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Productivity-based food production to replace traditional area-based production in the Green Revolution

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Overview of the Changes

Bangladesh being an agro-based country has undergone significant changes over the last few decades; especially since the inception of the technologies of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. Green Revolution has brought about productivity-based production by replacing the traditional area-based production process. In other words, it has shifted from the use of extensive margin to intensive margin in agriculture.

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Bangladesh Agricultural sector is dominated by the Crop Sector of which rice and wheat are the two major crops. Between these two crops, more concentration is on the production of rice being the staple food. This makes Bangladesh a mono-crop economy. Nevertheless, the physical production of both wheat and rice has risen considerably.

Green Revolution technologies have brought about the following changes: (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.4)

  • Greater use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Enhanced irrigation facilities.
  • Introduction of High-Yielding Variety (HYV) Seeds.
  • Rise in multiple cropping, which lead to agricultural intensification.

All the above mentioned changes have resulted in the overall mechanization of agriculture. This refers to the increased usage of modern irrigation facilities such as Low Lift Pumps (LLP), Shallow and Deep Tube Wells (STWs & DTWs), Tractors, Power-tillers etc. (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.114). As a result, excessive ground water usage has substantially substituted surface water usage for irrigation, thus making Bangladesh the most irrigation intensive country in South Asia. (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.113). Moreover, to further enhance crop productivity, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has seen very rapid increase in Bangladesh compared to other South Asian countries (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.114). However, until the innovation of HYV seeds, the changes mentioned above were not of much significance. HYVs have crowded out the traditional varieties of crops and other non-cereal crops (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.4, pp.183) but alternatively several other new varieties have been innovated through Agricultural Research and Development and it is an ongoing process. It is a combination of Design and Capacity Transfer.

Owing to the Green Revolution, Bangladesh agriculture has shifted from subsistence agriculture to more of semi-commercial farming and it had undergone considerable changes in terms of both input and output (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.39). As a whole, Bangladesh agriculture has become more capital intensive and has serious implications for socioeconomic changes.

A quick overview of Bangladesh agriculture is illustrated by the following table:

Table 1: Bangladesh Agriculture at a Glance

Total family : 17,600,804

Total farm holding : 15,089,000

Total area : 14.845million hectare

Forest : 2.599 million hectare

Cultivable land : 8.44 million hectare

Cultivable waste : 0.268 million hectare

Current fellow : 0.469 million hectare

Cropping intensity : 175.97%

Single cropped area : 2.851 million hectare

Double cropped area : 3.984 million hectare

Triple cropped area : 0.974 million hectare

Net cropped area : 7.809 million hectare

Total cropped area : 13.742 million hectare

Contribution of agriculture sector to GDP : 23.50%

Contribution of crop sector to GDP : 13.44%

Manpower in agriculture : 62%

Total food crop demand : 23.029 million metric ton

Total food crop production : 27.787 million metric ton

Net production : 24.569 million metric ton

Source: BBS, 2006 and Handbook Agricultural Statistics, MoA, Accessed December 2009.

Factors underlying the changes:

Now that we are aware of the changes, we may now delve into the factors behind such a transformation. This analysis is divided into two portions. The first part is devoted to the motivation that led to the revolution. The second part is dedicated to the measures that led to this favorable leap in Bangladesh agricultural production.

Bangladesh, occupying 0.028% of the Earths surface, happens to be the seventh largest country according to population (CIA World Fact book, 2009) and thus the nation experiences a low land- man ratio. The situation has been further aggravated due to a continuous growth in the population whilst arable land was already scarce (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.111-112). Inevitably, Bangladesh was unable to keep up the food- population balance (Naher, 1997, p.A-85).

Against this setting, the solution that the green revolution provided was suitable for Bangladesh in the sense that it was more of internal land-augmenting (through usage of HYV seeds and fertilizers). One must also add that the unevenness in the distribution of rainfall across various regions caused a decrease in the reliability of surface water. On the other hand, ground water availability, now possible with the use of various types of pumps (due to the advent of green revolution technology) provided a much more stable supply of water for irrigation purposes.

Other than the dire need for such a change to take place, the ease of technological diffusion worldwide along with the provision of credit from both government (Bangladesh Krishi Bank: BKB) and NGOs have played a central role to stimulate further increase in agricultural produce. The system of sharecropping (where the landowner allows a sharecropper to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land) and the ease at which farmers were able to absorb the new production techniques (through the governments awareness programs) have contributed immensely to the intensification of agriculture.

Historical Analysis of Policy underpinnings of the Factors:

Considering the ongoing process of changes in Bangladesh agriculture, it is now important to analyze how and why the policies that fuelled these changes have evolved historically. During the 1950s and 1960s, in order to deal with the growing dependence on imported food and static nature of food grain production, exacerbated by the growing population pressure, the Government increased investment in irrigation and drainage structure installation. For Example: LLPs, DTWs, canal irrigation etc. (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.37). Furthermore, to control the river flow, the Government built dams and barrages. However, the building of dams led to inadequate recharge of aquifers and water availability in the dry seasons (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.200). To make things worse, the STWs had adverse environmental implications because of increased fossil fuel usage (Alauddin and Sharma, 2009, pp.19-20). On that note, it is noticeable that these policies focused more on large-scale irrigation projects without less or no emphasis on chemical fertilizers, small-scale irrigation and biological innovations (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.38).

