Farmers leading the way | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 17, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 17, 2008


Farmers leading the way

Primacy of agriculture unquestionable

BUT for the boro bumper, good wheat crop and abundance of potatoes we would have been in dire straits in a food-short world today. Our farmers can be credited with rising from the catastrophic floods and Sidr with a firm determination to make up for the losses. They have proved that with their will and government's assistance, the farmers can work wonders.
The government should exactly know to what extent their fuel subsidy, distribution of seeds and fertiliser and special irrigation connections paid dividends. The overarching fact is, however, that the farmers diligently and prudently used every inch of land they could plough -- furrows, beels, haors and even some arid lands that were previously written off. That is where our potential lies for optimising land use in a situation where urbanisation, industrialisation, expansion of habitat and land erosion threaten to reduce land:man ratio even more adversely.
The global context marked by a shift from cereal to biofuel production has lessened food output in cereal exporting countries. Even their contribution to WFP is declining, not to speak of the export ban they have clamped. All this impels us to concentrate on and step up domestic agricultural productivity and maintain our own buffer stock of food to see us through rainy days. Even we can export rice for the good of others.
Thus, our national focus ought to be now on agriculture and alleviation of farmers' economic and working conditions. The pledge made by the chief adviser in Dinajpur who called farmers 'the national heroes' to prioritise agriculture in the national budget ought to be translated into reality in some identifiable areas of concern. First and foremost, soil fertility issue has to be addressed squarely. Over time, our land fertility has declined due to indiscriminate or erroneous use of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides, or lack of nurture. Besides, importantly, the water table has gone down. Shrimp culture and surging tide in the sea have led to salinity intrusion into cultivable lands. The BRRI is credited with having evolved new water resistant varieties of seed. Its potential has to be fully realised in collaboration with successful rice institutes in the region. All these point to the pressing need for vigorous agricultural research with adequate budgetary provisions made for the same. No measly amounts would do any more, nor a visionless approach to the future.
One fundamental weakness in agriculture management has been the sidestepping of the agricultural marketing imperatives. The farmers must get remunerative price for their produces. This requires two things: one, keeping the cost of production low and allowing them to sell their produce without having to go through middlemen. The idea of having wholesale markets dispersed in closer proximity to farming households is a good one.
Last but not least, storage facilities will have to string out all over the country if we have to curb the huge amounts of crop wastes we incur every year.

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