Can Bangladesh Emulate Australia’s Vision for Agriculture?

Md Roushon Jamal

18 May, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Can Bangladesh Emulate Australia’s Vision for Agriculture?

Md Roushon Jamal

The National Farmers’ Federation, Australia, announced an ambitious vision for a $100 billion agriculture industry by 2030. This historical vision has created much enthusiasm, debate, concern and optimism among farmers, policymakers, thinktank, researchers and civil society in Australia. To achieve the aspiring vision, Australia has set up five pillars: understanding the future customer, supercharging supply chains, growing sustainability, unlocking new technology, and attracting people and capital to agriculture.

Agriculture is Australia's fastest-growing sector contributing more than $63 billion or 2.3% to Australia's GDP annually. Australian farmers are internationally competitive through vision, efficiencies and productivity growth. The growth in the agriculture sector has increased steadily over the time. Despite climatic and hydrological risks, inadequate bio-security, unresponsive regulation and changing consumers preference, Australia’s agriculture sector has achieved phenomenal success. The Australian government and farmers’ organisation, corporate sector, and researchers have been working hand in hand to reach the goal by 2030. A vision can change the world, can bring about a revolution in socio-economic condition.

Couldn’t Bangladesh dream for a $100 billion agriculture by 2030? Would  $100 billion agriculture by 2030 be unrealistic for Bangladesh? Do we have resources, strength and potentials to achieve the goal? Are we ready to take the ambitious challenge?

Yes, Bangladesh has the opportunity and strength to achieve a  goal of $100 billion agriculture by 2030. It is high time to kickoff the vision. Production boom during COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh has justified our dream more strongly. Experienced and hardworking farmers, fertile soil, intensive extension services, policy supports, innovation in agriculture, favourable sub-tropical weather, and available water resource are the main strength of Bangladesh to achieve a vision $100 billion agriculture.

The present GDP volume of Bangladesh is $352 billion, of which agriculture GDP (crop, livestock, fisheries and forest) is around $40 billion. Recent success in the crop, livestock and fisheries sector is remarkable. Despite having low cultivable land (7.9 million ha), Bangladesh is now a global leader in Agriculture (3rd largest rice producer, 2nd largest jute producers, 4th largest freshwater fish producer, 6th largest potato producer, 7th largest mango producer, 8th largest guava producers) with intensive management, efficient extension approach and policy supports. Bangladesh ranks first in the growth of vegetable and fruit production. Though it was considered ambitious 20 years before, 75 million metric tonnes of crop production (cereals, vegetables, and fruits) are now a reality. Let’s project our vision higher.

Let’s aspire to third-generation agriculture with a firm footing in the international market, precision agriculture, big data, robotics, green economy. With a strong value chain, technological innovation, farm mechanisation, cropping intensification, agro-processing, dream for a $100 billion is quite achievable. We have to address the non-compliance issue smartly to have better access to the international market. Available farm labour, groundwater irrigation facility, very fertile soil, favourable climatic condition are blessings for the fast growth of agriculture.           

We have to cast focus on high value and commercial agriculture. The minor agriculture sector can add major value to our agriculture. Cut flower industry, mushroom, and apiculture can generate big revenue and foreign currency. The robust seed production industry can add huge value to our agriculture GDP. Opportunity for commercial honey production is still unexplored. In recent years Bangladesh has started exporting honey to Japan and EU.

Bangladesh is yet to untap its export market potential to the fullest. The country’s share in international vegetable, spices and fruits export is less than 0.3 percent. Whereas, our potato production crossed the 11 million tonnes limit. Last couple of  years, more than one million tonnes of potato dumped to vacate cold storage. Potato is the best-fit short duration (60-80 days) tuber crop in between Aman harvest and Boro rice transplanting. National potato production is expected to reach 15 million tonnes in 2030. Vegetable production increased to 18.4 million tonnes in 2019-20, and it is estimated to reach 25 million tonnes milestone by 2030. National fruit production steadily rose over the last ten years. But we don't have any realistic plan yet for these surplus vegetables, fruits, and potatoes.

Despite a very good production success, Bangladesh's export earnings from agricultural are minimal (less than one billion dollars). Over-reliance on the readymade garment industry for export earning is risky for our economy. Exploring alternate export sectors of USD 15-20 billion is inevitable for economic security—a $ 20 billion export earnings from agriculture is no more over-ambitious. To stand in the competitive international market, we have to proceed with quality, favourable trade policy, and branding.

Policy, finance, and research focus should be given on precision agriculture, which is now the reality for efficient use of soil and water, input use, disease diagnosis, and pest for increased production. To save the fertile triple cropped land from industrial encroachment, strong land use law must be enacted. Crop zoning can be implemented to increase productivity and income

There are myriad challenges yet to achieve the $100 billion goal. Shrinking cultivable land due to population pressure, industrialisation, and urbanisation is a big challenge. Climate vulnerability is another pressing concern. Anomalous rainfall pattern, salinisation, draw-down of groundwater, and natural disaster are potential limiting factors to achieve big growth in agriculture. Unavailability of farm labour, rising input cost, and labour wage discourage farmers in commercial and high-value agriculture. Limited access to credit from state-owned bank another financial risks for high-value agriculture. Steps must be taken to address all these climatic, biophysical, and market-related risks. To achieve the mega vision, Bangladesh needs a mega-budget and aid from international funding agencies (WB, USAID, IDA, FAO etc.), rich countries and organisations. The Delta Plan 2100 is likely to open a new horizon of agriculture in stressed ecosystems in coastal Bangladesh, the North-west region and Haor basins. We can incorporate a vision of $100 billion agriculture in the 8th Five Year Plan, Bangladesh Delta Plan, and Agriculture and trade policy.

With a holistic plan, convincing vision, policy support, international collaboration and funding, we can even dream for a $200 agriculture by 2041. We expect the government to set a vision like Australia. Sacred and efficient hands of visionary farmers are the main weapon to bring about the revolution. Therefore, farmer’s rights and price justice must be ensured to keep the visionary farmers in the crop field. We dream 'Golden Bangladesh' to be the global leader in agriculture, food security and sustainable development with concerted efforts and collaboration.

 

The writer is a PhD fellow, University of New England, Australia and Civil Service Officer, Bangladesh Government.


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