) Ordinance of 1946, the government retained control of production, supply, distribution and trade in foodgrain. But domestic procurement of foodgrain in Bengal remained poor. Considerable import of cereals in 1945-46 could not make up for the inadequate internal production and keep up with consumption. The cereal quota in the areas under statutory rationing had to be reduced from 1 pound a day to 12 ounces and even less in 1946.

After the creation of East Pakistan in 1947, Statutory Rationing remained in operation in Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj and Comilla. In 1949, SR was introduced in eleven other urban towns namely Chandpur, Rajbari, Noakhali, Kushtia, Brahmanbaria, Madaripur, Faridpur, Sirajganj, Pabna and Tangail. Rice, flour, bran, suji and bread (white, brown and whole meal) and sugar were declared as rationed articles. Supply of rice and wheat/flour in SR areas was more or less regular and carried out on weekly quota basis. Rationing system for rural areas was introduced in a limited scale in December 1949 under the Modified Rationing Order 1949. The rural population was classified into several categories according to income. A Distribution Priority List (DP List) was prepared through Union and Town Food and Relief Committees. Distribution of foodgrain under Modified Rationing (MR) system was undertaken once in a fortnight or month according to availability.

The government's main concern was to keep the public Food Distribution Systems (PFDS) in operation round the year through a number of channels with the foodgrain made available through domestic procurement, commercial imports, and food aid. There were seven channels under PFDS-five monetised (Statutory Rationing, Modified Rationing, Essential Priority, Other Priority and Large Employer) and two non-monetised (Gratuitous Relief and Test Relief). Distribution under the monetised channels was highly subsidised and accounted for more than 98% of total PFDS. The government resorted to gratuitous relief (GR) and test relief (TR) in local areas to mitigate sufferings of people affected by natural calamities. Both rice and wheat used to be distributed under PFDS. Sugar, edible oils, salt and other articles also used to be distributed occasionally. The average annual amount of foodgrain distributed through PFDS during the period between 1957 and 1971 was 2.5 m ton. Distribution under PFDS rapidly increased in volume with increase in food aid in the form of wheat, which also made the people accept wheat gradually as a regular food item.

The government abolished the Civil Supplies Department in 1955. Subsequently, the entire stock of foodgrain in government stores was sold out. All employees of the Department were served with notices terminating their services. But the price of rice began to rise and soon there was food scarcity in the country. Resentment among employees grew and there were hunger strikes all over the country. This forced the government to revive the Civil Supplies Department in 1956 and to restart distribution of foodgrain under SR in 19 big and small towns. Although SR was abolished from 16 small towns in 1960, it continued in Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong. MR was also revived in 1959 to cover approximately 6.5 million people in rural areas.

As indicated in table 1, production of foodgrain in East Pakistan was never up to the mark.

Table 1 Cereal production in East Pakistan (in '000 m ton).

Period Rice Wheat Pulse Oilseed Barley Maize Total
1948-52 7232 21 266 138 16 2 7675
1953-57 7545 24 281 202 17 2 8071
1958-62 8396 29 220 183 14 4 8846
1963-67 9860 39 205 217 14 3 10388
1968-72 10935 95 278 313 20 3 11644

Based on estimates of net food production as the gross production less 10% as seed and wastage and the food requirement as 15.5oz per person per day multiplied by the population, the annual food gap (between requirement and net production) was 6.84 million tons in 1956 - 1959. This gap was reduced to 3.02 million tons during 1968 - 1971. Continued food gap required increased distribution under PFDS and the construction of new storage facilities for the foodgrain procured by the government to create buffer stocks.

In the 1950s, the government took up schemes for building storage godowns known as Central Storage Depots (CSDs) and Local Supply Depots (LSDs) at important business and industrial centres and at thana/market centres respectively. Subsequently, four silos were built at Chittagong, Ashugang, Narayangong and Santahar in 1971 under credit extended by the World Bank and Swedish credit. These supplemented the old type of food godowns known as Lahore Shed, Calcutta Shed, Tin Shed, Jute Sheds, and Assam types covered mostly with CI sheet. The storage capacity had improved from 0.167 million tons in 1947 to 0.914 million tons in 1971. The operation of PFDS helped to keep the rise in price of rice and wheat at a moderate rate. Thus, for the 17 years between 1950 and 1967, the price of rice increased from Tk 0.48 to Tk 1.08 per kg and that of wheat flour from Tk 0.49 to Tk 0.77 only.

