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Last updated on 9 December 2004

News :

Chapter 2.11 is updated [09/12/04]
2 Links ( 1 / 2 ) in 1.2 and 2 Links ( 1 / 2 ) in 5.1 are added [09/12/04]

icon overview   Country Overview
icon land   Land resources
icon water   Water resources (AQUASTAT)
icon plant   Plant nutrient resources
icon hotspots   Hot spots
icon brightspots   Bright spots
icon challenges and view points   Challenges and viewpoints
icon references and links   References / Related internet links

1.   Country overview

1.1  Geography and administrative units

1.2  Socio-economic features

1.3  Climate

1. > top


1.1  Geography and administrative units


Geographical location

Bangladesh is located in Southern Asia, in the Northeast of the Indian sub-continent, and covers a total area of 147 570 km2. It has a common border with India in the West, North and East, a small border with Myanmar in the Southeast, and is bordered by the Bay of Bengal in the South. Adminstratively, the country is divided into 6 divisions, 64 districts and 490 Thanas. there are 4 metropolitan areas, of which the capital city, Dhaka, is one (FAO Aquastat).

[Map 1.1.1: Outline Map]

[Text 1.1.1: The State of Land, Water and Plant Nutrition Resources of Khulna Division of Bangladesh] (PDF document 59kb)S.M. Saheed 1997. The State of Land, Water and Plant Nutrition Resources of Khulna Division of Bangladesh. Soil Resources Development Institute, Dhaka.

1.1 > 1.

1.2  Socio-economic features

1.2.1 Overview of Socio-economic features
1.2.2 Agriculture in the Bangladesh economy
1.2.3 Food security
1.2.4 Challenges faced by Bangladesh agriculture
1.2.5 Biodiversity and Biotechnology

1.2.1 Overview of Socio-economic features

Despite significant economic and social progress over the past 20 years, Bangladesh remains among the poorest countries in the world. With a per caput gross national product (GNP) of $ 220, less than that of both Pakistan ($ 430) and India ($ 320), Bangladesh ranked as the 13th poorest among 133 countries covered by the World Bank rankings in 1996. With a population of 120 million living within a limited area of 147 570 km2, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, supporting 800 people per km2. At current rates of population growth (2.17 percent), it is estimated that the total population could reach 175 million by about 2025. The urban population has been growing rapidly, by 5.3 percent per year from 1980 to 1993, but 83 percent of the people still live in rural areas.

Fifty percent of the Bangladeshi population lives below the absolute poverty line* and approximately 40 percent of the effective labour force is underemployed. Poverty in Bangladesh is closely associated with landownership. Functionally landless (less than 0.2 ha) households comprise 65 percent of the poor, while the marginal landowners (with between 0.2 and 0.6 ha) account for another 21 percent. The prevalence of extreme poverty is far higher among female-headed households, whose total population may exceed four million. More than 95 percent of these female-headed households fall below the poverty line, of which one-third are among the hard-core poor*. Their incomes, on average, are 40 percent less than those of male-headed households.

More than 62 percent of the population in Bangladesh is illiterate, and the country suffers from some of the highest undernutrition and malnutrition levels in the world. Although infant and child mortality rates have improved since the mid-80s, 84 percent of children under the age of five are still considered malnourished. Bangladeshi women have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world - 490 per 100 000 live births in rural areas - largely as a result of the poor nutrition of expectant mothers. The nutritional status of the population points to significant gaps in food and consumption.

* Note: The poverty line in Bangladesh is defined by the 1991-92 Household Expenditure Survey and is calculated on the basis of a per caput minimum daily intake of 2 122 Kcal (as recommended by WHO), with a 30 percent allowance for non-food basic needs. Those defined as the "hard-core"poor have a daily intake of <1 805 Kcal (M.O. Hossain, 1991. Poverty alleviation. In R.Sobhan, ed. Report of the task forces on Bangladesh development strategies for the 1990s, Volume 1. Dhaka.

1.2.2 Agriculture in the Bangladesh economy

Agriculture is the single most important sector of Bangladesh's economy. 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture (66% of the labour force). Fifty-seven percent of the labour 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 agriculture 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 policymakers.

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 foodgrain production
The possibility of natural disasters is a constant threat for Bangladesh. The country is particularly vulnerable to sudden floods, cyclones and even droughts (see 2.6 Natural hazards). Vulnerability to natural disasters and a heavy reliance on annual rains for the main crop performance are the cause of severe fluctuations in foodgrain 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.

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 percent of world jute production.
Export earnings from fish and fish products, in particular shrimp, are also sizeable, 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 neighbouring 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 opportunites 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.

1.2.3 Food security

Towards self-sufficiency
Bangladesh became a perennially food-deficit country in the late 1950s, when population pressures began to take their toll. Threats of mass starvation have been felt several times since independence owing to droughts and flooding, but a famine of significant proportion only struck the country in 1974 when world food production fell to an all-time low and world food prices rose sharply (see [Table 2.6.1]). At that time, there was insufficient food aid and the country did not have enough foreign exchange resources to buy all the grain it needed in the world market. With subsequent increase in food aid allotments from donors and the government's import programme and increased capacity to finance food imports, the days of severe famine were put to an end. However the majority of the rural population are still afflicted by malnutrition and semi-starvation. In fact, a downward trend in the daily per caput intake of cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits and meat can be seen over the last few decades in rural areas as well as at a national level. For example, rice intake in rural Bangladesh in 1995/96 was 427 g per caput. In 1981/82, 1975/76 and 1962-64, the levels of intake were 451, 493 and 505 g, respectively.

Bangladesh's dependence on food imports and, in particular, food aid throughout the years has been cause for concern. Food imports in Bangladesh currently represent approximately 18 percent of total imports and absorb 34 percent of total export earnings. In 1990/91, food aid represented 98 percent of total food imports but this has been reduced considerably to representing 30 percent of total food imports in 1995/96. The significant difference has essentially been made up by private sector imports, which began in 1992/93.

