It is due to abject lack of appropriate policies that Bangladesh is yet to come up with commercialisation of agriculture. As a result, experienced farmers are increasingly deserting their farmlands either leasing out those to the poorer segment of farming families or to females of the households to look after their lands. The country has still a long way to go to turn farming into a profitable venture commercially. Although electricity is gradually reaching villages step by step, farmers refuse to give attention to this because of pitiable conditions of rural roads. Such roads hinder smooth marketing of their produce in rural markets with rising cost of transportation. As a result, prices of whatever products farmers produce become highly uncompetitive.
But then imported food products are now flooding the country's markets. For example, 'Malaysian paratha' is now at the door-step of people in urban areas. So are Thai noodles. Thanks to open market at this time of globalisation, farm products from one end of the globe travel without any restriction to the other end, ignoring international borders. So are Bangladeshi agricultural products like spices and food items, being manufactured by a few companies like Pran, gaining popularity in markets which were once out of bounds for them. Pran products are reportedly available in more than 20 countries as far away as the United States. As these items are of daily use by billions, Bangladesh can take advantage of such a vast market abroad.
It is time for Bangladesh to learn from many foreign countries which are thriving on agricultural products. Japan has produced rice crackers, with better taste than other crackers produced from wheat. Bangladesh can follow Japan as rice is the major crop in both countries. But then the new entrepreneurs need to be more innovative while selecting crops, vegetables and fruits for running agro-based industry to make it financially profitable. Support of the government in promoting production of farm products is necessary. The government should offer soft loan for small entrepreneurs, who are interested to build agro-based industry in the country.
As Dr Quazi Shahabuddin, a former Director General, BIDS said, productivity-enhancing investments in agricultural research and extension, improvements in post-harvest management and agro processing, and investments in rural infrastructure can complement agricultural price and trade policies and enable rapid agricultural growth and higher farmer incomes even in a context of shifting world prices.
Several studies on the potential of agro products have it that driven by economic growth, rising incomes, and urbanisation, demand is shifting away from traditional staples toward high-value food commodities. High value agricultural commodities include fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, and livestock products, many of them processed before reaching the market.
Agriculture still plays a significant role in the country's economy, contributing to around 16-17 per cent of the GDP and employing 48 per cent of the labour force. That is why the agriculture sector needs to be transformed into agro-industry to generate employment opportunities and boost the rural economy. Round-the-year maintenance of rural roads to facilitate easy market access of farm products is what the government needs to ensure.