A silver lining amid gloom

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 01 Apr 2016, 19:48:42

A silver lining amid gloom

Rahman Jahangir

All is not well in agriculture. Male farmers, who used to till lands for years gathering know-how on farming, are now increasingly joining non-farm activities. They do it because such vocations assure them a better living while agriculture does not. There have been low prices of paddy in the last three seasons making them more disinterested in food production. Experts fear such a damper may finally end up in production fall, threatening the near-food security the country has already achieved. It was ominous that owners this year leased out their farmlands at throw-away prices as there were no takers.


Although Bangladesh had an all-time high rice output at 34.62 million tonnes last year, Aus, Aman and Boro paddy production may record a fall this year. This has triggered concern among experts. Aus constitutes only 7.0 per cent of the total paddy output with Aman and Boro contributing 38 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. Aus output was reduced by nearly 40,000 tonnes to 2.289 million tonnes in FY'16 compared to the yield of FY'15. Aman production is set to fall as its acreage has shrunk. 


Prospects of Boro paddy too are grim as its acreage has witnessed a massive decline. The Boro acreage is now the lowest in last eight years, according to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE). Land under the Aman farming has declined by 0.03 million hectares in the current fiscal year than that of last year when 5.53 million hectares were cultivated.  Experts predict a decline in  the overall output of rice in the current financial year.


The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data showed total rice production in the FY'15 was an all-time high 34.62 million tonnes---2.32 million tonnes of Aus, 13.2 million tonnes of Aman and 19.1 million tonnes of Boro.


But the latest move by the government to woo farmers back to farming is indeed a silver lining amid a pall of gloom. The government has already launched its third consecutive 'incentive programme' with a cost of Tk 336.2 million for small and marginal farmers to raise Aus cultivation. The  agriculture minister formally announced the programme under which a total of 2,31,363 small and marginal farmers will get necessary seed and chemical fertilisers free of cost for cultivating local high yielding variety (HYV) and NERICA, a stress-tolerant African variety aus paddy in 49 drought-prone districts across the country. Under the programme, each farmer will get 5 kg HYV Aus paddy seed, 20 kg urea, 10 kg DAP and MoP and 400 taka in cash as irrigation cost for cultivating the rice variety on a bigha of land during the ongoing summer season of 2016-17 fiscal year. For Nerica cultivation, each farmer will get 10 kg seed instead of 5 kg along with other agricultural inputs.


Happily, necessary agri-inputs are now being moved to different stations across the country and farmers will get these inputs shortly for cultivating the Aus paddy which would begin from the middle of April. As ultimately the government wants to encourage rain-fed and stress-tolerant rice variety across the country instead of Boro paddy to make rice cultivation cost-effective. At present, farmers have to spend approximately 3,900 litres of water for irrigation on production of a kilogram of Boro rice.


The present farmer-friendly government with a down-to-earth veteran politician holding the charge of the Agriculture Ministry has always stood by the side of poor and marginal peasants who toil day and night to feed the nation. That is why within a span of three years, household food insecurity has fallen by over two-thirds in Bangladesh. A report titled 'State of Food Security and Nutrition in Bangladesh' said, food insecurity in Bangladesh has been reduced to less than a quarter of household in 2014 from over two thirds in 2011. The National Food Security Nutritional Surveillance Project  launched the report at The James P Grant School of Public Health of BRAC University.


Experts say the main challenge for achieving and sustaining food security comes from continuous growth of population. The progress in reducing population growth, from 3.0 per cent per year at independence to about 1.3 per cent now, is laudable. But the population is still increasing by 1.8 million every year. Rice production has to increase by 4,00,000 tonnes every year to meet the need for staple food for the growing population. The increase in domestic production at that rate would be difficult due to several supply side factors, they point out.


With global warming and climate change, one-sixth of the land may be submerged with brackish water due to rising sea levels. The on-going climate has made the monsoon more erratic, raising risks in food production. The soil fertility has been declining due to overexploitation of soil nutrients, and unbalanced use of fertilisers. The ground water aquifer has been going down from over-mining for irrigating boro rice. The low hanging fruits with regards to irrigation expansion and technological progress have already been harvested.  Due to all these factors, the potential for further increase in production is getting limited.


Late Mahabub Hossain, a veteran agro-economist said, rice production can further be increased with intensification of land use with the use of shorter maturity varieties and adoption of submergence-tolerant, drought-tolerant and saline-tolerant varieties in adverse agro-ecological environments such the southern coast and the Haor areas in the Northeast, and the flood-prone areas in the river and coastal chars. The diffusion of hybrid rice could further increase the rice yields, and the yield gaps of existing varieties could be reduced with the adoption of finer crop management practices, such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).  Indeed, with all the potential exploited, Bangladesh could become a rice exporting country, Dr Mahabub Hossain predicted.


Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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