The overriding objective of all agricultural policy and development since independence in Bangladesh has been to achieve self-sufficiency in foodgrains and, in particular, rice production. What has actually been sought is a substantial acceleration in the growth rate of domestic food production and a decreased dependence on or elimination of food aid in the long term. The emphasis on accelerating food production in Bangladesh stems from the country's excessive dependence on food imports, its precarious external account situation and its perceived comparative advantage in food production. Bangladesh has excellent soils, rechargeable aquifers that are easily tapped for irrigation, an abundance of low-cost labour in its rural areas and a climate that allows crops to be grown the year round.

Source: SOFA 1997

The role of rice
With the availability of high-yielding varieties (HYVs), rice has contributed significantly to the progress towards self-sufficiency. Despite the significant inroads wheat has made in the Bangladeshi diet, rice has been and continues to be the favoured foodgrain in the country and consitutes 95% of the cereals consumed. Rice cultivation is the major source of livelihoood for the large majority of farmers of Bangladesh and it accounts for more than 74 percent of cultivated area, 83 percent of the total irrigated area and 88 percent of the total fertilizer consumption in the country. In a social, political and economic context, rice is a significant crop in Bangladesh; it dominates all other economic activities and consumes a considerable amount of foreign exchange.

Source: SOFA 1997

Foodgrain production
Although Bangladesh continues to be a net importer of food, importing on average 1.5 million tonnes of rice annually, it has achieved substantial gains in foodgrain production during the last two decades. From 1969/70 to 1992/93, the cropping intensity increased significantly with foodgrain production almost doubling. In the crop years from 1989/90 to 1992/93, Bangladesh produced bumper harvests of foodgrains, with a record production in 1992/93 of 19.5 million tonnes (much higher than the average of 16.4 million tonnes during 1985-89).

In 1993/94 and 1994/95, foodgrain production declined, as a result of droughts and floods as well as the farmers'response to the fall in the price of rice from the bumper harvest of the previous year. This was evidenced by more than a 2 percent reduction in the area sown, a decline in irrigation demand and more than a 4 percent decline in fertilizer consumption.

The country faced one of its largest foodgrain shortfalls ever in 1994/95, owing in part to a severe fertilizer crisis and leading to a resurgence of large food imports and high cereal prices. This situation continued until April 1996 when good boro (dry season) harvest prospects started to dampen the market.

Source: SOFA 1997

Current state of the agricultural sector
The recent trend in foodgrain production has not been positive. The agricultural sector is now confronted with low and stagnating yields of most crops, including rice, and the food gap between domestic production and demand has actually widened. In spite of the fact that rice production has increased at a higher rate than the rate of population growth during the last decade, and despite the fact that there are both public and private imports each year, the daily per caput food availability of foodgrains in Bangladesh has not reached the standard foodgrain requirement or target consumption level of 454 g since 1991/92. Given that food availability is not equally distributed, it is clear that the situation is worse for the poor than these figures would lead one to believe.

[Chart 1.2.1: Foodrain production and the food gap]

Source: SOFA 1997

HYV Rice and non-cereal crops
Over the past two decades the principal sources of growth came predominantly from irrigated boro rice, followed by aman (wet season) rice and, to a small extent, wheat. The success in accelerating rice production in the 1980s can be attributed almost entirely to the conversion of local varieties to modern HYVs and, as a result of changes in the policy environment, the adoption of irrigation and fertilizer technologies, which has enabled intensive use of the boro months.

As a result of the heavy emphasis on rice production, yields of other non-cereal crops such as pulses, potatoes, oilseeds and vegetables have stagnated. Land used previously for pulses has been converted for rice production. There have been modest increases in the yields of local rice but the average local yields have been only half of those of the HYV rice. However, of late, it is the yield of modern varieties that is showing signs of stagnation.

Source: SOFA 1997

Food preferences
People from different areas, with varying customs, have different food preferences and some examples are:

Source: Field 1995

1.2.4 Challenges faced by Bangladesh agriculture

Bangladesh has an agriculture-dependent economy with a growing population and one of the world's lowest land areas per caput. Not surprisingly, the most important issue in Bangladesh agriculture is to enhance and sustain growth in crop production, the most pressing problem is therefore the current state of stagnating yields and declining productivity in a range of food and non-food crops. Projections of foodgrain supply and demand are consistent in their conclusions that there is a widening foodgrain supply gap.

With negligible scope for area expansion, as most of the arable lands of Bangladesh are already under cultivation, future growth will have to continue to rely on raising productivity per unit of land. For this reason, continuous efforts are being made towards developing new improved seed varieties. It is also felt that the agricultural sector has by no means exploited its full potential for crop production and that there are various opportunities for substantially increasing cropping intensities. Currently only 40 percent of the potential irrigated area is covered by modern varieties and, most important, there are wide gaps between the potential and the realized yields for all crops in the country.

Narrowing gaps between actual and potential yields, however, is easier said than done, for there are various underlying issues and constraints in terms of productivity that are beyond the bounds of technology and another green revolution. To think that the growth of crop production and the goal of self-sufficiency depend almost entirely on technological progress is not only deceiving but also detrimental to the long-term sustainable development of the country. Aside from the fact that Bangladesh is prone to frequent natural disasters, there are significant factors, both institutional and socio-economic, that play a part in determining the productivity of the agricultural sector and food security situation in the country. These include:

Source: SOFA 1997

1.2.5 Biodiversity and Biotechnology

Crop Diversification
With rice occupying almost 75 percent of the cropped area, followed by wheat which occupies approximately 4 percent and jute which occupies approximately 3 percent, less than 20 percent of the cropped area is devoted to a range of other crops. It appears that the benefits of crop diversification in the country are well known and have been recognized for a long time. However, all efforts seem to have been consumed by the domination of rice production and, as a result, the area under non-cereal crops has continued to diminish. The government has now recognized the urgent need for agricultural diversification, and a shift towards this end is beginning to take place, although - some would argue - at an unprogressive pace.

