The raging Covid-19 pandemic is threatening the food security across the globe, but apparently Bangladesh is not too worried about it.
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal has not proposed any new measures for the agriculture sector and food security in the budget for the fiscal 2021-22.
The finance minister said the ongoing incentive measures, including the ones for the agriculture sector, taken by the government to address the Covid-19 crisis in the current fiscal year will continue.
He has proposed an allocation of Tk24,948 crore for agriculture, food security, fisheries and livestock sectors in the upcoming fiscal year, a slight increase from the allocation of Tk24,682 crore in the outgoing fiscal year.
In his budget speech on Thursday, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, "There has been a possibility that disruptions in food production and supply due to the Covid-19 crisis across the globe would hamper the food security. But, due to the government's timely decision, Bangladesh did not have to face such problems."
He said, "To ensure food security by increasing food production, the government has been working on agricultural research and development, supply of agricultural inputs, agricultural expansion, economical use of water resources for irrigation, climate change and institutional capacity building."
The finance minister said the agricultural mechanisation project worth Tk3,020 crore taken in the current fiscal year is still going on. The government will distribute agricultural machineries including combined harvesters and reapers at 50-70% subsidy among the farmers through this project, which will benefit 4.5 lakh farmers and play an important role in increasing the overall production of agricultural goods and reducing costs.
Besides, the agricultural refinancing scheme involving Tk5,000 crore is underway. The government will continue disbursing loans among the entrepreneurs of various agricultural firms under this project, said the finance minister.
Aside from these, the finance minister proposed to allocate Tk9,500 crore as subsidies in the agriculture sector and agricultural activities in FY22, which was the same in the outgoing fiscal year.
A refinancing scheme of Tk3,000 crore for distributing loans among low-income professionals, small traders and farmers is also underway.
In order to increase rice production in the last Boro season, Boro was cultivated in an additional 50,000 hectares of land and hybrid paddy was cultivated on a trial basis in another 50,000 hectares of land in 61 districts. This will contribute in increasing food grain production and strengthen the country's food security in the next fiscal year, according to the budget proposal for FY22.
To protect the local farmers' products, the finance minister has proposed to impose tariffs and VAT on some imported agricultural goods including carrots, turnips, beef and mutton. The local entrepreneurs will get better prices for these products and domestic production will increase, according to the budget proposal.
The finance minister has also emphasised the importance of education and training related to agriculture to develop and skilled manpower and the government may take initiatives in this regard in the upcoming fiscal year.
Dr MA Sattar Mandal, agriculture economist and emeritus professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University, said, "Providing subsidy in agriculture sector is undoubtedly a good initiative. The distribution of agricultural machinery through subsidy is also a big initiative here. However, even with a 50-60% discount, the farmer will not be able to buy a machine at that price. We have to take initiative to overcome this problem."
Several floods in the current financial year have disrupted crop production, which has forced consumers to buy rice at higher prices for most of the year, while the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the income of millions of people. The consumers have also been suffering because of the high prices of soybean oil and onion.
Rice production declined due to drought and heat shock in the current Boro season. People involved in this sector fear that the production of paddy will be 1 lakh tonne less than the expected amount due to heat shock during this season, but the government said there will be no problem in achieving the target of producing 2.05 crore tonnes of paddy in the current fiscal year
In this regard, the Md Asadullah, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, told The Business Standard, "Even if heat shock causes a loss of 1 lakh tonnes of paddy production, it will not create any crisis in the overall production."