Agricultural machinery: Where is Bangladesh heading? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 10, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:13 AM, July 10, 2020

Agricultural machinery: Where is Bangladesh heading?

The whole world is saying that the corona situation will paralyze all economic sectors for long. At such a stage, turning back to the ancient profession of agriculture seems to be a ray of hope. The same happened when we saw the green revolution. It is indeed true that agricultural mechanization is changing the face of farming across the world. Let's look at Bangladesh in this aspect. If you cultivate one bigha (33 decimals) of land using plough, it will cost Tk 2,000 (23.59 USD). The cost with a power-tiller is Tk 1,500 (17.70 USD). If you do it with a tractor, it will cost you Tk 600 (7.08 USD). In case of harvesting paddy, it costs Tk 2,000 on one bigha of land. It costs Tk 500 (5.90 USD) if the harvest is done with combine harvester. In planting the paddies, it takes Tk 2,200 (25.95 USD) on one bigha. It costs about Tk 500 to transplant and saves time as well.

In all cases, the traditional method involves a lot of money and time. Nevertheless, in the modern mechanical system, the cost comes down to somewhere half to somewhere a quarter. I would like to highlight another issue on the aspect of agricultural mechanization. I have been to Japan several times. From the grassroots farmers to the policy-makers of the government, everything is in order. According to a survey in 2015, the average age of those involved in agriculture in Japan is 67 years. This average age is increasing day by day. Seventy percent of farmers in Japan are over 65 years of age. Therefore, the government is making it easier for elderly farmers to work through agricultural mechanization. On the other hand, the government thinks that the youth will be interested in mechanized agriculture. A few months ago, at the International Agricultural Machinery Exhibition in Qingdao, China, the matter was discussed with Japanese agricultural machinery researcher and journalist Yoshisuke Kisida. He said that in the last financial year, the largest budget in Japan's history was announced. The amount of the budget was 943.70 billion USD. For the first time, Japan's budget exceeded 100 trillion Yen (930 Billion USD). The budget for agriculture was increased by 5.6 percent. Japan increased its investment in agriculture with a specific goal. They want to attract the younger generation to agriculture. For this reason, they emphasize the mechanization of agriculture in their budget with organic farming and GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) certified agriculture.

In case of Bangladesh, a study in 2016 shows that the average age of a farmer in Bangladesh is 48 years. However, in 1978, the average age of the farmers engaged in agriculture was 35 years. Participation of the youth in the agriculture of Bangladesh is decreasing. However, when older people's physical capacity is reduced, they cannot play a successful role in agriculture. This means, increasing the participation of the youth in agriculture is just as important as increasing the mechanization of agriculture on a large scale.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the urgency of raising Boro paddy at home made it clear how much mechanization of agriculture is needed today. The government has set up about 1,300 combine harvesters and 934 reapers through a subsidy of Tk 200 crore (23.5 million USD) to facilitate rice harvesting across the country. The government took the initiative to deliver various agricultural equipment, including 22 rice trans-planters to the farmers. Protecting the crops of Haor during this difficult time was a big challenge. At this time, 294 combine harvesters and 406 reapers have been used to harvest paddy in Haor region. Of these, farmers bought 128 new combine harvesters and 23 reapers with 70 percent government subsidy. It is easy to understand that without this emergency mechanization service, the situation couldn't have been resolved. When there is a new urge to increase agricultural production by making maximum use of land, then in front of us, the mechanization of agriculture has taken place as the most important factor.

If we do not give farmers the right tools and technology now, we will not be able to reach the desired success in agriculture. When the use of hoe in agriculture started in the world, people found the science behind the work. This mechanism has evolved and improved over the years. More than a hundred years ago, Rabindranath Tagore thought of the first ploughing machine. He brought such a machine to his ancestral Zamindari of Patisar in Naogaon district. In the case of agricultural machinery, Netrakona farmer Abdul Hai, or the late Kanu Mistri of Mymensingh have dedicated their lives in making sustainable and affordable agricultural machinery. I have seen all kinds of changes in the agricultural machinery sector while working in the field. Once upon a time, our country's agricultural workers used to get scared when they heard about agricultural machinery. They thought the machine would come and take away their work. Now an agricultural machine is the safe employment of a young man.