There are several immediate reasons why the focus of agricultural growth should incorporate more than the emphasis on foodgrain production alone and include several non-rice crops such as maize, pulses, oilseeds, potatoes and other vegetables as well as poultry, livestock and even sericulture production:

There are some obvious obstacles to agricultural diversification which need to be addressed. The development of modern technology for rice and wheat has impeded the development of seeds for other crops and reduced the competitiveness of pulses and oilseeds, which are important sources of protein for the poor.

Additional research is needed to develop suitable HYVs and to make them competitive with modern varieties of rice and wheat. There is also an inherent difficulty associated with intercrop conflicts arising from competition for limited land area. Potatoes, vegetables, bananas, onions and spices are all easily produced in Bangladesh. However, up to now, storage and transport infrastuctures have not been substantive enough to inspire the adoption of these crops on a large scale. Farmers have been discouraged by the high price risks associated with the marketing of these crops. Moreover, there has been inadequate extension of on-farm water management technology for non-rice crops. For a crop diversification programme to be successful, it will be necessary to create effective demand for the output through price support policies, education and consumer motivation and by ensuring a viable market with appropriate import and export policies.

Source: SOFA 1997

[Link 1.2.1: Special:Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture][NEW]

[Link 1.2.2: Quick Reference Guides on Bangladesh][NEW]

1.2 > 1.

1.3  Climate

1.3.1 Climatic factors affecting crop suitability
1.3.2 Rainfall
1.3.3 Temperature
1.3.4 Growing periods

[Map 1.3.1: map of climate stations]

1.3.1 Climatic factors affecting crop suitability

There are general annual variations which affect the crop growth suitability and there are localised variations, such as the preponderance of fog or misty conditions, which affect specific crops such as pulses (especially chickpea). The two main climatic factors are rainfall and temperature:

1.3.2 Rainfall

An important aspect is the rabi season rainfall (i.e. between October and March) and it has been found that 26% of the country, on the western side, does not receive enough rainfall (more than 200mm) during the rabi period to provide for a 135 day growing period. Thus for these areas only rainfed crops with low water requirement such as some of the pulses can be grown.

Photo: Monsoon rainfall in Bangladesh

Crop water requirements

The water requirements for different crops are shown in the following table. It can be seen that the tubers, oilseeds and the pulses require considerably less water than rice.

Type of crop

Water requirements

Boro rice






Sweet potato


Lentil and chickpea


Source: Field 1995

1.3.3 Temperature

From the maximum and minimum temperatures it can be seen that the minimum temperature rises considerably faster in the south than it does in the north, approximately three weeks earlier. This can also influence the cropping patterns, as illustrated by farmers who grow two crops of potatoes in the north between October and April.

Source: Field 1995

[Map 1.3.2: reference thermal zones]

[Chart and Table 1.3.1: Thermal Zones Data]

1.3.4 Growing periods

Three separate growing periods or seasons exist in Bangladesh and four different main crops (rice, jute, wheat, pulses) have developed, each adapted to particular seasonal and hydrological conditions, and each accompanied by a distinct farming technology.

The growing period is the period of the year when both moisture and temperature conditions are suitable for crop production.

The time of summer monsoon is the kharif growing period, during which rice and jute are grown on seasonally flooded or wet land. About 85% of all agricultural land is used for growing rice and jute in the wet season. Broadcast and transplanted aman rice are the main crops. The dry winter is known as the rabi growing period during which dryland crops such as wheat and pulses are grown on land that drains quickly enough and has soils with good enough moisture retaining capacity . However where land is low-lying and remains flooded throughout the year or where soils are impermeable and there is irrigation, boro rice is grown in the dry season. In the pre-monsoon and early monsoon or kharif-I period, aus rice crop varieties dominate, along with jute and broadcast (deepwater) aman rice varieties.

The [Chart 1.3.2] illustrates the climatic suitability of different seasons for the growth of various crops.It can be seen that non-cereal crops (tubers, oilseeds and pulses) are most suited to the rabi season.

[Chart 1.3.2: Seasonal suitability for different crops]

Source: Field 1995

[Map 1.3.3: reference kharif length of growing periods etc...]

[Map 1.3.3-1: reference kharif length of growing periods]
[Map 1.3.3-2: end of reference kharif growing period (average 1961-90)]
[Map 1.3.3-3: reference end humid period (average 1961-90)]
[Map 1.3.3-4: reference end rabi growing period (average 1961-90)]
[Map 1.3.3-5: reference kharif length of growing period (average 1961-90)]
[Map 1.3.3-6: reference kharif length of growing period (year 1995)]
[Map 1.3.3-7: reference total (kharif+rabi) length of growing period (average 1961-90)]
[Map 1.3.3-8: start of reference kharif growing period (average 1961-90)]

Rice and wheat crop calendar in relation to seasonal flooding, rainfall and temperature

In different seasons of the year different varieties of rice dominate, which are adapted to the hydrological conditions of the respective season. The cropping calendar is not only perfectly adapted to the different seasons but also to the different levels of the land (see: 2.5 Inundation Land Types).

On the chars (active river flooplains) there are no such different land levels, because the char land is completely under the influence of the strong current and the resulting erosion of the river during the monsoon season. Under these conditions, char land is eroded or new chars emerge each year.

[Chart 1.3.3: Rice and wheat crop calendar]

Source: Brammer et al., 1993 in Hofer & Messerli 1997.

1.3 > 1.

2.   Land resources

2.1  Physiography

2.2  Soils

2.3  Agroecological systems

2.4  Wetlands, mangroves and inland valley bottoms

2.5  Inundation Land Types

2.6  Natural hazards

2.7  Land cover

2.8  Land use

2.9  Land use change

2.10  Land Productivity

2.11  Environmental Impact of land uses

2. > top

2.1  Physiography

[Map 2.1.1: Map of physiographic regions]

2.1 > 2.

2.2  Soils

Soil characteristics

There are numerous attributes which influence the suitability of a given soil for growing crops: texture, soil depth, presence of a plough pan, available soil moisture holding capacity, permeability, drainage, consistence and chemical characteristics.

