Abir Hasan talks about the COVID-19, its effects on the agriculture of Bangladesh and lack of specific plans and policies in the national budget to overcome the hurdles
FARMERS are denied a fair price for their productions for a long time according to media reports. Due to the lack of cold storage or effective government strategy, farmers have been selling products at an unfair and insufficient price to local middlemen for a long time. Along with this, there are natural disasters which take away everything and make it destitute for them. In many areas, farmers are benefited by marketing directly to Dhaka or other places through cooperatives, but the number of such model projects are very low.
When the COVID-19 outbreak started in our country, the farmers were in trouble, and the middleman suddenly stopped purchasing farmer’s products. Those middlemen were unable to transport products in many parts of the country because at that time the whole transportation systems were virtually suspended as a measure taken by the government to curb the spread. In the meantime, the Bidyanondo Foundation started to buy products from farmers and distribute among who needed those. Several students’ organisations also took such initiatives. But all these steps are very limited for the huge agricultural production of our country.
When the pandemic came here, many people did not take it seriously which turned out to be a nightmare in Bangladesh. In the first quarter of 2020, food crises started and acute hunger becomes a matter of concern all over the world and especially in Bangladesh.
An estimated 135 million people around the world faced acute levels of hunger in 2019, according to the 2020 Global Report on food crisis. The report emphasises that without urgent and widespread action, the spread of the pandemic to the developing countries will further disrupt populations’ access to food, compounding existing food crises and spurring new ones. United Nations World Food Programme short-term forecast of food crisis anticipates that acute food insecurity and food crisis will remain highest in Yemen in 2020 as the result of a combination of conflict, economic crisis, and weather-related factors.
Conflicts will also continue to hurt food security in Central Africa, West Africa as well as parts of Asia and other Middle Eastern countries. As global and national economies continue to decline in the face of the pandemic, households’ employment opportunities and subsequently incomes will likely to be reduced.
Disruptions to food value chains will likely result in higher food prices and reduced availability of and access to food, particularly for populations already at risk of food insecurity. Humanitarian needs across the globe are expected to rise, at the same time that reduced national budgets will make these needs harder to meet.
Bangladesh’s agricultural sector has suffered the most from the omnivorous effects of the COVID-19. A study by the non-governmental organisation BRAC has shown that within just 45 days, the loss of agriculture due to this pandemic has been Tk 57,536.06 crore. As a result of this, the supply chain and the market system of agricultural products have collapsed.
Farmers of all over the country have suffered huge losses by selling vegetables, fish, poultry, eggs and milk at prices lower than the production cost. Besides, farmers in the south, west and north of the country, seasonal orchard owners and shrimp farm owners also suffered heavy losses in the cyclone Amphan.
In this pandemic situation, to help the seasonal fruits’ farmers, Bangladesh postal services already has taken an initiative. All these seasonal fruits will be marketed in various mega shops and wholesale markets of the capital city through digital platforms. This time, with the absence of middlemen, farmers are delighted to receive the fair price. Money from the sale will reach the concerned farmer without any intermediary cost. The postal service regularity allows them to use their empty return vehicles free of cost for transporting the seasonal agricultural goods.
In the meantime, the Information and Communications Technology Division of Bangladesh has taken an initiative in assistance with the Innovation Design and Entrepreneurship Academy project and set up a platform titled ‘Food for Nation’. It is an online platform that will help the marginal farmers to get fair prices as well as the customers will get their necessary agro items easily within a short time at a fair price. Farmers, marketers, storekeepers and institutional consumers will get the opportunity to verify prices and quality of the product across the country and have direct commercial communication on the platform through the countrywide network of Ek Shop.
Farmers, marketers, stockists and institutional consumers can easily check the price and quality of products on the same platform. Apart from this, they will also get the opportunity of direct commercial communication. Buyers and sellers can register on this platform with an easy and mobile friendly interface across the country and select all the categories of agricultural crops or vegetables. This marketplace is a completely free platform. It can be used to buy, sell or advertise for free of cost. The buyer and seller will transect at a standard price set by the authority. For buying or selling of the products they can select any medium for transection at their convenience.
Because of the lack of a proper distribution system and insufficient cold storage capacity, a huge amount of agricultural products get rotten every year. So if the government combines the activities of the trade agricultural ministry to develop a just in time distribution system that can reduce the losses of the farmers. The government needs to utilise spare vehicles capacity of different departments to develop a transportation chain free of cost for the farmers. By doing so, the government can take middlemen away from the distribution system and by arranging timely distribution it is possible to reduce the need of cold storage quite a bit. The government also needs to establish some hubs in big cities from where the products will be distributed to the retail market.
Agriculture can show the light of hope to overcome the financial loss due to COVID-19 pandemic. It can be the major shield of our economy. In addition to tackling the food crisis in this COVID-19 disaster, some sub-sectors have been given much importance in this year’s budget to save the farmers and the agricultural sector.
In the national budget of FY 2020-21, the government is trying to give more importance in agriculture, employment, food production and management. In the budget, the agriculture sector in the second position of the list. Tk 22,489 crore are allocated for agriculture, fisheries, livestock and food security for FY 2020-21. The budget allocation of this year in this sector is Tk 1,005 crore and 3.96 per cent more than the previous year. This year’s budget has allocated Tk 15,442 crore for the Ministry of Agriculture alone, which is Tk 2,465 crore more than last year. In the proposed national budget for FY 2020-21, Tk 9,500 crore has been allocated for subsidy for the country’s agricultural sector, which is Tk 500 crore more than the last year. The upcoming budget will incorporate various proposals for agriculture and food friendly programmes, expansion of the social safety net, recovery of afflicted industries, trade and commerce, and also employment generation.
But the matter of sorrow is, there are no guidelines in the budget proposal to save the farmers affected by the coronavirus. From the budget, farmers expected an initiative about crop insurance to protect them from natural disasters. But its reflection was not seen in the proposed budget.
In the final analysis, every year the government is giving a huge number of subsidies in the agriculture sector to make the agricultural basement stronger and for the betterment of our farmers.
But the authorities of the government are failed to bring the marginalised farmers under the projects of agricultural development. By connecting farmers directly to the wholesale market government can turn the farmers’ wheels of life.
Abir Hasan is a student of the University of Dhaka.
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