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With the highest human density of population, shrinking access to land and high vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change, Bangladeshi farmers face many challenges on the route to food security and climate resilience. What are the appropriate solutions for them to improve their yields and incomes, get out of poverty and better adapt to climate change?

20 to 30% - Part of Bangladesh territory flooded in a normal year

2/3 – Extent of Bangladesh territory that is less than 5 meters above sea level

80% - Share of agricultural land in Bangladesh cultivated with rice

60% - Percentage of landless farmers in Bangladesh

41% - Share of stunted children under five in Bangladesh 


General context

Bangladesh, the most densely populated country in the world, lies almost entirely in the delta floodplains of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. This is fertile land, 80% cultivated with rice with two paddy harvests a year. But they are prone to regular floods and cyclones, which have a severe impact on rural livelihoods. Between 20-30% of the country is normally flooded each year. The country is highly vulnerable to climate change, two-thirds of the territory being less than 5 meters above sea level. Rising sea levels have increased soil salinity in coastal areas, making it less suitable for agriculture.

Agriculture is labour intensive: it employs 44% of the national workforce and generates less than 20% of the GDP. Despite human development progress in recent years, poverty, especially in rural areas, is very high. Poverty is partly explained by the scarcity of arable land due to population growth, land degradation and urbanization. Average farm sizes are too small to support a family adequately and are declining in size. Roughly 10% of farmers own 50% of the arable land, while 60% are functionally landless. 

Malnutrition is high due to recurrent food shortages, an unbalanced diet mainly composed (75%) of rice, and lack of nutrition awareness. Half the children under the age of five suffer from some level of anaemia and 41% are stunted (Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, 2011).

ICRISAT research in Bangladesh

To reduce the high level of rural poverty, policymakers and development organizations need a better understanding of the constraints facing rural households, what causes poorest smallholders and rural laborers to be trapped in poverty and what possible development pathways there could be out of it.

Under the Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA) project, changes in rural poverty are being tracked at household and village levels in 12 communities in rural Bangladesh since 2009. We look at the various dimensions of rural livelihoods and its drivers, from shifts in farming systems to nutrition data. A major shift from rice cultivation to fish farming, for instance, was observed in Nishaiganj, one of the villages chosen for data collection.

Gender data such as the role of women in crop cultivation, asset ownership and decision-making are also collected which will hopefully help design policy changes leading to greater gender equity.

Together with the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), ICRISAT is guiding the national policy dialogue on climate change adaptation in agriculture,  leading to science based policy recommendations to adapt to climate change, such as transforming  the northern drought-prone region into a non-rice crop growing zone, particularly in the dry season.

Key documents on Bangladesh agriculture and food security strategy

Country Investment Plan, 2010

Feed the Future Multiyear strategy for Bangladesh 2011-2015

Rural poverty country profile for Bangladesh, IFAD

The Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA) project studies the poverty dynamics in 17 villages of Bangladesh since 2009 (map).