It is imperative for the sustained economic development of the country
Although the contribution of agriculture to our GDP has declined, it remains the predominant sector in terms of employment and livelihood, with about half of Bangladesh’s workforce engaged in it as the principal occupation. Therefore the level of farm production and prices are a key determinant of poverty and human welfare. Agriculture also contributes significantly to export earnings of Bangladesh and agricultural output is used as an important source of raw material for many industries.
According to the 7thfive-year plan (2016-20), agricultural growth has accelerated from less than 2% per year during the first two decades after independence to around 3% during the last decade. Despite such steady growth, Bangladesh has been facing persistent challenges in achieving food security. This is mainly due to natural disasters, and fluctuations in food prices from the influence of volatile international markets.
A sudden increase in prices of staple foods such as rice and flour erode the purchasing capacity of poor people. Access to food will continue to depend on comprehensive economic development. But since almost half of the labour force still depends on the agricultural sector for employment, growth of this sector and favourable terms of trade for agricultural commodities are crucial for increasing incomes of the low-income people and to expand their capacity for accessing food.
Rapid agricultural growth will sustain high growth of the economy with better capacity to reduce poverty through enhancing rural wages, creating synergies for diversifying the rural economy, and enabling the supply of low-cost food to improve nutritional status and food security of the people.
70% of Bangladesh lives in rural areas, and draws their income and employment from agriculture and related activities. Agricultural land is limited and is reducing at 1% per annum. Modern methods of production, including water resource management, high yielding drought and submergence resistant seeds, and increase in land productivity through efficient irrigation, flood control, and drainage are among the key factors in achieving a higher level of self-sufficiency in food production to feed the ever increasing population.
With contesting demand from a growing population, the availability of land for agriculture is declining along with land quality due to degradation of soil fertility and increased soil salinity. The challenge, therefore, is to develop the existing agricultural system into a more dynamic, market-oriented, and sustainable commercial sector.
This can be done by achieving higher productivity and profitability through irrigation expansions, agricultural intensification, diversification, mechanization, and value addition. Land and water continue to be the most misused natural resources and a countrywide campaign is, therefore, required to conserve water and use it judiciously and institute proper land use planning system.
Bangladesh has attained self-sufficiency in rice production, resulting from stimulating production growth over the past years. Yet, rice production in the future will have to be pursued with decreasing availability of land and water, and under conditions of progressively negative impacts of climate change.
The difference between farm level yield and yield at research stations of crops has remained an issue of concern for many years. It is generally recognized that the actual yield of crops fall short of potential yield by about 30%. Farmers’ acceptance of a technology does not necessarily depend on the objective attributes of a technology, but on a range of socio-economic factors associated with adoption of a technology.
Productivity gains can come from two sources -- technological change and correction of market distortions. Technological progress resulting in HYV seeds was responsible for doubling yields per acre during the 1970s. Whereas over 70% of cropped area today is under HYV, almost all suitable land is expected to come under HYV within the next decade or so.
The recent achievements in agriculture have mainly been on development and adoption of new technologies. However, many challenges still remain. Post-harvest infrastructure is generally poor, particularly for perishable high value products. This calls for developing technology choices according to agro-ecological conditions and market demand. The average post-harvest loss is around 15-20% and is further compounded with huge technology gap at various levels
Among some solutions that could be implemented include -- promoting science-led agricultural technology systems and dissemination of improved technology, while shifting where feasible to higher-value crops for commercialization including increasing quality horticultural crop production; linking farm-produces with markets so as to overcome the issue of low price of products at farm level; facilitating increased private investments in agriculture and agro-processing value chains alongside public investments, and more public-private partnerships; expanding irrigation and farm mechanization with appropriate technology including better use of renewable energy; developing resilience to climate change impacts; expanding agriculture to the newly accrued coastal land and marine islands; identifying and removing structural bottlenecks, have to be in place.
Small holders need to be enabled to integrate in the markets to effectively contribute to the production of high value crops. To this effect, they need better access to credit and other agricultural services - such as extension, information, and local market infrastructures and services. Most importantly there needs to be more private participation and investments in the agriculture value chain development.
Bangladesh, given a price-responsive market and the right policy environment, could have a comparative advantage in certain high-value crops, including traditional fruits and vegetables. The future of non-rice crops will depend on the removal of a number of constraints that currently inhibit their expansion, including comparatively less attention given to development of appropriate technology for non-rice crops and inadequacies of market infrastructure and services.
Food processing such as canned fruits also has considerable potential, provided quality control can be ensured. To ensure that their production and export potential are fully realized, the government needs to continue its current commitment to investing in manufacturing and infrastructure, but more so in facilitating private participation in different aspects of those value chains.
With thegoal of enhancing agricultural production and ensuring food security, the main target under any agricultural and economic development plan must be to attain and maintain self-sufficiency in staple food (rice) production and meet thenutritional requirement of the population through the supply of an adequate and diverse range of foods.Production and consumption diversification with high value crops has to be thetarget for food production in the country.
Tanvir Ahmad is an urban planner.