The dwindling embroidered fields

Dhaka,  Mon,  26 June 2017
Published : 15 Mar 2017, 18:55:37
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The dwindling embroidered fields

Mahmudur Rahman
The tapestry of green that Bangladesh is famed for is heading towards being a thing of the past. The beauty of fields reflecting the different shades of green and other colours of planted crop is fading in the face of one-sided competition with development, real-estate demands and the simplicity of economics. The planted fields are giving way to fisheries, the new in-thing, in-demand protein substitute for red meat. As beef and mutton slowly head out of purchasing power, there is no other option, save the more expensive poultry.

A hatcheryowner in Bogra had a simple equation. "Return from fishery is five times that of a grain crop". The rest remained unsaid but raised oodles of questions about the future of food self-sufficiency. Overall agricultural sector makes up some 47% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and grains outweigh other crops. But as agri-enthusiast Shykh Siraj once remarked, unless there is a safety net of sorts for arable land and grain production we are heading south. Just as the day of organic vegetables is over, so seems to be the date of grain, specifically rice. Forty kilograms of paddy costs roughly Tk 860, relating to Tk 21.5 per kg. Given that threshing losses have been brought down, coarse rice of half of the paddy is recoverable and even less for fine rice, the economics are dismal.

Sweeping through the remote villages, larger tracts of land are being dug up for ponds with the new generation shying away from labouring in paddy fields in favour of fish-farming. Without increased production, the country's requirements can never be met from river catches. And the stated policy of India, to take beef prices through the roof by throttling cattle supply is working. Unless there is a concerted effort at cattle rearing, somewhat akin to goat rearing, there is no answer. The prohibitive price of beef and mutton has not just reduced demand but put further pressure on chicken and fish supplies.

As multi-lanes are introduced on highways, the main casualty is green fields and as real estate demands grow to house the growing population, the green fields suffer further assault. As it is, city and urban planning is at sixes and sevens in the absence of a proper building code and blatant violation of existing plans. In the rural area, it gets worse since there are no specific and visible plans.

Farmers shrug off the growing rice-prices as an artificial creation saying there is no palpable reason for higher prices given production and supply. The concern is about the future and not the present as was evident in the Tk 10/kg rice shops being surprisingly free of custom. They, too, have no answer to the dilemma that is approaching. For now, it's about survival -- as it always has been.

mahmudrahman@gmail.com
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