Although Bangladesh has come a long way in agriculture, achievements in the sector are not properly appreciated due to a lack of accurate statistics, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has observed.
The absence of credible data is also responsible for various problems in the market including rising prices of agricultural products and shortages of supply against demand, he said.
His remarks came during an event titled '50 Years of Bangladesh, Transformation and Achievement of Agriculture' organised by Bangladesh Agricultural Journalists Forum (BAJF) and Banik Barta at the capital's Sonargaon Hotel on Sunday.
Tipu Munshi said, "Last year, 1.06 crore tons of potatoes were produced. Our demand is 70 to 75 lakh tons. So, there should have been a surplus of 25 to 30 lakh tons of potatoes. Exports were also closed at that time. Even then we had problems."
The minister further explained, "At that time we were not clear whether our production was low or the demand was high. We did not have concrete data."
The situation in the case of onions is quite the same, he said, adding, "The demand for onion is around 24 to 25 lakh tons. In contrast, our production is more than 30 lakh tons. Even then we have to import because about 20% of the total onion produced is wasted."
He also said at any time there is a problem in India, we feel the effect in our market.
"That is why we need to have accurate statistics as we are looking to increase production," the minister stressed.
Abdul Awal Mintoo, chairman of Lal Teer Livestock, said, "We have long demanded the statistics department to be made an autonomous body. But it was not done. As a result, it presents data catering to what the government wants."
According to him, importance should be given to production based on the changing demand pattern.
"Accurate statistics are vital for this," Mintoo said.
State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam, who was the special guest in the event, said, "Our agriculture has been diversified and commercialised. We have come a long way. But we are still far behind countries like Vietnam and Thailand."
He added that the government is providing a lot of support for the development of agriculture, especially for paddy production. Even then our productivity is much lower. While we are producing 2.44 tons of rice per hectare, Vietnam is producing 5.9 tons.
"It means we are lagging in technology, '' he said, adding, "looking at the size of onion and garlic they produce, it becomes clear."
Regarding market management, he said, "Whenever the price of something goes up in the market, we talk about the middlemen manipulating the price. But that's not right. Because when the price of something goes up in the market, it can be said for sure that supply is less. When there is a shortage of products, prices go up. In a free-market economy, it is not right to fix prices."
According to him, we can't go too far with small-scale agriculture.
"We need to make structural changes," he said, stressing that it is important to commercialize agriculture.
Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said our big challenge is to provide nutritious and safe food and also modernise agriculture.
He said Thailand and Vietnam make big money by exporting processed agricultural products.
"We need to meet the local demand and enter the international market. To do that we must increase production through modernisation of the sector," the minister suggested.