Saturday, February 25, 2006



Land is the basic attribute on which the whole life and economy system is built and hence is of vital importance. Bangladesh has long been proud of the richness and diversity of its soils and water resources, and its ability to convert these resources into food, fiber, fishes, and other products. The nation can no longer assume as it could in the past that land would heal and renew itself indefinitely. Human number and activities are catching up with its ability to recover. It may, however, be argued that with careful management the nation's land resources can be able to sustain her people in great number.

Population of Bangladesh is already very large-about 108 million on the night of March 11, 1991 (BBS, 1991). The number has doubled since 1961-62 (50.8 million in 1961) and is projected to double around 2020. About 80 per cent of the total population is rural, of which the majority survife within "a biomass-based subsistence economy". The major portion of the rural population is poor, living in condition unworthy of human dignity. The fundamental cause of poverty in Bangladesh arises out of scarcity of biomass resources to meet basic elemental needs (Agarwal and Narain, 1990).

In the above context, it is believed that an appropriate land use zoning is necessary for sustainable development in Bangladesh. Sustainable development implies utilization or exploration of renewable resources in such ma way so that present use or exploration does not disturb the future land productivity. This paper highlights the problems and issues related to the scarcity of land in Bangladesh and provides a conceptual basis for future land use zoning in the country.


The extent of land area of the country is about 14.79 million hectares, of which some 13.70 million hectares is land and the rest is inland water bodies (Rashid, 1989). Of the total area 12 percent is hilly or mountainous, 8 percent consists of oxidized terraced up land soils and 80 per cent is alluvial plains. Twenty five percent of the alluvial plains is normally inundated during wet monsoon, and another 25 per cent is liable to flooding once in every five years (WRI/USAID, 1990).

Six categories of land types, in relation to depths to which they are normally inundated, are recognized (UNDP and FAO, 1988). Rashid, in categorising land types, mentions - high land comprising almost 29.9 per cent is normally not inundated. Medium Highland, 32.6 per cent of the total land area is normally shallowly inundated by as much as 90 cm of water for short periods. Medium lowland is normally inundated by a depth ranging from 90 to 180 cm accounting 12.6 per cent. Lowland consists of 7.9 per cent, is inundated to depths between 180 to 300 cm, and Very Lowland of 1.4 per cent is inundated deeper than 300 cm. Besides, settlements and water bodies comprises 15.5 per cent of the total land areas (Rashid, 1989).

The study of Rashid (1989) presents and elaborate description of agricultural land use in Bangladesh. It shows about 60 per cent of the total area is presently cropped, less than 3 per cent is current fallow, and nearly 2 per cent is cultivable waste. Forest land area accounts for about 13.5 per cent and over 22 per cent is not available for cultivation.

Of the total cultivated area 46 per cent of land was cropped once, 47 per cent twice, and 7 per cent was cropped three times a year (1984-85). The figurs are indicative of the fact that Bangladesh has a Gross Cultivated Area (GCA) over 60 per cent more than the Net cultivated Area (NCA). Irrigated area has increased many folds in the past twenty years without any significant increase in GCA; in most areas the second of roce has replaced a crop of one of the pulses or oilseeds. And if the trend continues it could lead to adverse nutritional effect. The current fallow is only found in upland areas of the Barind and Madhpur Tracts, and in the eastern hilly areas. Settlement encroachment has increased fairly rapidly in the past two decades; much good agricultural land has been converted to urban, industrial and commercial use (Bhuiya, 1989). Rashid (1991) argues in this context that urbanization may accelerate and is likely to act negatively on horticulture, field crops and even forests.

About 2 million hectares of land is known to be under forest, and of which only 57 per cent is with tree cover. Half of the forest land is in the Hill Tracts where the Unclassed State Forests have very few trees. Much of the Sal forests in Madhupur Tracts are lost to encroacher and illegal fillings (Rashid, 1989). The only remaining substantial forests are now in the Sundarbans, Kassalong and in Teknaf areas. Besides deforestation and its ill effects, the drying up of wet lands for rice cultivation is also causing degradation by reducing soil moisture, fish catch and biodiversity.


