Thursday 09 December 2021

Sustainable and Farmers Friendly Agriculture for Bangladesh

Dr. Lutfur Rahman || TheAgriculturist

Published: 19:17, 12 January 2021  
Sustainable and Farmers Friendly Agriculture for Bangladesh

We have the experience of the Green revolution for crops which has cost our most valuable soils and water including the mind-set of increased use of nitrogenous fertilizer to produce more. However, the impact was increased yield and total production to feed the millions which by now is almost three times of the starting time of the green revolution. Again, such impacts are again rarely reached the small farmers of the country which constitute a major portion (47%) of the population and are engaged in the agricultural production sector. They are not only the food producers of themselves but the food providers to the whole population. The issues like “sustainable” and “farmer-friendly” agriculture call for considerable time and space to discuss. Having limitations of both, the author has briefly indicated the ways to follow even for a larger discussion on ways of achieving the goals on the issues raised.   

Our system of Research and Development programs is public sector support based and oriented on issues more of our academic fields than of the problems of the fields, which mostly needs a comprehensive and coordinated approach.  Again all the inputs are marketed by the private sector stakeholders, which is also the lone group/s of organizations or individuals supporting the product marketing from the farming community. There is almost no buy-back policy of the private sector business houses of agro-products which makes the farming community adjustable to a system operated by the middlemen of the market forces.  Only for rice government has a system of fixing a market price at harvest. However, that is not maintained or not even monitored as to the necessity of maintaining the fixed price on the purchase of the products at harvest. In many cases, this causes loss to the farmers.  The contradictions are as high as many of the public sector leading policymakers do not even accept that the highly viable private sector including the farming community are keeping the wheels of food production sustained either through eco-friendly or eco-exploiting approach over years just to have the wheels of their economic sustainability continue to move. There are provisions for PPP in the country’s infrastructure fields, but none in agriculture where food basket is the case.

The per capita landmass for cultivation was only about 0.13 acres (Rahman 2012, 14p.) in 2008, which has gone down to around 0.11 acres in 2016 and has further reduced by now due mostly to increase in population and non-agricultural uses of such agricultural lands. As the lands have reduced and the labor force is being shifted to industry-based activities. Thus, both resources are becoming limited to food production. So, there has to be a shift in the policy of production, use of technology, and process of value addition. This is where the Contract Farming system can be encouraged by the government in collaboration with the private sector stakeholders so that the producers can have an economically viable sustainable production system for the processors who can produce good quality food both for internal and external markets. Contract Farming is a balanced operative system presently being in operation for quality seeds, dairy milk, small scale cultured fishery, and poultry raising by different business houses. Then why the same system will not function for the production of agricultural commodities as an organized government-supported program?

The Needed Policy shift  

 As we know the cooperative system of production has a number of drawbacks most important of which is that the Farming family has less or no flexibility in their control of the lands while in the Contract Farming system they can bargain and have their control over their lands which is leased out for a season or so. Thus, it is possible to invigorate the agricultural production system of the country through a contract farming approach aiming at supporting the Farming Community also as the working force of the company in the open. This will in fact need a number of steps to follow.

Step 1 Participation of the selected farm families to participate in action research for the development of technology be a plant variety or production or post-harvest processing technology or breeds of poultry or livestock for meat or milk through appropriate planning on traits that are important for the consumers and the market demand. It is where private business houses should be partnering with public institutions. Both should join hands to make the farming community aware of the benefits of the system and the ways the value addition can be done partly by them also.

Step 2 Producing large volumes of quality products seeds/seedlings/plantlets of crops, progenies of poultry, ducks, goats, sheep, large animals, fish fries and fingerlings, etc. at organized but well-structured centers at mid-level can be helpful for faster and sustainable development. This can also help the development of community-level leaders and certified business houses with provisions for SMEs so that the trust of the farming community remains high with the community leaders who can also help organized training of the farmers on technology including value-added marketing with national level industries.

Step 3   Marketing of the products through organized business houses will also lead to technology and knowledge sharing.  These centers can also support the appropriate maintenance of biodiversity at the grass-root level. In doing the marketing of the appropriately produced quality products there should be organized market growth centers so that the farmers can even pre-process and store their products on an insurance system for delayed marketing. The possible approach for establishing the “Agro Product Marketing Centers (APMC)” in Bangladesh is included here for use as a case to start.

