Farmers’ Voice in Budget
National Budget is at our doorsteps and will be announced on 7th of June, 2012. Since 2005, Hridoye Mati O Manush has organized pre-budget dialogue sessions between farmers and policymakers, known as, 'Farmers' Voice in Budget' (Krishi Budget Krishoker Budget), at the remote villages of Bangladesh. This initiative is a sensible, effective and a revolutionary one which enables marginal farmers to talk on their issues, demands, needs in front of the top policymakers, the ministers of the nation and representatives of civil society. The farmers' voices are many a times reflected in the national budget and the government is also getting benefitted from the real facts and information they're gathering from field level. So far until the fiscal year 2012-213, more than a hundred thousand farmers from over thirty districts joined 'Farmers' Voice in Budget' and raised their voice on a platform which no one gave them before.
Nothing happens by chance; at least the effective initiatives need time to shape, to take a meaningful form. It took me a long time to motivate marginal farmers and the activities started since the BTV days during the 80s. Now, gradually, the work has become more constructive, more objective based and more focused towards the real needs of farmers, where policy matters most. Hridoye Mati O Manush is more focused towards the policies which have greater impacts on the farming community of Bangladesh.
While shooting Hridoye Mati O Manush, I felt the need to ask a simple farmer whether or not he really understood what 'budge' means and the significance of farming sector in the budget announcement. 'Probably my father knows about it', replied the farmer. “We have neither seen nor eaten it”, replied another farmer. I was shocked and surprised to learn farmers' basic approaches, but came back to reality thinking how they would ever know about it! Because, no one ever asked them or went near them to tell what a budget really is.
In a country that is ruled by its agriculture sector, it was time to take a positive measure, which should be more than a television show. It was time to awaken the farmers for their needs, demands, problems and prospects. Hridoye Mati O Manush started its pre-budget interactive dialogue session of 'Farmers' Voice in Budget' (Krishi Budget, Krishoker Budget), the programme which completed its 8th season recently and already submitted 55 recommendations (Demands of farmers they expect to see materialized in the upcoming budget) on behalf of the farmers to the honourable Finance Minister, Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith ahead of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.
You have to consider that feeding the world's population, which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, is arguably the most important challenge facing policymakers of the world. As you know, Bangladesh is already the most vulnerable country to natural disasters and a place where population increased on a daily basis, the policymakers and the people of Bangladesh have to leave a big space for the farmers so that they can relax and produce food for the nation. Naturally, the nation in return has to ensure a better place and facilities in the budget so that they can develop more.
National budget is something which should be characterized by 'good governance'. I also believe Farmers' Voice in Budget is kind of a 'need assessment' venture where we can learn through the demands of farmers. And, yes, many issues are well undertaken by the government and have been materialized. During last year's budget announcement, honourable Finance Minister, Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith also credited Channel i for arranging field level meetings between farmers and policymakers.
In many events of FVB (Farmers' Voice in Budget) farmers repeatedly mentioned their identity card, bank accounts and many other issues which were later materialized in the budget and I personally thank the government for taking these issues into consideration. However there are some key factors, discussed during this year's six events in six different districts where more than twenty-five thousand farmers were gathered. Crop insurance, adulterated seed, ensuring fair price, price hike of agricultural inputs, poor storage facility, uninterrupted electricity, poultry and fisheries insurance and many other rational issues were put in front of the ministers and civil society representatives. Crop insurance to me is a must for Bangladesh at the moment and let me explain why.
If we look at our neighbouring country India, they have had quite the advancements in crop insurance. In India, currently three types of Agriculture Insurance mechanisms are available: Multi-peril Area yield insurance scheme, known as National Agriculture Insurance Scheme - NAIS, Index Based Weather Insurance scheme, known as Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme and Hybrid Insurance mechanism with preliminary payment based on weather parameters but final payout dependent upon yield calculated through crop cutting experiments, known as Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme. Of what I could understand with my interactions with the farmers in Bangladesh, the need is to provide credit-backed crop insurance mechanism that is efficient, speedy and objective in claims settlement. The best way to do it would be to resort to expeditious and objective insurance mechanisms like Weather Based Crop Insurance with focus on addressing critical risks of the farmers. The need is to have a simple solution that addresses major risk segments of the farmers rather than trying to cover all risks in a very inefficient manner. Currently, the government should look on the agricultural sub-sectors like poultry, fisheries and also the high value crops. Because one bad swing of weather or outbreak of disease can take away everything from the farmers.
Farmers are not well informed and to fill the gap the government took the initiative of UISC (Union Information Service Centre). I congratulate this initiative of the government which is also the vital attribute of a 'Digital Bangladesh'. During the field sessions of FVB, I also asked farmers if they actually know about UISCs. Only a few raised hands and those who raised hands had many complains- that they don't get the concerned officer at the centres and many a times they don't get the right information. For example, government is subsidizing an amount of Tk. 600 on each sack of urea fertilizer but farmers don't even know it. UISCs should be used more actively with right people and facility because it's really a vital tool of the state. But at the same time, farmers should be more aware about such initiatives taken by the government.
I believe the Agriculture Minister should have a platform, maybe on another day, to announce the farm budget individually to mark the importance of farming sector in Bangladesh. Farmers' contribution to the economy is way higher than any other sector and they should be honoured and taken into notice. It's a growing practice that we see in other countries as well, why not in Bangladesh?
This year, we organized pre-budget discussions in Comilla, Jessore, Cox's Bazaar, Mymensingh, Manikganj and Tangail, where 25,000 farmers took part and farmers helped me to make 55 recommendations, comprising 18 for agriculture, 14 for poultry, 12 for fisheries and 11 for livestock and dairy industries.
Farmers want to buy the agricultural inputs at a price under their capacity. The research and extension system has to be enriched with new knowledge and technology. There has not been any budgetary allocation to increase crop diversification, better market access for new varieties and crops, develop storage and processing facilities which would also ensure value addition.
Subsidies are an investment of the state because the state is getting better crop due to this investment. If you sincerely look into the matter you would find it as an investment towards the farming sector and if you look for the account how much they have produced in return, it'll take time to calculate farmers' efforts. And only then, we can term it as 'government's investment' instead of subsidy.
As from the pre-budget discussions, what I have heard is farmers rarely get extension officers. It's also quite a difficult thing for one extension officer to look after 1,200 farm-households alone. In this regard, I would suggest government to ensure yard meetings where hundreds of male and female farmers so that they can join together to get tips on agriculture. BADC should be able to provide 50% seed as they have a great capacity but with the current human resource they will just have to go for it.
Middlemen take away the fruits though they are not real farmers who are the real contributors to the economy. Bangladesh should introduce commodity exchange in Bangladesh. There have been investments for infrastructural developments but rarely have we seen investments for storage facility and a better market platform where farmers can directly sell their produce. Farmers didn't demand for subsidies during our pre-budget campaigns across the country. They only want fair prices for their produce, a profit of only 10% in return.
Farmers' Voice in Budget is a playing a leading role in empowering farmers across the country, in boosting them up towards producing more and to ensure food security against the severe weather patterns and great barriers like climate change ahead of time. Above all, budget is all but good governance. Government has to ensure that they're actually supporting the real farmers, not those people who are taking whatever the farmers produce.
I along with the farmers of Bangladesh look forward to a productive budget which would really assist and stand beside the golden peasants of Bangladesh.