Bangladesh had its glorious start, just after the independence, with the crop-agriculture (hereafter agriculture) as per the instruction “Grow More Food” from the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Since then, the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has been playing the major role in advancing the country towards sustainable food security. Of course, the assistance of BADC, BARC, BARI, BRRI, BJRI, BSRI and other relevant organisations are duly acknowledged. DAE provides the extension services to the farmer to increase the production of crop and the productivity of soil through the integration of a bunch of approaches like: understanding the location specific problem, sharing traditional and updated knowledge, providing training to the farmers and grassroots level extension workers and agents, paying regular visit to fields, empowering women folks, maintenance of linkage with research institutes, universities, farmers and farmer groups, NGO partners, national and international organisations etc. The modern agricultural extension approaches are not only based on the increased farm production and productivity but also the profitability. That is why maintenance of linkage with the agriculture market nationally and internationally is an issue. Agriculture is considered as one of the important components of environment. So, the environmental issue is a growing concern also to DAE nowadays.
The Department of Agricultural was established in 1870 by the colonial government of India. Since then the department has experienced a lot of transformations to get its present make up. In the British regime, the approach was top-down where the target was fixed from the top. The service was almost commodity based concentrated around large farmers and plantation managers. During the Pakistan era, some attention was paid to the small farmers. Unified bottom-up approaches were initiated after the independence during the 1970s and 80s. Training and Visit (T&V) system was introduced. The World Bank was behind this approach. Different allied organisations were brought under the single national organisations, i.e. DAE. After the drying up of World Bank fund T&V system had to discontinue. However, bottom-up extension approach is still active and livelier than that of the previous. In this approach more decentralisation in planning activities, increased participatory approach, sustainability and equity concerns are incorporated. The National Agriculture Extension Policy (NAEP) was prepared in 1996 and updated in 2012. The mission of NAEP is to provide efficient and effective decentralised demand responsive extension service to all categories of farmers, producers and small and medium entrepreneur in agriculture through farmer groups and their federations at the local different administrative levels to optimise their resource use in order to promote sustainable agricultural, agri-business and socio-economic development.
The involvement of different GO, NGO, private entrepreneurs and autonomous bodies with the agricultural extension activities are quite encouraging nowadays. After all, the ultimate target is a healthy economy. So, it is expected that the active cooperation and participation of all these organisations would ensure the productivity and capability of the farmer in the near future. The integration of technology, farmers toil and the devoted services of the extension personnel have helped to increase agricultural production several times compared to that of the 1970s. The farmers by this time have become more efficient to encounter the challenges ahead of them. In the meantime, their demand has increased to a great extent. To provide better services DAE has experienced another transformation (restructuring) in 2014. Now the total human resource is 26,042. One of the most significant resources is the Sub Assistant Agricultural Officer (SAAO). They (14,032) are devoted to working with the farmers at the grassroots level. The Director-General, the supreme authority of the department, is to administer one of the biggest sectors of the country, of course under the care of the Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). There are eight wings under the direct command of the Director General, like Administration and Finance, Horticulture, Training, Crops, Field, Plant Protection, Plant Quarantine and Planning, Project Implementation & ICT under the control of the respective directors. The DAE- net-work is spread out from the capital to the block (every union consists of three blocks) level through the downward hierarchy.
DAE has a lot of success. The consistently hungry country since the British invasion has achieved a tremendous success in the elimination of hunger just a few years back. As per global hungry index-2015 of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the recent achievement since 1990 is twice faster than the previous years. The coverage under rice has been reduced by 18% from 1971 to till today. In contrast, the total production has increased by three and a half folds. Another important crop potato area has been increased by 5.5 fold and the production by 10.9 folds since the independence. Over the same span of time, wheat production has increased by 12.25%. The increased production of maize is outstandingly amazing (757%). The coverage of jute is limited to 25% area of the cultivable land whereas the production increase is only 15% over these years. Though not amazing, jute is getting back its glorious position again. Fruit production has increased by 10% from 2000 to 2010. As per the recent report, there is a significant improvement in the field of pesticide management also. The organic agriculture and IPM (Integrated Pest Management) as advised by the DAE personnel have obviously reduced the import of insecticide. It is estimated that import of pesticides has reduced to one-third. As per WB (World Bank) the TFP (total factor productivity) was the highest (2.7%) in Bangladesh over the period of 1995-2015 among the south and south Asian countries (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines and Vietnam). According to the World Bank report in 2013, there is a visible transformation in the rural economy also. The total rural family income of BDT 61,330 thousand crores in 2000 increased to BDT 91,356 thousand in 2010, a significant increase over that specific period. A recent estimate of the World Bank says that 87% of the rural family have to depend on the income mostly from the agricultural source. The income increase of 10% in agriculture sector directly helps to increase 6% income in the non-agriculture sector. The increase of the employment opportunity from 2000-2010 was 21.6%. The total employment of 18,700,000 in 2000 increased to 22,700,000 in 2010. The World Bank also reported that agriculture generated 39.6% of employment opportunity in the rural area.
There is nothing to be complacent with these achievements. Still, there are a lot of challenges. The increasing population, climate adversary, fragile environment and degradation of natural resources are the prime challenges to satisfy the nation. In addition to these, the assurance of safe and nutritious food, poverty alleviation, the creation of employment opportunity in agriculture both for men and women etc. are also on the priority list. With time, the challenges are getting more and more complex. Anyway, the DAE is in progress to encounter some of the challenges mentioned below.
