The case for mechanised agriculture

Shihab Sarkar | Published: October 01, 2018 22:01:12

In many areas of the country, ploughs and cows are being phased out from the agricultural scenario. In the destitution-hit areas in the past, however, humans used to take the place of cows. That's a different episode. Despite their being unsuitable for small and fragmented farmlands, mini tractor-ploughs and hand-driven power tillers are seen these days being operated by trained farmers. The manual irrigation device, which is used with leg, is now almost extinct; in its place deep tube-well pumps are seen spectacularly in place. With all these changes occurring in the cropping activity, Bangladesh is set to discover itself in the near future in the era of machine-dominated agriculture.

Given the farmers being steadily drawn to engine-driven agri-devices throughout the country, lots of farming practices might soon become obsolete. The adoption of the mechanical devices is isolated, occurring in far-flung areas. But experts view their eventual acceptance as a foregone conclusion. Few of human activities and vocations could finally resist technological breakthroughs. Agriculture was no exception. In accordance with this universal trend, farmers in this land one day found themselves using chemical fertilisers and insecticides. At one stage, they were made to draw the curtain for good on the days of traditional manures and composts, and also locally prepared pesticides. The rural landscape nowadays is getting accustomed to a common view: farmers operating paddy transplanters. Though the spectacle is still encountered occasionally, planting rice seedlings with the help of a mechanical device is set to emerge as integral to Bangladesh farming. The successful operation of transplanters in some remote areas and the farmers' interest in them herald a wide acceptability awaiting the machine. Compared to it, the rice harvester has yet to evoke much enthusiasm among the farmers. However, the hesitation about the new engine-driven agri-devices is nothing unique. It has a lot to do with the human trait of developing suspicion over anything not seen before. Three to four decades ago, irrigation pumps would cause unfounded dread to average farmers. Nowadays, cultivating a paddy field cannot be remotely thought of without irrigation pumps.

 Due to the overwhelming presence of age-old farming methods, and the farmers' attachment to them, use of agricultural machinery once largely existed as an alien concept. The demand of time would be lost on them. Thanks to the relentless campaigns on the mechanisation of agriculture, farming machinery has lately started attracting peasants. Starting with a paltry number of maverick ones, farmers were eventually found engaged in mechanised agriculture in larger areas of the country. Financial motivation did play a defining role in this shift. Benefits accrued from cuts in cost in different phases of the farming process prompted farmers in an increasing number to switch over to mechanisation. Most of them had been unaware of this economic aspect of mechanised agriculture. Of late, findings of recent research works put the average benefits from mechanised agriculture at 34 per cent in labour saving, 31 per cent in lower seed requirement, 6.0 per cent in fertiliser saving and 32 per cent in saving cost of pesticides.

Agronomists also underscore the imperative of conservation agriculture (CA) that adds to the benefits of mechanised farming. The concept of CA has been propounded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). As the new idea spells out, CA is "a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment." At this point the mechanisation of farming practice homes in on the adversities and challenges inherent in the country's agriculture. According to the experts, the challenges comprise climate change fallout, labour shortage, limitations in irrigation and increase in the cost of farming. With climate change impacts given a major emphasis, mechanised farming, in their view, can ensure conservation agriculture. It is accompanied by a raft of economic benefits.

Bangladesh can ill afford to remain lukewarm about the full-scale adoption of engine-operated farm devices. In a country plagued with scores of disincentives in its survival backbone of agriculture, the use of machine in farm practices can usher in a new chapter. With transplanters, harvesters or thresher machines in wide use, the rising crunch in farm labour can be expected to lose much of its dampening impact. Owing to distractions caused by the other profitable professions, youths continue to lose their earlier interest in and passion for agriculture. This, in effect, prompts many of them to lose their ancestral farm skills. The reduced acreage of crops, owing to dearth of farmhands, is blamed on these attitudinal changes in the young agri-labour. Wide adoption of mechanised farming can address this loophole. After all, machine keeps running as long as they remain fuelled. There are no scopes for willful poor performance, unless there are cases of faulty operation by the person using the equipment or the machines' malfunction.

Agriculture in Bangladesh has tentatively entered its new era in terms of shifting away from its traditional practices. Changes have also occurred in the basic cropping patterns. It comprises introduction of new varieties of crops --- especially paddy. The farm labourers' skills and attitude towards the vocation have also undergone remarkable changes. But the moot point is the country's agriculture has come a long way since its ancient days. Its character is changing fast. Agriculture experts, however, lay emphasis on a faster pace in this transition. Compared to other developing nations, the country's agri-mechanisation has yet to gather the required speed. Being a nation highly dependent on agriculture for its survival, it cannot drag its feet in the massive national task. Thanks to the legacy of traditional farming handed down to the present-day farmers, as well as the smaller sizes of the agri-plots, the country cannot go for larger machinery. Given this fact, Bangladesh ought to put to use mid-level mechanical implements to the best of its capacity. The scenes of farmers planting rice seedlings sitting in rows or harvesting wheat using sickles may not be a usual spectacle for long.

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