The main soil types and % sand, loam and clay composition in each AEZ are described in the table in [Map 2.3.1].

[Map 2.2.1: Map of general soil types]


2.2 > 2.

2.3  Agroecological systems

Definition of Agro-ecological Zones

An Agro-ecological Zone is a land resource mapping unit, defined in terms of climate, landform and soils, and/or land cover, and having a specific range of potentials and constraints for land use (FAO Soils Bulletin 1996).

Agro-ecological zones in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, 30 agro-ecological zones have been defined. These zones can however be grouped into 20 major physiographic units, as shown in [Table 2.3.1]. Each of the zones has specific characteristics which are related mainly to topography and soil type.

[Map 2.3.1: Map of agro-ecological zones]

[Map 2.3.2: Map of agro-ecologically constrained area]

[Map 2.1.1: Map of physiographic regions]

[Table 2.3.1: Major physiographic units]

Priority physiographic units for tubers, oilseeds and pulses

Agro-ecological zones are closely related to the suitability of growing crops. A priority ranking of the 20 physiographic units for different crops except rice and wheat is shown in [Table 2.3.2]. It can be seen that, apart from potatoes, other crops have a similar ranking in respect of physiographic unit suitability. The reason for this is that all soils in Bangladesh are generally suitable for the crops indicated and the major factor influencing the relevance of the AEZs is their topographic situation: high land being most and lowland least favourable in terms of crop suitability. There is an exception to the generally good soils of the country, and that is the area of salinity in the south shown in the Inundation Land Types Map as category 3.

[Table 2.3.2: Priority physiographic units for tubers, oilseeds and pulses]

Source: Field 1995


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2.4  Wetlands, mangroves and inland valley bottoms


2.4 > 2.

2.5  Inundation Land Types


Inundation Land Types and cropping patterns

On most floodplain and valley land, cropping patterns are primarily determined by the seasonal flooding regime, i.e. the dates when inundation begins and ends, the depth of inundation at peak levels and the risk of damage to crops by early, high or late floods. Farmers' traditional cropping patterns and practices are adapted to flooding regimes on a micotopographical scale: differences of only a few centimetres between neighbouring fields may influence choice of crop varieties or management practices.

Seasonal flooding regimes have been characterized by means of inundation land type:


Land above normal inundation level


Land normally inundated up to about 90 cm deep


Land normally inundated up to 90 -180 cm deep


Land normally inundated up to 180-300 cm deep


Land normally inundated deeper than 300 cm.

[Source: UNDP/FAO 1988]

[Map 2.5.1: Map of Inundation Land Type]

[Map 2.5.2: Map of Wheat Growing Areas by Inundation Landtype]

[Chart 2.5.1: Inundation Land Types and Percentage Cover]

Inundation Land Types and Cropping Patterns

On most floodplain and valley land, cropping patterns are primarily determined by the seasonal flooding regimes, i.e. the dates when inundation begins and ends, the depth of inundation at peak levels and the risk of damage to crop by early, high or late floods. Farmers' traditional cropping patterns and practices are adapted to flooding regimes on a microtopographical scale: differences of only a few centimetres between neighbouring fields may influence choice of crop or varieties, or management practices.

[Table 2.5.1: Inundation Land Types and Cropping Patterns]

Source: UNDP/FAO 1988; Iqbal 1998.

Rice and wheat crop calendar in relation to seasonal flooding, rainfall and temperature.

[Chart 1.3.3: Rice and wheat crop calendar]

2.5 > 2.

2.6  Natural hazards

2.6.1 Overview
2.6.2 Flooding
2.6.3 Cyclones and tidal surges
2.6.4 Droughts
2.6.5 Global warming and sea level rise

2.6.1 Overview

Economy and food supply are closely linked to climate, thus significant variations in climatic events have profound effects on society. In these circumstances, climate can be thought of as a hazard rather than a resource.

Comparison of different hazards in Bangladesh illustrates that cyclones have the most dramatic consequences. Riverbank erosion is in second place, not in terms of deaths, but in terms of the process of impoverishment and landlessness of the many people affected. The number of deaths during monsoon floods, even during extraordinary events, is comparatively small (Hofer & Messerli 1997).

Floods, droughts and cyclones have occurred in Bangladesh over the centuries. Increased exposure due to growing population size and development in hazardous areas has made disasters in the last years larger and more frequent. The frequency with which climate-induced disasters occur in Bangladesh is shown in the [Table 2.6.1]. Only six years between 1960 and 1992 were disaster free. Events listed in the Table suggest that droughts occurred on average every 2.3 years and floods and cyclones every 1.8 years. The spatial distribution of these events is quite extensive relative to the size of the country. It is the unique disposition of land, water and people in Bangladesh in relation to climate that has resulted in this unusual pattern and frequency of disasters.

[Table 2.6.1: Bangladesh droughts, floods and cyclones, 1960-91]

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

2.6.2 Flooding

Bangladesh is the most flood-prone country in the world in terms of proportion of risk to total area. About 1.32 million ha and 5.05 million ha of the total cropped area is severely and moderately flood-prone (Aquastat). Normal flooding (barsha) affects about 25% of Bangladesh each year, but land use and settlement are well adapted to it. Abnormal flooding (bonya) can submerge more than 50% of the land area, damaging crops and property, disrupting economic activities and causing loss of life.

Flood-prone land is basically of two kinds: active and stable. Active floodplains lie within and along to the main river channels. These are marginal environments for human occupancy and are highly vulnerable to floods and riverbank erosion. Stable floodplain land provides good crops in normal years, but kharif crops are vulnerable to untimely or unusually high floods (bonya). This vulnerability can be reduced by irrigation (dry rabi season) and flood control (wet kharif season). Early flash floods affect boro in the north-east. In 1988 over 60 percent of Bangladesh land area was inundated and crop loss was enormous. Typically it is the relatively high producing districts of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Tangail, Pabna and Faridpur that are flood-prone .

