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13 days ago

Traditional farming now at risk

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Small farmers are now in danger of leaving the profession altogether. In the face of severe shortcomings, the traditional small holding farmer can no longer afford to stay true to the profession of his forefathers and that has raised alarm bells across the board from policymakers to agriculture experts. And although the country has pivoted towards gradual industrialisation and trade, food security remains a cornerstone of State policy because of the large population that must be fed. In the midst of the increasing trend of big business groups branching into large-scale commercial farming, the lot of the average farmer has fallen on hard times.

These matters and others came up for discussion at a seminar organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) last Sunday. Experts have opined that traditional agriculture needs to evolve and in a developing nation like Bangladesh, more targeted policy support is needed to save small farms. Increasingly, agri-commercialisation is elbowing out small farmers, who form the backbone of agriculture in this country. The fact that Bangladesh needs to raise rice output to 47.2 million tonnes by 2050 isn't going to happen on its own, and a lot depends on these subsistence farmers surviving and continuing to grow crops. While technological advancements have made it possible for the country to feed its 165 + million populace till date, experts opined that some 4.4 million hectares of land in 17 coastal districts need to be brought under the three-season cropping system.

Policymakers must be acutely aware of giving space to small farmers if it wishes not only to uplift millions out of subsistence living but also ensure food security. However, changing weather patterns - ample historical data that is available through research in Bangladesh and collaborative works between Bangladeshi and foreign agencies, reveal that adverse conditions point to a declining trend of arable land. While there has been progress made in introducing multiple stress-tolerant varieties of crop, policy support will be essential to bring more land under cultivation.

Entire generations of farmers are quitting farming and this has everything to do with the fact that they cannot get their money's worth during harvest season. Market imperfections run rampant and not much has happened to cut out the middlemen who make windfall profits at the cost of farmers who often sell at a loss. The lack of proper logistics is another major impediment that hasn't been sorted out satisfactorily for farmers to get their harvested crops or other produce to markets cost effectively.

As pointed out by one expert, the government should give them support in terms of mechanisation, i.e. provide the financial regime whereby small farmers can leapfrog into the 21st century with time-saving equipment that could seriously increase food production at field level. Despite some breakthroughs, not enough research is being done to bring multiple varieties of crops and other foodstuffs to the farmers which could help them increase the variety of things they can grow or rear on land. A gamut of policy initiatives that will range from reaching not just financial support, but also work out the nagging problems of supply chain, which includes addressing problems with the cold chain. Bangladeshi farmers produce in abundance many essential items - a significant portion of which rots due to unavailability of sufficient cold storage facilities.

Experts and agriculturists agreed that many issues need to be worked out, without which, traditional agriculture employing tens of millions of people will increasingly be at risk. Extortion on roads, transport management and the presence of syndicates which need to be treated as a law-and-order problem and dealt with accordingly. It is not the job of the government to manage the market, rather it ought to be involved heavily in ensuring fair market practices.

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