The government should reduce the huge gap between the import and export of agricultural products by enhancing the productivity, manufacturing agricultural equipment and cultivation materials such as fertiliser and high-yielding seed varieties, economists and policymakers suggested at a dialogue on Sunday.
"Bangladesh's food grains import is worth around $10 billion while our export is just around $1 billion," Professor Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said at the event organised by the Bangladesh Agricultural Journalists Forum.
"Owing to a surge in prices of most commodities in the international market, Bangladesh is now feeling the pain of paying huge amounts of dollars because of the massive trade gap," he added.
In agriculture, 41% of labour is engaged for just around 13% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the productivity of labour is only one-third compared to the national productivity average.
"New generating technology is needed to increase productivity. Crop export needs to be tracked from fields to ships in tune with modern trade protocols. This is the high time to invest in the generation of new technologies," Professor Mustafizur said.
"To do this, a radical change in budget allocation for agriculture will be needed," he further said at the dialogue at the Krishibid Institution of Bangladesh in the capital.
In post-2026, when the country is scheduled to officially graduate from the least developed country to developing nation status, the eminent economist said, environmental compliance issues will be more important in the case of exporting products.
Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque stressed the need for capacity building to use new generation technologies.
"The capacity of using a budget is needed before enhancing the allocation. There are examples, as cited in newspaper reports, that there is a machine but no operator to run it. Money is wasted. Still, I believe the budget should be increased," he added.
Regarding price hikes in the international market, Razzaque said the wheat price has reached $450 per tonne from $220 and potassium price has risen to $1,200 from $300.
"We spend $2.5 billion on edible imports annually. 90% of the country's edible oils are imported. We believe achieving at least 50% efficiency on edible oil is possible," he further said.
"Our country has always survived by fighting adversity, we are still going through it, and we have to go further. But for this, technological development has to be attained and production has to be increased," he continued.
The minister said the yield of BRI-28 and 29 paddy varieties are now fixed in one place. But the yield of the new variety of BR-89 is one maund in per decimal of land. That's the way to go forward.
At that time, he said that the work of creating an entrepreneur foundation is going on.
Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim said his ministry is now working to develop and expand the species that can survive the adversity of climate change.
"The same is true of animals. That is why we have created a gene bank. Where we are preserving all kinds of fish species," he added.
Professor Jahangir Alam of the Bangladesh Agriculture University presented a keynote at the programme where Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) President Jashim Uddin, Managing Director of City Bank Mashrur Arefin, President ACI Agribusiness FH Ansarey, former executive chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council Wais Kabir were the panel discussants.