Bite the Talk - Episode 20 : UNFSS Stocktaking Series - Bangladesh

Mandira Guha Neogi: Welcome to this episode of Bite the Talk. We are taking stock! The 2023 United Nations Food Systems Stock Taking moment in Rome, followed the transformative 2021 United Nations Food System Summit, or the UNFSS, and enabled countries to report on the progress towards the 2030 agenda for sustainable development in the mid of a changing and challenging global context. 

This podcast series will be focused the United Nations Food System Summit and the post-summit activities and progress of different countries. We are bringing thought leaders in food and nutrition to comment on the most pressing global issues impacting our food systems, economies, policies, and the society.  

I am Mandira Guha Neogi, I work as the Project Manager, Policy & Food System for Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in Bangladesh and this morning GAIN Bangladesh team has reached the hub of the National Convener to know more about the National Pathway Commitments of UN Food System Summit and how it is shaping Bangladesh.  

Today, we welcome three very significant people involved with this whole process and have been working for years to ensure a sustainable, equitable and resilient food system for Bangladesh. We welcome Mr. Ismile Hossain, NDC, Secretary- Ministry of Food, Mr. Momtaz NDC, DG of FPMU, our national convener for Bangladesh for UN FSS and Mr. Robert D Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh.  

We welcome all of you today. Before we go to our respected speakers, let me take an opportunity to highlight a very aspect on the structure that Bangladesh has for the National Pathway Commitment implementation. Bangladesh is known as one of the most successful countries when it comes to the multi-stakeholder engagement and how the entire sector including both government and non-government is working to make it happen to make these commitments happen and successful. 

On this note we have reached to Mr. Ismiel Hossain NDC, Secretary of Ministry of Food, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to share some of his insightful thought on Government of Bangladesh is committed to Food Systems Transformation? 

Ismiel Hossain NDC: Bangladesh is now passing 52 years of Independence this year. The country has made immense progress on economic growth, food security, health and nutrition fronts during this period. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, formulated under the leadership of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, recognizes access to food and adequate nutrition as a basic human right. The government of Bangladesh is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 that includes SDG2: ‘to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’. So, as you see, by all means we are focused and determined to ensure a sustainable food systems that will cover the whole nation and be more resilient as a response to existing climate vulnerabilities of the country. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you Sir. It is indeed a very amazing start and interesting information. Sir if I go back to you with this question that among all these progress and among all these existing challenges, is there any two or three specific areas you want to highlight that we should be focusing on to ensure the food system transformation? 

Ismiel Hossain NDC: Besides, Bangladesh is focusing on Food Systems Transformation for the following reasons, too: Changing demand for food commodities - more and more people are consuming high value commodities, and demand for processed foods are also increasing day by day. Changing demographics is another issue. A large segment of the population are youths and their preferences are different from older population. Urbanization is also increasing rapidly here, resulting in changes in the consumption pattern and marketing of the food commodities. One another issue that is climate change. Climate change and frequent natural disasters require that the participants of the food system to become more resilient and manage their risks more carefully. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Sir, you and your ministry along with other stakeholders are already the part of the summit as well as the stock taking moment. We know that UNFSS was considered to be a game changer for food systems but how do we know that this game changer is working well in Bangladesh too? And how do we know that food systems are heading in the right direction in our country? 

Ismiel Hossain NDC: If we focus on the progress under different action areas of UN Food Systems Summit (such as - Nourish All People, Boost Nature-based solutions, Advance equitable livelihood, build resilience to vulnerabilities, then we can clearly see that the transformation is heading towards the right direction 

Action Plan of the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy 2020, CIP3 and National Dietary Guidelines adopted in March 2022. Transfat Control Regulations and household level Safe Food guidelines are effective from December 2022. Country Roadmap of Global Action Plan on child wasting and provision of fortified rice in 271 sub districts under safety-net programme rolled out. 

Efforts to boost Nature-based solution include cropping patterns in line with agroecological zones, production of biofertilisers, crop diversification and crop rotation, promotion of stress tolerant varieties, using crop residues for livestock feed. 

Delineation of marine conservation areas and protection of breeding grounds, rainwater harvesting and mangrove plantations to protect coastal land. "Amar Gram Amar Shahar” that is in English, My village-My Town, being piloted in 15 districts for improving infrastructure and employment generation: social safety net programs and skills training targeting women and youth for income generation activities. 5-year World Bank-supported Agriculture & Rural Transformation Project to promote entrepreneurship and employment initiated. 

