The Daily Star, 25 July 2008

The food ministry can import food grains on an emergency basis without amending the Public Procurement Regulations (PPR) 2008 to tackle the upswing in food prices. The Economic Affairs Committee in a meeting with Finance Adviser Mirza Azizul Islam in the chair yesterday gave the opinion as the ministry sought amendment to clause 83 (1) of the PPR for urgent import of food grains before the holy Ramadan.

Sources said the food ministry has requested the Economic Affairs Committee to reduce the time to 15 days from 42 days for floating tender to import food grains while from 28 days to 10 days for re-tender. But the high-powered committee gave the food ministry a clean chit, saying that under the clause 85 of the PPR 2008 the ministry could import food to meet emergencies without going through tender process.

The committee also decided to rethink the resumption of operation of Chittagong Chemical Mills Ltd, North Bengal Paper Mills Ltd and Khulna Newsprint Mills after getting back the three industrial units from the Privatisation Commission.

MARKET MONITORING
The army-led joint forces, Rab, BDR, police and civil administration will keep watch on markets during Ramadan, so that the traders cannot make large profits by charging high prices for goods. The decision was taken in a meeting of an inter-ministerial monitoring committee at the commerce ministry yesterday.

Chaired by Additional Secretary of the ministry Golam Mostakim, the meeting reviewed the import, supply, stock and overall price situation of essentials. The meeting urged TCB, BDR and Food Department to take all-out steps so that the supply of essentials is not disrupted during Ramadan.

It asked the state-run TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh) to complete the import of 3000 tonnes of pulses, 3000 tonnes of edible oil and 500 tonnes of onion before Ramadan. The meeting decided to make a request to the Fisheries and Livestock Department and the Cooperatives Department to go on selling fish and enhance the production and supply of Milk Vita products during the holy month.

It also requested the Agriculture Marketing and Department of Agriculture Extension to boost production of cucumber, brinjal and green chilli for meeting its increased demand during the month.

Bangladesh can produce seven crore tonnes of rice a year, more than double the present production, by ensuring proper irrigation and use of fertiliser, and bringing cultivable fallow lands under irrigation.  Excessive irrigation for Boro cultivation and lack of it for Aman now drastically reduce the yield of both. This is revealed in a study conducted by Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC).

The country now produces around three crore tonnes of rice a year with Boro output 3.66 tonnes per hectare and that of Aman a little above two tonnes. But Boro yield can be raised to six tonnes and Aman output to five tonnes a hectare, the study said.

The major factor behind the wide gap between present yield and potential output of Boro is excessive irrigation, says M Eftekharul Alam, assistant chief engineer of the BADC, who carried out the study for more than two decades.

Explaining this, Eftekhar said, “On an average our farmers use water 50 percent more than is needed for Boro cultivation. Such excessive use of water allows fertiliser to go so deep in the soil that paddy plants cannot collect nutrient from there. This waste of fertiliser reduces yield.”

Quoting a report of the International Rice Research Institute, he said irrigation efficiency in Bangladesh is the lowest in the region. Cost of irrigation in Bangladesh is $117.60 per hectare compared to $25.58 in India, $17.94 in Thailand and $17.98 in Vietnam.

In Bangladesh, farmers traditionally do not irrigate Aman field, even during panicle initiation and flowering, which decreases yield. Farmers now have average knowledge on use of seeds and fertiliser but very poor knowledge on irrigation, the study notes.

“This situation should be changed by training farmers on farm irrigation because the country’s success in food production has been possible due to irrigation during Boro season,” says Eftekhar, now doing PhD on improvement of irrigation efficiency and productivity at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

The country produced 311 lakh tonnes of rice in 2007 compared to only 85 lakh tonnes in 1960. Boro contributed 70 percent of this increased production, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Agriculture Information Services.

Boro cultivation now covers around 44 lakh hectares, Aman 58 lakh hectares and Aus only 11 lakh hectares. Aus production was not considered in the study.

Average output of high yielding variety (HYV) and hybrid Boro now is 3.66 tonnes per hectare. But output of HYV Boro can be raised to 4.0 to 7.5 tonnes a hectare and that of hybrid Boro to more than 7.0 tonnes, the study said.

