Creating a stimulus package for the agriculture sector struck by Covid-19's fallouts was the right move, but its amount was insufficient, eminent economist Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya has said.
He said cash incentives are more effective than stimulus given in the form of debt because marginalised farmers find it difficult to get loans and overcome bureaucratic complexities.
"That is why giving farmers Tk2,500 each during the pandemic played a special role," said Dr Debapriya at the shadow parliament organised by Debate for Democracy at the Film Development Corporation in the capital's Tejgaon on Monday.
He was the chief guest at the programme, which was presided over by Debate for Democracy Chairman Hassan Ahamed Chowdhury Kiron, said a press release.
Dr Debapriya, also a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said it had become clearer that agriculture-friendly and farmer-friendly are not the same. "It cannot be said that farmers will benefit if the government is agriculture-friendly," he added.
He said the government will have to be farmer-friendly so that farmers are not deprived by middlemen in agricultural: production, supply, marketing, etc.
Local governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector need to be included in the process of giving stimulus without solely depending on the administration, the economist said.
He said a sector-wise assessment of the catastrophic impacts of the pandemic has not been done yet.
"The Covid-19 measures taken by the government were not enough but were taken at the right time. The government took two types of initiatives at that time – ongoing initiatives and special initiatives due to the pandemic," explained Dr Debapriya.
Kiron said the flow of Covid-19 incentives to farmers and those involved in agriculture at the marginal level was not as strong as that to other sectors, including garments and import-export.
He said the incentives had not reached the marginal stage in some cases, but the agriculture-friendly government had continued its Covid-19 measures.
Kiron made 10 recommendations to fight the Covid-19 impacts on the agriculture sector. They include: exempting the worst-affected farmers from paying loan interest, extending loan instalment repayment deadlines, creating a fund to provide one-time assistance to the most-affected farmers, ensuring fair prices of agricultural products, and forming a strong agricultural commission for overall development of agriculture.
Dr Debapriya also said the time has come to form an agro-commodity commission comprising agricultural experts.
He said the commission would not be a rival of the agriculture ministry or the Department of Agricultural Extension. "Instead, it will act as a facilitator."
"There is no representative of farmers in parliament for making policies and law for this sector. That is why forming a farmers' association has become important now. The association will talk to policymakers about the happiness, sorrow and demands of farmers," he added.
At the shadow parliament, the University of South Asia, which represented the government team, defeated American International University Bangladesh, the opposition team. Professor Abu Muhammad Rais and four journalists – Moinul Alam, Animesh Kar, Daulat Akhter Mala, and Kaberi Maitreya – were the judges.