The National Adaptation Plan that is 2023 to 2050, Mujib Climate Prosperity plan (2022-2041), and CIP3 (2021-2025) are key policies to achieve sustainable and resilient food systems. Social safety nets coverage and budget allocation are increasing and it is increased almost every year recently; disaster resilient habitats, early warning systems, public food grains storage facilities and a one-health strategy are being implemented. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: So, we are going to Mr. Momtaz Uddin NDC, DG- FPMU and National Convenor of Bangladesh for UN Food Systems Summit. Sir we would like to know you view on the same question. 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: Thank you very much Mandira for making such important questions to me today morning, it is very important and pertinent question to let you know the progress we have made since 2021 UN Food System Summit. Under the leadership and the guidance of our Honourable P.rime Minister, H.E Sheikh Hasina,the daughter of our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Ministry of Food has the mandate to ensure the food availability for all the citizens of this country, it is the mandate of the Ministry of Food. And we have been working closely with other relevant Ministries, divisions and departments. 

The Government is already on track with work and significant progress in food, agriculture, nutrition, health sector with a strong connect with environment, climate, Social protection etc. For ensuring food system transformation, we have formulated policy, the National Food and Nutrition Security we have it was formulated in 2020. It is an important document for ensuring the food and nutrition security for the citizens of Bangladesh. Then subsequently we have prepared the National Pathway Document, which is a very important document for our country to ensure the food, nutrition and resilient food system in our country 

Mandira Guha Neogi: This is really amazing. This journey has not been started from 2021, rather long before that. But when we are focusing on the food system transformation, we can consider 2021 as a milestone year. So from then to now- Bangladesh’s participation in the Food System Summit, if we focus on the success we have achieved, what are the areas you want to highlight? 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: The National Plan of Action for National Agriculture Policy 2018 and National Food and Nutrition Security Policy 2020 as I have told you earlier also, 3rd Country Investment Plan (CIP3) for Sustainable, Nutrition-sensitive and Resilient Food Systems this plan is prepared for the timeline 2021-2025, we have the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan 2021 and the National Adaptation Plan (2023-2050). These documents have been prepared for ensuring the food and nutrition security also to ensure the agro-ecological zoning, crop diversification, integrated nutrient and pest management, and also the climate smart agriculture, increasing productivity through modernization and innovation and strengthening livelihoods through skill building. 

We have another important document that is Delta Plan 2100. That is a very important plan for making contribution for our country’s development. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you, Sir. it’s really good to see the progress. It is noteworthy that with this whole process FAO has a very strong link. They have been working in Bangladesh since 1973 and involved with significant transformation of country’s food and nutrition sector.  

With that, requesting Mr. Simpson to highlight the progress from 2021  to mid of 2023, how much have we progressed after the summit? 

Robert D Simpson: Thank you Mandira, it’s a really good question. It’s great to be here for Bite the Talk with colleagues from GAIN, it’s a great opportunity. The Food System Summit back in 2021 was really just a moment in time, it was a point to help people here organized and understand the food systems as a whole priority rather than just trying to feed people.  

I think the big success for Bangladesh at the Food System Summit is that the Government came together to address a Pathway Document, that addressed all five of the different action tracker of the Food System Summit. Bangladesh has been working on a food systems approach for many years prior to this and they are well positioned to carry that forward and to go across food production, health and safety, environment, the resilience of food systems, which is extremely important in Bangladesh, and also financing and transportation and external impacts of our food systems.  

We have started to have an impact in these two years, I think two very substantive things, and one bringing a whole range of Ministries on board to one common perspective and before when we talked about food systems, before 2021 often times it was simply the Ministry of Food that was working in this direction. Harmonizing the food nutrition strategies with the whole range of 17 SDGs and getting on board with COP26 at the time was very important to describe food systems, the Pathway document was presented at that point. We also brought on board the Ministry of Agriculture we brought on board the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. we brought in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change so they are more actively engaged in understanding across our food system what’s the environmental and climate change impact, working as a more collective in this regard and of course ERD and the Ministry of Finance looking for sustainable finance, trying to finance the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, financing the different policies, the Country Investment Plans that have been identified. These are really a lot of foundational things that have been accomplished in the last two years. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you. I have a little follow-up question on that then I will go to our National Convener. There is a significant number of coalition of action that had been developed in the Summit in 2021. So how do you see Bangladesh responding to those in terms of active partnership or actively joining? How do you see that? 

Robert D Simpson: That’s a great observation and very good question. I think the coalition is a very good idea, developing coalition for both regional action and global actions, coalitions for both global level and regional level. Bangladesh signed on to coalition for healthy diets and for zero hunger initially. There was also a commitment to serve as a co-lead for the climate change, climate resilience coalition. And in the Food System Summit +2, Government of Bangladesh just signed on committed to be part of the school feeding coalition which is absolutely fantastic.  