And 10 lakh to 15 lakh hectares of land, which now remain fallow for various reasons in greater Barisal, Sylhet and some other areas, particularly char lands, can be brought under cultivation by using the water now wasted due to excessive irrigation for Boro cultivation.

Noting that Japan now produces more than six tonnes of rice a hectare, Eftekhar said a little effort could make Bangladesh a rice-exporting country. Bangladesh Agriculture University Professor Dr MA Sattar Mandol, who has made extensive studies on irrigation, said there is much scope to increase irrigation efficiency in Bangladesh.

“There is around 1.5 tonnes to 2.0 tonnes of yield gap (gap between present and potential output) per hectare. It is possible to meet this gap through efficient irrigation, use of better seeds and balanced application of fertiliser.”

He however said, “It is not so easy to bring fallow land under cultivation. It needs special efforts.”

Khawaza Main Uddin

Bangladesh, Monday, October 22, 2007

Trade liberalisation that eventually has resulted in skyrocketing of food prices afflicts the rural population of Bangladesh, admits the World Bank in its World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development.

The report released by the bank on Friday also says that the trend of shrinking the sizes of farms in economies, such as Bangladesh, which still heavily rely on agriculture, is another major cause of rural poverty, and such a reality can generate further social tensions, leading to civil conflicts.

‘Trade liberalisation that raises the price of food hurts net buyers (the largest group of rural poor in countries like Bolivia and Bangladesh) and benefits net sellers (the largest group of rural poor in Cambodia and Vietnam),’ reads the report.

The report of the multilateral lending agency, which prescribed the process of trade liberalisation in the 1990s, also claims that a liberal trade policy, inducing massive imports of rice by hundreds of small traders during the 1998 floods, helped the government stabilise prices without building up any large stock.

Quoting a Bangladesh study, the WB report asserts that although the ‘average landless poor household loses from an increase in rice prices in the short run’ but it ‘gains in the long run as wages rise over time’.

The report, forecasting a further increase in food prices on the international market, expressed ‘particular concern’ for the food-importing developing countries, ‘Because many of the poorest countries spend a large part of their incomes on cereal imports’.

More than 50 per cent of the poor in Bangladesh, according to the report, comprise the rural landless households and they spend 27 per cent of their total budget for buying rice, the nation’s staple food. And so, it says, ‘Poor Bangladeshis are the most vulnerable to increases in rice prices.’

Only 8 per cent of the country’s poor are found to be net sellers of food. ‘So the aggregate welfare effect of a change in rice prices is dominated by its effect on net buyers.’

Also, the number of farms in Bangladesh has doubled over the past 20 years, increasing the number of farms smaller than 0.2 hectares in size proportionately. ‘Continuing demographic pressures imply rapidly declining farm sizes, becoming so minute that they can compromise survival if off-farm income opportunities are not available,’ the report cautions.

It also points out that ‘a large share of rural households… does not have any access to land’.

The Washington-based lending agency, however, attributed what it termed the substantial reductions in rural poverty in Bangladesh to earnings form rising farm and non-farm activities and lower rice prices thanks to use of new technologies, besides manpower export which has also benefited the rural as well as the national economy.

The report has triggered the question whether a densely populated Asian country like Bangladesh, with its labour-intensive small-scale farming, would be able to produce cereals and other staple foods efficiently in its farms that generally tiny in size, especially if rural wages rise.

In South Asia, the report predicts, the decline in farm size will continue because the rural population has been growing by 1.5 per cent a year.

As an indicator of poverty, the report mentions that Bangladesh, India, and Nepal occupy three of the top four positions in the global ranking of underweight children.

The World Development Report also expresses concern for the developing countries due to proliferation and stringency of food safety and health measures being adopted in export markets. ‘Many fear that the emerging standards will be discriminatory and protectionist,’ it observes.

The document underlines the need for increasing the productivity of agricultural labour through consolidation and mechanisation of farms to bypass the widening gap between rural and urban wages in many Asian countries.

Millions of workers employed in rural areas are said to be trapped in low-earning jobs in Bangladesh, where around one million people join the rural workforce every year. The WB report mentions that non-farm rural employment increased at the rate of 0.7 per cent and farm employment at 0.1 per cent a year during the 1990s.

Delineating a strong record of agriculture in development, the report posts an estimate that the contribution of agriculture to the growth in gross domestic product was at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as the GDP growth in non-agricultural sectors.

