Role of Agriculture to boost up Economy

Karishma Mahjabeen

BANGLADESH being an agrarian economy cannot flourish without declaring agriculture as its first priority for all practical purposes, be it:

(1) Production of raw materials for its meagre/ mostly inefficient industrial sector; (2) Providing jobs to millions of educated youth with degrees in a variety of technical and semi-technical subjects/ disciplines, (3) Export of raw as well as value added goods/ products, and (4) Investment in agriculture as it is the most productive, profit yielding sectors of national economy so far.

Share of agriculture sector being 32 per cent in the GDP, employment 70 per cent and in exports more than 65 per cent, agriculture alone at this point in time has the potential to bail out the country from the worst kind of economic whirlpool resulted from a variety of perpetual inefficiencies, cheat; bluffing and the present culture of let-loose and dishonesty.

Agriculture if duly attended to can do miracles for Bangladesh's economy by application of latest technologies developed within and outside Bangladesh as a result of concerted efforts of scientists and researchers in its various sub-sectors. Crops sector of agriculture, for example, continuously needs new varieties of better plants bestowed with qualities like dwarf sizing, consuming less nutrients, early maturity, disease resistance and higher yields, etc. Self-reliance, rather export-potential can help rescue Bangladesh economy from a huge foreign exchange expenditure and instead earn precious foreign exchange, badly needed by the country to bolster the level of present reserves and also support the fragile BOP position. The agro-ecological zones of Bangladesh have the right kind of potential to produce almost all kinds of cereals, fruits, vegetables, oilseeds, tea, fodder and even spices for local consumption as well as exports. We have educated and technically trained manpower in agriculture research and other relevant sectors to convert our dreams into realities in various fields of agriculture.

Livestock sector of Bangladesh is yet another potential area of our agricultural sector which is annually contributing more than 9 per cent to our GDP. Its full potential has not been tapped as an independent and full-fledged sector like crops sector but it has been treated as a subsidiary activity of crops sector whereas it can greatly contribute to the economy if proper attention is focussed on it.

We have apex research institution/ council focusing on crop sector and introducing a number of crop varieties in close collaboration with national and international agri-research institutions. In the animal science sector, livestock reproduction capacity needs to be increased from 1 to 3 offsprings through embryo transfer technology. Now the goat and cow pregnancy rate is minimal. Then the artificial insemination is to be intensified for the milk production at least threefolds which would contribute additional amount to economy. However, it is not known if the hydropericardium vaccine production technology has been transferred to private sector. Losses in its absence are enormous.

It is also not known if our research centres have developed, designed and modified a variety of agri-machinery. This however, calls for tech-transfer.

Anyway, productivity enhancement programmes are needed to be introduced or re-introduced in a big way in all the agro- economical zones of the country with a well-organised coordinating effort at the highest level. Modern tech like tissue culture, biotechnology and genetic engineering sprinkler and raingun irrigation, bio-fertiliser, improved soil and fertiliser application practices based on latest research have to be transferred on mass scale and to ensure supply of inputs with their easy and on-time availability; specially reduced electricity tariffs for tubewells (with treadle pumps, if possible) like in the neighbouring countries must be ensured. Similarly, long term arrangements are needed to be made for procurement of a variety of agri-produce from the farmers at reasonable prices along with their appropriate storage and export to international markets. It would be in the fitness of things if a separate department/ section is established for export of surplus agricultural commodities at M/O Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) to help earn precious forex and boost up the present depressed economy and, of course, to ensure sustained prosperity of the farmers.

Research has a proven role in delivering the goods. According to international standards studies research can yield dividends ranging from 50-700 per cent. However, funding level for agricultural research has been dismal contrary to national recommendations/criteria over the past 30 years. This deficiency is needed to be overcome since the agriculture sector cannot get a boost without continuous support of agricultural research - currently starved of funding (as certain reports suggest)

Huge investments made in various non-agricultural or urban sectors have hardly yielded tangible results. The tendency at the national levels to invest rural savings in the urban business concerns has miserably failed and resulted in most of the cases in actual or 'engineered' defaults. Therefore rural economy has badly suffered on two accounts: (i) It was not given its due share in investment/loans at the national level, (ii) Savings generated/ collected from rural areas/economy were hugely invested inurban areas/economy. The second option/endeavour by the planners has failed like the first one. It is now late to reverse the trend.

Rural savings should be re-invested in rural areas. Rural Bangladesh which holds the promise to rescue the country from the present economic turmoil is still suffering at the hands of same policies continuing over the past 30 years or so. Agrarian economy equipped with suitable technological as well as investment packages must now be given a chance to play its own due role to make Bangladesh a viable, vibrant and prosperous country as it still has the potential to do miracles but has not been given a fair chance so far to prove its capabilities.

Source: The New Nation, 21 May 2000