Agriculture Minister Dr Abdur Razzaque has said he is confident the current scheme of incentives will be enough to help the agriculture sector get back on its fee, as long as there isn’t another bout of flooding to come this year.
With the worst flood in over two decades piling itself on top of the local outbreak of a pandemic, it is no exaggeration at present to say some sectors of the Bangladesh economy are in need of serious emergency care.
None of the worst-hit sectors provides as significant a chunk of our population with their livelihoods (even as its share in total output keeps dwindling with the economy modernizing) nor exercises a greater, more direct influence on the national psyche as agriculture.
A June study by the Institute of Governance and Development Studies at Brac University stated: “Social distancing and lockdown measures to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is having a negative impact on the agriculture sector of Bangladesh.” Although these measures are no longer being mandated, the damage done from April to June is likely to have been very deep.
As for the floods, the damage to cropland alone has already exceeded Tk 1300 crore, the Agriculture Minister told UNB.
Asked about the extent of losses from the flood, Minister Razzaque said, “Crops worth Tk 1,323 crore got damaged in the 37 flood-hit districts. A total of 2.57 lakh hectares of croplands were submerged in flood-water, causing losses to 12.72 lakh farmers.”
In the face of such an onslaught, the government was almost left with no option but to adopt an elaborate and extensive scheme of different incentives, to help the flood-affected farmers get back on their feet.
He said a total of 2.39 lakh flood-hit farmers have already been provided with different agricultural products worth Tk 17.54 crore.
Under the scheme, 1.52 lakh farmers received seeds of different vegetables, including calabash, different varieties of spinach, barbati, bean, cucumber, worth Tk 10.27 crore.
Besides, work is underway to grow and distribute Aman paddy seedlings for planting through a community-based seedbed at a cost of around Tk 2.15 crore, floating beds at a cost of Tk 70 lakh and rice transplanters at a cost of Tk 61 lakh.
Seedbeds of Aman paddy are being prepared in 5,060 floating beds in 40 districts. This will directly benefit 1,265 farmers, Minister Razzaque said, adding that a total of 4,308 seedbeds have already been okayed and farmers are collecting seedlings from the beds.
The minister further said work is underway to grow Aman paddy seedlings for planting through rice transplanters at a cost of Taka 61 lakh.
Under this, aman paddy seedlings will be grown in 41,600 trays in 25 districts and be distributed among 1,600 farmers. Seedbeds have already been set up in 22,072 trays and the farmers are taking seedlings from those seedbeds, he added.
The government has an alternative plan if Aman paddy can’t be grown in flood-affected areas.
“Around 50,000 farmers of 35 districts have been provided with Black Gram seeds along with DAP and MOP fertilizers worth Tk 3.82 crore,” he said, adding that the seeds will be used if Aman paddy can’t be cultivated in the flood-affected areas.
“Aus paddy of 32,213 hectares of land, Aman paddy of 70,820 hectares of land and Aman seedbed of 7,918 hectares of land were severely damaged in flood water,” the minister stated.
Dr Razzaque also revealed that another Tk 75 crore stimulus package is in the pipeline for the farmers.
Under that package, 9.29 lakh flood-hit farmers will be provided with free agricultural products for growing wheat, mustard, groundnut, sunflower, khesari, onion, chilli, tomato etc.
However, more initiatives were taken to help the farmers makeup their losses. A total of 1.41 lakh farmers across the country were provided with seedlings, saplings or fertilizer assistance worth Tk 37.36 crore.
The items were distributed under the family nutrition garden scheme.
Besides, marking the birth centenary of Bangabandhu, an agricultural incentive was proposed to facilitate the scheme.
Under the proposal, a total of 4.73 crore farmers across the country will receive seed, sapling and fertilizer assistance worth Tk 152.91 crore.
Minister Razzaque said his ministry and all the subordinate departments have been alert despite the risk of coronavirus infection.
“We’re resolved to retain the increasing trend of agricultural production. We’ve taken steps to make up the losses. If any fresh flood doesn’t appear in the scene, the losses will hopefully be regained to a large extent,” Razzaque said.
A total of 14 committees of the ministry are working to expedite, supervise and coordinate different incentive programmes, he mentioned.