Translating climate-smart technology: Climate change is an issue of the day. The phenomenon has a direct impact on production and adoption of crops. DAE is getting trained with climate-smart technologies from the research institutes and translating the knowledge to the farmers of the target area. Many of the programmes are active in the fragile environments.
Transformation of agricultural land to the non-agricultural sector: The land resource of the country is divided into agricultural land and non-agricultural land. The agricultural land is in a declining trend from 91.83% in 1976 to 83.53% in 2010. A total of 565,370 hectares of agricultural land has decreased over the period 1976-2010. According to SRDI, the amount of land loss from agriculture sector per year is 68,700 hectare (0.724% per year). This is an alarming situation in a country where land is the prime limiting factor of agriculture. DAE alone has a little to do with this. Relevant authorities should come forward right now to stop the process.
Nutrition of increasing population from decreasing land: The rate of population increase in Bangladesh is 1.37%. So we have to feed around 2,200,000 new faces every year. The rate of the decrease of land has already been mentioned. So, the planning should be done accordingly so that we could feed the millions from the limited sources.
Transforming saline belt into granary: The southern belt of the country have 27% of the total land; one-third of the total arable land. As per SRDI, the salinity affected land of 833,000 hectares increased to 1,056,000 hectares in 2009. The salinity is getting inward of the country. As the peak of the salinity coincides with the dry season (February to May) there is also the scarcity of water to cultivate irrigated rice in most of the areas. More so, the saline water is quite unfit for irrigation. So the selection of appropriate saline tolerant crop and crop rotation, the introduction of cultural management practices to mitigate the salinity or to escape the salinity, introduction Aus rice in some locations, getting the huge fellow land under cultivation in rabi season is the options to make the saline belt granary of the South. DAE has different projects and programmes active in the area.
Fertility of agricultural land: Due to intensive use of arable land, the fertility of the soil is at stake now. As per Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI) 42% of the cultivable land has its organic matter content in the very low to low range. A huge percentage of total land under cultivation has been suffering from significant shortage (very low to low range) of phosphorous, potassium, sulpher, zinc, boron, calcium and magnesium are presented below in the table 1.
The acidity of the cultivated land is increasing gradually except the Gangetic alluvium of the country. It has already been identified that around 3,958,000 ha (27% of the total cultivated land) is under severe acidity problem prone to heavy metal contamination. So it is the high time to get ready to encounter this problem
Emphasis on use of surface water to irrigate cropland: We have 10.75 Deep Tube Well (DTW)/ Shallow TW per square kilometre to exploit underground water for growing crops. The use of water for agricultural purposes is very significant to create a severe scarcity in the near future. The total amount of underground water used in the country is roughly around 53 billion cubic meters. A recent data says 94% of the groundwater uplifted every year is recharged. The remaining 6% is a yearly deficit to keep the groundwater level vacant. The cumulative impact of this deficit is the cause of the gradual depletion of groundwater. This is a serious concern to the scientists. That is why DAE is in progress to change the traditional cropping pattern and following the efficient use of water management techniques. For example, 1500-2000 litre water is enough to grow a good rice crop. Instead, 4000-5000 litre water is used generally. DAE is promoting water-efficient rice varieties, crops and technologies across the country. Therefore, the organisation has its active involvement of using efficient water management techniques.
Commercialisation of agriculture: An effort to the transformation of agriculture from its subsistence level to the commercial level is in progress in every developing country of the world. Accordingly, most of the farmers in the country have a tendency to nourish a commercial attitude within them. A silent competition is seen among the production system of the farmers. The modern technologies like seed, agronomic practices, agricultural appliances etc. are the indispensable parts of commercial agriculture. The commercialisation process in agriculture is extended from field to overseas market. Realising this, the DAE has emphasised its activities on value addition, value chain, and supply chain in association with the Department of Agricultural Marketing. So, DAE has the other programmes like the production of safe food, adoption of good agricultural practices etc. Thus, in the rural areas, the agriculture sector is still playing the significant role in the creation of employment opportunity.
In fact, the NAEP is already in its active stage to cope with all these challenges through the pillars mentioned below.
a. Provision of coordinated and integrated extension services.
b. Support to farmers’ groups and their federation
c. Implementation of realistic bottom-up extension services
d. Support to develop agri-business and market linkage
e. Strengthening e-agriculture
f. Strengthening research-extension linkage
g. Strengthening quality seed
h. Advocacy and policy guidance
i. Disaster management and adoption to climate change
j. Mainstreaming of women agriculture
k. The thrust of farm mechanisation
l. Strengthening Public-Private-Partnership
m. Thrust green farming
n. Credit and insurance
o. Private sector development etc.
In DAE System Research, Education and Extension are linked to each other just as the peaks of an equilateral triangle where education does not have any boundary. Researchers are liable to develop improved varieties and technologies. But it is the extension agents who carry the research results to the farmer and equip them with the updated knowledge to materialise the research findings. So everybody should be thankful to other.
[Acknowledgement: DAE colleagues and their publications. Special thanks to Dr Abu WaliRaghib Hassan, Director, Project Implementation & ICT wing, DAE]
The writer is the Director General (Retired), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur.