Challenges – Climate change, limited diversity and opportunity
Bangladesh’s rural economy, and specifically agriculture, have been powerful drivers of poverty reduction in Bangladesh since 2000. Indeed, agriculture accounted for 90 percent of the reduction in poverty between 2005 and 2010.
More than 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population and 77 percent of its workforce lives in rural areas. Nearly half of all of Bangladesh’s workers and two-thirds in rural areas are directly employed by agriculture, and about 87 percent of rural households rely on agriculture for at least part of their income.
Bangladesh has made commendable progress over the past 40 years in achieving food security, despite frequent natural disasters and population growth (food grain production, for example, tripled between 1972 and 2014, from 9.8 to 34.4 million tons). With one of the fastest rates of productivity growth in the world since 1995 (averaging 2.7 percent per year, second only to China), Bangladesh’s agricultural sector has benefited from a sound and consistent policy framework backed up by substantial public investments in technology, rural infrastructure and human capital.
But Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change, which poses a long-term threat to the country’s agricultural sector, particularly in areas affected by flooding, saline intrusion, and drought.
Faster and more inclusive rural growth with job creation will require greater agricultural diversification together with more robust rural non-farm enterprise development. A shift in production from rice to higher-value crops will significantly reduce malnutrition, trigger more rapid growth in incomes, and create more and better on-farm and non-farm jobs, especially for women and youth. Livestock and fisheries also offer tremendous potential for reducing malnutrition and increasing incomes and jobs in a severely land constrained economy, but struggle because of inadequate government support.
Investment in and expansion of the rural non-farm enterprises (or RNFEs) is a parallel priority for Bangladesh. RFNE’s can help households become more resilient to climate shocks through income and livelihood diversification. And they can be a potentially powerful source of job generation, especially for youth and women, through more efficient and competitive value chains.