Land is a scarce and limited resource in Bangladesh. Every million hectare of land to day supports some 8 million people and by the end of the century the figure may reach 10 million. The nations land is not going to increase. In the face of her teeming population the limited land resource will come under increading pressure for basic survival needs - crops, fishes, live stocks, fibres and forest products all of which are land based. Further, basic shifts in nations demographic characteristics including that of pattern of human settlement and growth are aggravating the land resource problems. The gradual and irreversible conversion of agricultural land to non-farm uses are on the increase.

The conversion of prime farmland to urban, industries and other non-farm uses visibly appear even to a casual observer (Bhuiya, 1989). Illegal felling of trees in last 20 years has made more than 50 per cent of the nations forest land without forest vegetal cover. Interference in the form of flood control, drainage, water diversion and pollution of watger has led to a significant reduction in fishery production. The unethical conversion of wetland habitat to agricultural fields has severally damaged the fish resources and the associated flora and fauna (Rashid, 1991).

The areas under crop cultivation varied over time,usually gradually but sometimes very shoarply. The next cropped area (NCA) is not the same as net sown area or net cultivated area. A area may be ploughed but not sown, or it may be sown but not harvested. This happens frequently for drought or flood. Although current fallow decreased from 0.627 hectare (1973-74) to 0.403 hectare (1985-86), the decrease is by no means steady. Culturable waste is recorded to have actually increased from 272,000 hectares (1973-74) to 33400 hectares (1985-86).

A great deal of engineering is going on in the name of flood control and drainage without much attention to the fact that Bangladesh is the drainage outlet for one of the largest river systems in the world. Due to the nature of land, the vast quantity of water passing through cause inundation over a large area, and which has many beneficial aspects. But, in the name of flood control a series of polders and embankments are built to cause many fold harm: agriculture may be forced into a more expensive and possibly ecologically unsustainable path; multiple cropping and crop-rotation may be a defunct system as they will be replaced by a single crop system; natural habitat is bound to be destroyed affecting bio-diversity. Besides, good agricultural land is used for engineering works or marked out for the passage of flood water (flood way) and drainage channels are closed to damage the nervous (arteria) system of the land.

The nations development process appears to have polarized in space and governed by short term advantage (economic gain) and urban primacy. This policy practice has raised a small group of very powerful people known as 'raiders' who use the land resource recklessly in order to make a fortune within a short time, and thus create severe stresses on the environment to such an extent that sustainable development or judicial use of land resource is bound to be a defunct process.

The preceding discussion leads to a summation that land resource in this part of the world is used as if it is in abundance. In fact, this critical resource is limited, and a huge population depends on it. Use of land for crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry must therefore, be protected, and misuse, overuse or underuse of land must be brought under control and scientific management. The present state of misuse, overuse or underuse of the land resource in Bangladesh has given rise to a number of issues which may be considered central to the problems of land resource development.

Bangladesh has about 9 million hectares of cultivated land, or which very little is being used to its optimum. Although some areas are affected by saling intrusion, river erosion, flood hazards, etc., a large part more than 6 million hectares do not suffer from physical limitations. (UNDP/FAO, 1988). The scope for fairly rapid improvement in the upgrading of productivity per unit area can easily be attained provided the social and economic policies give the right incentives. Similarly, rivers, haors, baors, beels, and ponds offer a large area of inland watger for pissiculture, but productivity is well below the potential.

Urbanization is necessary for economic growth, but in the process, it reduces the amount of good agricultural land. The rapid urban growth in last few decades has effectively consumed potentially triple cropped land. Extensive and wasteful way of urbanization is such in two forms.First, the growth of housing estates of one or two storied building is allowed to scatter in the countryside, and then connecting roads are built and the spaces in between are filled in with
light industrial or commercial establishments.Second, low price of agricultural lands enables speculators to buy land for future urban use and leave them undeveloped and unused for decades together (Rashid, 1989).
Waterways were the main means of communications in Bangladesh until late fifties; roads with high embankments were few, and the railway embankments were built with adequate drainage outlets and breaches were uncommon. Since then a network of national highways have been built, and the spaces in between have been subjected to the construction of more dense network of local roads indiscriminately. Road building activity has not only eaten up more land, but roads and highways have caused major obstruction to the free flows of rain and flood water. Further, in absence of free flow of water a substantial land areas suffer from the localized water logged and aggravated flooding conditions, and thus the consequent loss of agricultural productivity.