The picture of agricultural mechanization in Bangladesh is 95 percent in land cultivation, 95 percent in irrigation, 1.5 percent in harvest, 95 percent in paddy threshing, and less than 0.5 percent in planting. If the farmers are made efficient through the necessary training, agricultural mechanization will be more productive for us. Bangladesh Agricultural University invented the modern machine for drying rice. The machine made in a local workshop can dry 500 kg of paddy, keeping 12 to 14 percent moisture in just four to five hours. This instrument will come in handy to the farmer in Boro or Aus season. The reality is that the process of mechanization of agriculture in our country is quite slow. The government has taken an initiative to hand over 56,000 agricultural equipment to the farmers through a project worth Tk 3,198 crore (31.98 Billion USD). Through the project, farmers will be able to purchase agricultural tools in the Haor area at 70 percent subsidy and 50 to 60 percent subsidy in other areas.

Fisheries, dairy farms, and poultry industries have also undergone diverse mechanization worldwide. Much more production has been ensured in these sectors due to mechanization.

I talked to Planning Minister Abdul Mannan about why we are avoiding the issue of mechanization in the sub-sector. He said any initiative for agriculture would be given priority. The government has plans to mechanize not only crop agriculture but also other sub-sectors of agriculture. About 80 percent of the agricultural machinery used in our country comes from China. For several years now, I have been attending one of the largest agricultural machinery exhibitions in the world held in China. The last fair was held in Qingdao from October 30 to November 1. Seeing the excellence of machinery there, it is understood that the whole world is constantly preparing for agriculture and food production. China is now the world's leading manufacturer and trader of agricultural machinery. They are also advancing very fast in the export of agricultural machinery and hold the first position. The United States is in second place followed by Germany in third. Then there are Japan, The Netherlands, South Korea, France, Hong Kong, England, and Italy.

According to an estimate of Bangladesh Agricultural University, the market for agricultural machinery in our country last year was USD 1.2 billion. However, the size of this market is increasing due to various reasons, including a rapid decline in the rate of agricultural labour and an increase in opportunities for crop production. I talked to Alimul Ehsan Chowdhury, president of Agro Machineries Manufacturers Association and he said there is no tax to import complete agricultural machinery. Nevertheless, they are making or assembling, about 28 types of agricultural machinery. About 40 types of parts are required to make these machines. The situation has improved and the price of the device will be reduced a bit. Besides imports, domestic manufacturers are meeting 20 percent of the demand for agricultural machinery in Bangladesh. The demand for effective agricultural machinery is increasing day by day, including harvesting, planting, processing of crops, packaging, and application of fertilizers in the land. About 20 to 25 companies in the country are involved in importing large scale agricultural machinery while the number of importers of small scale agricultural machinery and small parts are much bigger. ACI Agribusiness is playing a big role in building the agricultural machinery market in Bangladesh. The organization's Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer FH Ansarey said the main problem of mechanization in agriculture is the lack of communication with the farmers. He urged the government to integrate all digital platforms, including the mass media. There are 60 foundries, 2,000 agricultural types of machinery, parts manufacturing factories, and 20,000 machinery repair factories. Domestic companies are meeting 80 percent of the demand for spare parts.

To know what the government is thinking about the mechanization of agriculture, the Minister for Agriculture Abdur Razzaque said the government would be able to ensure 100 percent use of agricultural machinery in the harvest in three years while transplantation will take more time. However, in the mechanization of agriculture, the government will have to patron the local agricultural machinery and equipment manufacturers to be more productive and self-sufficient. Today's world has become technology-dependent and this dependence is further increased in the corona situation. Technology must now be a friend of development. Otherwise, we will not be able to achieve the desired success in the farming sector.

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