Victory Day Special
An Awakened Land
Greenery is the first song of self-belief in a riverine country, where fertile land inspires people to dream to become successful - Bangladesh is the name of that promising land. Today, I'll tell you the story of this country of ample resources which will step into its 42nd year of liberation tomorrow on the glorious victory day. Bangladesh- an independent country, where there is crop diversity, culture, and rural knots so firm that bind the 160 million people together and the story of the farmers, farming sector which led the nation from front all these forty-two years.
Population is persistently rising so is the anxiety over food security. From this perspective, policy level of the government along with many think-tanks of Bangladesh concentrated more on agricultural production. Due to many reasons, educated elite-groups and the aware-mass of the society and predominantly media became more active.
I travel to villages and talk with the grassroot people almost every day. Most of the rural markets seem to be alive all the time. Even the remotest rural stores have many things to sell. People are trading restlessly. Seeing all these signs, we can presume people's ability of buying has increased. With it, their livelihood status and demands have altered revolutionarily. People are not only eating barely and working over arable fields, but a big change took shape in these people's daily lifestyles. Even at the rural parts beyond the boundary of mainstream agriculture, people have been involved with small industries and diverse earning opportunities alongside doing different kinds of businesses. Likewise, there are scores of examples where I have seen a farmer doing farming in the morning and doing business during afternoon. It's a change, a big change that Bangladesh has experienced.
Farmers are doing business of binding products (selling off the non-putrid stuffs of the storage); having small investment, son of a farmer is buying agro-products from local farmers and selling it to larger markets. Through these innovative initiatives, the financial balance at the lower-middle-class or ultra poor families, has entirely taken a new turn. Even the perspective of commercial agriculture has changed. Farmers just don't want to go for farming without properly calculating profit; rather, they have become more aware in investing for ultimately fetching a big profit. They're specially focused on doing profitable seasonal fruits and crops; their knowledge has become even sharper than the past in receiving timely agricultural inputs and about getting right price for their produce. On the contrary, government only counts the cereal crops as food and emphasizing more over it, time and again. Government is not concentrating over the transformed agriculture sector and the food diversities. Employment, earning and ability to earn at the rural level are still being neglected.
Even in the fourth consecutive budget announcements of the present government, cereal crops have remained at the top like the previous two years. Meanwhile, agriculture has moved onward quite extensively. Today, farmers have greater demands for quality seeds, advanced research and technology and also agricultural machineries. Whereas, we don't have our considerable spectacle over these spots. Everyday, arable lands decrease and population is rising simultaneously. To meet up the food demand for the booming population is not the end of the story. Meeting up their protein demand and sorting out a balance to ensure them day to day facilities is another side of the coin, which needs thoughtful contemplation. If we converse on the agricultural research, we need to emphasize more on the advanced research, which is now being implemented around the world.
In these forty-two years of liberation, the most number of developed women come from the rural locality- either from farming or garments sector. Only 2.9% of the total population is termed as 'rich' who are in fact becoming rich to richer to richest. There is the issue of middle class farmers who can barely demand for their rights. In this way, terms like 'ultra poor' or 'extreme poor' have been invented, whereas we should have tried our level best to upgrade these people, recognizing their indigenous accomplishments, who are working against many odds like climate change and other barriers. Many have become landless and they are rushing to the capital city, whereas we couldn't make a proper plan with meaningful investment so that the root could stay at the roots and work for the actual sustainability of the nation.
I talked with Dr. Shamsul Alam, Member of the General Economics Division of the Planning Commission regarding the country's development so far, particularly at the farming sector. According to him, poverty has decreased however there are many stories of 'hidden' poverty which are yet to be addressed.
However, Bangladesh already has technologies which can reduce the urea implementation. We also have proven and effective technologies like granular urea and leaf colour chart. Using these two, it's pretty easy to lower down the usage of urea to half that's being used now. But as the technologies didn't see broader extension, still farmers are perplexed with the price hike of this essential fertilizer.