During the nine months of the war of liberation, there was colossal hurt inflicted on people and damage done to materials. As a result, farmers could not carryout their normal work, which lead to poor crop yields. After the war, returning refugees (more than 10 million) needed shelter and food. Under the coordination of the United Nations Relief Operations in Bangladesh (UNROB) Canada, India, UNROB, UNICEF, and IVA rushed 77,000 m ton rice and 0.847 m ton wheat in 1972. The government of Bangladesh adopted a procedure for presenting the case of annual food aid for consideration by the donor community. Food aid contributed significantly to the overall development of the country and was given priority treatment by the administrative, financial, banking and planning procedures of the country.

There have been manifold changes in government's food policy outlook, strategy and operational system/management since the late 1970s. Increased food production, food entitlement and self-sufficiency in food have become focal point of all policies in this sector. The food policy that emerged in the late 1980s aimed at ensuring availability of food for all and establishing a dependable national food security system. The salient features of the policy included price support operations, reduction of subsidies on public distribution of foodgrains, expansion of PFDS to cover poorer sections of the population, and to enhance the role of the private sector in food production and distribution and in open market operations.

Because of increased use of fertilisers, irrigation facilities, and high yielding variety (HYV) seeds by the farmers, and the active support provided by the Ministry of Food through procurement at incentive prices, production of rice and wheat has increased steadily. Table 2 presents a summary picture of food production in Bangladesh.

Table 2 Cereal production (in '000 m ton).

Period Rice Wheat Pulse Oilseed Barley Maize Total
1973-77 11377 157 224 227 16 2 12003
1978-82 13067 739 219 254 12 1 14292
1983-87 14758 1181 467 422 13 3 16844
1988-92 16983 1006 516 442 11 3 18961
1993-97 17982 1275 526 464 6 3 20256

The production of cereals has almost doubled within a period of 25 years. But the food gap continued to remain wide due to unabated increase in population and damage to food crops by natural calamities like cyclones, floods, droughts, tidal bores etc. The annual food gap (between requirement @ 15.5oz per head per day and net production, ie, gross production less 10% as animal and poultry feed, seed, wastage) was 2.14 million tons in 1973-1977, and could be reduced to 1.46 million tons during 1993-1997. Appreciable quantities of rice and wheat are lost annually at different stages and are not available for consumption. Wastage occurs during harvesting by sickles, transportation from fields to drying yards, parboiling (for rice) and milling. Food grains suffer considerable loss both in terms of quantity as well as quality on account of unsuitable packing, insufficient drying, high moisture content, theft, pilferage, attack by pests, rats, birds etc. Yet another major incident of loss occurs during transportation from and to various destinations. This type of loss is a phenomenon related more to stocks generated through imports than through domestic production. Losses occur at the delivery stage from ships in ports due to carelessness and negligence and may run into several hundred tons per ship on account of which disputes arise between the buyer and seller. These disputes may last for a long time. Bagging and rebagging and issuing and reissuing of grains from godowns in the public sector may also result in loss, for which the government has prescribed some limits. Transportation of foodgrain inside the country from depot to depot in the public sector through boats, barges, railway hopper wagons, trucks and other transports takes place all the year round for which the government allows a transportation loss at a prescribed rate. Although according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Food in 1991, the total loss of foodgrain (rice and wheat) on all these different accounts was around 11.58% of the total annual production, the Ministry deducts 10% loss and calculates availability of foodgrain on this basis.

