Seven-fold rise in production in 12 years; Bangladesh looks to exporting maize in near future
Riding on phenomenal success in maize production growth, Bangladesh is now looking to a further expansion of the acreage and output of the country’s second biggest cereal crop after rice and tapping the export market within the next five years.
Thanks to farmers’ gaining higher profit margins, right policy support and a burgeoning feed industry, Bangladesh’s annual maize output hit a record seven-fold increase from 0.75 million tons in 2009 to 5.4 million tons this year.
The Agriculture Ministry now envisages a plan to increase maize production to 10 million tons by 2025, thereby turning Bangladesh into a maize exporting country from an importing one.
With an ever-increasing rise in demand, largely owing to the fish, dairy and poultry feed industry, Bangladesh is still about a million tons short of meeting its domestic maize requirements of 6.5 million tons. Yet private traders exported 20,000 tons of maize to Nepal for the first time last year.
With over 36 million tons of annual rice output, Bangladesh is now self-sufficient in the staple, while the country largely depends on imports to meet over six million tons of yearly wheat requirements.
Domestic production of wheat hovers around one to 1.3 million tons only, depending on weather and acreage factors. In recent years, wheat crops suffered some losses due to wheat blast -- a fungal attack.
Prospects for a further growth in maize seem promising, with two major challenges ahead, though – farmers require more land to till maize and remedies to growing infestation of fall armyworm (FAW). FAW is a pest that feeds in large numbers on leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, causing major damage to maize in particular.
Taking part in a webinar on Friday night, Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque emphasized further expanding the acreage of maize and taking its yearly output level to 10 million tons by 2025.
The webinar, which was joined by officials and scientists of Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI) and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), identified key areas of cooperation, research and future investments for maize production growth in Bangladesh. The Mexico-based CIMMYT is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. CIMMYT along with the Bangladesh government and non-government organization, Brac, is an early promoter of maize production in Bangladesh in the 1990s.
Policy planners, breeders and market sources attributed the amazing rise in maize production to a number of factors --- demand from the feed industry, farmers' comparative advantage in terms of profits, fewer irrigation requirements, availability of both home-grown and imported hybrid seeds with high yield potentials, and overall policy and research support.
Though the maize revolution came hand in hand with the rise of the poultry and fish feed industry, the government is now trying to promote maize not just as a feed crop, but also as a food crop. The agriculture minister noted that maize starch could be used in the textile sector.
According to BWMRI Director General Dr Md Israil Hossain, farmers produced 5.4 million tons of maize by cultivating the cereal in little over half a million hectares of land this year. In Bangladesh, rice occupies over three quarters of the total cultivable land, leaving the remaining 25 percent land for farmers to cultivate maize, wheat, jute, potatoes, vegetables and spices.
Maize has two distinct uses in Bangladesh. It is a major ingredient in feed for livestock and fish, and for humans it is used for popcorn and corn flour. A recent report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations stated that a few companies in Bangladesh had started producing corn starch for industrial purposes.
While farmers hardly make any profit by cultivating investment-intensive winter rice, Boro, their profit from maize is quite significant. Over 3,000 litres of water are required for every kilogram of Boro output, but maize requires only 700 litres.
In a 2016 report, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had mentioned that farmers in Bangladesh earned over $2,275 by investing $1,421 for every hectare of maize while Boro fetched them $1,081 against an investment of $1,319.
According to FAO, "The gross margin from maize sales, per hectare, is 2.4 times greater than that of wheat or rice. Maize also has fewer pest and disease problems." It also notes, "By shifting from rice to maize during the dry season, farmers save groundwater from over-exploitation."
Thanks to imports and development of hybrid seeds, the average maize yield in Bangladesh is now over nine tons per hectare, compared to four to 4.5 tons of rice yield and three to 3.5 tons of wheat yield.
BWMRI and its preceding research station, Wheat Research Centre (WRC) of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), have developed as many as 28 maize varieties, 17 of those hybrids with some having yield potentials as high as 10 tons a hectare.