Although the coronavirus outbreak in Bangladesh has halted almost all economic activities and disrupted the supply chain, the agriculture sector continued playing a key role in saving the lives and livelihoods of people.
Agriculture contributes 14.74 percent to the country’s GDP and provides employment to about 41 percent of the labour force, according to the Labour Force Survey 2015-16.
Economists have urged the government to maintain the supply chain and resolve bilateral problems to grab global markets. Businesspeople were urged to diversify agro- processing products.
Agriculture was given the second-highest priority in the proposed budget with an allocation of Tk 22,489 crore, up by Tk 1,005 crore from last year’s.
Latest data from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) show that the country’s export performance for July-May 2019-20 was $780.16 million, which was $854.46 million in the previous fiscal. The items include vegetables, tea, tobacco, flowers and foliage, fruits, spices, dry food and others.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said agriculture is now the only sector that helps the country’s people to survive in this COVID-19 situation.
“Amid the coronavirus fallout, it’s our time for survival. So, we must put emphasis on the sector for lives and livelihoods. Huge people have lost jobs and are opting for agriculture. This could create pressure on the sector.
The economist said the supply chain of agro products has to be maintained properly.
“Districts agriculture officers should monitor properly to maintain good supply chain. We have to ensure health protection of the farmers, too. The government should underscore the shipment of imported fertiliser and other equipment so that farmers don’t suffer in the next monsoon,” she added.
Dr Nazneen said many migrants have returned home. They are also creating pressure on the local labour market. “Stimulus packages should be distributed properly and the loan system should be accelerated more for farmers,” she said.
Kamruzzaman Kamal, Marketing Director at PRAN-RFL Group, said they are getting a good response from different countries for their agro-processing products.
“A total of 143 countries, including the USA, the UK, Italy, some African nations, Australia and Middle East countries are purchasing our products. The demand for agro-processing products is increasing in the global market. Bangladesh can catch the market with its diversified products,” he said.
Kamruzzaman said the government can resolve bilateral problems to grab more markets. “If the agriculture sector is further flourished, then farmers will be more benefited,” he added.
Planning Minister MA Mannan has described agriculture as the country’s “new hero”. “The sector stood beside us in our crisis moment. The world has changed vastly for reasons, including COVID-19. Now, we have to be salesmen in the global market to overcome the existing economic situation,” the minister said.
He said the government has prioritised agriculture in the proposed budget to further develop the sector.
“To boost food production, we'll lay emphasis on farm mechanisation, incentives for irrigation and seeds, and continue to provide subsidies on fertilisers,” Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal recently said.
He said ensuring food and nutrition security, and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers, farm labourers and other stakeholders are the main challenges now for the country.
Mentioning that the Prime Minister has given directives to ensure that not even an inch of land is left without farming, he said the Ministry of Agriculture and its departments will take necessary steps to ward off any possibility of food scarcity in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque has said the government will extend support in producing and processing of non-traditional crops, including cashew nut, coffee and dragon fruits.
“Alongside traditional crops, it’ll have to increase cultivation, production and processing of different non-traditional crops including cashew nut, coffee and dragon fruit. Farmers will get all-out cooperation,” he said.
Dr Razzaque said it is possible to cultivate different crops, including cashew nut and coffee in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and many northern districts. Besides, the demand and prices of crops are very high in the international market.
“So, it’ll have to enhance cultivation and processing of these crops,” he said.
He said there is no so much scope for expanding cultivable lands rather the arable land is declining day by day. So, it’ll have to produce crops in the same land again and again as well as bringing diversity in crops, he added.
“The government is now giving much more importance to commercialisation and mechanisation of agriculture. The main objective of the government is to make agriculture profitable for the farmers,” said the minister stressing the need for new technology and innovation of new variety of crops as well as increasing production of saline-tolerant rice in coastal areas.
He also asked his ministry officials to work out big projects in the agriculture sector to face the fallout of Covid-19.