Bangladesh Rice Harvest Could Ease Famine Concerns

Some good news from one of the world's most impoverished countries, which struggles to feed its people in the best of times. Bangladesh reports the rice harvest, just under way, appears to be a bumper crop. But due to soaring rice and wheat prices the country says its 500,000 army troops are being ordered to eat potatoes. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from our South Asia bureau in New Delhi.

Bangladesh's hardiest rice, sown back in January and known as the "boro" crop, is now being harvested. Initial reports are that it is plentiful.

This is encouraging news for a nation where the majority of people are employed in agriculture and rice is the dominant crop, contributing more than one-fourth of the country's gross domestic product.

The positive assessment from the government in Dhaka comes amid soaring rice prices and concerns about whether India, China and Vietnam will be able to provide sufficient rice imports for Bangladesh.

World Food Program spokesman Emamul Haque in Dhaka says a bumper harvest would ease some of the burden on Bangladeshis.

"The whole nation is expecting that we will have a bumper 'boro' product. But we do not have any specific scientific assessment so far. If we really get this the way we are expecting, it will have some impact on the food security situation as well," said Haque.

A shortage of rice amid a doubling of prices in the past year has led to hoarding and rioting in Bangladesh.

Trying to ensure the civilian population has enough to eat, the government is ordering the half-million members of its army to substitute potatoes for rice and wheat.

The World Food Program spokesman in Bangladesh says the general population this year also will need to rely more on potatoes, something traditionally not on the menu.

"Many of them will definitely depend on the potato. And this is not a bad idea. But it cannot be the substitute of the rice. If they don't get rice, if the potato is cheap, definitely they do not have any other option," said Haque.

Many Asian nations have been severely affected by surging prices for rice, wheat, food oils and pulses. Compounding the misery for Bangladesh - two devastating floods and a cyclone in the past year, which ruined several million tons of food grains, raising worries about famine.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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