When Bangladesh came into being as an independent country in 1971 after the War of Liberation, feeding its 70 million people was a major challenge for it.
The nine-month-long bloody war against Pakistani occupation forces, in which millions of lives were lost and thousands of women were sexually abused, left the country with a fragile economy, a devastated infrastructure, and thousands of people homeless.
To describe the economic condition of newly-born Bangladesh, political analyst and the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who served under US presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford dubbed Bangladesh a "basket case" while he was on a short trip to Dhaka in 1974.
However, that is no longer the case for the country, as it has come a long way since its early days.
Over the years, Bangladesh has attained self-sufficiency in rice production to feed its 160 million plus populations, while growths in other sub-sectors of agriculture also have been astounding.
The total gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh was about $6.288 billion in 1972, while the per capita income was merely $94. The country's total GDP currently stands at about $275 billion and per capita income has increased to $2,064 – meaning the nominal per capita income has increased 21.96 times and the GDP has grown 43.73 times over the last 48 years.
In addition, the current GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) is $536 billion which is predicted to reach $1,291 billion by 2030 and $3,367 billion by 2050.
Besides, the adult literacy rate has increased from 29.23% to 72.76% and, simultaneously, the average life expectancy on birth has increased from 53.92 years in 1971-72 to 72.22 years in 2020. Additionally, Bangladesh has set a landmark record in poverty alleviation by reducing it by 24.6% between 2000 and 2016.
This is an incredible improvement for a vulnerable economy that Bangladesh got in its birth.
The architect of independent Bangladesh and the Father of the Bengali Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got three and a half years' time to govern the country and he did a lot to accelerate the country's economic growth.
He thought about how to change the destiny of the people of this country. He gave utmost importance to agriculture and in order to increase the productivity of farmers, he broke up large holdings by enacting a law stating that no more than 100 bighas of land could be kept in a single ownership.
With this, an effective process of agricultural transformation began. As a result of providing fertilizer, seeds, irrigation facilities, farmers concentrated on agricultural work.
The country's agriculture sector is advancing rapidly as subsidies are being provided to the farmers of the country and training and use of advanced technology are being introduced to enhance the honour and dignity of agricultural scientists.
Even though there was a shortage of three million tonnes of food in 1971-72, food production started to be encouraged from 1972-73 and the main reason behind this was the relentless efforts made by the then agriculture-friendly government.
In 1977-78, the total GDP at current prices was Tk146.37 billion and the contribution of agriculture to GDP was 53%. At that time, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP was Tk77.57 billion. In 2018-19, the total GDP at current prices was Tk25,524.83 billion and the contribution of agriculture to the GDP was 13.32%. This means at present the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is Tk3,386.59 billion.
In the last 41 years, the total contribution of agriculture to the GDP increased 43.7 times. The above data make it clear that agricultural production is increasing over the time. The main reasons behind this are the overall transformation of agriculture and increased investment in the sector.
One thing is clear – agriculture has been commercialised due to the change in holding agriculture and it is moving forward unabated. The total contribution of agriculture to the GDP has increased but the percentage contribution of agriculture has decreased due to the development of other sectors of the economy which is desirable in economic consideration.
The productivity of marginal agriculture is higher because of higher use of fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides, herbicides and moreover they have started using improved farming methods. Marginal farming became profitable due to rapid crop diversification. Relatively small farmers have been able to get involved in the production process through which their income has been increased and they are able to lead a better life than before.
Improving the quality of life of the general people required change and relocation to agriculture which is extremely positive. There is no substitute for the use of advanced technologies (IoT, Big Data, ICT, AI, Drones, Hydroponics, etc.) in agriculture to keep the contribution of agriculture growing. Apart from these, training of farmers, provision of loan facilities, provision of information on agriculture related issues need to be made easily available.
There is no doubt that if we leave agriculture to the profession of less educated people, we will lag behind economically. Today's agriculture will be commercial agriculture and advanced technology will be used in agriculture. If we can encourage young people with technological knowledge to agricultural work through proper education and training, huge improvement will be there no doubt.
It is to be hoped that Bangladesh will move forward by increasing the country's national income through increasing agricultural production by tackling the situation caused by global climate change and will be able to build the golden Bengal that was the dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Under the direction of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with the visionary experience of the Minister of Agriculture, the agricultural economy of Bangladesh will move forward at a tremendous pace.
Growth in crops sector
In 1971-72, total Aus, Aman and Boro rice production were 7.42, 5.69 and 1.74 million tonnes respectively. Total rice production was 14.85 million tonnes. Wheat and maize production were 0.11 and 0.002 million tonnes. Pulses production was 0.28 million tonnes. Export value of tea, jute and raw jute and other agricultural products was Tk1.84 billion in 1972-73.
At current time, total Aus, Aman and Boro rice production were 2.78, 14.06 and 19.56 million tonnes respectively. Total rice production was 36.40 million tonnes. Wheat and maize production were 1.02 and 3.57 million tonnes. Pulses production was 0.39 million tonnes. Export value of tea, jute and raw jute and other agricultural products was Tk16.27 billion in 2018-19 which is 8.85 times higher than the value of agricultural export in 1972-73.
If we look into the case of oil seeds, condiments, sugars, fibres, fruits, vegetables and potatoes -- all are produced almost sufficiently in our country.
Growth in livestock and poultry sector
In 1976-77, the cattle, buffalo, goat and sheep were 2.66, 0.02, 4.01 and 0.30 million. Total number of livestock was 7.00 million. Milk and meat production were 0.48 and 0.24 million tonnes respectively. The eggs production was 0.78 billion.
The numbers of cattle, buffalo, goat and sheep were 24.24, 1.49, 26.27 and 3.54 million respectively in 2018-19. Chicken and duck were 289.28 and 57.75 million. In total, the number of livestock was 55.53 million and total poultry was 347.04 million in 2018-19. Milk and meat production were 9.92 and 7.51 million tonnes and number eggs production was 17.11 billion, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
It is calculated that milk, meat and eggs production in 2018-19 increased 20.67, 41.33 and 21.94 times than the production in 1976-77. Increased production in the livestock and poultry sector made this country far better than any other equivalent countries around us.
Growth in fisheries sector
In 1975-76, the total inland and marine fish production was 0.64 million tonnes. This fish production has been increased to 4.38 million tonnes in 2018-19 which is about 6.840 times higher than the catch of fish in 1975-76.
Information on all components of agriculture are not available from 1971-72. The total value of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry was Tk54.61 billion in 1776-77 and its figure was Tk4,478.03 billion in 2018-19. Value comparison (nominal) is not so realistic due to time value of money but a big picture can be found from both the figures. If we convert those two figures in USD, the total value of agricultural products increased about 12.59 times compared to 1976-77.
Growth in agriculture including crops, livestock and fisheries is remarkable and Bangladesh is now self-sufficient in cereals and in case of other food items, we are close to being sufficient to feed the nation.
Now we like to have safe food and to make it possible, the government took initiatives and established Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) to monitor it.
It can be mentioned proudly that Bangladesh picked a lot of food items in her basket during the last 48 years. So, it is proved that Bangladesh is no more a "bottomless basket" and many countries are trying to follow Bangladesh for its success story in various cases. As liberal and responsible citizens of Bangladesh, we take pride in such achievements and we must appreciate such economic, social, political, technological, and other aspects of development.
Dr Md Saidur Rahman is Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Director, Institute of Agribusiness and Development Studies, Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh. Email:[email protected]