Encroachment of fertile land by industrial set up is widespread, and industrial units in almost all cases acquire or buy more land than is required. In last two decades, many individuals or groups put fencing and signboard for industrial site in the heart of good farm land but practically nothing has been done. The only reason for such acquisition has been to get industrial loan or credits. Many industries discharging much harmful effluents are built in locations which are not at all conducive to healthy environment (Rahman, 1990 and MOEF/IUCN, 1991).
Good examples for such a situation can be seen in between Dhaka city and Savar - besides the highway.Moreover, their waste discharge has already caused serious harm to fisheries and sometimes farmland too. Brickmaking has been a major source of concer. It has already engulfed good quality large farmland and will continue to areal extent. Besides destruction of top soil and tree resources, the brickfield owners excavate large pits in a haphazard manner making the land virtually useless for any further economic use (Rahman, 1990).Forest land constitutes almost 14 per cent of the land surface of which only 52 per cent is currently under tree cover.

Illegal felling, hill cutting and cultivation on steep slopes are causing widespread land degradation through increased leaching and top soil erosion. Every forest plantation is also under constant threat for fuel famine in the country (Khan, 1990). Besides acute energy crisis, especially in the rural area is affecting land use. Nearly in all the homestead orchard cum wood lands, dried leaves and twings are swept up for us as fuel. In fact, cowdung, twings and leaves, even the rice and wheat stubble remaining after harvest are not allowed to decay enriching the soil's organic matter; they are used as fuels. This fuel crisis in rural areas affects land quality through reduction of organic matter as well as the homestead vegetal cover. (MOEF/IUCN, 1991).
There are other conflicting competitions among various components of land uses. Fisheries being the major source of protein for majority of the population, and also provide considerable employment, are yet to come into active consideration for development. In an attempt to produce more rice, large number of perennial, and seasonal water bodies have been destroyed through drainage, flood control and irrigation schemes. (MOEF/IUCN, 1991). These water bodies used to yield not only the fishes, but the economic value of these inland fisheries used to enhance the ecological role as breeding grounds for numerous forms of aquatic life, many of which have commercial values.
In just reverse way, an estimated 120 thousand hectare Transplanted Aman rice land have been converted to seasonal or annual shrimp culture in last 12 years. In areas where rice and shrimp are alternated seasonally the yield of rice is rapidly declining and over time these areas may become suitable for brackish water shrimp culture only. Similarly, saline intrusion, FCD-FCDI, ground water depletion are also in the process of aggravating the land resource problems.
The issue of government land acquisition is particularly vexing, because it is the Gov3ernment who is most visibly wasteful of land resource (Rashid, 1989).
Every year large areas of good farm land are being diverted from agricultural use for construction of buildings, roads and high ways, brick fields, schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and health centres. The public purposes for acquiring land is liberally interpretated and in most cases land much in excess or actual requirement of the project is allowed to be acquired by government departments and private parties to suit their convenience (Bell-Gaz, 1988). This practice is not only adversely affecting national land use, but also inflicting upon poor helpless farmers.

Finally, the growth of population is so rapid and in aggregate so large that it must have a profound effect on land resource. Due to Muslim Laws of Inheritance, the land holdings are continuously divided and subdivided at a rate faster than population (Rashid, 1989 and 1991). The decrease in holding size means that a large number of viable units are becoming non-viable. Secondly, population growth is also directly relatged to the building of new households; every year about 250 thousand new households are built on new lands. That is, a large area of agricultural land are being taken up by new settlement.


