For a long period of time, Bangladesh has been striving to ensure food security at home by planning to shop farmland abroad. Recently, South Sudan, an African country, has expressed interest in leasing a vast area of its fallow land to Bangladesh in order to collaborate in agricultural production, processing, and marketing in the central African countries. This is not the first time Bangladesh is going to lease foreign land and earlier, two Bangladeshi companies leased 40,000 hectares of farmland in Tanzania and Uganda. This move of Dhaka in leasing foreign land is one of the various initiatives undertaken to increase food production in the wake of the growing population and decreasing arable land. But this time, citing the feasibility of this proposal, critics raise the question, "Should Bangladesh accept this offer?" "What benefits Bangladesh will get if it accepts this offer?"
South Sudan, a landlocked country of Central Africa, has a total 644,329 sq KM land area with a total population of 11.06 million. Most of the land of this country is fallow and not being used for cultivation or for any other productive purposes. Undoubtedly, there is a huge untapped possibility that can be accrued by utilizing these lands for agricultural production. The government of South Sudan has been discussing the issue of cultivating crops in their land with the Bangladesh government for a long time. Luckily, the issues have started seeing light as many Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have agreed in considering the proposal seriously to invest there.
In recent years, Bangladesh is focusing largely on industrialization but the agricultural sector remains the lifeblood and irreplaceable driving force for Bangladesh’s economy. In FY 2020-21, the contribution of agriculture to Bangladesh's GDP was 13.47 percent. Though the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is gradually declining, it is still the major employment source with 40 percent of total employment. Bangladesh is now self-sufficient in food production with net food produced in 2021 being over 4.53 crore metric tons. The agriculture-friendly policies of the country have contributed greatly to this success. Besides, the skills and expertise of our farmers cannot be ignored while preparing the ledger of success of our agricultural productions. The agricultural scientists, researchers, faculty members of agricultural universities in Bangladesh have been working relentlessly to bring innovative ideas and latest technologies in this sector to ensure maximum output utilizing the limited arable land available and with minimal effect on the environment.
There are several factors that attract a pointed direction towards why Bangladesh should accept the proposal of leasing land in South Sudan. First, we know that Bangladesh is one of those countries in the world that has one of the lowest rates of arable land per citizen. Leasing land from abroad will help the country to meet the growing food demand of 1.65 million people at home. Second, if Bangladesh can successfully start cultivating agricultural crops in South Sudan, it will bring economic gain for Bangladesh not only by selling the agricultural goods to the local market but also by exporting to 27 other Central African countries. Third, Bangladesh has sufficient expertise in agricultural sectors which can be optimally utilized, and possibly further be expanded, if Bangladesh can successfully start producing in the land leased from South Sudan. Fourth, there are many renowned agricultural scientists in Bangladesh who are doing excellent research work on the country's agricultural sector. If Bangladesh leases land in South Sudan, these researchers can also contribute to boosting agricultural production in African countries. This is how Bangladesh can contribute, to some extent, to finding a sustainable solution to the prolonged food crisis in Africa.
Fifth, Bangladesh has huge labor, mostly notably farmers, who have expertise and experience in agricultural sectors. If Bangladeshi investors invest in the agricultural sector in South Sudan, it will create huge employment opportunities for Bangladeshi migrant labor, and ultimately contribute to increasing Bangladesh's foreign exchange reserve. Sixth, once Bangladesh leases land from South Sudan, it will increase Bangladesh's brand image as it is a sign of the country's capability and financial strength. Seventh, once successfully implemented, this project will open a new window of opportunities for Bangladesh in other African countries which can be further utilized for increasing financial return for Bangladesh. Eighth, both countries can jointly produce lentils, oil, cotton, and other crops on the leased land and share the products which will bring fortune for both of them by helping them to avoid future food shortages.
The above discussion shows the projected benefits that Bangladesh may avail if it cooperates with South Sudan in the agricultural sector. As it will require hefty investment, Bangladesh should conduct a feasibility study and seek the opinion of the experts of the relevant field before making the final decision. Also, Bangladesh should send a team of multi-sector specialists including agro researchers, agricultural scientists, agricultural extension officials, and marketing and financial experts to examine the potential and financial viability of investing in the agricultural sector of South Sudan. But there is no doubt that it is a great achievement for Bangladesh as it has brightened the country's image and testified to the country's increased financial strengths and growing agricultural capacities. Not to mention, if Bangladesh can build agricultural infrastructure in a correct and responsible way, it will create a win-win situation for both countries.
Writer's Bio: Nandita Roy, a women's rights activist, completed her Master's from the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka.
My articles have been published in Asia Times, Observer Bangladesh, Independent Bangladesh, etc.