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

[Map 2.6.1: Map of Flood prone areas]

[Map 2.6.2: Map of Districtwise status of flood effect on T-Aman 1998]

[Map 2.6.3: Map of historical worst flood]

[Map 2.6.4: Map of 1998 flood extent]

Areas of Bangladesh affected by the severe floods of 1987 and 1988
Scenary of the flood in 1987 .

Photo by Zingg in Hofer & Messerli, 1997

[Table 2.6.1] showing the effects of droughts, floods and cyclones in Bangladesh between 1960 and 1991.

2.6.3 Cyclones and Tidal Surges

Due to the geographic location of Bangladesh, severe cyclone and tidal surges are common in the 710 km long coastal belt and cause severe damage to life and property. In April 1991 flooding by tidal surges generated by a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal caused the death of approximately 140 000 people and damage toseveral thousand hectares of crops and property.

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

Areas of Bangladesh exposed to storm surge and affected by cyclones. The impact of the 1991 cyclone covered an area imilar to that shown as "occasionally affected" on the map. Other selected cyclone tracks have been added for comparison.

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

Effect of the 1991 cyclone in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.

Source: Hofer & Messerli, 1997.

2.6.4 Droughts

Droughts are common in Bangladesh. They affect water supplies and plant growth leading to loss of production, food shortages and starvation. In comparison with floods and especially cyclones, droughts are slow to manifest themselves and are relatively more pervasive. Typically, uncertainty of rainfall during pre-kharif and prevalence of dry days and lack of soil moisture during the dry season reduce potential yields of broadcast, T. aman and rabi crops. Depending on the intensity of drought, estimated yield reduction of different crops varies from 10 percent to 70 percent . A severe drought typically affects crop production in about 30 percent of the country, reducing yields by an average 10 percent. Drought normally affects kharif crops (e.g., aus and aman), but sometimes rabi crops (e.g., wheat and mustard), as happened in the very severe drought of 1978-80. This event directly affected about 42 percent of the cultivated land and some 44 percent of the population. Persistent drought is relatively rare, but has the potential to cause famine. Drought tends to affect western districts more severely, especially when the monsoon is curtailed. Irrigation can help reduce drought effects, but HYV varieties tend to be more droughtprone than indigenous species.

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

Areas of Bangladesh affected by severe droughts: Kharif (July-October) reference crop transplanted aman and rabi and pre-kharif (February-May). The extent of the area affected by severe drought 1979-80 is given for comparison.

Source: Ericksen et al. 1993

[Map 2.6.5: Map of Pre-Kharif drought prone areas]

[Map 2.6.6: Map of Karif (T-Aman) drought prone areas]

[Map 2.6.7: Map of Rabi drought prone areas]

2.6.5 Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

According to the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea-level rise could inundate 16 percent of total land area, displacing 10 percent of the population and causing the loss of 2 million tons of crop harvest by the year 2030.

2.6 > 2.

2.7  Land cover

Definition of land cover

Land cover is the observed (bio)physical cover on the earth's surface.

When considering land cover in a very pure and strict sense it should be confined to describing the vegetation and the man-made features. Consequently, areas where the surface consists of bare rock or bare soil are describing land itself rather than land cover. Also water surfaces can be disputed as being real land cover. However, in practice, the scientific community is used to describe those aspects under the term land cover.

Land cover is not to be confused with land use.

Example: woodlands or forest are land covers, but the land use may be hunting or rubber tapping.

Source: Choudhury & Jansen (eds.) 1998.

2.7 > 2.

2.8  Land use

2.8.1 Land Use
2.8.2 Land Tenure

2.8.1 Land Use

Definition of land use

Land use is characterized by the arrangements, activities and inputs undertaken by people on a certain land cover type to produce, change or maintain it. Land use defined in this way establishes a direct link between land cover and the actions of people in their environment. Land use should not be confused with land cover. A crop is not a land use.

Recreation area is a land use term that may be applicable for different land cover types: for instance sandy surfaces like a beach, a built-up area like a lunapark, or a forest.

Source: Choudhury & Jansen (eds.) 1998.

Factors affecting present and potential land use

The land use pattern of Bangladesh is dynamic in nature and it is influenced by various factors such as :

Edaphic factors:

- agro-ecological zones
- flood susceptibility
- soil characteristics

Climatic factors:

- rainfall distribution
- temperature variations
- evapotranspiration

Socio-economic factors:

- land tenure
- irrigation facilities
- crop profitability
- marketing facilities
- competing uses of land
- food preferences
- government policies

Source: Field 1995

Dynamics of Agricultural Land Use Patterns

[Text 2.8.1: Dynamics of agricultural land use patterns] (PDF document 119kb)

Present land use

In terms of the broad categories of land use, the table below shows the status as reported for 1991-1992 .

Type of land use Area






Cultivated - net (NCA)



-single cropped



-double cropped



-triple cropped















Note: * indicates percentage of net cultivated area (NCA)

[Map 2.8.1: occurrence of boro (HYV) - fallow - T-aman (HYV) ]

[Map 2.8.2: occurrence of mustard (rabi A) - boro HYV (rabi B) - fallow]

[Map 2.8.3: occurrence of wheat - b. aus (LV) - T-aman (LV)]

Source: Field 1995

2.8.2 Land Tenure

It is not surprising in a country of 147, 570 km2 and a population of 120 million people that the farm holdings become extremely small and fragmented. [Table 2.8.1] is a breakdown of the number of farm holdings according to size and number of parcels or plots:

[Table 2.8.1: Size of farm holdings and fragmentation]

[Map 2.8.4: Map of land tenancy]

[Photo 2.8.1: Farm lands of Bangladesh]

The effect of land tenure on the choice of crops

The effect of land tenure is also important from the point of view that many farmers are tenants or share croppers. As a result the crops which farmers grow are influenced by their responsibilities to their families (food) and their landlords (payment in kind). The risk factor also plays a role here in that share-croppers have to accomodate the responsibilities mentioned above they may not be willing to risk new crops (Field 1995).