The government meets the food gap largely by imports under food aid programmes and cash purchases and, in part, by a system of internal procurement of the farmers' surplus. Up to 1980, the annual procurement averaged about 0.4 million tons, during 1981-90 the figure was 0.44 million tons and during 1991-97 it was about 0.50 million tons. Only twice in the entire history of procurement (1981 and 1992) did the figure exceed one million tons. Historically, the procurement price of rice and wheat has remained lower than the open market price and could not offer the support price to the majority of farmers. Since 1983, automatic rice mills have been allowed to purchase paddy on the government account, mill it, and deliver the resultant rice to government.

The PFDS was introduced with the objective of providing price support and income protection to various sections of the population, price stabilisation, nutritional support, and disaster relief. PFDS became a powerful tool in the hands of the government to exercise control over food situation in the country. Of the monetised channels, the Statutory Rationing (RS) was limited to four cities up to 1972; it was later extended to rajshahi town in 1973 and to rangamati town in 1976. Issue of new ration cards was stopped in 1974; the cards were limited up to a maximum of six members per family; the weekly quota was reduced from 3 seers per person (about 2.8 kg) in 1973 to 1.5 kg in 1986. Distribution of foodgrain under SR varied between 20% and 26% of total distribution during 1976 - 81 but gradually diminished from 15% in 1982 to 5% in 1993.

Distribution under Modified Rationing (MR) for rural people remained irregular and was suspended in 1989, only to be replaced by a new rationing system called Palli (Rural) Rationing (PR/RR) in 1990. RR however, was also suspended in 1992. Food grain distribution under the Large Employer (LE) channel of PFDS was, in fact, sale of food at fixed prices to employees of the public sector, and of a selected number of private enterprises. Beneficiaries of the PFDS channel of Essential Priorities (EP) are the personnel in army, navy, air force, police, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), ansar and the Village Defense Party (VDP), employees of ordnance factories, and employees and inmates of jails and hospitals. Employees of a wide variety of public sector agencies including boards, departments and directorates, some research organisations, teachers of primary and secondary schools, colleges and madrasah and local government bodies, and inmates of orphanages and rehabilitation centres receive food at subsidised prices under the Other Priorities (OP) channel of PFDS. The non-monetised PFDS channel Gratuitous Relief (GR) distributes food as grant-in-aid to distressed people and to those affected during natural disasters. The channel Test Relief (TR) provides food for work during the monsoon season for repair and reconstruction of houses, roads etc. In addition to the above seven, there are a few other PFDS channels that had been introduced basically with the objective of price control. One such channel is called as 'Flour Mill' (FM) and it sells wheat at fixed price to enlisted flourmills on monthly quota basis for crushing and distribution to bread factories, bakeries, and other consumers. The Atta Chakki channel, introduced in 1988, sells wheat at a fixed price to a large number of small wheat crushing establishments in rural areas. Each establishment gets a monthly amount of one metric ton of wheat for making flour and selling it at the current market price. Open Market Sale (OMS) is executed when the price of foodgrain soars high in situations of short supply, especially in SR areas. Also in similar situations, the government uses the irregular Marketing Operation (MO) channel to occasionally check price hikes through selling foodgrain to the poor/marginal people at subsidised prices. Under MO, the government sells food directly through mobile carriers, while under OMS foodgrain is sold to the public through retail traders.

Most significant among the non-monetised channels of PFDS is the Food for Work (FFW) Programme. First introduced in 1975 to combat food scarcity, the programme became a regular part of poverty alleviation programmes. Initially, it offered wheat as relief in exchange of labour in various types of work performed in rural areas. Such work includes road rehabilitation/construction, building of small dams for flood control, digging of ponds and canals, desalination of rivers, tree plantation, re-excavation of fish ponds and water tanks, construction of raised land platforms (flood shelter) and the like. The programme subsequently started using food as wage for workers in activities under the Rural Maintenance Programme (RMP), Local Initiative Schemes (LIS) and the Post-monsoon Rehabilitation Programme (PMR). Recently, upon recommendation by the Task Force for Strengthening Institutions for Food Assisted Development (SIFAD), the FFW programme had been restructured for better utilisation of food as a vehicle for development. Food distributed purely as relief under the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme has now been renamed as the vulnerable group development (VGD) programme. This programme distributes food to distressed, pregnant and lactating women and undernourished children @ 31.25 kg of wheat per family per month. A special PFDS channel is the Food for Education (FFE) channel started in 1994 to encourage the poorer section of the people to send their wards to school for education in exchange of foodgrain.