Of the nations population the vast majority survive within the biomass based subsistence economy, that is, on products obtained from plants and animals. The biomass produced in the country has already failed to keep paqce with the population growth and their elements needs. Foodgrains, dairy products, sugar, fruits, edible oils, pulses and spices are on the list for continuous imports or smuggled / in; foodgrain alone is imported to the tune of more than 2 million tons annually.
There are also acute shortages of fishes, firewood, fodder and building materials like timber and thatch. Over the coming years, demand for all these biomasses will grow and cause severe stress on the land resource, thus on the environment. Therefore, Bangalesh has to find a strategy to optimize the use of its land resource in a way that the country can get high productivity as well as sustainability. Optimum utilization of land resource does not mean that agricultural landuse for rice production would automatically get priority, but it does mean that the minimum possible amount of arable land should be taken out of production. Use of land for crops, fisheries, livestock and forestry needs to be protected.

Quite contrary to what the need is, the overall biomass production in Bangladesh seems to be declining rapidly. The problem is that there is little mass awareness of the need for regulating land use, and therefore, there is virtually no pressure on the political and administrative apparatus to optimize their uses. This poses a major scientific, social and political challenge for Bangladesh.

Many may argue that foodgrain production in Bangladesh has increased. Undoubtedly it is so, but only on a very small fraction of land, that is, irrigated croplands. Productivity of foodgrains on the rest is still very low or even declining, and overall biomass is on rapid decline. To reverse this situation, every inch of land must produce grains, grasses and trees, because, the fundamental cause of poverty in Bangladesh arises out of the scarcity of biomass resources to meet daily basic needs like food, fodder, fishes and forest products. Economic growth and rural development programmes must focus on one major aim and that aim must be to introduce a highly productive system for growtin all forms of biomass - not a technical system that give bumper yield today but discount the future (Agarwal and Narain, 1990). If it is accepted that the growth of biomass is the vital objective of Bangladesh's planned economic programms, then it is to be remembered that the same kind of biomass can not be grown everywhere on a sustainable basis; and also high prodectivity on a suitainable basis is possible only by observing the laws of nature, not by contravening them.

Recognition of the facts would necessary mean that landmass be divided into different functional components of the basis of social and ecological dynamics of an area for specific uses. In other words, for optimum utilization land needs to be categorized into different 'zones' for specific use (e.g. agricultural land, industrial land, commercial land, forest land, etc. etc.; and again good agricultural land, medium agricultural land and poor agricultural land etc.).Land zoning is a synthesized formulation of landscape based on pattern of landuse, exist in state of management.
bio-physical make-ups indicating capability, potentialities and constraints. It provides necessary inputs in determining the optimum and multiple uses of any given tract of land in terms of sustainable productivity under the enforcement of zoning laws and regulations. Classifying or zoning lands is a mammoth task as it involves huge amounts of financial and other inputs; but definitely the output afterwards if measured in values will have positive bearings for overall land policies of the country.
Land zoning system pre-supposes the need to ensure the suitability of available land for purposive used under zoning laws and regulations strictly enacted and enforced is based on land appraisal involving existing landuse pattern, land capability and potentialities, and cultural practices. Several methods of land appraisal and thus land zoning have emerged in agricultural, engineering and geographical scienes., which the specialist readers are expected to know. Land zoning is a delineated classification of landscape in synthesized foroms drawn out of three environment:

i) the natural environment, which encompasses the bio-physical realities of the world existing outside society;

ii) the built environment, which recognises that man-made

iii) the social environment, which arises from the matrix of people and their culture (Bell-Gaz, 1988).

Land zonning thus helps in the actual formulation of land use policy eliminating or minimizing a) conflicts between resource protection and resource development; b) competitions among various components of landuse; c) misuse or overuse of land resource by interest groups or raiders; and d) environmental degradation.


Bangladesh faces an extraordinary challenge over the next few decades in providing the survival needs to her, teeming millions. The survival needs can be met only if the nation finds a highly productive system of growing all forms of biomass, from foodgrains to grasses-trees to fishes, and all of which are land based. There is little mass awareness of the need for regulating landuse, and therefore, there is virtually no pressure on the plitical and administrative apparatus to optimize productivity.In order to optimize productivity of the nations land, land zoning is thought to be the fundamental approach to the solution of the growth and aggravating land resource problems. Bangladesh should not be slow to recognize this vital premise of land use zonning.

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