Farm mechanisation, which has gained traction during the past three decades, has kept rising, with the market for the country's agro-machinery reaching Tk 90 billion, industry insiders say.
The farm machinery trade is also adding value to the local light engineering sector contributing as much as three-fifths of the sector's total revenue.
Though the engineering workshops and units cannot manufacture modern agro-machinery like large harvesters, transplanters, they have been meeting around two-thirds of the demand for spare parts, said the insiders.
Even several manufacturers have stared exporting centrifugal pumps to neighbouring countries ushering in a new era of export market for agro-machinery.
Currently, about 80 foundries, 800 engineering industries and workshops, 1,500 spare parts manufacturing workshops, and about 20,000 repair and maintenance workshops are engaged in the agro-machinery manufacturing sub-sector in northern, north-eastern, south-western and central regions in the country.
But their expansion is constrained by easy access to finance, the lack of training institutes to develop skilled workforce, scarcity of land for housing industrial units and intrusion of imported products.
The total agro-machinery market size is about Tk 70.25 billion, of which local producers contribute roughly Tk 45.66 billion, according to a 2017 study on the "Manufacturing of Agricultural Machinery in Bangladesh: Opportunities and Constraints" conducted by Dr Md Monjurul Alam, a professor of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU).
Also, the local machinery repair and maintenance service market is roughly Tk 20.33 billion a year.
Starting from the traditional plough, sickle, hay fork, spade, hoe, shovel and many other primary tools, local foundries and engineering workshops are now manufacturing centrifugal pumps, pesticide sprayers, fertiliser and insecticide applier, drum seeder, hand reaper, weeder, tube well, tube well accessories, etc.
Talking to the FE, vice-president of the Bogura Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) Mahfuzul Islam Raj said the agro-machinery manufacturing market in Bogura district is around Tk 10 billion.
"The Bogura foundries and engineering workshops mainly supply spare parts to the country's rice mills, jute mills and flour mills apart from producing traditional agro-equipment," he told the FE during a visit.
Moreover, local agro-machinery manufacturers have been competing with imported Chinese and Indian products in terms of price, appearance, diversity and convenience, he noted.
General secretary of the Foundry Owners Association of Bogura Abdul Malek Akanda said foundries are the lifeline of engineering workshops and industries.
The metal casting factories supply primary and basic parts for manufacturing different types of machinery, especially for the farm sector.
Without modernisation of the metal workshops, it is not possible to develop innovative and modernised products for the country's engineering sector, he said.
Mr Akanda, who owns Al-Madina Metal Works housed at the Bogura BSCIC Industrial Estate, said most of the 80 foundries in Bogura have been operating their production lines in a traditional approach, which deters these units from innovating.
"Though some companies have installed computer numerical control (CNC) machines in their plants, finding skilled workforce to operate automated equipment is very difficult," he said.
Even though some advanced and large-scale agro-machinery are being produced in the country, farmers mostly prefer imported products.
Around five or six companies have been meeting the demand for foreign modern agro-machinery like mini combine harvesters, rice transplanters, reapers, fertiliser applicator, tractor and power tillers.
Dr F H Ansary, managing director of ACI Agribusiness, said in terms of crop harvesting mechanisation, mini combine harvesters that cut, thresh and bag grains simultaneously, have become a game-changing solution to farmers saving cost, time and human labour farmers.
But the sales of modern equipment like combined harvesters, transplanters remain sluggish, below the expectation, he said.
He said the sector has almost stopped growing despite the fact that the government has been providing incentives for buying machinery like combined harvesters.
He said the government should take up projects for raising awareness among farmers about the usefulness of harvesters, transplanters and reapers.
Head of business development of the Metal Pvt Ltd, Md Enamul Haque, said since the government has not yet fixed the rate of subsidy this year, they have not set the price of advance agro-machinery like combine harvester, rice transplanter and reaper either.
The government has set aside Tk 30 billion in subsidy for agro-mechanisation in the budget for the current fiscal year but it will take another two-three months to fix the rate and adding some other machinery to the benefit list.
He said China-made global combine harvester brand marketed by Metal Pvt Ltd is priced at Tk 2.0 million, which may be available at Tk 1.0 million to the farmers if 50 per cent subsidy is given.
Rice transplanter (walking type) will be available at Tk 0.35 million and reaper at Tk 0.15 million at subsidised price.
He said both the companies and farmers are waiting for the government declaration of subsidy rates, which were 50 to 70 per cent last year.
Omidul Hasan, an export-import and communication executive at Chuadanga-based agro-machinery manufacturer Chuadanga Janata Engineering, said Janata brand mini combined harvester is available at Tk 720,000, rice and wheat reaper Tk 170,000, automatic insecticide sprayer Tk 25,000, mini combine rice mill that husks paddy to rice and rice to flour at the same time is Tk 48,000.
However, ACI mini combine harvester is selling at Tk 0.365 million after 50 per cent subsidy, YANMAR combine harvester at Tk 2.8 million, ACI combine harvester Tk 1.25 million, ACI reaper Tk 0.17 million, rice Transplanter Tk 0.40 million and Yanmar rice transplanter at Tk 0.44 million.
Khondokar Moinur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Agricultural Machinery Merchant Association (BAMMA), said only 130 units of combined harvesters, transplanters and reapers were traded last year.
He said prices of imported harvester like Yanmar, World areTk 0.8-Tk 2.6 million, which is much higher for marginal farmers despite the incentives.
Md Iqbal Hossain, research associate at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the government should provide community-based incentives for high value farm equipment.
"A group of village farmers can be brought under the programme and can have a shared harvester with contribution of a small amount from each," he said.
Technology has the potential to save time and physical labour.
For instance, DAE (Department of Agricultural Extension) director general Mir Nurul Alam said small machines can process paddy or wheat on a bigha (33 decimal) of land in less than an hour while it usually takes 7-8 hours for five or six men to do the same task.
A mini combine harvester can save a farmer's harvesting cost by 60 to 65 per cent- Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000, almost half the amount required earlier, he estimated.
Reapers can be used to cut paddy and wheat on one acre of land at Tk 365 instead of Tk 3,200 (human labour), saving cost by nearly 90 per cent.
It also saves time by 82 per cent as the machine is capable of cutting paddy or wheat of one acre land in only one and a half hours whilst it takes eight hours for six people to do the job, he said.
Rice transplanter is another machine that can reduce the farmer's tension over getting agro-labour during cultivation time.
The walking type machine, operated by two persons, can transplant paddy seedlings in four rows on a bigha of land in less than an hour. The traditional method takes around six to seven hours for 12 men.
The transplantation process saves overall costs by 67 per cent as cost comes down to Tk 1,600 from Tk 4,500 to Tk 5,000 per acre.
Automated seeder, bed planter, fertiliser and pesticide applicator, and weeder are also useful tools that can significantly reduce time, cost and dependency on humans in the long run.