The report calls upon the policymakers of countries facing severe resource constrains to attach a balanced priority to various sectors and give due attention to agriculture, especially to increasing investment in the sector.

The report correlates agricultural development with achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. It acknowledges that, despite convincing successes, agriculture has not been used to its full potential in many countries because of anti-agriculture policy biases and underinvestment, often compounded by mis-investment and donors’ neglect, at the cost of severe human sufferings.

‘A dynamic “agriculture for development” agenda can benefit the estimated 900 million rural people in the developing world most of whom are engaged in agriculture and who live on less than $1 a day,’ the World Bank Group president, Robert B Zoellick, told the launching ceremony of the report in Washington on Friday.

‘We need to give agriculture more prominence across the board. At the global level, countries must deliver on vital reforms, such as cutting distorting subsidies and opening up markets, while the civil society groups, especially the farmers’ organisations, need more say in setting the agricultural agenda,’ Zoelink maintained.

Porimol Palma, The Daily Star, 08 June 2008

 The government plans cultivation of newly invented rice variety– BRRI Dhan-33 — on 40,000 hectares of land in five northern districts in the coming Aman season to fight Monga (near-famine situation).The new variety can be harvested during the Monga period, creating job opportunities for farm workers.

“BRRI Dhan-33 can be harvested during October 15 – November 15, agricultural labourers will get employment just at a time they find no jobs locally. Marginal farmers, who also traditionally face financial crisis due to Monga, can from now have a harvest at this time,” said Dr MA Mazid, chief of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Regional Station, Rangpur.

Monga is an annual phenomenon in October-November in Rangpur, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha and Nilphamari districts with marginal farmers and farm workers facing economic crisis and lack of jobs. This forces them either to leave for other districts for employment or puts them in dire distress.

The plan to cultivate the new variety with higher yield aims at creating employment opportunities for 27.5 lakh farm labourers and helping 8.5 lakh farmers in the five Monga-hit districts increase production, agriculture experts said.

Mazid, who also heads the BRRI Dhan-33 and Monga mitigation programme, said after harvesting the new variety, farmers can go for early cultivation of Rabi crops like potato, which will also create employment for farm workers. Early cultivation of potato yields higher output, he noted.

Traditionally, small and marginal farmers are forced to sell their produce in advance to millers or hoarders, while labourers sell labour in advance, Mazid said. These practices add to their miseries during or after Monga.

“We hope that when rice will be available in market, and farm workers get jobs due to early harvest of BRRI Dhan-33, the curse of Monga will be over,” the agriculture expert said.

After harvesting potato and other Rabi crops, farmers can also cultivate other crops including maize and oil seeds sesame seeds to have three crops a year from their land, he added.

“Our target is cultivation of the new variety of rice in 1.07 lakh hectares of not so high and high land owned by marginal farmers in the five Monga-hit districts by 2010.”

After the invention and validation of the variety in 2004-05, it was cultivated on an experimental basis in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture Extension and some NGOs working in the northern region.

Output of this variety per hectare is 4- 4.5 tonnes, which is slightly less than that of BR-11. But considering the short duration of production period, it is much more profitable. This also makes it possible for the land to be three-cropped one, the agriculture expert said.

Bringing 40,000 hectares of land under BRRI Dhan-33 cultivation requires 1,600 tonnes of seed. The authorities have already started registering farmers who can cultivate this variety in the Aman season, and depending on that seeds will be supplied.

Mazid mentioned that BRRI has already collected 501 tonnes of seeds from farmers, BRAC has 80 tonnes and RDRS (Rangpur-Dinajpur Rural Services) has 50 tonnes. Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation will supply other seeds if there is any shortage of it.

The government will supply other farm inputs in time so that the marginal farmers do not find it difficult to cultivate this variety.

Implementation of the programme is being monitored by the agriculture ministry, Mazid said. “We are trying to mitigate a social problem through biological science. We believe we shall succeed.”

