With the Covid-19 pandemic wrecking lives and livelihoods, the government has renewed its focus and stepped up thrust on boosting production of Aus and Aman rice to ensure adequate availability of staple food in the country and slash dependence on the global market.
The agriculture ministry targets increasing rice planting area to 13.29 lakh hectares during the current Aus season, 17 percent more than that a year ago.
And the coverage of Aus crop, which is harvested in July-August, has already exceeded 13 lakh hectares, the highest in two decades, officials said.
The ministry also targets 36 lakh tonnes of Aus output this season, 20 percent higher than the output in the previous season.
The government provided about Tk 33 crore for distribution of seed and fertiliser among small and marginal farmers to encourage them to grow rice during the Aus season and cultivate summer onion.
It also targets expanding cultivation area of Aman rice this monsoon.
Aman, the second biggest crop after Boro in terms of production, provided 39 percent of the total 3.63 crore tonnes of rice output in the last fiscal year.
However, in terms of acreage, it is the biggest crop and the government seeks to expand Aman cultivation to 58.95 lakh hectares this season, up from 58.83 lakh hectares in the previous season, the Department of Agricultural Extension says.
Bangladesh annually consumes 3.2 crore tonnes of rice and 55 lakh tonnes of wheat, according to Food and Agriculture Organization estimate.
The country meets almost the entire requirement of rice through domestic production but it has to meet nearly 80 percent of wheat requirement through imports. However, as the nation does not produce enough surplus of the cereal, rice market becomes volatile in case of crop losses for natural disasters like flood, cyclones, data shows.
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman said, "Our main target is to increase production and ensure that no farmland remains fallow. We will try to replace old varieties as much as possible with the latest high yielding varieties to boost yields."
The renewed focus on increasing production of rice comes amid concerns that food supply may fall short as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hamper economic and social life globally.
The Daily Star contacted the secretary in the wake of a high-level meeting held on June 15 at the agriculture ministry that took a series of decisions to boost production of Aman.
The meeting was also attended by the top officials of various relevant government agencies.
Meanwhile, more than 20 countries have already imposed restrictions on export of food products such as rice, wheat, pulses, soybeans, onions and garlic to ensure sufficient supply in their domestic markets, according to Covid-19 Food Trade Policy Tracker by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
In April, the World Food Programme warned about "multiple famines of biblical proportions" for the global health pandemic.
Officials mentioned that the agriculture ministry's decisions included bringing fallow lands in Sylhet, Chattogram, Noakhali and Barishal regions under Aman cultivation and encouraging farmers to plant high yielding varieties (HYVs) in place of local varieties during the season.
The ministry also decided to expand cultivation of newly released HYVs by state-sponsored plant breeding agencies -- BRRI and Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA).
The agriculture secretary mentioned that the BADC also reduced prices of seeds for this Aman season.
"We are providing Tk 20 crore subsidy for seeds," he said, adding that farmers would also get backing for supplementary irrigation.
He hoped increased cultivation of new varieties, timely plantation and supplementary irrigation will increase Aman output.
Contacted, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute Director General Md Shahjahan Kabir, said, "We have had good production of Boro rice and we have scope to increase yield during the Aman crop season."
He claimed that the level of thrust given on Aman planting and increasing yields this year was not seen ever in the past.
BADC Chairman Md Sayedul Islam said the state agency would supply 21,000 tonnes of HYV and hybrid seeds of rice for Aman season. "We have reduced prices of seed by 25 percent".
DAE Director General Abdul Muyeed said farmers in Barishal and Pirojpur are fond of growing local varieties. The DAE encourages them to grow BRRI Dhan-76 and BRRI Dhan-77.
This year it targets expanding cultivation of the two varieties fast in those areas. It is also trying to expand cultivation of a new variety, BRRI Dhaka-87, which has potential to be popular like BR-11, said Mueed, when contacted.
"In short, we aim to replace low-yielding, traditional varieties by high yielding ones and pest resistant varieties. We have given utmost importance to bringing all farming technologies to farmers to ensure bumper yields of Aman," he added.