Horizontal Housing Trend: A Threat to Food Security in Bangladesh

SM Abdullah Al Mamun

Sustainable development is in jeopardy in Bangladesh, a country that is blessed with one of the most fertile soils on Earth along the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin as it has been struggling to ensure food security for some 170 million people and accommodating them in its inadequate territory of 1,47,570 sq. km. The country loses around 1% of the total arable land each year which accounts for approximately 68,700 hectares of land, mostly converted to housing in rural areas and industries in the urban areas as per the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Intending to satisfy the demand of this huge population, Bangladesh had to import 7.8 million tons of cereals in MY 2019-20 given the total available arable land of 7764210 ha can hardly suffice.  Currently, more than 40 million Bangladeshis do not have access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious food to sustain a healthy and productive life (IFPRI Food security portal 2016). Climate change and natural hazards in Bangladesh are likely to worsen in the years to come. Given the scenario, the loss of arable land of such a huge magnitude each year is posing an imminent threat to the country’s food security, if not now but shortly.

Housing patterns in Bangladesh largely follow a horizontal expansion trend in rural areas whereas urban areas experience a vertical expansion trend. The horizontal housing pattern is immensely popular for its inexpensive, affordable and available building materials, accompanied by many demographic, social, cultural, and economic factors.

Horizontal housing uses way more land compared to vertical housing and is usually made from tin, bamboo, trees, and hay. This trend of housing has been going on for generations and the country is yet to formulate a sustainable and feasible land use policy for protecting arable land from being converted to other land uses.

The table below shows the existing laws prohibiting the conversion of arable lands into other land uses:

Law Content
The 1950 State Acquisition and Tenancy ActAgricultural land use for other purposes is prohibited. If needed, permission should be sought from the local revenue officer for classification change.
The 1984 Land Reforms OrdinanceAgricultural households already occupying farmlands obtained rights to their homestead land through an
  anti-eviction provision.
National land use policy, 2001Stopping the high conversion rate of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes.
 Utilizing agro-ecological zones to determine maximum land-use efficiency.
 Adopting measures to discourage the conversion of agricultural land for urban or development purposes.
 Improving the environmental sustainability of land-use practices.

None of the existing laws could do any good towards reducing arable land conversion primarily because of poor institutional, regulatory, and monitoring frameworks of the country, accompanied by a lack of sustainability and feasibility of the laws.

In 2016, the government drafted a more economically viable and feasible ‘National Land Policy’ which is yet to be passed in the National Legislature.  The Government’s decision to promulgate a new law called the ‘Village Improvement Act’ to reduce unplanned settlement in rural Bangladesh and preventing the conversion of land from agriculture into non-agricultural uses is also yet to come into force.

Author is an Environmental activist and

currently working as a research associate at Biomedical Research Foundation, Bangladesh

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