Bangladesh has received a large amount of food aid since its independence in 1971 and the flow of food aid has a significant role in shaping the food policy of the government. The food aid appreciably bridges the food gap, supplements security stocks, and contributes to the national development budget by funds generated as sale proceeds under the monetized channels of PFDS.

Major donors of food aid to Bangladesh have been the United States (largely under PL-480), the United Kingdom, the EC, Australia, Canada, and the World Food Programme. The food aid received during the period 1972-1997 amounted to 26.9 million tons, of which rice constituted 2.26 million tons and the rest was wheat. Under the terms and conditions of the food aid, the government reformed the PFDS and the reforms included (i) strengthening of domestic procurement at incentive-cum-floor prices to farmers for increasing agricultural production; (ii) building up adequate buffer stocks to meet emergency situations arising out of natural calamities; (iii) reducing the urban bias of rationing channels in favour of targeted groups of the rural poor under programmes like VGD, FFW, and FFE; and (iv) allowing the private sector to import foodgrain; and (v) stabilising price of foodgrain through OMS.

With increase in domestic production and the flow of food aid, as well as in commercial imports (although insignificant, a total of only 13 million tons in all 25 years between 1973 and 1998), the government had to improve its food storage facilities. Donors like DANIDA, EC, IDA, ADB, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Canada and UNCDF disbursed liberal project aid for the construction of food storage facilities all over the country. The storage capacity towards the end of the Second Five-Year Plan (1980 - 85) was 1.836 million tons (Silo - 0.226 million tons, CSD - 0.468 million tons, and LSD - 1.142 million tons). During the Third Five-Year Plan (1985-90) project aid was utilised for large-scale rehabilitation of dilapidated godowns. As a consequence, there has been practically no need to create additional storage facilities in later periods. Traders use their own stores (often in the form of shades) for preserving their stocks of foodgrain, while farmers use indigenous devices like dole, gola, dabor, motka etc and also the small space for storage they can space in their own residences.

The government held a complete monopoly in foodgrain (rice and wheat) import up to 1992. The private traders imported 2.76 million tons of rice and wheat during the period between 1993 and 1997. Their import was higher than the public sector import by more than 1 million tons during the same period. The import duty on wheat was initially 15%, which was subsequently reduced to 7.5%.

The government receives a substantial support from the non-government organisations in food management especially, under non-monetised channels like Food for Work, Vulnerable Group Development, Rural Development and Rural Maintenance Programmes. Some NGOs are directly involved in implementation of Food for Works programme. CARE for example, is engaged over a long time in Rural Maintenance Programme with wheat supplied under US PL-480. Involvement of many NGOs is significant in distribution of wheat for development of forestry, fisheries etc. The World Food Programme is playing a crucial role in various poverty alleviation programmes including women empowerment, sericulture plantation, training centres, institutional feeding centres, and group leader extension workers under VGD and rural development programmes.

The responsibility of food management in the country lies with the ministry of food, which evolved from civil supplies department created in 1942 that was renamed as food and agriculture (food) department in 1956. Already in the Pakistan period, the food department had offices at divisional, district, sub-division and thana level. The reconstitution of the department into ministry took place after independence. The ministry now has the directorate of food and the network of food offices has been growing all over the country with 175 employees in the ministry at the secretariat and about 11,500 persons in the various offices under the directorate. The government considers its role in food management vital for maintaining a steady supply of foodgrain to fixed income groups in urban areas and to subsistence farmers and landless workers in rural areas. Expenditure on food items constitutes nearly 60% of consumer budget of these groups and any upward swing in foodgrain price automatically pushes up all other prices. The government however, has been gradually releasing its control over supply and prices of food, although a full withdrawal is not still envisaged in apprehension of the social, administrative, and political consequences. [AW Nuruddin Ahmed]