Bangladesh has been able to cope with the pandemic as there were no disruptions in paddy production, even during the novel coronavirus, Cyclone Amphan and floods, experts said at a webinar on Saturday.
Agriculture will be the main source of hope during the second wave of the pandemic. Expanding the use of information technology in this sector will also increase employment. So agriculture is the next new hero, they added.
The Bangladesh Agricultural University Teachers Association organised the webinar titled "Covid-19 Resilience: Role of Agriculture – Present and future."
Professor Dr Mohammad Jahangir Alam, of agri-business and marketing at the Bangladesh Agricultural University, presented the keynote paper at the seminar.
He said that sales of agricultural products via online platforms have increased during the pandemic. Farmers have now engaged themselves with digital communication. Therefore, there are heightened opportunities to increase the use of informational and communication technology (ICT) in agriculture.
Speaking as the special guest at the seminar, State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak said work is underway to develop agriculture, using elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
"The government will help if agriculture-based startups are launched."
According to the paper presented at the seminar, most of those who had lost their jobs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic have returned to their villages and joined agriculture.
"Therefore, the employment rate in the agricultural sector will increase in future."
At present, two out of every five employees are engaged in agriculture. Some 41% of the workers are directly involved in agriculture, while 87% of households are either directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, according to the paper.
Taking these numbers into consideration, research should be geared towards boosting agricultural innovation and production, said Professor Dr Mohammad Jahangir Alam.
Stating that Bangladesh spends the least in this sector in South Asia, he suggested increasing the research budget.
Vice-Chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University Dr Lutful Hassan stressed the development of high-yield and climate-tolerant varieties in order to increase paddy production in limited land areas.
Speakers said farmers lost Tk56,500 crore during the 66-day shutdown put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Crops worth Tk671 crore were damaged during the cyclone Amphan, while crops worth Tk1,300 crore were damaged during the floods.
Agriculture Secretary Mezbaul Islam said work is underway to mechanise and modernise agriculture to recoup these losses. Farmers also continue to receive fertilisers and seeds at subsidised prices.
According to speakers, a strong immunity is the biggest defense way against the coronavirus. To this end, private investment should be encouraged as an initiative to diversify agriculture to ensure proper nutrition.
Speaking as the chief guest, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni said, "We must move forward with a combination of agricultural education, research, innovation, and the use of technology."
She emphasised the need for all stakeholders to work together to ensure the production, supply, and marketing of agricultural products during the second wave of the coronavirus.