Facelift for farming
Machines are taking over farming in Bangladesh -- slowly but surely -- a major shift in centuries-old manual cultivation.
Ploughing with cows and buffaloes and irrigating fields manually will soon be a thing of the past.
About 67 percent of the 76 lakh hectares of arable lands are irrigated by mechanised means. Power tillers and tractors till nearly 70 percent of 13.74 million hectares of total cropland, analysts said.
With progress made in threshing, almost all maize is shelled by machine and in the case of rice, threshing by machine is about 50 percent, agronomists said.
The adoption of the mechanised methods facilitated timely cultivation, resulting in a rise in production.
It has also reduced the cost of tilling, absorbed a portion of farm labour and accelerated growth in workshop and production facilities for farm machinery and repair services.
“Farming is changing with time. A decade ago, almost all farms used animals to plough with. Now, you will hardly find tilling by cattle in our locality,” said Momtaz Hossain, a 55-year-old farmer at Mohadevpur, Naogaon.
Hossain, who has 30 years of experience in farming, linked the drop in tilling by cattle mainly to labour shortages.
“Seven years ago, I had eight tilling cows. But I switched to power tillers because of a dearth of workers. It has become tough nowadays to hire people to look after cows."
“It is possible to till more than three acres of land from dawn to dusk with a power tiller. In case of cattle, only half an acre of land could be tilled until noon,” said Hossain, who owns 10 acres of arable land.
To reduce dependence on animals and labourers, Hossain also bought a thresher in 2000.
Although no official data on farm mechanisation is available, over 400,000 power tillers along with nearly 15,000-20,000 tractors are now in use in agriculture, according to researchers.
“It's a silent revolution that began after the 1988 flood,” said RI Sarker, a professor of the farm power and machinery department, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU).
Although the journey began as part of a so-called 'Green Revolution', advancements were slow until 1988 because of the standardisation requirements of the government.
Loss of tilling animals in the 1988 flood led the government to relax rules that later encouraged increased imports of farm implements, mainly from China and India. This leads to growth in sales and expansion of farm machinery.
Experts said shortages of tilling cattle as well as farm labourer in peak season were the main factors behind the rise in such mechanisation. Promotional campaigns by public agriculture research institutes and private sector marketers also supported the growth.
“Now about 70 percent of the total crop area is tilled by power tillers and tractors,” said Md Syedul Islam, head of farm machinery and post-harvest technology division, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute.
“One of the main benefits of mechanised tilling is timely cultivation, which farmers cannot ensure by depending on tilling by cattle,” he said. “It is estimated that farmers incur a loss of about 50 kilograms of paddy a hectare every day, if transplantation goes behind the schedule."
Monjurul Alam, a BAU professor, said a labour shortage in peak season caused delayed plantation and harvesting, leading to lower output.
Despite advancements, progress in mechanised transplantation and harvesting still goes slow.
However, remarkable growth has been seen in threshing of major crops, such as rice, maize and wheat.
“Farmers are now using nearly three lakh closed drum and open drum threshers. Some 25,000-30,000 threshers are being made locally every year to meet the increasing demand,” said Alam who conducted a study on value chain in the agri-machinery
sub-sector of Bangladesh in favour of SouthAsia Enterprise Development Facility (SEDF) in 2005.
“Farm machinery is revolving around a section of entrepreneurs who invest in farm machinery to earn money,” he said.
Wais Kabir, executive chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (Barc), said mechanised cultivation has increased without institutional support.
“Mechanisation is on the rise because of individual efforts,” he said. However progress in mechanised plantation, reaping and fertiliser application remains slow, he added.
“Also, availability of quality machinery remains a problem. The government should introduce standardisation requirements so that farmers receive quality farm machinery,” he said.
The Barc executive chairman also suggested mainstreaming the issue of mechanised cultivation in the agenda of Department of Agricultural Extension to create awareness among farmers on the benefits.
Look out for more on the evolution of farming in Bangladesh in two more upcoming reports.