While attending the Gusi Peace Prize award at the Manila International Convention Centre in 2015, I noticed a farmer from the Philippines Ms. Susana introduced herself to Mr. Shykh Seraj the agriculture development icon of Bangladesh and recipient of several national and international awards for contribution to agriculture and social development in Bangladesh. Ms. Susana introduced herself and said she came to know of the role of Shykh Seraj in agriculture and farming as well as in overall community development. Ms. Susana sought Mr. Seraj's views on ways and means to mainstream agriculture in the overall development process of the Philippines. She also mentioned, as a farmer she keeps track of innovative efforts in other countries to improve farming and condition of farmers.
Shykh Seraj was deeply impressed at the remarkable level of awareness and commitment of Susana, a farmer from a remote province in the Philippines. Shykh Seraj himself a creative pioneer in agriculture development in Bangladesh, shared his views with Ms.Susana. He suggested Ms. Susana and her friends in farming are most welcome to obtain more information and insights from the experiences and programmes in Bangladesh. Seraj also referred to the exemplary success achieved by the Philippines in agriculture, and suggested further collaboration between the Philippines and Bangladesh on improved farming and overall development of agriculture.
Over the past few decades, development discourse has gained wider momentum through improved communication. Development analysis proved meaningful and impact-based with intensive engagement of the stakeholders. Reference is made here to programmes undertaken by Shykh Seraj in promoting development of agriculture through intensive reach-out and interaction with the farmers.
Agriculture sector has historically dominated the landscape of Bangladesh's development for decades. During the past decade, the country progressed significantly with steadily increased growth levels. Generally, growth propels accelerated efficiency in non-agrarian sectors (manufacturing and services). For most developing countries like Bangladesh, the critical importance of agriculture lies in achieving food security and overall agricultural self-sufficiency. In addition, a steadily growing agriculture sector could create strong basis to support expansion on non-agricultural sectors to support sustained and inclusive growth.
For growing economies, there is the increasing need to reinforce focus on agriculture as the key to promoting inclusive growth. The strategic importance of agriculture lies in the strong potential it offers in transforming rural economy. While infrastructure has direct impact on poverty reduction, for developing and emerging economies, the role of agriculture remains significantly important in promoting rural incomes and livelihood.
For the past four decades, Shykh Seraj has been guiding and implementing innovative and community-based approach to enhance agricultural output and operational efficiency. Seraj interacts with the farmers in remote areas of the country and conducts intensive analysis on the core issues and challenges of farm productivity. Based on intensive investigation on the limitations that impede high productivity, Seraj has also gone in-depth to identify constraints e.g., inadequate policy focus, lack of institutional response, insufficient access to credit, role of middlemen and weak marketing. He has meticulously achieved more than what could have been accomplished by structured farmers' cooperatives. For the first time in the country, Seraj was able to demonstrate a strong and structured media-based demand-driven holistic approach to highlight and promote agricultural development.
Shykh Seraj has added value through collating views of all engaged directly in farming and documenting those for use and reference by the government while preparing the National Budget of Bangladesh. This is a remarkable aspect of development-journalism that blends well with dissemination of knowledge, information and skills to promote quality and sustainable farming. The Shykh Seraj Model (as commonly dubbed) enabled inclusion of grass-root farmers' views and aspirations in the national budget through substantive and purpose-based dialogue. Further to this, this gives opportunity for policy makers to have direct and credible information and analysis on how to improve farming and overall agriculture.
Shykh Seraj conducts this pre-Budget dialogue in remote regions of the country in presence of the farmers as well as Members of the Cabinet and local representatives. Participants from the government and non-government agencies and think-tanks join the stakeholders every year in this valued discourse on priorities for agriculture sector. Based on these discussions, Shykh Seraj's annual publication "Agriculture Budget - Budget for the Farmers" is a landmark documentation of the views of farmers for development of the agriculture sector. This leads to professionally useful research that explores the core issues and challenges in the agriculture sector. This is also a result-based approach that has enabled correcting operational deficiencies and prescribing effective tools and mechanisms for efficient farming in Bangladesh.
Ever since this process got started, policy makers, academicians and the private sector have greatly been benefited. Apart from the functional aspects, the annual pre-budget collation on agriculture and farmers reflects efficient stakeholder engagement while addressing development challenges. He has also taken into account credible means to support environment and resilience to climate change. Proposals for activating the non-formal sector in rural areas further strengthens this approach.
Mohammed Parvez Imdad Ph.D is currently Visiting Professor, Senior Economist & Policy Analyst based in Manila, Brunei and Dhaka. He previously worked in International Civil Service as well as National Civil Service.
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