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Covid-19: Hitting rural farming

  • Published at 12:34 pm May 16th, 2020
agriculture food crop farm
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What needs to be done for fish, poultry, and dairy farmers

The issue of food and nutrition security has come to the fore in Bangladesh as the agricultural production systems have been seriously disrupted by the on-going coronavirus crisis. 

In this context, an expert discussion was held on the impact of corona affecting important sub-sectors of commercial agriculture, such as fisheries, poultry, and dairy production, and marketing, and what steps can be taken to address it. 

This article summarizes the discussion and offers suggestions:

The production of fish, meat, eggs, and milk is already under threat as the supply chain and marketing system is severely disrupted. The timely initiative of the government to provide emergency assistance to the dairy-poultry-fisheries sector in the incentive package is highly commendable.
 It is hoped that the incentives will be properly implemented under the supervision of the Department of Livestock Services and the Department of Fisheries under the leadership of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock in collaboration with the private sector actors.

Fish farmers are facing financial loss as they cannot sell enough fish due to the disruption of communication and marketing systems which might worsen if the present deadlock prolongs.

In this case, the fish farmers are advised to keep their cultured fish in the pond for some more time. For this, it is necessary to maintain a supply of inputs (fingerlings, fish feeds, fertilizers) at fair prices to compensate the farmers. The provision of subsidy on fish feeds and low-interest loan facilities to fish farmers can also be considered.

The Department of Fisheries may take steps to organize transportation, marketing assistance, and advice so that farmers can sell fish, albeit on a limited scale.
 At the same time, the entrepreneurs who export processed fish can buy fish from farmers and take more initiatives to process it. This processed fish can be marketed in the country and abroad.

The potential shortage of fish production is likely to create a huge demand for fish worldwide. Bangladesh has natural advantages for and demonstrated success in aquaculture practices. Our fish exporters can come forward to take advantage of this situation. The export incentive package can be extended to this.

Many fishermen of marginalized communities are unable to fish in rivers and seas due to restrictions on movement. It is very important to bring these fishermen under government food assistance and safety net programs.

At the moment, the marketing of milk produced by thousands of small- scale dairy farms is a big problem. As milk is a perishable commodity, it is necessary to make arrangements for its preservation through processing as much as possible.
 The possible means of milk processing are as follows: (a) provisions of cheap cream separators can be made available to the farmers so that they can make and store ghee, butter, etc. on the farm themselves;

(b) dairy farmers can be motivated to use the traditional technologies used by the ghosh, gowala, and moira in making ghee and butter;
 (c) technology and investment support can be provided to the large milk and dairy companies in the country to produce as many dairy products as possible from the milk produced by the farmers (eg powdered milk, ghee, butter, etc.).

Since it is not possible to sell all the milk produced due to the disrupted market system, farmers may be advised to feed the calves, especially female calves, adequate milk (usually 2-3 liters per day).
 The heifers will then grow quickly and achieve fertility earlier than usual. In this way, the farmers will be able to make up for the loss by gaining dairy cows at the fastest time. This scientific information can be widely disseminated among dairy farmers.

The poultry sector is already at risk of bird flu. In corona conditions, it may become more pronounced. Although the government has already approved the import of the H9-N2 vaccine, it is awaiting the necessary approval for its use at the farm level.
 It is necessary to expedite the use of the H9-N2 vaccine at the farm level immediately. In addition, other poultry vaccines, including the previously approved H5-N1 vaccine, need to be supplied at the farm level as well.

Department of Livestock Services can initiate and facilitate coordination amongst the dairy farmers and the big industries in the poultry-dairy sector. This will result in devising effective ways about how the transport, storage, and processing infrastructures of the industries can be utilized for the benefits of the farmers in this sector.

The established veterinary clinics in universities and elsewhere can start telemedicine centers for providing online veterinary services to livestock farmers. The telemedicine hospital service offered by the veterinary professors of the Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh is a notable example.

Like rice and other essential food items, eggs, milk, fish, and meat can be considered for inclusion in the government’s regular safety net as well as the current food distribution programs. The local volunteers and social institutions can come forward to help package and distribute these perishable items.

Traders and companies in the dairy-poultry-fisheries sector may be advised to make maximum use of their own transport and delivery facilities to ensure the uninterrupted movement of products.  BRTC transport services can also be utilized through the coordination of concerned government authorities. 

M A Sattar Mandal is an Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics and former Vice-Chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Mymensingh. The discussants from BAU included Prof Sachchidananda Das Chowdhury (Poultry Science), Prof M A Wahab (Fisheries), Prof Md Rafiqul Islam (Pathology), Prof Emdadul Haque Chowdhury (Pathology), Prof Muhammad Mahfuzul Haque (Fisheries), Prof Harunur Rashid (Fisheries), Prof Md Saidur Rahman (Agricultural Economics), Dr Mohammad Mohiuddin (Animal Nutrition).

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