[Link 2.8.1: Land Tenancy in Asia, Africa and Latin America]

2.8 > 2.

2.9  Land use change

2.9 > 2.

2.10  Land Productivity

2.10 > 2.

2.11  Environmental Impact of land uses


[Link 2.11.2: Environmental Aspects of Agricultural Development in Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.3: Environmental Aspects of Surface Water Systems of Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.4: Integrated Environmental Management: A Case study on shrimp-paddy land use strategies in the southwest of Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.5: Scientific forestry and forest land use in Bangladesh: a discourse analysis of people's attitudes]

[Link 2.11.6: Formulation of the Bangladesh Programme of Action for Adaptation to Climate Change (NAPA)]



[Link 2.11.9: An Overview of Bangladesh’ Vulnerability to Climate Change and National Adaptation Programme for Action]

[Link 2.11.10: Climate Change Adaptation in Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.11: Bangladesh: A Country Striving to Achieve Sustainable Development]

[Link 2.11.12: Development and Climate Project Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.13: Ecosystems and Biodiversity - Technical Summary- Climate Change 2001]

[Link 2.11.14: Bangladesh Country Case Study For National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) Workshop]

[Link 2.11.15: Local Assessments Local Assessments of Vulnerability and of Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity: Adaptive Capacity: Implications Implications for for Designing Rational Climate Policies in Asia Designing Rational Climate Policies in Asia - A Case Study from Bangladesh]

[Link 2.11.16: Climate Change and Hydrology/Water Resources]

2.11 > 2.

3.   Water Resources (AQUASTAT)

3.1  Hydrography

3.2  Irrigation and drainage

3. > top

3.1  Hydrography

[Link 3.1.1: AQUASTAT Country profile of Bangladesh]

3.1 > 3.

3.2  Irrigation and drainage

3.2 > 3.

4.   Plant nutrient resources

4.1  Plant nutrient use and nutrient balance

4.2  Fertilizer production and costs

4. > top

4.1  Plant nutrient use and nutrient balance

Use of Plant Nutrient Inputs: Past and Present Trends

Mineral fertilizers were introduced into Bangladesh during the early 1950s as a supplemental source of plant nutrients. Their use increased rapidly from mid 1960s with the introduction of modern varieties and development of irrigation facilities. At present, plant nutrients used in the country are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and sulphur (Iqbal 1997).



Photo: Top-dressing upland irrigated wheat by applying nitrogen fertilizer in between the rows.

[Chart 4.1.1: Bangladesh annual consumption of fertilizer nutrient from 1980-81 to 1996-97]

[Chart 4.1.2: Projection of fertilizer consumption]

Fertilizer deregulation and liberalization

During the last two decades, government control of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation equipment has been gradually withdrawn. While fertilizer liberalization has induced good progress in rice production, the present urea pricing policy is not consistent with the general orientation of trade and exchange rate liberalization. The manufacturing of urea has yet to be privatized. Urea is produced from subsidized gas and sold at below production cost by the public sector (Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation) directly to the dealers. Its cheap market price therefore remains lower than triple superphosphate (TSP) and muriate of potash (MP). It is reported that, as a result, farmers are not using TSP and MP in the required quantities, while they are overusing urea to the detriment of soil fertility. The artificially low price of urea has also given rise to its scarcity and to rent seeking by those with access to rationed supplies. This, in fact, was the cause of the urea crisis in 1995 and early 1996. Despite the lowering of the issue price of urea, interference and hoarding of rationed supplies by entrepeneurs caused the retail price to increase to such an extent that fertilizer application decreased significantly. This ultimately caused substantial losses in rice production during that year, which led to severe food shortages, escalated food prices and rising inflation. This resulted in backtracking with respect to fertilizer policies: the government has reintervened in fertilizer distribution by controlling the appointment of dealers, allocating their fertilizer quotas and delineating their command area.

Source: SOFA 1997

4.1 > 4.

4.2  Fertilizer production and costs

[Table 4.2.1: Prices of Fertilizer Products, Tk/50 kg (June, 1997)]

4.2 > 4.

5.   Hot spots

5.0  Overview: constraints to sustainable agriculture

5.1  Land-related constraints

5.2  Water-related constraints

5.3  Plant nutrition-related constraints

5.4  other constraints

5. > top

5.0  Overview: constraints to sustainable agriculture

5.0 > 5.

5.1  Land-related constraints

5.1.1 Problem soils
5.1.2 Land erosion
5.1.3 Land use issues

5.1.1 Problem soils

Bangladesh's land resources are showing signs of fatigue which is resulting in the stagnation of yields of important crops. Although the adoption of modern varieties has increased, their yields have fallen in recent years. During the green revolution, for example, 1 kg of added nitrogen fertilizer produced 20 Kg of grain, while now it only produces 8 to 10 Kg. Declining productivity as a result of soil degradation is now a key constraint. The organic matter of more than half of cultivated soils in Bangladesh is said to be below the critical level of 1.5 percent and still declining at an alarming rate. A number of soil-related problems have emerged, owing particularly to current agricultural practices such as the insufficient and unbalanced application of fertilizers and the monocultural cropping practice used in rice production. Salinity, soil erosion, micronutrient deficiency, waterlogging and salicity (alkalinity) are just a few of the soil-related problems. Unless the use of balanced fertilizers and organic matter in soils are seriously considered, increased and sustained productivity cannot be achieved. Source: SOFA 1997.

[Text 5.1.1: Land degradation] (PDF document 444kb)

5.1.2 Land erosion

Important secondary consequences of climatic hazards include riverbank, char (river and deltaic islands), and coastal erosion. These are localised on-going processes, but tend to accelerate and become more severe during times of floods and cyclones. Erosional processes along the rivers render landless many of the one million or so people exposed annually to them . In badly affected districts like Faridpur, Barisal, and Noakhali, the proportion of landless households due to river bank and char erosion is 33, 37 and 42 percent of total households, respectively, whereas the national average is 28 percent of the affected households seem to move within 3 km of their original home, and become under-employed labourers. Only 25 percent of riverbank displacees move much further afield . Counter-balancing loss of land through erosion, is the deposition of silt and the creation of new lands for settlement. However, erosion-induced landlessness has a more immediate adverse impact than the positive impact of a deposition-induced settlement.

