Proving Kissinger Wrong And More
Professor, politician, diplomat and author Henry Alfred Kissinger will become a centenarian with his uncommon intellect intact on May 27. His achievements in the many fields he traversed are remarkable, specially his Rasputinian kind of hold over President Richard Nixon. But he along with President Nixon became extremely unpopular in India and with the Bengalis in east Pakistan (then engaged in a liberation war with the Pakistani army.)
During the 1971 crisis in the Indian subcontinent, at Kissinger’s initiative White House took Islamabad’s side and almost at the end of the conflict sent the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to frighten New Delhi without realising prime minister Indira Gandhi’s fearlessness and capacity to stand ground. Furthermore, on arrival of Bangladesh as an independent country, Kissinger described the new nation as a basket case, which he must be still regretting.
Not only thousands of Bangladeshis were killed in the history’s one of the worst pogroms but the new country inherited an urban and rural infrastructure that was left in a shambles by the army of Muhammad Yahya Khan. Even then Kissinger will have claims to be forgiven for his combative stance through the Bangladesh liberation war and the subsequent uncharitable remark about the new born country. This is because the diplomat sought forgiveness in his own way by saying the US stance during the Bangladesh war “is a case history of political misjudgement in his seminal work ‘White House Years.’
Then in a meeting with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the liberation, Kissinger reportedly said whatever the US might have done or said during the war, Washington was never in doubt that an independent Bangladesh was foreordained and the events related to the Bangladesh war were perhaps the “most complex challenge” for the Nixon Administration. After that historical meeting with Bangabandhu Kissinger told reporters that it was only after meeting the father of the new nation he realised it was possible for a human being to reach that height.
It will be recalled that the war happened at a time when Washington was desperate to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and Islamabad was the only channel available to Kissinger to achieve that goal. Bangladeshis cannot hide their chuckle to say that Kissinger is living to see that the country instead of surviving on large-scale food aid continues to make important breakthroughs in the farm sector covering cereals, fruits and vegetables, livestock and fish farming. In a recent visit to Calcutta, Bangladesh agriculture minister Mohammad Abdur Razzaque, a PhD of Purdue University, the US, claimed with growth in volume, the quality of vegetables and fruits produced in his country had improved to an extent that these are meeting with growing demand in developed countries.
Bangladesh expert Anamitra Chatterjee says such success in production rises resulting in export surpluses is resulting from government extension programme in educating growers about ideal farm practices, including growing use of organic manure that in the process of progressive decaying in the soil improves its fertility and a scientific approach to harvesting practices that leave no marks on vegetables and fruits. “You know how demanding the Japanese are when it comes to food, from tea to mangoes. The Japanese love their mangoes grown in Bangladesh. But it’s a big no if the mango skin will have sap or dark spots. Bangladeshi growers have learnt how to pluck and pack the mangoes to arrive in Japan spotlessly clean,” says Chatterjee.
Benefiting from Razzaque’s knowledge and experience in farming honed in the US and Japan, Dhaka is encouraging growers to use modern farm machinery and equipment for which government subvention ranging from 50% to 70% is available. Growing high class fruits and vegetables is one part of the challenge. The other demanding requirement is to have world class packaging facilities. Chatterjee informs while one modern packaging house at Dhaka nearby Shyamnagar is up and running, another unit is coming up fast at Purbachal in the capital vicinity. Their proximity to Dhaka international airport is the prime consideration for location of packaging houses.
A major concern for Bangladeshi authorities as for their counterparts in India is the loss of at least one-third of fruit and vegetable production due to large-scale prevalence of poor post-harvest management, deficient preservation and storage infrastructure and absence of an efficient transportation system. Such big loss of farm produce affects earnings of growers as it impinges on the farm sector’s contribution to the national economy.
The opening of the 6.5 km long road cum rail bridge over the mighty Padma river connecting the capital city with all southern districts and the country’s second largest Mongla seaport in southwest in late June will, however, enable quick shipment of fruits and vegetables from the fertile districts in the south such as Jessore, Khulna and Barisal to the rest of the country. Bangladesh’s prestigious infrastructure project the Padma bridge from which the World Bank pulled out after agreeing to fund it, suspected in Dhaka at US prompting, stands as Dhaka’s resolution to overcome whatever the odds. Former Bangladesh Bank Governor and leading development economist Atiur Rahman believes the bridge will have multiple positive fallouts for the economy giving a push to GDP growth.
