The country's agriculture sector is far different from what it was a decade ago. While a good deal of activities earlier done manually has been replaced by mechanised methods, farm literacy has also seen considerable improvement thanks to the good job of the extension workers. However, the situation still demands massive improvements to properly utilise mechanisation.
A recent study on agricultural sector shows that although mechanisation has made quick strides in the country's agriculture sector, it is mostly confined to the use of power tillers, tractors and power pumps. There are other important areas in cultivation where more and more mechanisation can fruitfully be introduced. But as the study shows, major barriers to using mechanised cultivation in the country include dearth of skilled and semi-skilled workers to operate modern tools, complexity in maintaining and repairing the tools, and power shortage. But looking at these barriers in isolation may be misleading. These have resulted mostly from flawed planning, according to experts, resulting in improper distribution of mechanised agricultural tools, unaffordable prices, incomplete or inadequate information about the advantages of using the tools, inadequate training facilities for farmers and so on.
The study identified the level of adoption of agricultural mechanisation in different divisions of Bangladesh, farmers' use of modern tools, their willingness to adopt modern tools, their satisfaction level regarding availability of labour, skills of modern tool users, and perception about future demand and shortage in using agricultural machineries.
Experts believe that to meet the increased demand of growing population, it is imperative to give serious attention to agricultural mechanisation that can help the country address the demand of its growing population, decreasing cultivable land and shortage of agricultural labour during seeding and harvesting seasons. Experts in the field strongly believe that expanding the sphere of mechanisation will result in raising efficiency and economising the cost of cultivation besides substantially reducing post-harvest losses due to wastage. It is commonly believed than due to manual handling, 10 to 15 per cent of the crop, especially paddy, gets lost at harvesting and post-harvesting stages.
Machineries and equipment such as seeder, transplanter and power thresher are sure to bring a lot of dynamism in terms of increased productivity and cropping intensity at lower costs than now. Experts are also of the opinion that raising paddy nurseries through paddy nursery raising machine and transplanting by paddy transplanter would be time-saving and cost effective.
In fact, mechanisation could be the only way out to add value to cultivation, especially paddy cultivation. In the Asian region, countries that have reaped the most from mechanised cultivation are China and Thailand. For Bangladesh, this is a transition phase. To encourage the farmers to embrace mechanisation, schemes must be in place to provide affordable ways for procuring necessary tools and implements. Forming cooperative societies comprising small farmers could expand the facility to a hugely larger number of farmers. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can also have a meaningful role to play in this regard.
It is commonly alleged that because of the high cost of cultivation, it is at times not possible for the farmers to even recover the money invested in cultivation, let alone make profit. It is strongly believed that this has led rural population, even in areas where agriculture is the only means of livelihood, to resort to non-farm jobs or urban migration. In this context, it may be worthwhile to mention that non-farm jobs that are attracting a section of the farm population are otherwise largely reliant on farm-based activities. A study shows that 10 per cent increase in farm income generates 6.0 per cent rise in non-farm income in Bangladesh. So, the only way to make rural livelihood better and self-sustaining is to put sufficient thrust on both farm and non-farm activities. And, non-farm activities can grow only when agriculture gets the required boost. It is also important to note that despite the shift from farm to non-farm jobs, 87 per cent of rural households still rely on farm income that besides major crop cultivation, includes horticulture, fisheries, poultry etc.
While boosting non-agricultural activities is important for rural livelihood, required impetus on agriculture is crucial that can come through mechanisation. High-value agriculture is the need of the hour. It is here that mechanisation and crop diversity can play the pivotal role. To achieve this, a well-planned strategy has to be in place. Facilities for procuring mechanised tools and machineries at affordable prices under suitable schemes should be a matter of priority. The government has recently decided to raise subsidy for procurement of agricultural tools and implements. The raise of subsidy from the earlier 30 per cent to 50 per cent to facilitate mechanised farming is indeed a welcome move. However, it remains to be seen how this translates into farmers' benefit in the way of modernising agriculture.
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