Riverbank erosion

Riverbank erosion takes place in about 94 of 462 upazilas (administrative units). In 35 upazilas erosion is severe and recurrent (Hofer & Messerli 1997).

Upazilas in Bangladesh affected by riverbank erosion during 1983-87, and the location of riverbank erosion in August-September 1990.

Riverbank erosion along the Brahmaputra.

Photo Hofer, March 1993 in Hofer & Messerli 1997.

Source: Ericksen et al 1993.

5.1.3 Land Use Issues

The core problem facing Bangladesh is the scarcity of land. With a high and increasing rural population, farm sizes are declining rapidly and landlessness is rising. According to inheritance laws, land is divided equally among siblings and such fragmentation of landholdings is beginning to have serious repercussions. In general, fragmented landownership acts as an obstruction to modernization by reducing efficiency and deliverability of services. Smaller farms have less access to credit, machinery and other productivity-enhancing inputs. They also have less marketing flexibility. The dwindling per caput land resource is one of the causes of persisting poverty and food insecurity in the country.

While most farms are becoming smaller in Bangladesh, about 10 percent of farm households own and operate 51 percent of agricultural land, while the bottom 40 percent of farm households own only 2 percent. The category of larger landowners has been increasing in size and power. The majority of farmers in Bangladesh are sharecroppers or work the land as labourers for large landowners. There are various tenancy arrangements, sharecropping being the most prevalent, under which the tenant agrees to bear all costs and pay 50 percent (and in some cases two-thirds) of the gross produce to the landowner. In some parts of the country, landowners and tenants share the fertilizer and irrigation costs for growing HYV rice; in some cases, the tenancy arrangement is changing from sharecropping to a fixed rent, which is more conducive to the introduction of HYVs. Owing to the insecurity of tenure for most farmers, however, there is little incentive for farmers to think in terms of long-term sustainability of the land. As a result, investments in the long-term productivity of the land are not made, and short-term inputs and practices lacking environmental concern prevail (SOFA 1997).

Competing uses of land
The land area of Bangladesh, like any other country, is limited and the demands of the expanding population are ever increasing. Land is required for industrial uses (factories and brick works), community services (hospitals, schools, and defence), communications (roads and railways), residential buildings, forestry, water reservoirs and ponds, wildlife reserves and most of all agriculture (livestock and crops).

The Bangladesh National Conservation strategy identified six important areas of conflicting land use : agriculture vs. shrimp and capture fisheries; forest land vs. shrimp and capture fisheries; agriculture vs. livestock; agriculture vs. settlements; agriculture vs. industries/brickfields and agriculture vs. newly accreted charlands (NCS 1990).

Agricultural prime land encroachment
In the absence of a comprehensive land use policy and its strict application, land use, land acquisition etc. are being practised in an ad hoc manner. Agriculturally productive lands are being encroached upon by human settlement, expansion of urban centres and brickfields. There is continual misuse and abuse of scarce land resources. In the coastal areas good agricultural land is being used for shrimp farming, resulting in long-term destruction of the natural crop ecosystem (Iqbal 1997).

Shrimp farming and salinization
In some cases, for example in the coastal areas, land conflict exists between shrimp and rice cultivation. Saline water needed for shrimp cultivation pollutes adjacent paddy (rice) fields and degrades the soils, making them unfit for crop production. One particularly significant and difficult issue is how to deal with the problem of entrepreneurs who are known to come in, rent the land, produce shrimp for export and then move on, leaving behind the problem of salinization (SOFA 1997).

[Link 5.1.1: National Agriculture Policy:Land Use - SDNBD][NEW]

[Link 5.1.2: Considering Adaptation to Climate Change Towards a Sustainable Development of Bangladesh - Prepared for: South Asia Region , The World Bank , Washington, DC][NEW]

5.1 > 5.

5.2  Water-related constraints

Misuse of water resources

Many are beginning to worry about the exploitation of groundwater and the long-term future of tubewell irrigation, which provides more than 60 percent of irrigated area and has been the main catalyst of growth in rice production. The intensive and increasing use of shallow tubewell irrigation has led to a lowering of the water table in many areas of the country's north and northwestern parts. In periods of drought, many tubewells have began to dry up totally. The quality of groundwater is also deteriorating because of excessive use of chemical pesticides. Increased pest populations have been a direct result of crop intensification through HYVs, and this has had direct and disturbing implications on human health (SOFA 1997).

Arsenic Contamination

In recent years, great concern has been expressed about the occurrence of arsenic in ground-water based drinking water supplies at levels well above WHO standards. The phenomenon is concentrated in the upper aquifer (10 m to 120 m) and is widespread in the southwest and in the Meghna estuary area, affecting up to 75% of all wells in some areas (FAO Aquastat).

5.2 > 5.

5.3  Plant Nutrition-related constraints

Ecosystem management

The need for ecosystem management, i.e. plant nutrient and water management, has been generally recognized in Bangladesh and is currently being promoted wholeheartedly by NGOs such as Proshika. The difficulty lies in trying to convert people's agricultural practices, which were dramatically changed by the green revolution, to ecological agricultural practices. Since time is required to convert properly from old to new practices and actually to see increases in yields (because of the time the soil needs to rejuvenate), it is difficult to convince farmers to change their habits. For the large majority who do not actually farm their own land, there is not much incentive for them to adopt new practices. Until farmers convert to ecological practices, if indeed they do at all, they will continue to spend an increasing amount of resources on agricultural inputs, as more and more of these are required, and they will continue to receive less in net returns. (SOFA 1997).

5.3 > 5.

5.4  Other constraints

5.4 > 5.

