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Dhaka Tribune

How Covid-19 has affected agriculture

The government can take various steps to ensure food security for the future

Update : 06 May 2020, 10:50 PM

Agriculture is a major sector for our economy, and is crucial to reduce our food insecurity. Now, agriculture doesn’t only mean by rice, vegetables, or fruits -- it also includes fisheries, poultry, livestock etc. Because the world has never experienced a thing like Covid-19 before, the situation is likely to direly afflict the agriculture sector as well. 

The agriculture sector is going through a major crisis now, without a doubt. A disruption of the entire supply chain and a reduction of the mobility of labour due to social distancing and decreased transportation are just a few of the problems. 

This is the time to harvest crops in the field, and a crisis of available labour is reduced by introducing mechanization in agriculture. Mechanization is not a new concept, but the question is, why has adequate preparation not been taken already? We also need to think about the agricultural labour community, about their next or future employment, as they lose their jobs due to both this pandemic and mechanization. 

The Bangladesh government has introduced a stimulus package of Tk5,000cr for the farmers with 4% interest rate, which is indeed a very satisfactory news for agriculture. The question also arises here about the justification of the interest rate for farmers, as agriculture and food security is our priority now. 

Netizens and experts are suggesting to not only reduce the interest rate for farmers, but make it 0%, as it’s not only about the credit for farmers. This stimulus package would help to run the supply chain, for transfer and distribution of raw materials, and help the outputs of generations of farmers. 

This stimulus package contains financing, management of the finance, and overall monitoring. The distribution of this stimulus package is itself another concern now. That is because there is no such database available, and it is going to be a real challenge to identify, monitor, and evaluate the proper distribution channel. 

Local monitoring through NGOs or local government can be operated, but again, the question of transparency and effectiveness in reality also lies in it.

A market management crisis of goods and materials are to be seen in the near future. Initially, it was thought that there would be a labour crisis in the current Boro rice season, but the grassroots administration along with the government authorities have taken tremendous steps, which have reduced the crisis despite having a lot of barriers. 

A regional crisis may be seen in the labour sector of agriculture, where there could be mass harvesting of rice or other staple crops. However, it cannot be said now that there will be no crisis in the rice market despite having a huge yield. 

Nowadays, a reduction in the purchasing power of people has caused a reduction of demand. It is seen in aquaculture sector too. Cultivated fish like pangash and tilapia were mainly purchased by middle class people, and they are now struggling to even buy it. 

The same scenario is also seen in the dairy and poultry industry. Because the maximum amount of raw materials for feed are imported, an interruption in the import-export business will create a crisis of poultry feed. 

To overcome this crisis in both Covid-19 and post-Covid-19 situations, the Department of Agricultural Marketing can play a vital role. Already, they are buying perishable products from farmers and middle men, and distributing them to the areas needed. 

Though this activity is infrequent, it still helps. It’s high time to introduce “big data concept” in agriculture. We do have a clear concept and knowledge in agriculture, but the lack of proper objectified data is the reason we are lagging behind in this pandemic. 

A complete database of farms, farmers, products, produce, markets, prices etc would have made it easier for the proper evaluation and distribution of the stimulus package that is offered by the government of Bangladesh for the agriculture sector. 

We always complain about farmers not getting proper prices for their commodities. The authority of the Department of Agricultural Marketing should now lead and hold a strong position, and have a control over the market. 

The department should now start to operate in the upazila level in a more comprehensive level. Depending only on the central government, while neglecting local government, is not a sustainable way to solve the issues at all. 

Besides, ensuring health security and providing necessary medical support to the farmers and people related to agriculture must be a priority now. Until the remedy is there, publicity in local media about health precautions for farmers can be taken. The introduction of various economic models for a sustainable supply chain and market support is what the agriculture sector needs the most right now.

Anneysha Zafrin is Business Development Executive, iPAGE Bangladesh Limited

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