A sweet year for agriculture
With some small huts on both sides, the mud walkway enters into a ripening paddy field that makes a landscape of a vast golden carpet with irregular green spots.
The colourful fabric ends with greenery three-four kilometres down the horizon.
Nearby, a small river sits quiet and its water mirrors the flying white clouds, the standing paddy field.
The environment is silent. No human movement is seen as farmers have already returned home for a break. The crops’ mates — winter birds, kingfisher and heron — fly around for a prey.
It was the scene of a paddy field on the backyards of a village in Bagerhat district in late November last year.
Now the fresh-grown rice is on the way to farmers’ yards, mills, markets and finally to the kitchens of Bangladeshis, who take rice as staple food.
And farmers are celebrating the new rice that offers them a cushion as well as a good price incentive.
The hard work and investment the growers devoted in the fields pay off as rice prices are on the rise in the last one year, influenced by factors such as increase in demand for population growth, government procurement price and soaring prices of grains on the global market.
The price of coarse rice, now as low as Tk 35 per kilogram in the city, offers surplus growers a bounty. At the same time, it gives small growers and tenants, who have harvested a good crop, a cushion for a certain period.
The farmers, especially rice producers, are likely to enjoy the benefit of high prices in the next couple of months until a prospect of good harvest of boro appears on the horizon.
Growers now pass busy days to prepare the boro seedbeds, the biggest rice crop, hoping for another good year.
“The 2010 has been a better year for us as a whole in terms of rice price, production and input supply,” said ASM Sishnabi Mandal, a farmer in Dinajpur, with a happy voice over phone.
“Input such as fertiliser was available and production was fine due to favourable weather,” said Mandal who expects to bag 20 percent higher margin than a year earlier.
In 2010, the crop sector register-ed a rise in production, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Although questions on the validity of rice output estimate were raised by some quarters, the statistical agency found an increment in aman rice and boro crop production in 2009 and 2010 at 1.22 crore tonnes and 1.80 crore tonnes respectively.
Farmers received high prices for their produce such as jute, onion and most vegetables, except for losses in the wake of price fall amid an output glut of potato.
Shohel Khandoker, a medium farmer at Rangpur, said he had counted huge losses due to slump in potato prices. “But it is good that prices of rice are higher,” he said. “Overall, it was a good year for us.”
Although soaring prices of food bite low and fixed income group, for Khandoker and his peers, a good price of agricultural produce becomes an incentive to continue investing to augment income.
This year, an increased income from farming has allowed majority of 1.47 crore farm households in rural areas to spend more and take more active part in accelerating the pace of domestic consumption for the economy, growing by over 5 percent a year.
These all took place at a time when the government maintained policy support to boost agriculture, especially crop sector, to ensure the country’s self-sufficiency.
In 2010, the government raised the procurement prices of paddy and rice, which influence the market price. It also substantially reduced prices of non-urea fertilisers — TSP, MoP and DAP.
“It was a major development for agriculture. It has encouraged balanced use of fertiliser needed to maintain soil health,” said M Asaduzzaman, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).
Along with reduced price and increased availability of fertiliser, small and marginal farmers got subsidy support for diesel-based irrigation.
At the same time, the government still is focusing on increased disbursement of agricultural loan and surface water irrigation.
Efforts were seen to introduce new rice seed varieties that are climate-tolerant.
The government released four new rice seeds varieties for aman season last year — submergence tolerant BR-51, BR-52 and anti-saline but short duration varieties: BR-53 and BR-54.
But efforts to ensure faster extension of the newly released seeds were not noteworthy, insiders said.
Analysts however say initiatives taken to boost crop sector will leave a positive impact in the long run.
An increased investment in research and extension as well as move to retain agriculture scientists are needed to face such challenges, as the climate changes start affecting agriculture.
“Investment in research and extension remains low. A substantial increase in the areas is very important to develop and expand stress tolerant seeds to fight against any change in climate,” said Asaduzzaman.
Wais Kabir, executive chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, said the year 2010 saw some ground preparations for developing the agriculture sector.
“What we saw that there were some attempts for overall development of agriculture. At the same time, the farm sector has passed through a tough scrutiny by the policymakers.”
“Tracking and monitoring are very important for agriculture. And an increase in surveillance will bring something good for the growers and the sector as a whole.”