Sustainable development refers to the kind of developmental activities that ensure economic progress and have no negative impact on nature and our ecosystem. Similarly, sustainable agriculture means ensuring maximum use of the amount of production capacity available to meet the food and textile needs of the present society from uncompromising to the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
In addition, socio-economic equality, pollution-free environment and economically profitable production are considered for the expansion of sustainable agriculture.
Agriculture plays a crucial role in achieving economic growth and maintaining stability in Bangladesh. Agronomists are working tirelessly behind the visible success in the agricultural sector. They have devoted themselves to the innovation and expansion of environment-friendly technologies through research.
In this case, ensuring a sustainable agricultural system has become very important. There is no alternative to the development of agriculture and farmers to ensure sustainable development in the country.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) II of the United Nations call for the eradication of hunger, the provision of food security, the improvement of nutritional standards and the development of sustainable practices in agriculture. The government of Bangladesh is continuing its efforts to provide food security in various ways through agricultural development, where nutrition development, employment and poverty alleviation are closely linked.
According to the World Bank, the single contribution of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh in poverty alleviation is significant. Over the past decade, from 2000 to 2010, the poverty rate came down from 48.1 percent to 32.5 percent in the agricultural sector alone, where about 6 percent of the rural population is dependent on it. Improved seeds, more agricultural research, improved rural roads, and an efficient market system have contributed much to this success.
At present, the success of Bangladesh in agriculture is enviable. Due to declining agricultural land, population growth and climate change, Bangladesh is now an example in the world in food grain production in flood, drought, salinity and hostile nature. Bangladesh is gradually moving ahead of the global average production of paddy, wheat and maise.
Bangladesh is now the third-largest producer of vegetables and the fourth-largest producer of rice and fish in the world. Bangladesh is also at the forefront of flood, drought, salinity and disaster tolerant crop varieties.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the contribution of the agricultural sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) is 13.6 percent. In order to build the dream hunger and poverty-free country, various initiatives have been taken by giving the highest importance to the agricultural sector and taking the development of agriculture and the welfare of the farmers into the highest consideration.
Today, subsistence agriculture has been transformed into commercial agriculture due to timely measures in the agricultural sector. Bangladesh ranks tenth in the world in food grain production.
Following the increase in productivity, the target of production of granular food grains (432.11 lakh tonnes) was exceeded (415.64 lakh tonnes) in FY2018-19. The country has a surplus of rice today. Bangladesh is now the fourth-largest rice producer in the world.
However, within 30 days after the first coronavirus infection in Wuhan, China, on December 31 last year, it became the highest global health risk. Within 45 days, the virus became a global epidemic. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus infection a global pandemic.
Covid-19 is affecting the world economy. There is a possibility of recession in the agricultural sector as well.
In the crop production system of Bangladesh, the period from October to March next year is called Rabi season. This season is the main season for field crop production since there is not much natural hostility in this season, and crop production is safe and uninterrupted.
The main food grains in this season are Boro paddy as well as major spices like wheat, maise, potato, pulses and oilseeds, onion, garlic, and chilli. Every farming family spends a busy time. At a time when farmers have to stay at home and cannot collect, store and sell the products if the field crops are not adequately cared for, it will have an impact on agriculture.
If we look at our main agricultural villages on the ground, we can see that almost everywhere there are ripe crops for home cultivation. Therefore, cowardice or reluctance or apathy towards the work of the peasantry at this time may be a bad omen for agriculture and agrarian economy which will also affect the national economy.
On the other hand, unfortunately, coronavirus came at a time when the country had the production period of its popular seasonal fruits, mango and litchi.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Chapainawabganj produces an average of 7 lakh 66 thousand and 930 tonnes of mango every year. About two lakh tonnes of mangoes are produced in Chapainawabganj, which is known as the capital of mango. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, mango is cultivated in 32,000 hectares or 6,195 acres of land in the country.
However, the current coronavirus risk is hampering the continuity of this production in a commercial way. Even though farmers are harvesting, they are not reaping the harvest, and there are not enough buyers. The same is true for litchi, another seasonal fruit. Thousands of tonnes of crops are being wasted due to the closure of all types of domestic and international public transports.
In this situation, the measures that need to be taken to make agriculture sustainable in the interest of food security and poverty alleviation are as follows:
First, a concerted effort by farmers and buyers is needed to implement and expand sustainable agricultural systems. Innovative agricultural measures need to be taken to reduce soil fertility, use of groundwater, as well as use of harmful fertilisers and pesticides. In this regard, in the light of SDG 2030, Vision 2021 and Vision 2041, National Agricultural Policy, the 7th Five-Year Plan, Sustainable Development Goals, Delta Plan: 2100 and other action plans must be fully implemented.
Second, the government should provide emergency financial assistance to the professionals involved in the sector, i.e. provide direct financial assistance to the farmers during the Covid-19 period. In the meantime, the government has set up a refinancing scheme of Tk3,000 crore from the Bangladesh Bank's funds for low-income professionals, farmers and marginal/small traders affected by the virus.
However, the government has issued low-interest rates for farmers which should be interest-free and without collateral. Otherwise, the term of the scheme can be extended from three years to five years.
Third, Adequate availability of necessary agricultural inputs, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation management and other agricultural implements should be ensured at the right time after the coronavirus crisis.
Finally, the import of agricultural inputs, the import-export of food products and the internal market system of agricultural inputs should be maintained. In this case, the inter-coordination of agriculture, commerce and food ministries needs to be strengthened.
Of course, buyers or traders need to have the mentality of buying quality agricultural products. In other words, farmers who produce environment-friendly agricultural products using sustainable farming methods should be interested in marketing their products.
Forhad H Majumder, is a student of the Department of Development Economics, Dhaka School of Economics, University of Dhaka