THE scarcity of quality seeds at affordable prices has become a growing concern for farmers. Seed scarcity, as many suggest, may make Bangladesh further dependent on import to meet the local demands that could multiply the cost of agricultural production. In 2019–20, the demand for seeds of rice, wheat, maize, jute, pulse, oil, potato and vegetables was 12,43,268 tonnes and three government agencies could supply about 11.68 per cent of the seeds. Private-sector importers, cashing in on the supply shortage and growing demand, have recently increased seed prices. One kilogram of hybrid onion seeds now sells for Tk 12,000, which was Tk 3,000 in 2019. As farmers are preparing land to grow potato, they are burdened with high price of seeds the imported variety of which now sells Tk 5,000–Tk 7,000 a 50kg bag. The high price of quality seeds often forces farmers to borrow money with high interest and it significantly adds to the production cost. The seed wing of the agricultural ministry does not have a comprehensive understanding of the farmer’s demand for seed or a means to meet it.
The Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation, the Department of Agricultural Extension and the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority are meant to conduct research and develop improved varieties of seeds and play a significant role in strengthening farmer’s seed management system that meets 70 per cent of the demand. However, they have not been able to properly discharge their duties. The seed technologist at the ministry concerned say that they will take step, but gives no details of plans. In the absence of an effective seed policy, the private sector gets an opportunity to import and market seed out of profiteering interest. This is particularly concerning in the COVID-19 emergency when the global export-import chain has already been disrupted. Farmers are reported to be worried about a seed crisis for the forthcoming paddy season because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Bangladesh is said to be able to increase its rice production by 10–15 per cent with a systematic supply of quality seeds. The ministry concerned should immediately make a market intervention to stabilise seed price to ensure that farmers are not faced with seed shortage and high price.
An outmoded seed policy and ineffective agricultural research organisations are worrying for a country with its economy being dependent on agriculture. The government must immediately draft a seed policy that will strengthen the farmer’s seed management system, incentivise farmers to produce quality seeds and decrease its import dependency to meet the local demand. The government should consider recommendations of agroeconomists for a nationalised seed bank. It should also take early steps to stabilise the seed market and attend to the current shortage to ensure that farmers are not burdened with high prices in an economy already constrained by COVID-19.
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