In the last 11 years, the number of landless households in rural Bangladesh has lowered by 9.33 lakh, according to the Agriculture Census 2019 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
In 2019, the number of landless households in rural areas has come down to 23.23 lakh, an over 28 percent decrease than that of 2008.
The BBS census also said landless households presently constitute 7.84 percent in rural areas, down from 12.84 percent 11 years ago.
In both rural and urban areas, the number is over 40 lakh, making up 11.33 percent of the total households in the country.
But, the government organisation failed to give a satisfactory explanation of how the number of landless households has suddenly become so small.
Considering some crucial indices, including wages in the agriculture sector, prices of crops, and a diminishing distribution programme of khas lands by the government, the experts called the data "unbelievable."
The BBS yesterday published the "Agriculture Census 2019" at a programme in its office in the city. Jafar Ahmed Khan, the project director of the census, revealed the data at the event.
The census report said the number of rural landless households was 11.98 lakh in 1983, which was 8.97 percent of the total rural households during that time.
But the two following censuses found the number to be 18.15 lakh in 1996 and 32.56 lakh in 2008. As a result, the number of landless households in rural Bangladesh stood at 12.84 percent towards the end of the 2000s.
Disagreeing with the BBS' latest findings, Shamsul Huda, the executive director of the Association for Land Reform and Development, said real earnings of farmers did not increase in several years because they did not get a fair price for their crops.
Besides, workers in the agricultural sector have become helpless in the wake of a spiral in the prices of daily necessities, said Shamsul, pointing out that a landless farmer cannot become a landowner.
"To implement projects such as Ashrayan, Cluster Village and Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar, the government has halted distribution of khas lands among the landless for the last five years. So, the BBS' logic behind the reduction in the number of landless households does not hold water," he said.
When contacted, the BBS Project Director Jafar Ahmed Khan told The Business Standard that children of the financially able fathers are shown landless in the census when they live in separate households. The number also varies at times when properties of a deceased father are distributed among his heirs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization aided the census financially and technically. The organisation's expert, Dr Mizanul Haque Kajal said that there is no rationale behind a big reduction in the number of landless households only due to father's properties, inheritance or any such reasons.
According to the BBS study, the number of tenant farmer households across the country is 67.63 lakh, including 65.34 lakh in rural areas and 2.29 lakh in urban areas.
Rangpur Division accommodates the most number of such households, 26.83 percent of the total, followed by Rajshahi 24.83 percent and Sylhet 23.5 percent.
The report said around 46.61 percent households in the country are currently involved in agriculture. Of the 3.55 crore Bangladeshi households, around 1.66 crore directly or indirectly depend on the sector.
At least one member of a household in every four depends on agricultural wage. Rangpur has the most number of such agriculture labours, more than 42 percent.
In the BBS census, the fisheries sector has been incorporated this year for the first time. Around 9.95 crore people of the country are engaged in the sector even though more than 16 lakh households own lands already prepared for fish farming.
Planning Minister MA Mannan, while speaking as the chief guest, focused on the weakness of the BBS census.
"Perhaps it is not possible for the BBS to collect a hundred percent correct data. The organisation should fetch data more reliably in future. Errors should be gradually reduced," Mannan said.
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasruzzaman said discrepancies arise at times between the data of the Ministry of Agriculture and the BBS.
"For example, the country produced 1.53 crore tonnes of Aman rice in the last season, but the BBS showed amount was 1.40 crore tonnes. This lapse led the government to buy rice from farmers at Tk25 per kg instead of Tk40 a kg, making the farmers disappointed," the secretary said.
Raisul Alam Mondol, the secretary of the fisheries and livestock ministry, said development in the country will stumble if the census information is not dependable.
"The BBS census has not included data about important food items like fish and eggs. The agriculture census should also incorporate information about lobster, hilsha and other sweet water fish species," said Raisul.