Nowadays it is rare to see land being ploughed by oxen pulling a yoke because automation has taken over 95 percent of that job. However, the same cannot be said for the use of machines in planting, harvesting and threshing.
Data from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) reveals that machines are used in only 1 percent or less of farmland for planting crops, and on only 3 percent for harvesting and threshing crops.
Farming equipment is mostly used in preparing land before planting crops. Power tillers and tractors are used to plough 90 to 95 percent of farmland.
The number of farm labourers is also dropping in the country because of the overall progress in education and of growing income.
The use of machines has increased mainly to cut costs.
Educated youths who have taken up farming as a profession are giving importance to automation.
DAE officials, machinery importers and manufacturers say automation can halve the cost of crop production.
They also say that farmers have to spend between Tk12,000 and Tk13,000 per acre of land if they use the traditional method for producing crops.
Alimul Ehsan Chowdhury, president of the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Association, said the purchase of agricultural equipment depends on government subsidies and on the financial capacity of farmers.
"The sale of tractors has fallen because farmers did not get a fair price for paddy in the last boro season," he added.
Machine manufacturers, importers and officials of the agriculture ministry and the DAE say that the share of locally produced farming equipment is only Tk300-350 crore in the Tk10,000 crore to Tk12,000 crore market.
In the last two years, the market share for local manufacturers reduced by 15 to 20 percent because of a government subsidy on imported agriculture machinery.
Ehsan Chowdhury said, "There are some 70 medium to big workshops in the country. Our sales are falling because the full subsidy is going towards imported machinery, so we are losing the market."
The emphasis on automation in cultivation started in 2010. The government took-up a Tk150 crore project to give subsidies to farmers to buy machinery, thereby creating a demand for tractors and power tillers.
In the second phase, the government took-up a Tk339 crore project in the 2012-13 fiscal year to give farmers between 25 percent to 70 percent subsidies, depending on size of land, to buy agricultural equipment.
Sheikh Md Nazimuddin, project director of the Enhancement of Crop Production Through Farm Mechanisation Project Phase-2, attributed the slow progress in the use of heavy machinery to the lack of skilled manpower.
"Alongside, a backward linkage necessary for servicing machinery has not been built up properly yet," he added.
The good thing is many people are getting trained in the use of mechanical equipment.
Nazimuddin said they are putting emphasis on increasing the use of heavy machinery costing between Tk30 lakh and Tk35 lakh.
Explaining difficulties in using heavy equipment, he said, "There is a problem with moving heavy machines in rural areas because the roads there are not designed for it."
The government is going to stress the import of heavy machinery in the third phase.
Even though the project has ended, the government has decided to give Tk400 crore in subsidies in the 2019-20 fiscal year to increase the use of combine harvesters, reapers and transplanters. From now on, the government will give 60 percent subsidy on the price of these three types of machines.
Where equipment is used the most
Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions are leading in the use of agricultural equipment. Alongside tractors and power tillers, farmers use threshers, reapers, combine harvesters, rice transplanters and some other types of heavy machinery.
Barishal division lags the most because the use of power tillers and tractors is still at an initial stage there.
There are three categories of threshers - power threshers, paddle threshers and open drum threshers. There is a high use of engine-run power threshers in Rajshahi division, while paddle threshers are used more in
Chattogram division. But the use of paddy machines should be more in this region because it is a coastal area.
Md Badruzzaman Muslimi, a DAE official and the person in-charge of the monitoring and evaluation of the Enhancement of Crop Production Through Farm Mechanisation Project Phase-2, said, "We did not get much time before Bulbul hit the coastal areas. Had heavy machines for harvesting paddy been available there, paddy in some coastal regions could have been harvested quickly – something that is not possible by using the traditional method of reaping."
Types of machines used in agriculture
Farmers use agricultural equipment at various phases like preparing land, planting seeds and threshing of crops. The equipment includes locally made ones as well as imported heavy machines.
Apart from power tillers and tractors, the use of heavy machines such as threshers are on the rise. In 2014-15 fiscal year, 883 threshers were sold in the country. This increased to 1,045 in the 2018-19 fiscal year. However, the number was 1,573 in the 2017-18 FY.
A total of 348 reapers were sold in FY2015-16. In FY2018-19, the number rose to 1,769.
A combine harvester is used for reaping, threshing, winnowing and packaging rice in sacks. Its use started mainly in the 2016-17 fiscal year when 78 combine harvesters were sold. In FY2018-19, the number rose to 769.
The use of rice transplanters - a machine used for planting paddy seeds - started in the 2016-17 fiscal year. But the use of this machine did not increase rapidly. Only 114 rice transplanters were sold in the country in FY2018-19.
Most of the machines are imported from China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Cambodia.
A source in the agriculture ministry said a calculation on the combined use of all types of machines in agriculture shows that 2KW of energy is used per hectare of land in Bangladesh. In developed countries, the amount is 4-6KW.