The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the country’s agriculture sector hampering food productions and causing losses to farmers, said officials.
Economists and agricultural experts said that if the pandemic lingers, Bangladesh being heavily dependent on food imports would face a severe crisis of foods in coming days.
As the pandemic is seriously impacting on the agriculture production across the world international prices of the farm produces would be increasing, they said.
Bangladesh needs to annually import 60 to 65 lakh tonnes of wheat, five to 10 lakh tonnes of maize, 80 per cent of its required oil, the experts said, adding that the country also imported much of its sugar, pulse, spice requirements and all kinds of seeds to meet the local demand.
Senior agricultural economist Jahangir Alam Khan said that with the COVID-19 pandemic lingering each of the world’s countries would become ‘a closed economy like an island’ and they would not be willing to export their agricultural produces.
‘As Bangladesh heavily depends on imports, so it may face a food crisis,’ he said.
Economists and agricultural experts suggested that the government should take immediate steps for enhanced budget allocations to ensure food sufficiency.
Bangladesh has been mostly self-sufficient in rice and potato productions though the farmers are deprived of fair prices for their crops.
Growers of boro rice, the largest cereal crop of the country, are incurring heavy losses as they are now forced to sell their rice at a lower price than the rate fixed by the government, said officials.
THey are selling 40kgs of boro paddy at Tk 650 to Tk 900 though the government has set the price at Tk 1,040, according to the agriculture ministry.
Senior agricultural expert Abdul Hamid, also the chairman of Agrarian Research Foundation, told New Age that there was no government strategic plan to turn agriculture profitable for the farmers.
‘The main problem in our agriculture is that the farmers after growing crops with hard labour don’t get good prices,’ he said.
In 1935, he said, India had adopted the agriculture marketing act to protect its farmers but in Bangladesh there is no protection for the growers though many incentives are provided for exporting agricultural produces.
‘A huge budgetary allocation is needed for investment in the agriculture sector to develop infrastructure for small and medium enterprises to process foods with value addition,’ he said.
Hamid, a former director of Krishi Gabeshona Foundation said that Bangladesh could take the COVID-19 crisis as a challenge to create opportunities in the agriculture sector.
‘Millions of young and educated people in the rural area should be trained and engaged in agriculture,’ he proposed.
Jahangir Alam Khan, a winner of the Ekushey Padak in 2020, said that the agriculture budget should be focused on achieving self-sufficiency in food production and nutrition supply.
‘A big budget allocation is needed for agriculture and rural development,’ he said.
Though the allocations in the Annual Development Plan have not been shown with priority, he said that considering the current pandemic, the first priority should be given to the health sector and the second priority to the agriculture sector.
In this pandemic situation agriculture and rural development should be given emphasis in the revenue budget too, he further said.
The agriculture budget should also be increased in pace with the expansion of the food rations, he said.
Over the last six years, the subsidy in agriculture has remained Tk 9,000 crore which means that the amount of subsidy is decreasing every year as the budget size is increasing.
Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University’s agronomy professor Abdullahil Baque advised the government to allocate fund for purchasing agricultural produces like rice directly from the farmers to ensure fair market price.
‘Incentives should be provided to breeders for seed supply through the Bangladesh Aagricultural Development Corporation and the Department for Agricultural Extension,’ he said, seeking fund for seed production by the DAE for paddy, wheat, maize, jute and summer onion.
He also said that the government should channel fund to marginal farmers at low interest for poultry industry, fish industry and dairy. ‘In this situation special fund allocation is needed to purchase dairy milk from the small dairy farm owners and distribute it among the homeless people.’
‘Special investment is needed for the seed sector to ensure good quality seed production. Good seeds can contribute to 20 per cent yield increase especially for hybrid seed,’ he further said.
He predicted that Bangladesh would face a big problem in procuring good quality seeds because import of seeds will face problems due to the worldwide COVID-19 prevalence.
‘It is crucial to allocate fund for crop insurance because farmers need support if their crops fail due to natural disasters. ‘
The agronomist said that due to the pandemic situation special fund allocation was needed for those agricultural crops that contain vitamins and minerals in order to boost the human immune system. For example, zinc, iron and vitamins are available in rice, vegetable, wheat, maize, oil crops, pulse crops, fish and poultry.
On April 12, prime minister Sheikh Hasina unveiled a Tk 5,000 crore stimulus package with 5 percent interest rate for the farmers who were affected severely by the shutdown amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Agriculture minister Abdur Razzaque said that the government was working relentlessly to ensure food security of the country.
To facilitate paddy harvesting, various agricultural equipment including about 1,300 combine harvesters, 934 reapers, and 22 rice transplanters have been given to farmers at a total cost of Tk 200 crore, said the agriculture minister.
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