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Bangladesh, which has a long common border with India, has a population close to 170 million. Feeding this big population for a small country without being too import dependent on cereals remains a challenge. The country, according to a recent World Bank report, has made “remarkable progress in improving welfare and halving the poverty rates since 2000.” Regrettably, however, progress in poverty reduction and job creation slowed over the past decade. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the poverty rate in the country is 24.3% and the extreme poverty rate is 12.9%.
Moreover, over 20 million extremely poor people doing manual labour for some income are trapped in a vicious cycle of malnutrition. Condemned to illiteracy and lack of skills to make them employable, these people would not know Bangladesh GDP per capita of $2,470 at current prices is close to India’s $2,600. Moreover, Germany based data aggregator Statista has forecast GDP per capita of Bangladesh will continuously rise from 2023 to 2028 by $1,694 to amount to $4,164.23 by 2028. While Bangladesh has ceased to be a least developed country and its economy’s overall progress is inviting global attention, an important task for Dhaka is to bring down the level of poverty.
No doubt, Bangladesh in spite constraints of resources has made significant progress in growing rice, the staple food for its population to come close to self-reliance level. Limited quantities of rice imports are made yearly and according to FAO “imports of large quantities occur only when local production is not sufficient to cover domestic needs.” Every country in the Indian subcontinent has in recent period experienced high inflation in food prices. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have big food shortages, fanning unrest. Bangladesh will have parliamentary elections in January 2024 and therefore, the Sheikh Hasina government will remain under pressure to keep food inflation under check.
Mercifully as US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now revised the estimate of Bangladesh rice (harvested as Boro, Aus and Aman) production for the 2022-23 marketing year to 35.85 million tonnes on 11.65 million hectares up from the earlier tally of 35.6 million tonnes. A good Aman season resulting from good weather, absence of floods, balanced fertiliser application and a higher than normal acreage is giving that extra rice. Worryingly for the administration, prices of all varieties of rice have ruled high since the third quarter of 2022. USDA says in a report, “higher production cost, high milling and transportation cost, US dollar appreciation and high general inflation” are the reasons for rice becoming expensive.
In the meantime, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) concerned with using radiation and nuclear technology in agricultural research in partnership with Bangladesh Agricultural University has produced a special new rice seed by way of genome sequencing, which will be a few times more resistant to water submergence and salinity. The new generation of seeds will make it possible for farmers to bring large tracts of land in southern coastal districts prone to frequent flooding and of saline nature under regular cultivation. According to the country’s agriculture ministry, the breakthrough holds promise for nearly 4.9 million acres of farm land with salinity problem.
Mirza Mofazzal Islam, under whose oversight the genome sequencing research was done told a foreign news agency: “Hopefully the new rice seeds will reach our farmers on a massive scale in the next three years. I am hoping for a revolutionary change in rice cultivation, thanks to this new water and salinity resistant seed. Not only will Bangladesh have improved food security as a result of propagation of the new seed ,it will come for use in Myanmar, Thailand and parts of India.”
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Bangladesh will be producing enough rice to have some export surplus after meeting domestic demand by way of growing the crop in frequently flood visited land. At the same time, what remains a major concern for Dhaka is that while the food habit of people is changing in favour of wheat and wheat flour products, land under the crop and production have shrunk around 20% in recent years. USDA projects Bangladesh land under wheat and production for 2022-23 at 310,000 hectares and 1.10 million tonnes, respectively. (Incidentally, according to BBS, the country produced 1.30 million tonnes of wheat in 2013-14.)
But as is happening every year, this will be way off domestic wheat use requirement, forcing Bangladesh to import large quantities of the cereal. In fact, FAO says, imports are taking care of around 80% of the country’s wheat consumption. It has forecast Bangladesh wheat imports in 2022-23 at 6.7 million tonnes, 6% above the five-year average. USDA has, however, revised imports downward to 5 million tonnes. The country has been spending up to $2 billion in wheat imports in recent years. Since the beginning of Ukrainian war global wheat prices are up sharply.
What will explain the growing disinterest of Bangladeshi farmers to grow wheat when domestic demand for the cereal is growing steadily? They are switching to alternative crops such as maize (another heavily imported item), vegetables, potato and Boro rice for better returns on investment and labour. The fungal disease (wheat blast) played havoc with the crop more than once in recent years. Dhaka will have to energise the Wheat and Maize Research Centre with the task to develop salinity tolerant wheat seeds to enable commissioning of at 500,000 hectares in southern districts.
Senior journalist Rabindra Nath Sinha writes: “Success of Bangladesh in agriculture is largely due to the ability of Sheikh Hasina government in making full use of nature’s bounty – availability of abundant water for irrigation, abundant sunshine, rich soil fertility and application of modern farm equipment. Above all, inclination of farmers to remain committed to agriculture. These factors help Bangladesh to cope with the loss to farm production from floods, which occur almost with regularity.
