With an advice slip on his hand, paddy farmer Swapon Kumar Mondal looked happy returning home from the Kalinagar haat.
The slip, obtained from officers of Dacope Upazila Agriculture Office (DAO), has recommendation about solving a problem that occurred in Swapon’s paddy field in Kalinagar village.
“We generally do not see the presence of agriculture officials in our village and have to rely on advice given by shopkeepers, who sell pesticides. The shopkeepers often recommend low quality items considering their own interest. Consequently, we spend a lot of money but don’t get good results,” he said.
The farmer informed that he planted two varieties of paddy in six bighas (approximately 2 acres) of land but after some days, the paddy leaves turned yellowish and faded.
Concerned Swapon came to the haat for solution and was very happy to see the temporary advice booth set up by Dacope’s agriculture office.
“I came to the haat and instantly received advice about the problem from the agriculture department,” he told this correspondent at the bazar.
Another farmer from Joynagar village Rawshan Ara also came to the haat to receive guidance from the agriculture mobile team about an insect attack in her paddy field.
“It is not possible for me to go to the upazila agriculture office. On the other hand, agricultural officials are not always available at our locality. So, we suffer from lack of proper advice on farming,” she said.
Farmers will benefit if agriculture officials come to local village markets every week, she added.
Agriculture officers at upazila level are supposed to make regular field visits of farmers and their croplands, but in Dacope they have been unable to do so because of a chronic shortage of manpower.
According to sources at Dacope’s agriculture office, there are 28 blocks in the nine unions and one municipality of the upazila to ensure agricultural services.
Only 14 Deputy Assistant Agricultural Officers are working here out of 28 posts, and six relatively bigger unions have six Deputy Agricultural Officers, the source said.
Dacope Upazila Agriculture Officer Mehedi Hasan Khan explained the difficulties of reaching all the farmers in the southern upazila, part of which includes the Sundarbans.
He said, many of the villages in the upazila are located in remote areas, some 30 kilometres away from the upazila headquarter, and with very poor road communication. Villages such as Kamarkhola and Sutarkhali are still without proper roads since those were badly damaged during Aila and Sidr cyclones.
The agricultural officer noted that Dacope is the highest producer of Aman paddy among the nine upazilas of Khulna. In Dacope, Aman is cultivated in 18,825 hectares of land whilst in the entire district this variety is cultivated in 91,880 hectares of land.
Yet, the agriculture officers cannot reach all the farmers of the upazila due to shortage of manpower crisis, he said.
When asked why they did not use digital technology to reach farmers, the agricultural officer asserted that most of the farmers, with very little education, are not adept at using mobile phone and often send blurry and hazy pictures of crops.
That makes it difficult to diagnose the problem and offer the right suggestion, he added.
For the last three months, Dacope upazila agriculture officers have been trying to reach the farmers by setting up advice booth at different weekly village haats. They also make announcement about this service by miking in the villages.
Visiting the Kalinagar haat in October, this correspondent saw that Upazila Agriculture Extension Officer, Deputy Assistant Plant Conservation Officer and six Deputy Assistant Agricultural Officers were sitting in the premises of a fertiliser dealer’s shop.
After giving their names and particulars of their agricultural problems, farmers were receiving written advice from the officials.
The officers were also distributing leaflets on disease prevention and insect management methods and giving general advice about the next cropping season.
The more technologically-advanced farmers were discussing how to get different kinds of agricultural product using mobile apps.
Mehedi informed that till date they have covered about 10 out of 15 big village markets in the upazila and hopes to continue the process by rotation throughout the Aman season until the end of winter.