Agri food system in Bangladesh is struggling with quality assurance in the total supply chain of both input and output ends. South Asian countries have adapted measures through different regulatory frameworks; however experiences of implementation of such instruments are mixed.
Reports on use of antibiotics is causing panic at the consumer level and affecting growing business. Recent involvement of youth in farming enterprises is increasing in agriculture and creating employment which needs to be encouraged through establishing Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).
With the increase in cropping intensity, the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides is increasing. Due to lack of knowledge, unscientific uses of such are causing concern. Environmental pollution is on the rise with the indiscriminate use of toxic pesticides. The number of pest control operators who are found to be suffering from various lung problems including cancer, body sores, scabies, etc. Although there is internationally recognised specific transportation, usage protocols and guidelines for the use of hazardous insecticides, they are almost never complied with and there is no user training so far known. According to one estimate, three hundred and fifty companies in the country maintain about fifty thousand dealers of pesticides or herbicides. According to another study, only one per cent of pesticide users in Bangladesh wear shoes on their feet, only two per cent wear gloves and three per cent wear glasses and exposed themselves with toxicity. One estimate says, there are about 29,000 retail fertilizer dealers across the country and BADC has about 5,000 fertilizer dealers.
Agricultural inputs are supplied by dealers and retailers of government and private companies at the grassroots level, these dealers and retailers are dwellers of the same vicinity and play important role in rural advisory service in the agricultural production system. Moreover, their presence in rural areas is visible round the clock and may act as para extension worker of the locality and potential reinforcer of public extension network. On the other hand, these dealers have no formal education in agricultural science and are unaware of effectiveness or efficacy of inputs they are selling. However, these dealers hired by the company are given a light idea about the inputs of the company. Moreover, they are naturally more interested in selling their own products. These dealers and vendors can be utilised as para extension workers by enhancing their skills and capacity and eventually accountability. This will expect to establish good governance of input management and give them opportunity to contribute more towards the development process of new generation agriculture with commercial in nature.
With these considerations in mind, there is a need to conduct training courses on agricultural input dealers across the country. In particular, measures need to be taken to make compulsory diploma courses as a prerequisite for registering dealership.
The experiences of the Central Government of India can be used in this regard. Diploma Course Certificate is required to take any agricultural input dealership in India. The National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare of India, has been conducting the program since 2003 on cost sharing basis with dealers. Considering its requirement to conduct business the dealers are interested to join under the guidance of MANAGE. The one-year training course called Diploma in Agricultural Extension Services for Input Dealers Services (DAESI) is conducted by experienced agriculturist in a total of 40 classroom sessions and 6 field trips on the 48-week weekend of the year. This part-time training is being conducted in collaboration with the state-level Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) and Agricultural Science Center (KVK) of the state. The contents of the course include seed production, plant nutrient, pest management, location specific cropping, safety measures, quality assurance, benefit, governance, regulatory framework etc. The diploma is given only to the successful dealers through evaluation process.
It is considered necessary to organise such training through regional agricultural research centers of Bangladesh and agricultural training institutes (ATI) in different districts. National Agricultural Training Academy (NATA), Gazipur can also lead this program. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), in collaboration with these agencies, can take long-term measures in this regard.
Likewise, food operators, mostly in the small and medium in size are unaware of the hygienic practices of food preparation and supply chain of the raw materials is not organised. The food operators may be trained in phases by Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) and Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI) before opening food business. The certificate in the front door of the operators may guide the consumers to choose where to eat. FAO, Bangladesh seems to have experience in capacity building of street food vendors.
The matter may be considered by the concerned agency.
The writer is a former Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council