As for the US stance, that country has been forced by circumstances to correct itself. India too is a beneficiary of that correction since Bush II days. The piece is all the more readable because of intelligent blending of the political aspects with Dhaka’s success in agriculture and allied activity. Dhaka’s success in tectiles too attracts attention though the labour engaged in that segment needs more attention of the government. This, of course, is a diversion from the theme tackled.
Senior journalist and commentator Suman Bhowmik says: “That US foreign policy has nearly always managed to bet on the rong horse is well known. Henry Kissinger’s arrogant stances epitomised that.
As for Bangladesh and its economic progress, maybe one should also look at the huge total quantity of foreign grants that the country has received over the past five decades and its effect on the economy, even after massive leakages due to corruption. That overt and covert support trickled down only when the western stooge Mohammad Yunus could not be foisted as the PM of the country. The only good thing that MMS had done then was to put his foot down and tell the US off from meddling in Bangladeshi elections. The Khobragade incident was a very angry US trying to teach India a lesson, and the Chinese found a ripe fruit for the taking.
It needs to be taken into accountBangladesh is hugely dependent on India from onion to beef. The porous borders in the north east having got largely sealed the transit is now is through Bengal ony, which is one of the principal reasons for such high prices of perishables in local market. Moreover, Bangladesh’s main export bread earner – its tectile industry – is in doldrums right now and likely to lose its position in the global trade due to exploitative labour issues becoming a major bone of contention with global majors.
Economist and author Sugato Hazra writes: “I believe China has huge interest in Bangladesh agriculture and plays a very important role. This, however, is missing in Mr Bose’s article.
Commentator Prosenjit Dasgupta says: “Good to know of Bangladesh’s progress in agriculture and the consolidation of the country’s economic infrastructure.”
That Bangladesh is making decent economic progress over the past two decades has caught appreciative global attention. Instead of being distracted by what the US says and does, Dhaka has remained focused on achieving self-reliance in food. The Kunal Bose articles throws much light on that. Agriculture related research organizations in Bangladesh are doing commendable work. One instance is recent development through genome sequencing of a rice seed that is highly tolerant to water submergence and soil salinity. But the country’s southern districts prone to floods and land salinity will benefit from the R&D breakthrough provided the seed is produced in large quantities and distributed widely. It is very heartening to learn that Bangladesh produced fruits and vegetables are finding a good market in many developed countries. An article that needs to be widely read.
Yet again Kunal Bose , who is a Bangladesh watcher has produced an excellent balanced article.
The agricultural revolution in Bangladesh, I presume started gathering steam during the first tenure of Sheikh Hasina govt when she handed over the charge of Agriculture to no one but Ms Matia Chowdhury, famed Agni kanya of Anti Ayub Khan politcs of 1960s . In addition to Agriculture Hasina also handed over two other very important ministry to Matia namely Food and the other was Diaster management.
To the best of my knowledge Matia was the only woman in the world who headed three Closely linked ministries including the most Challenging Agriculture. Under her leadership Agriculture started turning around and for the first time crosssed the production target of Rice and since then Bangladesh did never look back.
Matia headed the Agriculture during the Second term of Hasina. She again did miracle and was awarded the prestigious FAO prize.
Alongside the Agriculture production of Agrobased products such as vegetables, fish, maze, potato, Tomatoes, beans, and any other eatable items Bangladesh not only solved her internal demand but also started exporting to different countries of the world where millions of Bengalees from Bangladesh are working.
The growers started getting better prices and producing even more. Now Bangladesh is sufficient in production of meat, eggs , chicken, mangoes, water melons in a word in other areas as well.
Take of Flowers that we need Bangladesh gardens are enough to meet our needs.
Bangladesh is not only proved Kissinger wrong but also increasingly inviting the attention of the world as a role model of development.
The world powers are now revising their earlier notion and policies towards Bangladesh.
It’s Firm non aligned Forein policy enshrined in her Constitution is drawing respect from different power centres of the world.
I am glad Henry Kissinger is today alive to see what Bangla,desh can achieve which he once dismissed as basket case.
Kunal Bose might perhaps like like to comment on how India our nearest neighbour, which always in the past considered China and Pakistan as its neighbours, should now consider the development paradigm of Bangladesh and her foreign policy options.
Bangladesh is unlikely to be derailed so long as She continues to hold JOy BANGLA enshrined by Bangabandhu as the rallying cry close to her heart and vision of Rabindranath on humanity.