The current status of drivers of changes in the food system in Bangladesh is concerning. Only one third of the drivers are moving in a positive direction. This is a similar trend that neighbor countries, and countries with similar income level, but below the trends at the global level.
On production/supply, the average increase in temperature, a proxy for climate change in Bangladesh, has increased 0.7 oC over the past decade. The experienced changed is very similar to the comparison groups, but given Bangladesh’s geographical characteristics, this is very concerning as Bangladesh is the most climate change vulnerable country in the world. Higher temperatures, rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion, and increase of frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will have negative impacts on agriculture production and the food system. On technological innovation (proxied by nitrogen fertilizer used), the average increase is positive, but not high. For production purposes alone, this is positive as it had produced a three-fold increase in crop yields over the past two decades, yet the increase of use of fertilizers can also be concerning as Bangladesh uses roughly three times more nitrogen fertilizers than comparison groups, but has diminished soil fertility and soil organic matter.
On distribution/trade, food exports (% of merchandise exports) in Bangladesh have steadily decreased over the past decade, which is the opposite of what is happening with geographical neighbors (steady increase), and at a fifth of what other comparison groups have. This is expected given the boom of the garment sector exports in the country. FDI investments in agriculture have minimally changed over the past decade, and it is fairly similar to what has happened in other comparison groups.
On consumption/demand, urbanization growth has decreased over the past decade and shows a trend similar to other countries with similar income levels, yet its level is roughly 15% higher than neighbor countries (where urbanization growth is increasing), and roughly twice as high compared to the world. Since Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries of the world, this is good news, as the added pressure to feed urban population is increasing at a decreasing rate. Consumer income has decreased for all comparison groups over the past decade, yet Bangladesh’s per capita GDP annual % growth has remained positive towards the end of 2020.
The current status of actors and activities of the Bangladeshi food supply system is good, as five out of six indicators are trending in the right direction. Geographic neighbors are experiencing similar behavior, but below the excellent trends exhibited by countries with similar income level, and with the world.
On food production, Bangladesh has remarkable progress on aquaculture production for domestic consumption, fish is the main source of animal protein and micronutrients, and it is the second most important food item other than rice. The per capita production has doubled over the past decade and it has an upward trend, while other comparison groups have remained static over the same period, in 2018, the available aquaculture kg/person in Bangladesh was between 10 to 70 times higher than the other comparison groups. This is a very positive change, as fish has become an affordable and available nutritious product for Bangladeshi consumers. Furthermore, overall food production has increased, and it has a similar upward trend than the comparison groups.
On food storage and distribution, there has been tremendous progress on the electricity coverage in the country, the vast majority of the population has access to electricity (a 34% increase from 2009), which has increased households’ ability to store food, this upward trend has increased a lot more than any other comparison group.
Although the level of food processing (as share of GDP) seems to be decreasing over time, this is more of an effect of the massive increase of the garment sector share of the GDP, overall, Bangladesh has a similar trend with other countries with similar income levels, although currently, the level is roughly half of neighboring countries.
On retail and marketing, Bangladesh relies heavily on traditional markets, there are very few food modern retail outlets, which is 1/3 of the level of geographical neighbors, 1/10 of GDP PC comparable countries, and 88 times lower than the global average.
Overall, the food environment in Bangladesh has a good performance, as five out of six indicators are trending in the right direction. The behavior is similar with neighbor countries, and better than countries with similar income level and the world.
On food availability, Bangladesh has made significant progress in achieving food security, there is enough food to meet the local demand, and the availability is increasing. Yet, the level is lower than geographical neighbors, and the world, but higher than countries with similar income levels.
On affordability, food is becoming slightly less affordable over the past decade, with similar levels and trend as neighbor countries, but with gentler upward slope compared to the world and countries with similar income levels.
On convenience, Bangladeshis consume low levels of packaged foods, 75% of the level of neighbor countries, roughly 1/3 of countries with similar incomes, and roughly 15 times lower than the world average.
Food safety (measured with food safety score) had steadily improved from 2012 to 2018, then sharply decreased until 2020. Its current level is similar to neighbors and comparable income level countries, but 15% lower than the world average.
The government of Bangladesh has a strong commitment to improve the nutritional standards in the country, and it is way above the other comparison groups.
Food loss and waste is, and has remained very low over the past five years, and at levels well below the world, and other comparison groups.
The current status of consumer behavior in Bangladesh is fair, as three out of five indicators are exhibiting a positive trend. This is similar behavior with neighboring countries, but below the performance of countries with similar income level, and the world.
On socio-economic characteristics we can observe that Bangladeshi consumers are mostly rural, ¾ of adults can read and write, and the country has made remarkable improvements on reducing their poverty rate over the past decade. Although there has been significant progress on the reduction of poverty, Bangladesh still has a higher share of poor inhabitants than the world, and geographical neighbors, but lower than countries with similar income levels.
On preferences and taste, the share of dietary energy supply derived from cereals is trending in the right direction (decreasing), but still has very high level (78%), and this is concerning, as cereals are not a good source of proteins, and other important micronutrients to have in a healthy diet. Bangladesh dependency on cereals is 20-30% higher than any other comparison group. A positive sign in the country is that Bangladeshis are not consuming a lot of ultra-processed foods compared to other comparison groups, ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor food items are not part of the Bangladeshi diet. They consume roughly half of what countries with similar income levels consume, ¼ of neighbor countries, and 5% of the average consumption in the world.
Food system outcomes in Bangladesh are exhibiting a concerning behavior, only three out of eight indicators are trending in the right direction. The performance of food system outcomes is below the other comparison groups.
On the environment, agriculture is the main contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, and unfortunately it is trending in the wrong direction (increasing), Bangladesh has higher roughly 4 times higher emissions than countries with similar income levels, 3 times higher than the world average, and twice as much emissions per hectare than neighboring countries. Furthermore, the food system,
through its agricultural production is putting pressure on the environment by reducing the share of land covered with trees. Bangladesh has the lowest level of land area with tree cover compared to any of the comparison groups.
On food and nutrition outcomes, Bangladesh has mixed results. On one hand, there has been remarkable progress on reducing the share of the population that is undernourished, but on the other hand, there is an increase in the share of the population who are obese. On undernourishment, Bangladesh is achieving similar results as neighbor countries and the world, and doing way better than countries with similar GDP. On obesity, although the rate is increasing, the country is doing way better than any other comparison group.
On economic outcomes, the contribution to the national economy is trending downwards, but as explained before, this is not a bad result, but rather the effect of the massive increase of the garment sector in the country. The food system contribution is higher than the world average, but lower than geographical neighbors and countries with similar income levels. Furthermore, the added value per worker is increasing, which is a positive sign of the contribution of the food system. The added value per worker is similar to neighbor and similar income level countries, but less than 5% of the world average.
On social aspects, we also have mixed outcomes. On the one hand, income inequality is reducing and doing better than any other comparison group. But on the other hand, gender equality is low and trending in the wrong direction, below the world average, and other comparison groups.