Now overall I think the coalition have been less active than the global community practice that hoped for. But I think there is still a lot of promise and certainly for the climate resilience coalition there has to be an extremely active effort in this regard. But the coalition allow for a lot of exchange of best practices, and technologies, but also what hasn’t been working so we are learning what’s working best and what isn’t working so I think this is still a very good opportunity moving forward for Bangladesh. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you Mr. Simpson. Now I would like to go to our National Convener regarding the challenge area he considers that we should further work on or how Government sees the challenges or is there any challenges when we come to the implementation of the National Pathway Commitment? 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: You know that Bangladesh is a disaster prone area. Almost every year, Bangladesh faces natural disaster which causes huge dama ge to our crops specially, it leads to risks in the food system. You know we have a big haor area which produces big amount of rice every year so those areas are the key areas of our rice production. Rice is our staple food. If it is hampered by the natural calamities then we face big shortage of food, We have another problem that is very important issue I think, lack of awareness of the people. There are so many sources to collet nutrition. But the only lack of awareness, they are not so much aware to collect the nutritious food or vegetables like this. So this is one area.  

Another thing is our food supply chain that has become more costly because of price hike in every sector after the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. That has impacted the price hike of every commodities, especially for fuel hike price, the food supply chain has been highly Impacted in this sector. Another thing is we have some storage shortage. We have a target to achieve the storage capacity up to 3.7 million metric tons, now we have 2.2 million metric ton of food storage capacity and we have to increase it by 2025 to 3.7 million.  

And another issue is how to preserve the food items, food baskets after purchasing. Though we have a national dietary guideline and another we have household guideline which are two important documents for every household that is a very important document. We have some data gap here, and the financing gap is very important. Finance division is providing finance but we need some more so that we can proceed in smooth way. I think as Mr. Simpson has mentioned many of the challenges, he has also rightly mentioned the challenges in Bangladesh we are facing but I have added these things. We will work together hoping we will overcome.  

Mandira Guha Neogi: Now again back to our success. Bangladesh is considered as one of those countries that has managed the multi-stakeholder engagement in and around the UN Food System Summit and the post-summit activities very successfully. So how do you see that? In your view, how do you see that how Bangladesh Government made it success when it comes to involving different sectors like UN, the development partners, international organizations, youth, media, and research organization and some very significant academia? How do you see that, what was your mechanism that made it happen? 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: Thank you. You have already mentioned that we have involved the multi-stakeholders, multi-level, multi-sectors in our food systems including the businessmen, tradesmen, business sectors, private sectors, civil societies, RBAs, and the development partners. We have all collaboration with other sectors like UN Agencies, FAO, WFP, IFAD, and GAIN and some other agencies also private sectors, civil societies and the business communities. In many meetings you have seen that we have invited the FBCCI and the business forum, they joined the meeting and they have given their own opinions.  

There are so many private sector entrepreneurship have already developed in our country, like ACI, Pran Group, Square Group. These are the remarkable private sectors who have developed our food system to a sustainable and resilient and also healthy because they are exporting their food items to other countries. Food system transformation is the mandate of the Government, it is a prioritized sector of the Government. Government agencies, 22 Ministries, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Finance Division, local government organizations and so on, and other Ministries, and development partners, we have been working together to materialize our dream. The dream of the Father of The Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, under the leadership of our Honorable Prime Minister, H.E. Sheikh Hasina that is our target.  

We will achieve SDGs by 2030, that is our commitment also and we will make our country prosperous and high income country like the other developed countries by 2041, that is our vision, thank you. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you, Sir. It actually gives me a feeling that we are one big family working together to achieve the same vision and mission of the country and beyond the country of course in global level. Would you like to add some points here that how you multiple times mentioned about the three Rome-based Agencies that is FAO, IFAD, and WFP, and GAIN and some other agencies apart from the Government? How do you think that we can support you further technically and in some other ways? How do you think we can do that or make it possible to be with you and to support you till 2030 and beyond? 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: We want you and all the agencies with us because we cannot achieve all the things alone. It is a big dream but it is achievable. We are working as a family as you have mentioned together to achieve the targets and the RBAs, FAO, WFP, IFAD, and GAIN, they have been supporting strongly in every sector of our country. I will mention two sectors specially, the research is an important issue for our country. We need very strong support, especially financial support for the research conductions in our country to improve the food system, to achieve food system transformation to an optimum level. Another thing is the technological support is very important for us. We have been using technology for agriculture sector but we need more technology introduction in other sectors linked with the Food System Summit. In this field we need very strong support from their side, thank you. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you Sir. Now to Mr. Simpson. We would like to know about the countdown 2030 but before that, would like to add something about the multi-stakeholder engagement and its success that Bangladesh has achieved? Would you like to highlight some part of it or some significant area there and then we will go to the countdown 2030 to know more about that from you? Thank you. 