Likewise, AWD (Alternate Wetting and Drying) is a five-year old proven technology on arable fields, which can reduce the usage of water over paddy lands hugely and can contribute to increased production. Due to mysterious reasons, the technologies were not sent to the large farmers' community around Bangladesh. When we know technology is the key to agricultural success, then how could we actually ensure food security, barricading a technology? Indeed, the calculation so far stands our farmers are producing 3.25 crore Mt.tons of rice which has made Bangladesh a country, almost food sufficient. But, the equation could have been changed, if there were right penetration of policies.
I want to bring another important matter into this critique and that's about the change in our food habit which has never been thought before. According to General Economics Division of Planning Commission of Bangladesh, the intake less than 2,221 kilocalorie makes a man poor/impoverished. And, one who goes below 1805 kilocalories will certainly become ultra poor, but it should at least be 1805 kilocalories. And, according to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey, 2010, 30% people (4 crore) are in fact 'poor'.
What is more, people's food diversity has increased everyday. Today, people eat more vegetables and fruits with rice, than the past, production of which have increased as well. Everyone knows, apart from the production of major crops, farmers are extensively producing different fruits and vegetables. These diverse productions have made many farmer-families financially stable and also changed their food items, the opportunity they never had, a few years back.
Government doesn't have this record of a very hopeful perspective. Farmers are not getting any facilities over growing high-value fruits and crops and that is very frustrating. Farmers solely take all the risks and take loans from others to do his diverse farming. Seeing farmers' success, local agricultural officers of the agriculture department are glad, but when it's all about providing assistance, they just back off. The main reason behind this is the officers working at the agriculture department don't know much about the high-value crops. They do not have advanced training or even the knowledge on advanced technologies.
I would notify these issues as the biggest challenges of Bangladeshi agriculture. The way agriculture is advancing globally, we feel the mild breeze of that, however, farmers are still pushed back at the wall. Before five or ten years, the reality was all the same. Government has announced their aim to achieve self-sufficiency in food by the year 2013. These messages really inspire us, still with a poking question that how much realistic is this ambition to achieve self-sufficiency, only depending on cereal crops! We need to ensure protein, high-value crops, farmers' profit, quality seed and advanced technology and land usage policies.
Arable lands are decreasing. For many years, agriculture sector has introduced vertical expansion method of cultivation. During the last three years, though there were many impediments, but with the intense effort from the government and through the easy-availability of agricultural inputs, farmers have passed the paddy-seasons quite successfully with great produce. But, this success will not just hold our smiles. Because, there are many risks which drags our food production to the path of many unknown uncertainties. Besides, frustration is rising at the sectors which could strengthen the food production e.g. fisheries, poultry and dairy sectors.
For the last few years, farmers have kept on requesting the government for subsidies, insurance and farm-friendly initiatives. But like the previous year, they have become frustrated once again. It's almost impossible to achieve self-sufficiency in food without giving proper significance on the other farming sectors- that is invest and subsidize the sectors meaningfully and keep exploring greater opportunities.
If you look at the southern region, there are some key necessaries to be materialized. Fallow land has to be converted into farming lands. Regions which stay waterlogged for around eight months a year, these areas could be ideal for private investments. Hydroponic agriculture could also start in the south. Cultivation and production infrastructure in the region could be water-based. Over single cropland, diverse cropping has to come in. Farmers should be provided quality saline tolerant seeds for different crops, some of which are already underway. Adequate multi-faceted cyclone centres should be built.
Last but not the least, I would firmly say that the heart of our success is rooted in self confidence and innovation. We discovered the surest way to food security: growing our food, raising our livestock, catching our fish – in our own backyards. Our farmers have learned the value of growing their own food. Our women farmers have understand the importance of their role to a food-secure family, and are developing stronger voices in their homes, and in the economy. We have learned that when one person is hungry, it hurts the security of many. And we have learned that when a child is educated, an entire generation flourishes.
The people of this land have awakened.
I would like to extend my very well wishes to all the farmers of Bangladesh who helped the country progress this far…these forty-two years.
Photography by Srabon Reza
(R) thedailystar.net 2012