 

 

The Daily New Age, 05 September 2007

Khawaza Main Uddin

The country’s striving for food security and poverty reduction may falter as a consequence of ‘diminishing marginal return’ from farming and limited livelihood opportunities the poor get in agriculture.
   Apart from expressing that apprehension, a UN-government joint report also has named a number of factors such as seasonality in food production, food price instability, social and household inequalities including gender disparity, natural and man-made disasters, and poor sanitation behind continued poverty and hunger.
   ‘Given the finite amount of land and a still-growing population, land use and crop intensity are approaching a maximum [level], severely limiting the ability of many poor people to earn a livelihood from farming,’ said the recently published ‘Meeting the Challenge: A Mid-term Report on Achieving MDG-1 in Bangladesh’.
   The report finds ‘deteriorating terms of trade’ for farmers owing to high input prices and an imperfect market structure dominated by middlemen causing decrease in agriculture’s contribution to the gross domestic product, despite manifold increases in farm output.
   The share of agriculture in GDP, as mentioned in the report, declined from 30.4 per cent in 1991 to 20.1 in 2005. The sector still employs more than 50 per cent of the country’s labour force.
   The report stresses the need for new investments and innovations in the agriculture sector to boost productivity for removing hunger and poverty as well as promotion of new thrust sectors to sustain the progress so far achieved towards the first UN Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015.
   Bangladesh has reduced the percentage of people living below the poverty line, or the daily income of $1, from 58.8 in 1991 to 40 while the national target in conformity with the UN goal is to bring it down to 29.4.
   According to the report, faltering economic performance, growing population density, climate change, and exclusion from demographic and social changes are among the major reasons for the concern that the current rate of progress in reducing extreme poverty may not be sustained.
   ‘The extreme poor rely on government social protection programmes, family support or charity to survive,’ the report says, adding that no more than 10 per cent people eligible for government assistance receive it.
   Another formidable challenge to Bangladesh’s poverty reduction efforts is said to be the adverse consequence of the global warming since one-fifth of the country’s landmass may go under water, if the sea level rises by just one metre, causing massive displacements and reducing rice production by around 30 per cent.
   The report further acknowledges that poverty continues to prevent many children from the poorest and vulnerable groups from accessing ‘free’ education opportunities due to ‘many direct costs involved.’
   It points out that temporary labour migration — primarily to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries —also has contributed significantly to increasing household income and reducing poverty. ‘Any adverse shock — global, political or economic instability — could seriously undermine the gains in poverty reduction,’ it warns.
   The foreign affairs adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, presented the executive summary of the report at the annual ministerial review meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on ‘Strengthening efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, including through the global partnership for development’ in Geneva in July. Its in-depth version was published recently by the United Nations Development Programme.
   Iftekhar quoted the Johannesburg Declaration of World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 as saying that the countries of origin of temporary labour migration such as Bangladesh would enjoy a return of $160 to $200 billion if the European Union, Canada, Japan, and the United States allowed migrants to make up 4 per cent of their labour force.

Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star, 29 May 2008

 

Bangladesh Krishak Samity (BKS), a platform of farmers, yesterday demanded setting up government purchasing centres at every weekly market in rural areas to ensure fair price of rice and paddy for farmers.

At a press conference at Mukti Bhaban of Paltan in the city, BKS leaders also urged the government to set up bazaars at suitable places like one in Bogra inaugurated by the army chief recently.

They also demanded more allocations for agriculture sector in the next budget and urged the government to make sure that real farmers are benefited from the budget allocation.

In a written statement, the BKS leaders said the government should provide the farmers with agricultural inputs in time and without any hassles.

They also demanded distribution of agricultural inputs through Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC).

The leaders suggested giving more allocation for agricultural research saying that the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute was doing excellent job by inventing new high yielding varieties of paddy, and hoped that it would be able to invent more varieties if they are given more fund.

The BKS will submit memorandums to deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers across the country to press home their demands on June 7.

BKS Executive President SM Saboor, General Secretary Morshed Ali, Organising Secretary Sajjad Zahir Chandan, Vice- presidents Nurur Rahman Selim and Hari Sadhan Dey were present at the press conference.

Shantimoy Chakma, Rangamati, The Daily Star, 03 March 2008

 

“Only God knows what we will eat after a week. The Tk 1000 given by the government will provide for only seven days’ food,” said Samor Singh Chakma, an indigenous farmer while receiving the relief money at Thegamukh, a frontier village in Barkal upazila in Tangamati district.

“We have nothing to survive as most of the crops including paddy have been eaten up by rats this year”, he said.