6.   Bright spots

6.0  Overview: society's response to ameliorate the situation

6.1  Land-related response indicators

6.2  Water-related response indicators

6.3  Plant nutrition-related response indicators

6.4  Other response indicators

6. > top

6.0  Overview: society's response to ameliorate the situation

[Link 6.0.1: about the Bangladesh Land Resources Information project]

6.0 > 6.

6.1  Land-related response indicators


6.1 > 6.

6.2  Water-related response indicators


6.2 > 6.

6.3  Plant Nutrition-related response indicators

6.3 > 6.

6.4  Other response indicators


6.4 > 6.

7.   Challenges and viewpoints

If a system is to be sustainable, it must be capable of continuing far into the future. The implication is that the resources involved in the system must be maintained in a balanced manner.

In Bangladesh, population pressure is already affecting the sustainability of agricultural development. Poverty is a serious and persistent problem in Bangladesh and a major consequence of poverty is hunger. Starvation and malnutrition prevails as there is inequity in wealth distribution and thus access to food. The diet of common man is rich in carbohydrates from the major cereal, rice, but is grossly deficient in proteins, vitamins and minerals. The level of animal and vegetable sources of protein needs to be improved through massive animal and fish breeding/production programmes and crop diversification (World Bank, 1991).

It is extremely urgent and important that, Bangladesh formulate a comprehensive national land use policy covering and introducing multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral approaches to integrate and safeguard the interests of all sectors. To sustain the productive capability of the limited natural resource base, regeneration efforts should be taken to improve the total productivity of the ecosystem, i.e. terrestrial and aquatic productivity. Environmentally sound management practices with emphasis on maintenance of soil health, conservation of bio-diversity, use of renewable energy, ecofriendly input use, consumptive use of water and rapid afforestation should be undertaken as a national policy with strong regulations for their effective implementation. Building an updated and reliable natural resources database with modern facilities to create intervention and planning options at a point of demand is urgent and will be useful. This will assist to allocate resources and to sustain their productivity. Bangladeshi farmers follow a mixed farming principle. They produce a variety of crops, livestock, fish and trees together in their small farm holdings. Agricultural research and extension activities thus needs to be tailored as a farming system approach.

In order to satisfy the increasing demand of food beyond 2000, it is essential to develop different crop cultivars to respond to present problems and to cope with future changed situations.

7. > top

8.   References and related internet links

8.1  References

8.2  Related internet links

8. > top

8.1  References

AQUASTAT. An information system on water in agriculture and rural development. Land and Water Development Division, FAO, Rome

Iqbal A. Country Paper on the State of Land, Water and Plant Nutrient Resources. 1998. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Dhaka.

Iqbal A. 1997. The State of Land, Water and Plant Nutrition Resources in Bangladesh. Country Paper presented at the Regional Workshop on Land Vulnerability Assessment for Food Security using Agroecological Zoning/Land Resources Information System. FAO, RAP Bangkok, 3-8 November 1997, Thailand.

Hofer T. & Messerli B., 1997. Floods in Bangladesh: Process Understanding and Development Strategies. A Synthesis Paper prepared for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Institute of Geography, University of Berne. 32 p.

The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 1997, FAO. 285 p.

Agro-ecological zoning guidelines, Soils Bulletin 73, 1996. FAO, Rome.

Field D.I., 1995. Land Evaluation for Crop Diversification. Crop Diversification Programme (CDP), Dhaka.

Brammer, H., Asaduzzaman, M., Sultana, P., 1993: Effects of climate and sea-level changes on the natural resourtces of Bangaldesh. Briefing document No. 3. 31 p. Bangladesh Unnayan Parsihad (BUP), Dhaka.

Ericksen N.J., Ahmad Q.K. & Chowdhury A.R. 1993. Briefing Document. No. 4, Socio-Economic Implications of Climate Change for Bangladesh, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP), Dhaka. 37 p

NCS, 1990. National Conservation Strategy of Bangladesh, Ministry of Environment and Forest and National conservation Strategy Secretariat, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Farmgate, Dhaka. In Iqbal 1997.

Agroecological Regions of Bangladesh, Report 2, 1988. UNDP/FAO

Land Resources appraisal of Bangladesh for Agricultural Development, Report 1, Executive Summary, 1988. UNDP/FAO.

Land Resources Appraisal of Bangladesh for Agricultural Development, Technical Report No.2. 1988. UNDP/FAO.

Choudhury K. & Jansen L.J.M. 1998. Terminology for Integrated Resources Planning and Management. FAO, Rome.

BARC 1983. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council . Agricultural Research in Bangladesh: Contributing to National Development. Dhaka.

8.1 > 8.

8.2  Related internet links

Country in general

BANGLADESH - Ministry of Agriculture
Basic information on Bangladesh agriculture

BANGLADESH - National Implementation of Agenda 21

SAARC Agricultural Information Centre (SAIC)

AQUASTAT - Bangladesh

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT - UNITED NATIONS System-Wide Web Site on National Implementation of the Rio Commitments

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

- Fertilizer Advisory, Development Information Network for Asia and the Pacific

United Nations Interim Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification.


International Institute for Sustainable Development

Bangladesh Case Report, Country situations - USAID

Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research

- World Conservation Society - Asia Program

Department of Soil Science: Dr.Soil Surfs
(contains over 1020 links to web sites on soils and agriculture, includes a search engine).

ArcNews online
- Bangladesh Establishes a GIS-Based Agricultural and Land Resources Information System

Article on GIS Development.net
"Bangladesh establishes a GIS-based agricultural and Land Resources Information System"

Eurasia Land Cover Characteristics Data Base
Earth Resources Observation System Data Center (EDC).

Rivers Systems Research Groups

International Fertilizer Development Centre

Agricultural Genome Information Server

To-date information about on-going emergencies and natural disasters in different countries of the world.

8.2> 8.


[15/03/03] on-line
[09/12/04] Chapter 2.11 is updated
[09/12/04] 2 Links ( 1 / 2 ) in 1.2 and 2 Links ( 1 / 2 ) in 5.1 are added

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