The poverty level in the country decreased by 1.3 percentage points in the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
"The poverty level was 21.8 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, but came down to 20.5 in 2018-19," said Planning Minister MA Mannan citing the BBS data.
He disclosed the information while briefing the media after the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council's meeting at the NEC conference room in Dhaka.
Extreme poverty has dropped by 0.8 percentage points from 11.3 in 2017-18 to 10.5 in 2018-19, said the minister, referring to BBS data.
As per the growth elasticity of poverty reduction data, the drop in the level of extreme poverty is lower than the drop in moderate poverty.
Bikash Kishore Das, additional secretary of BBS, said, "Generally, in other countries, if the growth increases by one percent, the poverty decreases by three percent. But in our country, poverty decreased by 0.85 percent against one percent growth."
"This is happening because inequality is high in our country," he said.
The prime minister is happy about the poverty reduction rate, said Mannan, adding that she has congratulated the farmers, labour force and people in general for their contribution to this success.
The poor accounted for 24.3 percent of the population, and the ultra-poor 12.9 percent, according to the BBS' 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES).
The next HIES will be held in 2020.
Bangladesh's economy grew by 8.15 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year, slightly higher than the preliminary estimate of the BBS. In its preliminary estimate, the BBS said gross domestic product (GDP) growth would be 8.13 percent.
The country has set a target of bringing down the poverty level to zero percent by 2030 to attain the Sustainable Development Goals target on poverty, said Mannan.
But the current data suggests that the country might achieve the target before the deadline, said the minister.
When the poverty level comes down to 3 percent, it is considered zero percent and is widely accepted across the world, he added.
Dipankar Roy, project director of HIES, said increased economic activities in the country leads to a drop in the poverty level.
Other reasons include people are having more work opportunities; economic activities are taking place even in rural areas, and the agriculture scenario has changed, he explained.
The government's social safety net programmes are also contributing to the poverty reduction, Dipankar said.
Plus, overseas employment and remittance sent by the migrant workers are playing a crucial role in the development of the rural economy, he elaborated.
In rural areas, the production of vegetables, rice and other agricultural items, and chickens has increased.
For agricultural production, the government has ensured the supply of quality seeds. The improved communication network has made it easy for the farmers to send their produce to other areas. Plus, the local demand has increased too.
Also, the purchasing capacity of the labour force in different sectors has increased in line with an increase in their minimum wage, added Dipankar.
What do the experts say?
However, experts said poverty level measurement in Bangladesh is no match for the international standard.
This is the reason the poverty level is decreasing fast, they maintained.
If poverty is measured by the international standard, the percentage will increase, they pointed out.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, told The Business Standard that it cannot be assumed that economic growth leads to a drop in poverty level, raising the debate – if the economic growth scenario of Bangladesh is real.
However, poverty will decrease if the economic growth is inclusive, he maintained.
Generally, if a country marches towards development, the level of poverty comes down accordingly, he said.
The per capita income of the US is around $60,000, said Mansur, while pointing out, "Don't they have poverty? There is poverty even in the US."
The whole thing depends on how the level of poverty is measured, he said, adding that the way poverty level is measured here is not followed many countries of the world.
The poverty threshold here is very low by the international standard; so the level of poverty reduction in the country is very fast, he said.
If poverty is measured by the international standard, the poverty level will increase by double than the current level, Mansur argued.
In Bangladesh, the poverty threshold is defined as $1.9 a day. Statistically, the number or percentage of people living below this level of income is counted as poor.
So, poverty is decreasing here in the Bangladeshi measurement, but by the international standard, it is not, argued Mansur.
How does the BBS measure poverty?
The BBS uses the cost of basic need (CBN) method to measure the incidence of poverty in Bangladesh. Whereas the World Bank recommended method is a weighted average of food poverty and non-food poverty.
To find out food poverty, the BBS selected food basket of 11 food items to ensure the nutritional requirement of 2,122 kilo-calories per day.
A non-food poverty line was also calculated by estimating the consumption cost of non-food items.
"The extreme poor households are those whose total expenditure is equal to the food poverty line," said Dipankar.
Households ensuring food expenditure at the level of the food poverty line is moderately poor, he explained.