The government relief is too scanty as there will not be any food crop in the hills in coming months, said Gayana Ranjan Chakma and Bhottya Chakma.

They are a few of the scores of victims of the rat invasion in Barkal and other areas in Rangamati and two other hill disticts.

The loss of crops to rat invasion followed a massive flowering and fruiting of bamboo clusters this year.

The CHT affairs ministry has allocated Tk 7 lakh to face the food crisis in Rangamati. Of the amount, Tk 5 lakh were distributed by Rangamati Hill District Council (RHDC) to 453 families in Hupbang, Thegamukh and Kukichhara in Borahorina union. The rest Tk 2 lakh has been allocated for affected people in Sazek union in Baghiachhari.

Each affected family got Tk 1,000.

RHDC chairman Jagat Jyoti Chakma, its member Bihari Ranjan Chakma, along with local Union Parishad (UP) chairmen and members and law enforcers distributed the relief in last few days.

Many affected families are still out of relief programmes in different areas.

Sources said only about fifty percent of the hill people could be covered under the current programme taken up by the government in Rangamati. The rest will remain out of food security, they said.

The government’s special relief programme in Rangamati covers Sazek in Baghaichhari, Hupbang in Barkal and Borthalipara in Bilaichhari upazila. Other parts of hilly areas in Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari are still out of the food safety net.

As a preliminary step, UNDP is distributing 20 kilograms of rice, edible oil, one kg of salt and a rat killing tool to each family in some areas.

The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) are training farmers in rat killing, said its official Kajal Kanti Talukder.

Talking to this correspondent, Borahorina UP chairman Binoy Krinchna Chakma said, “I can give only some quantity of rice under VGF (vulnerable group feeding) and VGD programmes. But it is very limited.

“After finishing paddy, swarms of rats are now eating banana, ginger, turmeric and other fruits and crops,” said Pulin Karbari of Thegamukh.

Many families in different areas of Barkal upazila left homes in search of livelihood, he said.

About 35,000 families in inaccessible Sazek union under Baghaichhari upazila of Rangamati district are in utmost food crisis. A famine like situation is prevailing there, the village headman said.

At least 200 families in Sazek union left their homes for Mizoram and Tripura of India in search of livelihood, local public representatives told The Daily Star correspondent.

About 35,000 families of five ethnic communities– Chakma, Tripura, Pankhua, Lusai and Riyanglive in 607 square kilometers area in Sazek union. Cultivation and collecting bamboo from forests are their main sources of survival.

Earlier, the ministry of CHT affairs allocated Tk 15 lakh for the three hill districts, which has already been distributed among affected farmers.

RHDC executive officer Tarun Kanti Ghosh said a decision has been taken to allocate 700 metric tones (MT) of food grains for food for work programme in Rangamati. Of this, 300 MT will be distributed in Sazek, 200 in Bilaichhari, 150 in Barkal and 50 in Jurachhari upazila. Other development schemes are also on cards, he said.

Jagat Jyoti Chakma said RHDC along with UNDP will conduct a survey soon to assess the exact number of affected families. World Food Program (WFP) is also contemplating resuming RMP (road maintenance project) projects as a long term assistance program for the affected people.

“We also submitted two projects to CHT affairs ministry. One is raising mixed fruit gardens and the other is goat rearing project,” he added.

Staff Correspondent, Bogra, The Daily Star, 03 April 2008

 

Army chief General Moeen U Ahmed yesterday said the country is experiencing a food crisis to some extent and the government is trying its best to overcome it.

He suggested adopting a habit of eating potato with rice to ease the pressure on the staple.

“The only problem in the country at present is to make food available for everyone,” Gen Moeen said after visiting a farmers’ market set up under the supervision of the army at Chelopara in Bogra city.

Stressing the need for growing the habit of eating potato, Moeen said, “Eating potato with rice will reduce the demand for rice while fulfilling the nutrition requirement.”

The army chief appreciated the initiative for setting up the farmers’ market for direct marketing of farm produce. He said such markets would be set up across the country to help decrease the number of middlemen, which will benefit both the buyers and sellers.

He assured the farmers of taking initiatives so that the market is not evicted with the change of government and developing the marketplace as a permanent business centre.

