Ensure budget support for farm industry in north
The national budget for fiscal 2021-22 should include measures that will help sustain the rich agriculture industry in the country's northern districts, according to various economists and businesspeople in the region.
"Farmers in the north provide most of the country's food stock but suffer from a lack of water for irrigation and a supportive marketing system," said Prof ANK Noman, an economist of Rajshahi University.
"So, a system has to be developed where farmers no longer struggle to irrigate their land or sell their products," he added.
The government does have plans to construct dams in certain locations, including Rajshahi's Padma river, in order to ensure water for farming.
However, Noman termed this move "suicidal" as he believes the only ones who would benefit from such a project are those implementing it.
"Our country has both the technological and financial capability to use river water for farming without building dams and so, the only thing we lack is the determination to implement these decisions," he said.
The government needs to assess how much water is needed by the agriculture sector in the first place and then make arrangements to provide it as required, the economist added.
Prof Elias Hossain, another economist of the same university, said the upcoming budget should not be growth-oriented and instead focus on supporting the region's unemployed, particularly those who lost their jobs due to Covid-19.
The main problem in northern regions is that there is less activity in its rural areas and the situation has only worsened due to the people who recently became unemployed.
To address this issue, Hossain stressed the need to expand social safety net allocations and ensure proper implementation of such programmes.
Md Moniruzzaman, president of the Rajshahi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that they have placed a 45-point proposal emphasising support for the region's agriculture sector to the government.
In the proposal, he demanded incentives on utility bills for cold storages for potato farmers among other benefits for silk traders and producers, rice and jute mills, and so on.
Ahmed Shafi Uddin, president of civil society body Shusasoner Jonno Nagorik's (Sujon) Rajshahi unit, said the northern region is suitable for agro-based industries only, and hence setting up garment factories and other industrial units would only reduce the region's agricultural lands.
Abdul Motin Khan, president of Sujon's Pabna unit, stressed more industrialisation in agriculture in order to create new job opportunities in rural areas. Since the pandemic began, many people have lost their jobs and become a burden on their families.
"So, rural areas need budgetary support and allocations to help create more jobs," Khan said.
Abdul Wahed, joint secretary of India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries from Chapainawabganj, said the northern districts should have their own facilities to export agro-products.
[Ahmed Humayun Kabir Topu from Pabna and Rabiul Hasan from Chapainawabganj contributed to this report.]