Agriculture is raising hope in the dark of Covid-19
The government as well as private entrepreneurs should come forward for setting up agro-based industries at least at the upazila level
That agriculture is the main driving force and backbone of the economy of Bangladesh is proven once again in the Covid-19 pandemic. Although many sectors have borne the brunt of the pandemic, agriculture has not. Even many who lost their jobs during this time are now leaning towards the agricultural economy.
Despite the high population density, and the shrinking of arable land, Bangladesh have revolutionised the agricultural sector. In the first decade of independence, 75 percent of the total manpower of the country was engaged in agriculture and about three-fourths of the GDP came from the overall agricultural sector. At present, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP has come down to 14 per cent, but it still employs 40.8 percent of the country's manpower.
However, the shrinking contribution of agriculture to GDP does not indicate that its importance in the country's economy has diminished; on the contrary, the picture is that it increases the income of expatriates and people working in other sectors. Agriculture also has an indirect contribution to other sectors such as transport and storage etc.
We have attained self-sufficiency in rice, the staple food of the people of our country. Since independence, Bangladesh's production of rice has more than tripled, wheat production doubled, and production of vegetables and maize increased by five times and 10 times respectively. Even two decades ago, half of the country had one crop per year and the rest had two crops. At present the country is getting an average of two crops a year.
The country is not only self-sufficient in vegetable production; it ranks third in the world. Bangladesh is seventh in the world in potato production. At the same time, milk, egg, poultry and fish production are also on the rise.
According to the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Bangladesh has risen to the second position in terms of fish production in inland open water. And it holds the 5th position in the production of farmed fish as it did last year. Besides, it ranks 7th and 12th in the world in the production of marine and coastal crustaceans and finfish respectively. Bangladesh ranks 4th in the world and 3rd in Asia in tilapia production.
Bangladesh is also on the way to becoming self-sufficient in egg production. Bangladesh is the fourth largest producer of Black Bengal goat in the world and fifth in the world in goat meat production. Bangladesh's Black Bengal has been recognised as the best breed in the world. The country is now able to meet about 85 to 90 percent of the demand for cattle meat, while cattle smuggling from India has come down significantly.
Besides vegetable and fish farming, the interest of farmers in growing new fruits has also increased. Our farmers are successful in commercial production of native fruits like mango, guava, litchi, banana, papaya, watermelon, pineapple as well as exotic types such as strawberry, orange, malt, and dragon fruit.
However, there is still a big deficit in milk production. At the same time, we have to spend a lot of foreign currency every year to import spices, edible oils, pulses and fruits from abroad. Therefore, it is necessary to pay quick attention to these cases.
The Present government has given utmost importance to the agricultural sector and has taken various initiatives with the highest consideration for the development of agriculture and the welfare of the farmers.
Compared to the revised allocation for the fiscal year 2019-20, the allocation for the Ministry of Agriculture has increased by 26.83 percent in the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020-21. In this year's budget, the allocation for the agricultural sector is being increased by Tk2,960 crore. It is easy to understand that the ongoing global pandemic situation has played a big role behind the increase in this allocation.
In order to accelerate agricultural mechanisation, subsidy is being provided for the purchase of agricultural machinery at a 60 percent price for farmers in the haor and southern coastal areas of the country and 50 percent for other areas.
In addition, with digital agriculture and e-agriculture (agricultural call centre, farmer friend phone, agricultural community radio, informational websites of all organisations, mobile apps, and software, e-books, internet connection, etc.), farmers are easily getting agricultural advice and services. Bangladesh's food grain production has improved as expected, and efforts are now being made to build agro-diversification and processing and commercialisation management.
Besides, the government has announced an agricultural incentive of Tk5,000 crore for the farmers. From this incentive, the farmers will be able to cultivate crops in the field with a loan at four percent interest. In addition, the subsidy activities of Tk14,500 crore are continuing.
However, five months after the announcement of the incentive, the banks have not been able to disburse even half of the loan. So far, 19 banks have failed to disburse even 10 percent of the target. There are five banks that could not distribute a single penny of the farmers' package.
According to the report, at the end of September, all the banks together disbursed loans of Tk1,008 crore to the farmers. As such, only 42.44 percent of the package has been implemented. Lastly, Bangladesh Bank has extended the loan disbursement deadline for the latest loan package for another three months till December 31 this year.
Although the proportional contribution of agriculture to the economy of Bangladesh has decreased, the total agricultural production is also increasing even with the limited and shrinking land with the rapid growth of population, which is unimaginable. In this case, advanced technology, proper use of seeds, fertilisers and machinery and the tireless work and effective research of our agricultural scientists are making a great contribution.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy are still ongoing. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on creating new opportunities for employment in the agricultural sector.
To keep pace with our advancing economy, we need to increase spending on agriculture, increase usable infrastructure and increase rural investment. The government as well as private entrepreneurs should come forward for setting up agro-based industries at least at the upazila level. Improved agriculture can be the main driving force in building a better Bangladesh.
Talukder Monjur Elahi is AVP, United Commercial Bank Limited. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.