Gen Moeen noted that the country faced natural disasters last year but nobody had to starve to death. “We all tried and succeeded in tackling the situation,” he said.

UNB adds: The army chief said the Food Department has already started selling rice at fair price on the open market and the government is increasing rice allocation and the number of dealers.

“More people will be able to buy rice at fair price [at Tk 25 per kg] and save money,” he said.

He said 78 lakh tonnes of potato has been produced across the country in the current season and the production of wheat also almost doubled. He hoped there would be a bumper production of Boro paddy this season as the supplies of seeds, fertilisers and power were normal.

Bogra Area Commander and GOC of 11 Infantry Division Major General Muhammad Shamim Chowdhury, senior army officials and government officials accompanied the army chief.

Meanwhile, Naznin Moeen, wife of the army chief, yesterday inaugurated Millennium Scholastic School in Jahangirabad Cantonment area in the city.

Dhiraj Kumar Nath, The Daily Star, 04 April 2008

 

 

 

Sustainable economy to ensure long-term food security cannot be achieved without making substantial investment in agriculture to contribute towards increasing gross domestic products.

A country depending on higher import bill cannot claim to be risk free on the strength of its growth of remittance or foreign exchange reserve, whatever it might be. For Bangladesh, there is no scope to be complacent with the record high reserve of foreign exchange of $ 610 crore and 37 lakh as on March 6. Equally, it does not make any sense to be too happy to see the foreign remittance of $ 71 crore and 50 lakh in the month of January.

Besides, the gradual growth in our foreign exchange earning from export of knitwear and woven garments, along with the export of some non-traditional items like vegetables, flowers and foliage, agro-processed foods, footwear, and pharmaceuticals, has given an impression of a stable and bright economy.

No doubt, these are indications of economic strength, but not the answer for a sustainable economy in a country like ours where domestic demand increases rapidly with increased growth of population.

To ensure macro-economic stability, agriculture must be prioritised in comparison to other service sectors. Agriculture, comprising of crops and non-crops like forests, fisheries and livestock, accounts for 19.49% of GDP and employs over 63% of the of skilled and unskilled workforce in our country.

Bangladesh, no doubt, is endowed with fertile soil, appropriate ecological diversity and abundant ground-water resources. This is a unique country having opportunities of generating farm and non-farm activities with minimum efforts and investments.

Unfortunately, the potential of the agriculture sector has not been exploited adequately in spite of comparative advantages in the production of high-value crops, fruits and flowers. Substantial initiatives have not been taken to explore the avenues of increased production of different varieties of agro-products, in spite of the commitments outlined in the National Agriculture Policy and the commissions constituted thereafter. In fact, it is difficult to gain remarkable successes or make visible break-throughs unless big entrepreneurs come forward with major investment in the agro-based and processing industries.

Most economists strongly feel that the widespread poverty, growing inequality, rapid population growth and rising unemployment, find their origins in the stagnation and often retrogression of economic life in rural areas where agriculture is the mainstay.

The reasons for such deterioration are:

  • Drastic reduction in public investment in agriculture.
  • Lack of adequate external resources for investment in agriculture.
  • Highly subsidised agriculture in developed countries.
  • Dumping of agricultural products by developed countries.
  • Sense of complacency of green revolution activities.

Apart from the above, the agriculture sector in Bangladesh has some inherent constraints that contain its growth and maintain a gradual decline in its contributions to GDP. Some of these are as follows:

  • Dependence on nature, but having no long-term scientific ways to combat the vagaries of the same.
  • Rapid decrease in the availability of cultivable land due to construction of houses on fertile agricultural land or on the ponds, canals or rivers. Unfortunately, there is no rule in rural areas regarding the house building.
  • Widespread poverty among the marginal farmers engaged in agriculture, and most of them are deeply indebted with the micro-credit or agricultural loan from the banks.
  • Lack of required capital for agricultural activities with modern implements and innovative methods derived from R and D.
  • Uncertainty of fair prices of agricultural commodities due to underdeveloped marketing system and packaging procedures for export, especially for horticulture and fruits and foliage.
  • Inadequate, or absence of, cold storage or cold chain system to maintain market prices stable round the year.
  • Availability of high yielding variety of seeds and preservation of the same to increase the farm products.

These constraints must be overcome with massive investment in the agriculture sector and devising of pragmatic approaches to increase the production, failing which we shall have to pay an abnormal price for import, as we see even now.