Step 4    The proposal is to establish “Agro-Product Market Center (APMC)” at selected large market places of the country where large scale product marketing takes place every season and year-round,  not only of grains like rice-wheat, maize, but also fresh vegetables including potato, fruits including mango, litchi, guava. Such centers will be of compact nature run by the private company keeping government control/monitoring provisions as to services and charges under PPP provisions. Agricultural Product Market  Centers (APMC) in each of the Upoziala will be in a maximum of 5 acres land of highway-local-road connected location of the government to be used as APMC where basically there will be two types of conditioned pre-market storage facilities one (i) for storage of Grains and the other one for  (ii) Fresh Vegetable and Fruits. In that center there should be facilities for pre-storage processing if needed, insurance on the products in storage by the authorized company, and part payment before selling the product, (Like Shashaya Reen Gudam, but with diversified facilities) for which necessary service charge will be paid by the farmer/ groups/ community/ contact farming groups, others. This center will have (i) one auction yard/ground, (ii) one/two insurance company’s workplace, (iii) one track transport facility point, and also one van stand facility (iv) one mechanization support facility center for a number of private companies to support marketing and repairing of the types of machinery, (v) one agri-inputs providing and marketing facility point (vi) one quality testing lab (vii) one packaging support facility point so that the product can be packaged for the export program by the interested company, and (vii) one ICT Point for everyone to get the market information as and when needed.

 

This center can also function for all other agro-products of other types and commodities as and when required including the market research data support to the academia of the country and outside.   Government fixed price and collection system on items of importance like the grains can be ensured through appropriate banking or Bkash/Nagad programs directly to the farmers/ producers and no intermediary. Details of Modus operandi can be developed with appropriate agency and the private company to share the facilities under PPP, where the Department of Agricultural Marketing of the Ministry of Agriculture can function as a coordination point.

 

These location-specific centers will also function as organizing production programs of commodities that have both internal and external market demand along with provisions for maintaining soil health and practicing environment-friendly agriculture. This system will further ensure the product quality and quantity to be used by processing companies for their products of both local and international markets. This will also support the decentralization of the processing facilities of the agro products of the country, with provisions for service facilities at the local level. 

 

So, there can be the pilot-scale start of at least ten centers in ten areas like (i) Kushtia, Chuadanga belt (ii) Jashohor belt at least two one specifically cut flower marketing; (iii) Chapaiganj-Rajshahi belt, (iv) Dinajpur-Panchagr belt, at least two one, for cereals and grains and the other one as specialized for fresh fruits and vegetables  (v) Bagura belt (vi) Chattagram Hill tract belt, (vii) Mymensingh-Gazipur belt and (viii) Haor belt. The proposed land area may not be more than five acres in each of the locations having good link road connections with highway and close to already established market places so that the resistance factors are less for the centers to become operative and remain viable.

These complexes can also become the center point of all activities for commercialized agricultural input-output and service delivery stations, where a number of local youths can get trained for different activities with support from companies and or GO and NGO systems so that they can become trained manpower for both local and international markets of the labor force.

It is expected that the government can start this activity with an investment of a maximum of one crore taka for each center and a common plan of buildings designs of the same and facilities for each center and give the land (maximum of 5 acres) to the well-established and ethics bound Private companies having food processing industries, export programs, and chain shops, etc.; for getting the infrastructure done and run, then it will be faster than expected by December 2021. The service charge of the product processing, storage, insurance or auctions, or support to agro-machineries will pay back the investment made by the company. As the land will be provided by the government so, in the management of the center there will be govt. officials for monitoring and control if and when necessary.  At the initial stage, the money government has already committed against transformation after COVID 19 can establish easily such centers by December 2021 on a crash program basis.  It will certainly add to the reduction in the loss at post-harvest processing, and good price to the farmers for them to produce more in the future and improve their livelihood as part of the SDG plan and also a well-planned agricultural production and support program will emerge.

Let our policymakers of the government and banks take lead in organizing such programs facilitating the industries with part of the investment fund provisions at a very low-interest rate on a pledge of the products having insurance of the production system and the products. This system will ultimately allow the industries to get good products, farmers to get good prices with part of the trained manpower maintained at the local level having higher livelihood provisions, and the government to have provisions of nutritional food security from within the country.

Author: Professor Lutfur Raman, Former Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, BAU