Robert D Simpson: Thank you for the question. The multi-stakeholder process I think was started from the very beginning when we started dialoguing for the Food System Summit for 2021 back in 2020 was actually the start of this dialogue process.  

The national dialogue started back in 2020 in terms of bringing different stakeholders together and there was a formal process. The Government managed to bring stakeholders together but then there was independent dialogues and I think this is a really good and useful planning tool in the Food System Summit in developing the Pathway Document because it brought a whole range of different stakeholder we never would have been able to access on our known and some stakeholders that were even unknown, that developed their own independent dialogue and fed that information into the overall development of Food Systems Summit, Pathway Document and commitments for Bangladesh. 

By doing that process we saw a lot of other actors on board and it made a lot of new introductions too. There was private sector to non-governmental to civil society to localized areas. We had a broader input from the citizenship with the nations and I think it was very positive but it’s also reflected in the long term approach to implementing the Pathway Document.  

So we see much stronger dialogue particularly in the agriculture sector, much stronger dialogue with the private sector now, much stronger dialogue with banking industry trying to access finance, stronger dialogue with different civil society, obviously NGO Partners like GAIN like the groups for researching. But also founded on our strong commitments and relationships with the different Government Ministries and departments so that has been really useful and collaborating and growing as a community and practice this understanding what the food system is and how to address the components of that food system. 

And to answer the second part of question, the countdown 2030. This is the countdown until the expectation of the SDGs being accomplished. The target date is the year 2030. We have seven, actually about six and half short years left to accomplish this. This is the moment where we decided these interlinking Sustainable Development Goals with all of their approximately 150 indicators. Accomplishing this would bring us to a world that is free of hunger, free of poverty but will have human prosperity, ecological prosperity, and social prosperity across the board. And Covid had forced it a bit of back sliding in progress but I think there is renewed energy in effort to move forward.  

I have always been impressed with the Government of Bangladesh in their commitment owing to the MDGs originally but also to the SDGs and so we worked very closely moving that forward. I think the important element for Food System Summit is that the food systems touch on almost every single SDG in one way, shape or form as I mentioned earlier this is really a rallying point for all citizens of the planet to get on and around our food system and also all of our Government agencies, and all of our UN agencies can play a strong role on the essence of moving forward our ability to coordinate and collaborate, our ability to leverage financing, our ability to manage some of our urbanization challenges we will be paramount in reaching the SDGs 

Mandira Guha Neogi: We are almost at the end of our podcast episode. At this point is there any other significant points you want highlight? 

Ismiel Hossain NDC: It was great privilege for me to say something on food system transformation and food security of Bangladesh. Thank you very much.  Bangladesh government is working on food systems transformation under the dynamic leadership of honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. We are focusing on food security as well as food safety all related development partners are with us and many others INGO, NGO and organization are working together with Bangladesh government. 

Momtaz Uddin NDC: Bangladesh has achieved a lot of things and progressed especially in production sector which is very much remarkable. In the field of rice production Bangladesh ranks third in the world, in vegetables also third, potato production Bangladesh is ranked sixth, jackfruit Bangladesh is second, mango production is 8th, guava production 8th, fresh water fish third, hilsha fish, very tasty fish for all people and our national fish, we are first in the world. This has not happened only via single initiative. These are the huge initiatives Government has taken to make such kind of progress and we are not only limited in policy, we made policy to practice. We have achieved a lot but we have a long way to go. We will move together, In shaa Allah and we will achieve our target. Thank you very much. 

Robert D Simpson: Indeed I have something to add. Food is a magical thing. And nations are grown, entire cultures are formulated around the types of food that we have available to us, the type of food we eat, food is social, social activities are food, they are always focused around some types of food Food is a magical thing and enjoy it. But let’s also be conscious of what are our choices, how they are impacting our lives, how they are impacting the lives of the people around us, how they are impacting the global environment we live in. Thank you. 

Mandira Guha Neogi: Thank you all. It was really an insightful and a very lively discussion. And I must say that we have learned a lot from you. Thank you Mr. Ismiel Hossain NDC,- secretary- Ministry of Food,  Mr. Momtaz Uddin NDC, Director- General- FPMU and National Convenor of Bangladesh and Mr. Robert D Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh. Before concluding, I want to mention that I am really that proud part of this nation, a proud Bangladeshi, who not only dreams but knows how to make that dream come true.. 

Thanks you so  much for listening this episode of bite the talk and being with us. Stay connected for the next episode. You can also listen to Spotify and apple podcast to get all other episodes. To learn more about the UN Food Systems Stock taking moment, visit GAIN’s website and social media channels.