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The government is going to determine strategies for best use of cultivable fallow land, especially in seven coastal districts and Sylhet region, to increase production following shortage of food and high prices.

According to Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council, the country is losing 80,000 to 1 lakh hectares of arable land every year due to urbanisation and industrialisation.

Currently, 82.9 lakh hectares of land is cultivated, while 3.23 lakh hectares of arable land lays fallow.

On the other hand, only 10.27 lakh hectares of land produces three crops annually, 41.34 lakh hectares produces two crops and 28.73 lakh hectares produces only one crop a year.

Bangladesh is to import around six to ten lakh tonnes of rice, 15 lakh tonnes of wheat and good amounts of pulse, oil and fruits every year.

Agriculturists say good usage of cultivable land will not only meet the domestic demands but also lead to food surplus.

"We're trying to increase crop intensity… turning one-crop land into two-crop land and two-crop land into more," Agriculture Adviser Dr CS Karim told The Daily Star.

"We hope crops will grow round the year on the cultivable land," he said, adding that this is crucial for food security of the country.

It is a long-term process, but whatever technologies are available should be taken to farmers to make an enabling environment so that they are encouraged to cultivate, he added.

Asked if the government has any plan to give incentives to farmers, he said price of crops is the main incentive. The government will try to ensure it, CS Karim noted.

Agriculture officials said a 12-member team headed by Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council (BARC) Executive Chairman Dr Abdur Razzak has already conducted a study on fallow land for coastal districts of Barguna, Patuakhali, Bagerhat, Bhola, Pirozpur, Jhalakathi and Barisal and prepared a plan of action.

Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) has also prepared a paper identifying the unused land in Munshiganj, which will be reviewed by BARC for plan of action.

The BARC will gradually prepare such plans for other regions like Sylhet where a good amount of cultivable land remains unused, officials say.

The plan of action says of the 9.62 lakh hectares of cultivable land in the seven coastal districts, 5.13 lakh hectares or 53 percent land remains fallow during Kharif-1 (April-June) season, 57,290 hectares or 6 percent during Kharif-2 (July-September) season and 3.31 lakh hectares or 34 percent remain unused during Robi (December-March) season.

The committee has identified waterlogging during Aman harvesting from mid-December to mid-January, inundation of fields during April-June, lack of sweet water for irrigation and absentee landlords as reasons for vast fallow land in the region.

For remedies, the committee recommends production of high yielding varieties that requires short period of time, measures for irrigation, creating sweet water reservoirs, establishing dykes to check flooding for some particular period.

It also recommends a study to check feasibility of cultivation of crops and fruits that fit with the climate and soil of that region, strengthen the supply and market chain, train the farmers and entrepreneurs for homestead gardening and even arrangement of agriculture loan to farmers.

Besides such problems, agriculturists say there is a lack of awareness among farmers on homestead gardening in the rural areas that leads to their dependence on buying vegetables and fruits from markets.

"Giving them incentives will boost production of vegetables and fruits," an agriculturist at BARC said.

He said more contract farming could be encouraged in cases where landowners live abroad leaving their land fallow.

Centre for Policy Dialogue Research Director Dr Uttam Kumar Deb said making available to farmers irrigation, fertilisers, seeds and technologies suitable to weather and soil with support from the government and NGOs will have a positive impact on food production and price.

In cases of absentee landlords, contract farming can be a good option, but authorities should make sure that the rules and regulations remain viable for both contractors and farmers, he said.

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