The import of rice during the current fiscal year already stands at 29.95 lakh metric tons, and this might reach 40 lakh tons by June. Surprisingly enough, the price of rice from India might be claimed to be $ 650 per metric ton, but each ton is being sold at $330 in the district of Burdwan in West Bengal. If the imported price reaches such a level, the local market price could be more than Tk 45.00 per kilogram.

In such a situation, with possibilities of more acute problems, the only answer is to increase local production through more investment with private-public partnership. There should be a package of incentives, financial and technical, to invite investment in agriculture. A few of them are as follows:

  • Technology transfer through intensive training or development of human resources. For this purpose, Bari, Irri, Bina, Cerdi and other agricultural colleges and universities may take concerted efforts under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Set up more modern research outfits with tissue culture faculties in addition to the facilities now available at Bari, or strengthening the existing facilities.
  • Review the Seed Policy and allow the import of seeds of high-value crops, and distribution of the same to the marginal farmers.
  • Establishment of the EPZ for agro-processing industries. The EPZ for agriculture products established at Ishwardi, should be made functional with all available facilities.
  • The rate of interest for bank loan for investment in agriculture should be reduced, and the spread should not be more than 3% without service charges.
  • The subsidy for fertiliser and seed should be increased reasonably.
  • The Equity and Entrepreneurship Fund of Bangladesh Bank should create more opportunities for investment in agriculture.
  • Duty rebate and cash incentive facilities for the export of agriculture and horticulture products should more pragmatic.
  • Investment for diversification and growth of high-value crop will be rewarding. There is enough scope for production of mushroom, broccoli, baby corn, French bean, capsicum, orchid and other ornamental plants. Due to the possibilities of export of these crops, investors in the private sector will feel it attractive.
  • There exists ample scope to derive edible oil from rice bran at Natore, Chapai Nawabgonj and Dinajpur. A large number of medium-size rice bran oil processing mills could be established at Rajshahi division. Besides, there is enough opportunity to export fine and aromatic rice like Kataribhog, Kalizira Chinigura etc. the production of which could increase with incentives.
  • Wheat price round the world is increasing fast, and it might increase more due to crop failure and infestation in Canada and some European countries.
  • Potato is the third staple food, next to rice and wheat. Bangladesh can produce 45 lakh MT in a year. Establishment of potato-based agro processing industries for french fries, potato chips, potato flakes with high yielding seeds can earn crores in foreign exchange.

Thus, investment in the agriculture sector to attain a sustainable economy in the country is the only answer to avoid any catastrophe in food autarky in the country. This should be taken into consideration during the finalisation of the budget of the 2008-2009 financial years.

Dhiraj Kumar Nath is a former Secretary.

Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star, 03 May 2008

 

Eminent economist Dr Wahiduddin Mahmud yesterday said he has proposed to the caretaker government to form two task forces to keep rice price within the purchasing capacity of people at all levels, and ensure food security for all.

“Recently, I proposed to the government to form two task forces –food management and security task force and agricultural production support task force,” Wahiduddin said while addressing the inaugural session of a two-day workshop in the capital.

Giving details, he said food management and security task force will oversee food procurement, import and distribution channels so that people at all levels can have food grains, especially rice, within their purchasing capacity.

Agriculture production support task force will work to ensure easy availability of farm inputs needed to produce rice focussing on price and distribution of fertiliser, diesel, hybrid seed and irrigation, he said.

“Country’s food security cannot be ensured unless it attains self-sufficiency in production of rice,” the renowned economist observed.

Wahiduddin blamed an international syndicate for rice price hike in global market.

Institute of Media & Communication Studies organised the two-day workshop on food security for journalists, held at Chhayanat Bhaban. Experts deliberated on various aspects of this vital issue at two working sessions on the day.

Prof Dr MA Sattar Mandol of Bangladesh Agriculture University, Mymensingh, spoke on ‘Food Security: Way to make it sustain in Bangladesh’ and Dr Fahmida Akter Khatun on ‘Global Warming & Crop Cultivation Method: Bangladesh Perspective’.

Khandaker Ibrahim Khaled, former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, deliberated on ‘Subsidy & Bank loan policy to Agriculture: Is it farmer friendly?’

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