Overview

Agriculture is the single most important sector of Bangladesh's economy. 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture (66% of the labor force). Fifty-seven percent of the labor force is engaged in the crop sector which represents about 78% of the value added in the agricultural sector. The share of agriculture in GDP has fallen from around 57% in the 1970s to 35% in recent years but is still the largest economic sector. It is also the source of many of the small industrial sector's raw materials, such as jute, and accounts for 32% of the value of exports. In short, agriculture is the driving force behind economic growth in Bangladesh and, as a result, increasing food and agriculture production have always been major concerns of Bangladeshi policy-makers.

The crop sector

Within the crop sector (rice, wheat, pulses and jute), rice dominates, with an average 71% share of the gross output value of all crops. As a result, growth in the agricultural sector essentially mirrors the performance of rice production, although the share of livestock and fisheries has increased steadily in recent years to 22% of the value added in agriculture.

Fluctuations in food grain production

The possibility of natural disasters is a constant threat for Bangladesh. The country is particularly vulnerable to sudden floods, cyclones and even droughts. Vulnerability to natural disasters and a heavy reliance on annual rains for the main crop performance are the cause of severe fluctuations in food grain production and prices and also very erratic GDP growth. Losses of both food and cash crops are a common occurrence, seriously disrupting the entire economy by precipitating unanticipated food import requirements. This in turn reduces the foreign exchange availability necessary for imports of essential inputs for manufacturing and industry and, as a result, causes shortfalls in exports.

Exportation

Bangladesh is the world's leading exporter of raw jute and jute products, including carpet backing, twine and sacking. It accounts for as much as 24% of world jute production.

Export earnings from fish and fish products, in particular shrimp, are also sizeable, and followed by export earnings from the leather industry. Natural gas production is of increasing importance. Its major product, urea fertilizer, has more than doubled in output in the last decade and the country now exports fertilizer mainly to neighboring Asian countries. Within the agriculture sector, tea follows jute as an important cash crop and export product; however it represented only 1% of the country's total export earnings in 1994/95.

Resource base

Bangladesh has a narrow resource base, except of course its human resource potential. Industry in the country is at present not large enough to support the country through export earnings, or by employment generation. The opportunities for diversifying the economic base in Bangladesh are limited and the country continues to run up a heavy trade deficit, reflecting its dependence on imports for most essential goods, such as machinery, equipment and petroleum products, and the decline in the real prices of its traditional staple exports of jute, jute manufactures and tea. Although levels of domestic savings and investment have been growing in the 1990s, they are still low and act as a constraint to the country's economic growth and development.