Bangladesh agriculture: Challenges ahead
BANGLADESH Academy of Agriculture (BAAG), an organization of senior and eminent agriculturists of the country, organized a round table discussion on "Bangladesh Agriculture: Challenges Ahead" just more than a couple of months ago (23rd August) at BARC Conference Room, Dhaka. A large number of shortcomings as well as challenges were identified during the meeting and ameliorative measures were suggested. However, the most daunting challenges facing our agriculture and urgently necessary measures are analyzed here.
Feeding the ever-increasing population: Twenty five lakh increased population per year has been eating up all the achievements in agricultural production. Consequently people's standard of living is declining and the number of people below the poverty level is increasing. Therefore, population control should be taken up as the most important development agendum alongside improvement in agricultural production.
Constraints and opportunities due to globalization: Relation of Bangladesh with GATT and WTO has put the country in a globalized trade liberalization regime thereby opening the possibility of entry into the world market. But the country is not yet ready to compete with many countries due to quality limitations of its products. Tariff reduction to a much lower level by the WTO has created a condition of unfair competition for our small farmers against big farmers of the West. Policy support, therefore, is needed through revision of the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) to sustain and nurture the small producers and local traders through development of comparative advantage and providing technological know-how and input.
Loss of agricultural land: About 100,000 ha productive agricultural land is lost per year through non-agricultural use i.e. roads, housing and other "development" projects. This tantamounts to wanton destruction of the most important natural resource base of agriculture and, if not checked now, the country will be left with very little fertile and productive land in the near future. Therefore immediate promulgation of land policy is needed to save prime cultivable land from further shrinking.
Erosion of river banks: River bank erosion affects about 150 upazilas of 50 out of 64 districts of the country. About one million people are affected by this calamity annually who lose everything -- homestead, land other structures making them virtually beggars. Some of them take shelter in the shanties of towns and others try to make a living out of the occasional shoals ("chars") formed in the river beds. Immediate steps to reduce river erosion through river training and partial taming is to be launched as well as all out research & extension programmes be initiated to augment productivity of charlands.
Halting degradation of natural resources: Degradation of natural resources has caused almost irreparable damage to agricultural production. These include soil erosion, soil salinity, sedimentation with sand, waterlogging, deforestation, depletion of soil's organic matter, imbalanced fertilization, reducing fish species etc. Vigorous research and extension programmes should to be initiated immediately with policy support from the government halt/this degradation and ensure appropriate production practices.
Global warming & climate change: Significant changes have occurred in the climatological pattern of the country. The frequency of natural calamities like flood, cyclone, drought etc have increased/become erratic. All these have profound influence on crop production in the country. Appropriate research and policy planning is needed to recast our crop calendar and introduce a strategy for managing the risks.
Dwindling human resource base: About 400 highly qualified and experienced scientists have emigrated to developed countries due to limitation of career development by way of promotion to next higher grades, lack of higher education and trainings and because of retirement at the age of 57 years. A national HRD programme has to be developed and implemented to ensure (i) ample scope for promotion to next higher grade (including in situ promotion); (ii) retirement age of 62 years (like the Indian Council of Agriculture); (iii) higher salary and service benefits; (iv) higher study and training, facilities and, (v) provision of extra benefits for extra-ordinary performance. Such measures are expected to slow down the exodus of scientists.
Private sector involvement: The domain of agricultural research and extension in Bangladesh is mainly a public sector function. Absence of business motive has therefore kept it as a slow moving sector. Policy support to encourage the private sector including NGOs followed by appropriate strategic planning to induce private sector funding of research & extension is a dire need. Many countries have harvested the benefits of private sector investment in agriculture.
Availability of inputs: The inputs for agricultural production are always in short supply. Timely availability of adequate quantities of inputs should be considered as a pre-requisite to proper production of crops and prior arrangement for ensuring their availability should be a routine function of the relevant authorities.
Marketing and agribusiness: These aspects of agriculture have been very much neglected. As a consequence, the farmers do not get proper price for their produce; the middlemen get the lion's share of benefit. To ensure proper price of products to the farmers, there is a need for: (i) improvement of infrastructure & facilities in the market places; (ii) improvement of marketing system and marketing channels; (iii) alleviation of problems faced by the producers, traders and consumers; (iv) creation of facilities for ushering a smooth field for establishing agribusiness and value addition; (v) arrangement for farmer training to converting subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture.
Introduction of innovative ideas into practice: Technology innovation and their dissemination have been the traditional strategy for agricultural development in the country. The purpose was to increase production and to become self-sufficient. But not much of innovative practices have been tried by the public and the private sectors. The only exception has been KATALYST, a project of SWISSCONTACT Bangladesh. The motto of the project is "Growth through business". They conduct market research for various inputs (seeds etc) and the products of farmers with the aim to understand why quality inputs and products are in short supply and to identify opportunities to improve the chain and functioning of the market. The ultimate beneficiary is the total community starting from the input producer to the consumer of the processed food. This kind of activity needs to be taken up by the GOs, NGOs, associations etc involved in research, extension and agribusiness.
Diversification of agricultural products: More than 60% of the land is cultivated by marginal farmers. They along with small and medium farmers have introduced monoculture of rice as a measure of food security for their families. Rice area has been increasing at the cost of all other crops. The trend is reverse in China. Monoculture destroys the fertility & structural balance of the soil and nutritional balance of the human food. The trend of monoculturing of rice has to be slowly reversed through development of a strategic plan of research, financial support and farmer motivation.
Introduction of information and communication technology (ICT): The existing extension procedures of the DAE do not include ICT. Inclusion of this modern technology has proved to be the quickest, cheapest and most effective means of technology dissemination and market monitoring. India has introduced ICT service to some States where-from the farmers get the latest information about improved technologies as well as market situation of various areas. Introduction of such a system in Bangladesh is expected to augment production as well as ensure competitive price of farm products thereby increasing the farmer's income.
Integration of research programmes of the National Agricultural Research System (NARS): The ten Agricultural Research Institutes belong to four different ministries and have different governance systems (e.g. semi-autonomous, autonomous and government department) as well as each has its own Act and Service rules. In view of the country's participation to the WTO since 2005, a new vista for increasing its production possibility and achieving greater economic efficiency has been opened. The NARS must now address problems related to organizational rigidities of the ARIs and encourage much more integration of their research endeavors under the leadership of BARC.
Introduction of "National Agricultural Scientist System" (NASS): Leaders of highly successful research groups in ARIs are forced to retire at the age of 57 and potential research programmes lose momentum abruptly. This is happening when major breakthroughs are necessary to achieve self autarky in food as a whole. The vision for introducing NASS entails attracting and utilizing the services of extra-ordinarily competent but retired agricultural scientists to give leadership in conducting frontier research using the most modern technologies for accelerating agricultural production. India, Pakistan and the Philippines have introduced such systems and have been reaping the benefit.