Flood & Covid-19: Economy needs diverse sectoral focus

Published : Tuesday, 11 August, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Covid-19 has appeared and remained as a great threat for almost all economies of the world including that of Bangladesh. At the very beginning of this pandemic, Bangladesh was also hit by the deadly cyclone ‘Amphan’ and now is going through a lengthy flood. Though the economy is still holding up, the troubles are huge. We cannot accurately predict how the world economy will perform in the upcoming months and that requires us to safeguard our own economy focusing on internal factors mostly. Hence, we need to put emphasize on few areas immediately.

In the current context, agriculture is one of the most important sectors which require immense focus not only for the growth of the economy but also for ensuring the food security of the Bangladeshi people. More than 300 rivers and alluvial soil with annual siltation of land and low-lying areas are a boon for the agriculture of Bangladesh. But the country is regularly battered by natural disasters like floods and tidal surges that have become more frequent now-a-days.  Such calamities take their toll on food production. Adoption of modern technology and research has placed Bangladesh as one of the highest per hectare output food grain producing countries in the world. With high-yielding varieties of seeds and improvement in food production practices, Bangladesh has succeeded in becoming self-sufficient in food production.

The agricultural production was greatly impacted by the recent flood. The impact is visible in the food especially vegetables market as the prices of these products gone up to more than 200 per cent than the usual price. Many farmers will face serious consequences including financial and health risks. Considering the frequency of natural calamities, we need to take some steps to improve the scenario of the overall agriculture sector. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed the fellow countrymen to plant trees and crops at every inch of cultivable land at the very beginning of COVID-19 in Bangladesh with intent to ensure food security of the country’s huge population. But saving the farmers from financial hardship remains a challenge.

When we talk about agriculture, we immediately think about rice. We know rice is our main staple food, which also allows huge corruption surrounding this crop, but there are few other food products which can be very important. For example, potato can be an excellent alternative of rice. Plenty of potatoes can be grown in our country. Even after fulfilling our own demand, we can export hundreds of metric tons of potato every year. In the summer, we can produce plenty of sunflower, mustard, corn etc. Sunflower and mustard can fulfil our demand for edible oil; corn can be another staple food. The ‘char’ areas should be used in the summer to produce these crops. We can also produce wheat.

Moreover, in our coastal areas, millions of coconut trees can be planted under government supervision. Coconut oil is very good for health and can be exported. Coconut itself is a good food. Coconut tree can also be the sources of many by-products. Overall, we need to diverse our focus and central monitoring is highly required. Our agricultural department knows very well in which area we can produce which crop or trees. But we need to support the farmers on the right time to produce those and need to ensure the fair price to the producers.

It is evident that, the farmers do not receive the fair prices for their produced crops. Deprived farmers often face losses and keep shifting from one crop to another. But middlemen remain the actual beneficiary. Moreover, tolls, extortion and different forms of corruption in the transportation of the crops drive the price higher in the consumer market. Here, both the consumers and the farmers are losers. The government needs to take some steps to improve this scenario.

During the monsoon season under the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen that the government arranged special trains to carry mangoes from the source districts to the capital. The government fixed the transport cost and there was no hassle during the journey. During Eid-ul-Azha, the government took another initiative to transfer cattle through trains to Dhaka and the sellers were happy with hassle-free pleasant journey. For regular transportation of crops, vegetables and fruits also, the government should use this mode of transportation. Moreover, the government should form a team at every union to make the purchase of these products for a fixed price and should similarly distribute the products in the selling market for a fixed price. The middlemen syndicate must be destroyed.

Though Bangladesh is a country of rivers, it is a land of structural diversity. Our hilly areas, already a source of diverse agricultural production, need systematic cultivation. The farmers need to receive fair price for their grown products. To protect crops from heavy rainfall, we need to adopt particular technology and process. We should also focus on plantation of herbal or medicinal tree in these hilly areas. If we can build a separate park for herbal tree there, then we will be able to export those after fulfilling our national needs.

Similarly, we need to have different focus for cultivation of the ‘char’ lands as those drown during the monsoon and rainy season. We need to have niche agricultural production system to maximize the benefit.

Moreover, we need to inspire the rural families to have cattle and poultry as a must and if required small loan should be arranged for these families. Not only cattle and poultry will fulfil our need of protein but also it will produce huge natural fertilizer, which is required for the agricultural development as well as natural preservation. We also must ensure that the habitants of wild animals are preserved as that certainly protects the ecosystem of the nature.

Along with agriculture, we need to put new lights on our jute sector. Once the greatest income source is now getting completely destroyed. Though the demand for jute products is increasing rapidly in the global market, unfortunately, Bangladesh is moving backwards in taking that advantage. It is due to huge backlog, inefficiency and corruption. Many of our jute mills were privatized but that did not worked out as the new owners took loans from the bank and did not try much to run an effective organization. The scenario of the government-owned jute mills is fiercer.

The government must privatize all the jute mills and the new owners should be solvent. A commission should be formed immediately to check on the financial capacity of the possible owners as well as to monitor the activities of the jute mills after getting privatized. The commission should present an operational guideline for all the jute mills and all of them must perform. As it is difficult to process jute, Bangladesh can focus on export of raw jutes. India recently opened many jute mills which purchase huge raw jutes from inside and outside the border. Bangladesh should grab this opportunity. But for all of these, the jute producers should receive good price as they already mostly stopped production of jute due to severe loss.

Leather was our second most foreign currency generating sector. But during the last few years, this sector is getting destroyed for ill syndicates. For our extreme focus on the RMG sector, we are forgetting about other profit making sectors. Our dependency of RMG can hurt us soon. Hence, we need to focus more on sectors like; leather. A ferocious syndicate is trying to kill the prospect of this sector. The government must immediately intervene to save this sector. We will continuously produce leathers in our country as thousands of cattle are slain every day throughout the country. We now need to regularize this sector to bring out maximum benefit.

To battle back in the upcoming economic hardship, we need to think differently. We need to shift our focus. We hope Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with her visionary leadership, will guide the relevant authorities to prioritize the agriculture, jute and leather sector. Moreover, other unconventional sectors should be identified. If we can do so, we will not only sustain but also will progress during this upcoming crisis period.
 The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy
Research Center (DRC)

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