Coastal belt to get priority in budget
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said the government would put highest emphasis on southern areas including the coastal belt in the next fiscal year's budget to increase food production.
In an interview with The Daily Star, Matia Chowdhury on Thursday said, “Coastal areas have many untapped prospects and we will realise those taking various steps like, digging canals and introducing saline-tolerant hybrid crops.”
The country's central zone has already become an industrial zone. With more electricity coverage and presence of land ports, there will be rapid industrialisation in the northern region as well, she added.
“Presence of land ports will allow people to switch over to other professions from agriculture. It's not bad and we welcome it. But the agricultural land is shrinking,” the minister observed.
She said there are vast agricultural lands in the southern region. “We want to utilise the lands in two ways--through livestock farming and fisheries, and producing cereal crops.”
Matia said, “We need varieties of saline-tolerant rice quickly. I have told the scientists to develop the available varieties as soon as possible.”
To increase agricultural produce, use of surface water and quality seeds, and mechanisation of agriculture would get more focus in the next budget, she said.
The rivers will be further restructured. A Tk 400 crore project was taken last year through Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation for digging canals, the minister said.
The recent increase in inflation is due to price hike of food. The minister replying to a question in this regard said the government has realised new pay scale for the civil servants, while huge agricultural loans have been disbursed. This additional flow of money in the market has created an impact on the inflation.
Matia said the wage of labourers in this harvesting season went up substantially. A labourer had to be paid Tk 250 to Tk 300 in addition to providing meals.
A farmer had to count Tk 3,500 to Tk 4,000 for harvesting paddy on one acre of land this time, she said.
She added the additional money infused into rural economy had an impact. Agriculture has now graduated from subsistence level to commercial agriculture having a cost.
“We have to pay the cost to the farmers. The residents of metropolitan cities like Dhaka want to get everything without bearing the cost.”
Matia said if the farmers do not get fair price for their produce, they would be discouraged to produce the next crop, which would bring about a fall in production.
The minister said, “Our policy is to ensure that the farmer is not stifled. On the other hand, they can get a fair price for their produce.”
She said in recent times the market price did not skyrocket. When prices of some commodities went up, the government intervened. “In the name of free market economy we do not want free for all economy,” she said.
The present government has taken various measures including giving huge subsidy on agricultural input. Besides, “Farmers Card” has been launched and opening of about one crore agricultural accounts at Tk 10 has been introduced.
Asked about the government's policy in this regard in the next fiscal year, the minister said, “We have not set any figure in advance. We place our requirement to the finance ministry when we need something and we get it. The prime minister and the finance minister are very careful about agriculture sector.”
The minister also said subsidy is never given for Aus paddy. “We have even given Tk 26 crore in this area. About 3.24 lakh farmers have been given 50 kg urea, TSP and MOP fertilisers each.”
She said in the next year the government will also give subsidy on urea if its price goes up. If the price falls, subsidy will not be given.
The government can give subsidy for irrigation. Whatever is required and wherever, the government will provide it, she added.
Asked what the government would do to face the challenges of ensuring food security in future whereas agricultural land is shrinking against the population boom, the agriculture minister said, “The people have given us the mandate to run the country and facing crisis comes with the package.”
“To increase food security we will exploit the potential of the southern region.”