The Financial Express

Welcome changes in agriculture

Welcome changes in agriculture

Despite the successive governments' pinning high hopes on earning foreign exchange from jute exports, the optimism continues to peter off. Following impressive harvests after investing large volumes of capital, they mostly face disillusionment. It stems from the incredibly low price at the local buyers' end. As a result, the growers' high spirit and the renewed enthusiasm over jute cultivation keep dying away. Against this backdrop few people in the country, except the compulsive optimists, can hope to see jute enjoy its glory days of the past.

To speak without mincing words, the days of the fabled 'golden fibre' have long been over. Amid the pervasive atmospheric pollutions, both the environmentalists and ecology-conscious general people looked to jute. As it's a biodegradable agro- product, day-to-day objects made of it do not pose any threat to humans. The government's generously funnelling of monetary stimulus into the jute products sector eventually failed to attract adequate number of clients in both domestic and overseas markets. Market experts point the finger at the sloppy finishing of the products for the clients' indifference towards them. In the times of universal opposition to polythene and other synthetic goods, the public apathy towards items made of the ecology-friendly jute is puzzling.

For Bangladesh, the decline in jute cultivation marks a major turn in the country's agriculture. As jute has enjoyed the status of the premier cash crop of the land for over half a century in a row, its exit from the position has spawned a number of newer agro-sector realities. With no single-major cash crop, the country has lately fanned out to a number of such so-called crops. In fact, they comprise the country's crop basket as major agro-products. Tea dominates the scenario. It's also considered by the official account as a 'cash crop', despite being a minor agro-product.  Although rice is the staple food in Bangladesh, neither rice nor paddy has ever been an export item. Instead, in years the country has to import rice to cover the product's deficit caused mainly by flood-prompted crop failures. In spite of this fact, the myriad types of rice, falling under three major groups, are traditionally grown in the country round the year. Like many Asian middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh could have created a place for itself among the rice-exporting countries. The reason it has failed to achieve this status could be explained by the authorities concerned.

The list of the country's regular crops continues to get longer. Most of them are indigenous to the land for centuries. Many are new crops with wide acreage, and thus, economic prospects. Currently, they do not add considerably to the nation's exchequer, but they are, nonetheless, among the country's major crops of the future. Although some of the new crops are regularly grown in the country, a few of them appear to be completely alien to the farmers and the clients.

Apart from them, which belong mainly to the sectors witnessing amateur production of new crops, a few older crops still dominate the Bangladesh agriculture. Wheat is one of them. In the beginning of the early 1960s, the very concept of urging farmers to cultivate wheat, instead of paddy, would provoke popular resentment. That was the early phase of the movement against the West Pakistan-based rulers. Thus the full-scale start of wheat cultivation had to pass through difficult times, since people had to be convinced that wheat cultivation did not go against Bengalees' staple rice. Instead, good harvests of wheat would benefit the economy of East Bengal.

In 2021, farmers in Bangladesh have grown wheat and maize on large tracts of land. Wheat nowadays is considered a major crop in the country. Soil in a lot of regions of the land has been proved ideal for wheat cultivation. The once-alien crop is now recognised as the second-most important staple food source in the country after rice. In the recent times, the yield of wheat has continued to increase. Wheat production has gained pace from around 0.115 million tonnes in early 1970s.  With fast increase in demand, the country now has to import significant quantitiesof the crop. Some experts attribute the rise in demand for 'atta', the crushed form of wheat to the popularity of flat bread among the poorer segments of people. In the times that see intermittent price hike of rice, the marginalised poor turn to bread, which is cheaper than rice.

Coming to maize production in the country, its total yield in Bangladesh in 2020 reached 4,400 thousand tonnes. Over the last 10 years, the maize production grew substantially from 1,954 to 4,400 tonnes. It showed a phenomenal rise at an annual rate of 17.14 per cent in 2019. Thanks to the decline in financial incentives, the yields of both wheat and maize witnessed a considerable fall.

Notwithstanding the majority of the people's sole dependence on rice as staple food, Bangladesh agriculture has been undergoing fast transformations. Wheat and corn's reaching high-yield targets stand proof to this significant change. Besides growing new types of crops, the country's farmers have begun turning to mechanisation, replacing ancient agricultural tools. In almost every phase of cultivation, farmers continue to turn to newer and the user-friendly automated implements. The ancient irrigation method has long been replaced by diesel-run irrigation pumps. In the near future, the all-purpose power tillers are set to make traditional ploughs obsolete. Automated combine harvesters continue to bring about a new look in the large agricultural plots in Bangladesh. Simultaneously, hitherto unknown crops creep into the list of the country's major agro-productions. Apart from potatoes, mustard, pulses, sugarcane, native and foreign fruits, vegetables etc, the country is enjoying increased yields in many crop sectors. The credit for all these achievements goes to the land's fertile soil, and the innovation of agronomists and individual farmers. Or else, who could ever think that the country would one day be on way to growing cashew nuts, coffee and cassava? Despite all its technological ambitions, Bangladesh can ill afford to distance itself from its great agricultural prospects.


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