Don't allow food production to be hampered
At a time when the head of state is repeatedly urging citizens to not leave "an inch of land" uncultivated given the growing threat of a food crisis, it is alarming to see that far from taking steps to expand our farmland coverage, the fertility of existing farmlands is being compromised in various ways. According to a report by this daily, one such example is being set by the Mongla Port Authority, which is planning to dispose extracted river sand on arable land at the Banisanta union in Khulna, despite protests from local farmers and having alternatives to dump it elsewhere. This is totally unacceptable.
Reportedly, the port authority is implementing a project to dredge 2.16 crore tonnes of sand to improve navigability of the Pasur River. The conflict between locals and the authority ensued at the beginning of 2020 when the latter selected 300 acres of arable land in Banisanta for dumping sand extracted from the river. What's worse, they did so without consulting with farmers who own this land. Since then, farmers have been protesting the decision – so far to no avail – which they fear will degrade their land and destroy their livelihood. Sandy soil has very low nutrient levels. It can reduce crop yields and increase risks of end-of-season drought. In the worst-case scenario, it might displace at least 5,000 farmers, activists say.
The authority, however, argue that they selected the current site after a feasibility study, considering all options. This is hardly convincing for the farmers, whose proposal about three alternative sites has been ignored. According to an expert, a viable alternative site is already in use, where sand can be carried and dumped through a booster pump that the Mongla port can borrow from the Chattogram Port Authority. In the end, however, we feel that it's not a question of whether there are alternatives, but whether arable land can be degraded even if there are none. This mentality of using farmland for non-farming purposes – and the sense of impunity with which government departments seem to disregard the rights of citizens – are precisely why the port's decision has been criticised by the activists.
The importance of having enough arable land and maximising their use to ensure our food safety cannot be stressed enough. Increasing agricultural productivity could be an answer to the reduction of cropland, but it's no longer an acceptable trade-off given ongoing assaults on agricultural and forested lands in the country. What's particularly troubling is how government offices themselves are often leading this carnage, when they should be taking steps to stop it. This is a clear violation of the PM's instruction on cultivating cropland, and a contravention of international cropland use standards.
We urge the Mongla Port Authority to immediately walk away from their plan of dumping sand on cropland and go for an alternative option. The higher authorities must intervene, if necessary, to make it happen, and must make cultivation the mainstay of our food safety policy.