Md Mizanur Rahman from Derai upazila of Sunamganj bought an imported combined harvester about three years ago for the purpose of harvesting paddy in the Haor area. Even after receiving a 50% subsidy from the government on the purchase price, he had to pay Tk14.5 lakh to buy the machine.
But, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has recently developed a combined harvester more suitable for use in local croplands, and, if manufactured commercially, its production price will be in the range of Tk12 lakh to Tk13 lakh only.
The combined harvester, developed by the BRRI, is also capable of harvesting paddy on 3-4 bighas of land per hour. The harvesting loss of this device is below 1%.
Agro machinery manufacturers and importers said heavy machinery imported from abroad usually faces problems during movement through small roads in remote areas of the country. Their use is also difficult due to the small size of croplands. It is also hard to repair them in case of any damage as there are not enough workshops.
BRRI scientists are inventing technologies to avoid such problems.
Janata Engineering, an agro-machinery manufacturer, has already manufactured the combined harvester experimentally using BRRI's technology, and the device has shown good results in the trial run.
The machine is capable of cutting paddy in small-sized agricultural plots and can ply narrow rural roads.
Yet, BRRI wants to take some more time to allow its commercial production as it wants to make the technology absolutely flawless through further research.
Officials concerned said BRRI scientists have already invented technologies for making agricultural implements for various purposes from the sowing of seeds to the threshing of crops.
These technologies will be provided for free to local private agricultural machinery manufacturers who will produce and market the equipment, they said, adding through this, a process will start to build a thriving heavy agricultural implements industry locally.
Entrepreneurs, however, have told The Business Standard that big investments are needed for manufacturing these types of machinery locally for which they would need government support including easy bank loans, and VAT waiver in importing machine parts.
Currently, they are working on nine devices including rice transplanter, power weeder, reaper binder, manual rice transplanter, transplanter cum fertiliser applier, compact rice mill, and solar light trap. Some of these devices are going through lab trials and some are going through an updating process after field trials.
The BRRI is working with 10 companies to manufacture these machinery commercially. But officials said the technologies would be open for everyone for manufacturing under the supervision of the BRRI.
AKM Saiful Islam, director of the machinery research project and chief scientific officer of BRRI, told TBS, "Agro equipment made using the technologies invented by the BRRI would be cheaper than imported ones. But, big investments would be needed to start commercial production of these machines because for this you have to create a separate production line."
BRRI scientists have also completed research on a seed sower machine that can sow 7,000 to 7,3000 seeds on trays per hour. The estimated price of the device would be Tk7,000 to Tk8,000.
BRRI sources said the fabrication of the first version of the automatic rice transplanter has been done with the help of R K Metal. Currently, it is going through a field trial. The progress in manufacturing manual rice transplanting is 65%. However, so far, 16 models of power weeder have been created and are undergoing lab trials.
According to local agricultural machinery manufacturers, more than 1,000 local companies are producing small machinery including threshers, irrigation pumps, power tillers, and garden maintenance machines which are only 5%-6% of the agricultural machinery used in the country.
They said the tasks of planting seeds and seedlings, fertilising land, and harvesting are still done by agricultural workers. Some machines that are being used for these purposes are completely imported.
Md Waliullah, owner of Janata Engineering, said, "It took a year for the device that we have manufactured experimentally. We have to make a new investment for its commercial production. For this, we need policy support from the government."
BRRI officials said some companies in the country have the capacity to manufacture heavy machinery, but that requires infrastructural development and investment.
The government is providing 50%-70% subsidies for purchasing heavy agricultural devices in different regions. But these machines are being purchased from importers.
Large-scale investment in this sector will come only if the government provides subsidies for buying devices from local producers, they said.
BRRI is implementing the project involving an estimated cost of Tk44 crore, which started in 2019 and is scheduled to end in 2024. The organisation will send 20 scientists and 20 officials abroad for higher education. Some 6,480 farmers, mechanics, and service providers are also being trained under the project.
Nine agricultural mechanisation villages have been selected for the use of agricultural machinery at all stages of paddy production under the project.
Use of agricultural machinery still low
Researchers told TBS that even though the use of agricultural machinery started in the country in the 1990s, farm mechanisation has not yet got the expected momentum as the use of machinery is still limited to mostly land preparation and threshing.
Research in this sector started two years ago through the BRRI.
According to sources, the use of power tillers for land preparation started in the mid-nineties. Currently, 98% of the country's croplands are prepared by power tillers.
On the other hand, seedling and transplanting devices are used on only 2% of the land, fertilising devices on 3%, and harvesting machines are used on 3% of the land.
Benzir Alam, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, said, "Around 40,000-50,000 tractors are needed every year. Of these, only 3,000 tractors are manufactured locally."
Problems in private investment
Many local entrepreneurs including Janata Engineering, Alim Industries, Munnu Group, ACI, and RK Metal want to invest in agricultural machinery. However, for this, they want government support.
Entrepreneurs said that in the first stage, a lot of investment has to be made to create the production lines for which low-interest bank loans would be needed. Besides, agricultural devices are imported duty-free or VAT-free, but 35%-65% VAT is needed for importing agro machinery parts which should be waived.
Under the agricultural mechanisation project, the government will provide about 57,000 agricultural devices across the country. Entrepreneurs demand government subsidies on locally manufactured devices.
AKM Saiful Islam of the BRRI said, "We will hold a seminar soon where high-level government officials will be present along with private entrepreneurs. The main purpose of the seminar will be to understand the crises faced by the entrepreneurs regarding investment in this sector. We will also discuss the government benefits that could be provided in this regard."
The government has been focusing on increasing the use of machinery in agriculture.
To this end, it has been implementing a Tk3,020 crore project since 2010. The government provides 50%-70% subsidy for the purchase of large agricultural machinery under the project.
Recently, Agriculture Minister Md Abdur Razzaque told a programme that even after giving such subsidies, prices of imported agri machinery are beyond the purchasing power of ordinary farmers. For this, an industry has to be developed locally for the production of agricultural machinery, he added.
Janata Engineering's Waliullah said, "Sales of agricultural machinery should be guaranteed with interest-free loans and subsidy facilities. At the same time, government policy should be formulated for providing the benefits that are needed to build a local industry. Only then will private entrepreneurs invest in this sector."
Alimul Ehsan Chowdhury, president of the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers' Association-Bangladesh, said, "Some of the raw materials for making agricultural devices have to be imported. But for this, we have to pay a high VAT, which has to be waived."