At a time when the Head of State repeatedly urges citizens not to leave “an inch of land” fallow in the face of the growing threat of a food crisis, it is alarming to note that far from taking measures to expand our agricultural coverage, the fertility of existing agricultural land is compromised in various ways. According to a report by this daily, such an example is given by the Mongla port authority, which plans to dispose of mined river sand on arable land at the Banisanta syndicate in Khulna, despite protests from local farmers and having alternatives for dump it elsewhere. . It is totally unacceptable.
According to reports, the port authority is implementing a project to dredge 2.16 crore tons of sand to improve the navigability of the Pasur River. The conflict between the locals and the authority erupted in early 2020 when the latter selected 300 acres of arable land in Banisanta to dump sand extracted from the river. Worse still, they did so without consulting the farmers who own the land. Since then, farmers have protested the move – so far to no avail – which they fear will degrade their land and destroy their livelihoods. Sandy soil has very low nutrient levels. It can reduce crop yields and increase the risk of late-season drought. In the worst-case scenario, it could displace at least 5,000 farmers, campaigners say.
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The authority, however, argues that it selected the current site after a feasibility study, considering all options. This is hardly convincing for the farmers, whose proposal of three alternative sites has been ignored. According to an expert, a viable alternative site is already in use, where sand can be transported and dumped via a booster pump which Mongla Port can borrow from Chattogram Port Authority. Ultimately, however, we believe that the question is not whether there are alternatives, but whether arable land can be degraded even if there is none. This mentality of using farmland for non-farm purposes – and the sense of impunity with which government departments seem to disregard citizens’ rights – is precisely why the port’s decision has been criticized by campaigners.
The importance of having enough arable land and maximizing its use cannot be stressed enough to ensure our food security. Increasing agricultural productivity could be a response to shrinking cropland, but this is no longer an acceptable compromise given the ongoing attacks on the country’s agricultural and forest lands. What is particularly disturbing is how government offices themselves often direct this carnage, when they should be taking action to stop it. This is a clear violation of PM instructions on cultivation of cropland and a breach of international standards for the use of cropland.
We urge the Mongla Port Authority to immediately abandon its plan to dump sand on cultivated land and opt for an alternative option. High authorities must intervene, if necessary, to achieve this, and must make culture the pillar of our food security policy.