Forty-three percent Bangladeshi workers were involved with agriculture in 2018, but this number will shrink to 20% by 2030, so boosting mechanisation will be a crucial step towards countering the labour shortage in this sector, USAID said on Wednesday.
Moreover, the labour costs have doubled in the past six years, and around 50% of the farming families have migrated from villages to cities – which have further intensified the crisis. Thus, mechanised agriculture is the key to safeguarding Bangladesh's food security.
USAID – also known as the United States Agency for International Development – made the revelations at a webinar titled "South Asia Mechanisation and Extension Activity," held to relay information about its "CSISA-MEA" project for expanding mechanisation in the agriculture sector.
At a presentation, USAID pointed out that most Bangladeshi farmers use machines only to prepare farmland for cultivation and for threshing the crops. They use 7 lakh power tillers to prepare 97% of the farmland and process 74% of the paddy with 3.70 lakh threshers.
However, the farmers still use traditional methods for planting and harvesting crops. They plant and harvest paddy on 11 million hectares of land across the country by hand every year.
The US agency is implementing the initiative in collaboration with Feed the Future, CIMMYT, iDE and Georgia Institute of Technology. The $21,428,572 project was launched across Bangladesh in October 2019, and it will continue for five years.
Around 24.7 million workers are involved with the country's agricultural sector, according to the Labour Force Survey 2016-17 conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
USAID Office of Economic Growth Director John Smith-Sreen said at the event, "For Bangladesh, there are no alternatives to mechanised agriculture for maintaining food security and decreasing dependence on imports. The USAID is working on the matter for the benefit of the farmers."
Under the CSISA-MEA project, implementing agencies will ease the process of agricultural machine manufacturing, marketing and servicing. The initiative will be carried out in partnership with private sector organisations.
The project will also modernise lead [selected] firms, banks and financial institutions, digital media, local machine manufacturing and agricultural companies, SME light engineering businesses, and machine servicing companies.
Besides, training will be provided to personnel such as drivers, USAID said at the presentation, adding that a financial system will be launched under the project to provide farmers with Asset Based Financing – using machinery as collateral.
The USAID mentioned a multitude of factors as hurdles against the expansion to mechanised agriculture – such as lack of purchasing power, overdependence of subsidies, less than adequate after sales service in grassroots level and roads incapable of handling heavy machinery.
Under the CSISA-MEA initiative, implementing organisations will provide training to 2,000 light engineering workers and 2,360 workers will get improved employment. One hundred light engineering and 5,000 servicing centres will invest $3 million on new machinery and services.
Moreover, 100 light engineering companies and 15 marketing companies will sell machinery worth $5 million, 200 machinery servicing centres will expand their services, 100 women and youths will launch their service businesses and 2.43 lakh farmers will get the benefits of new agricultural technology.