Towards the later part of 1960s, it seemed that there was no more scope of depending on external land augmentation as arable land per capita declined, which indicated that Bangladesh agriculture had then to shift to the intensive margin policies. This ultimately led to the adaptation of Green Revolution technologies (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.38). This has happened through several phases. It was initiated by the increased use of chemical fertilizers followed by the enhanced irrigation facilities. However it was not until the innovation of HYVs that the above mentioned factors had any real impact on Bangladesh agriculture. In fact, for the complete adaptation of HYV technology in Bangladesh, there had been three phases of technology transfer. These are namely: Material Transfer, Design Transfer and Capacity Transfer in chronological order (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.38-39)

New varieties of HYV seeds of rice such as IR-5, IR-8 etc. were imported in the late 1960s. However, it was not until early 1970s that the HYV seeds of wheat were introduced in Bangladesh (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.39). These imports of seeds resulted in Bangladesh being highly dependent on Multi-National Companies, which in turn increased the cost of production for the farmers. This is because, when the Government first introduced the Green Revolution Technologies in Bangladesh, they provided the farmers with attractive subsidies to encourage greater use of new technologies such as dissemination of irrigation equipment (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.118). Afterwards, when the Governments wish of widespread adaptation of these technologies were accomplished and the farmers became used to it, the subsidies were gradually removed; thus resulting in increased cost for farmers being dependent on MNCs for their HYV seeds. Consequentially, due to more dependence on HYV seeds of only rice and wheat because of their higher returns, the other crops were seriously neglected, thus making Bangladesh a mono-crop economy.

As can be observed from history, the trade liberalization of Bangladesh during the 1980s -1990s further impeded the growth of other non-crop sectors of agriculture such as jute, paper, sugar and tea industries. Due to the synthetic substitutes, export of jute products declined substantially, while the paper industry was also affected because of competing imports. The low price of Indian sugar compared to that of Bangladesh encouraged imports thus crowding out the local sugar producers. The export of Bangladeshi tea grew at less than 1% during the same period (Bakht, —– , pp.118-119).

From the above discussion, it becomes apparent that the introduction of Green Revolution has led to an increase in both input and output indicated by the increased intensity of cropping and total irrigated area, greater use of fertilizers etc. since 1960s till date. It appears that the Government had shown efforts in disseminating the Green Revolution technologies but failed to create any awareness about the environmental hazards among the farmers. Such hazards include water logging, decline of ground-water table, soil quality and many more. The Government should have taken some initiatives to ensure an environment-augmenting economy rather than an environment-intensive one in the agricultural sector.

The Constraints for sustainability of agricultural production in Bangladesh:

As already emphasized, severity of population growth led to increased demand for food along with a fall in arable land per capita. This resulted in Bangladesh experiencing the highest agricultural intensification in South Asia brought about by multiple cropping and dry season cultivation through irrigation (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.117). Due to this, considerable damage has been done to the physical environment such as depletion and degradation of natural resource base and unsustainable use of land and water resources (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.111).

Starting from a very low base, Bangladesh has shown the most rapid growth in both the intensity and incidence of irrigation. Major part of this irrigated water comes from the excessive pumping of ground water. Although there is abundance of surface water in Bangladesh being a riverine land, the uncertainty and uneven distribution of rainfall and the easy accessibility of ground water lead to the rapid exhaustion of this hardly renewable natural resource (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.112). For example, Bogra has approximately 98% ground water usage for irrigation, which is serious threat to Bangladesh agriculture. Moreover, this also causes environmental hazards such as salinization and arsenic contamination of soil and water in some areas. Furthermore, the new irrigation facilities such as STWs, DTWs etc. require proper power supply, which is in itself a constraint for the production process due to the lack of sufficient energy production in Bangladesh.

The bar chart in the following page shows the percentage of irrigated land in some Asian countries:

Fig1: Irrigated Land as Proportion to Agricultural Land in Some Asian Countries -2001

Source: FAO Production Year Book Vol. 52- 1998 & Vol. 53,1999 and RAP Publication : 2003/10, Accessed December 2009.

Note: (i) Area estimated by FAO (ii) Cultivable Land=Arable Land & Permanent Crop Land

Figure: 1 shows that in terms of irrigated land as a percentage of agricultural land Bangladesh is in quite a threatening position.

In addition, increased fertilizer usage and poor irrigation management leads to acidification of soils and water logging, decline in organic matter and as such deterioration of the soil quality (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.4). In fact, use of pesticides to a dangerous extent also causes the loss of useful insects along with the pests. Hundreds of pests have already become resistant to pesticides and their number will increase, thus further raising the cost of farmers in the long run.

Several other constraints including deforestation causing significant soil erosion, industrial wastes being dumped into water bodies and the other above mentioned factors contribute highly to the deadly water pollution, thus affecting fisheries as well. Additionally, Over 2 million hectares of land are drought affected (Alauddin and Hossain, 2001, pp.199). Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj are the two most drought affected districts.

Finally the natural disasters particularly floods and cyclones (caused by climate change and global warming) are of growing concern and therefore form one of the most vital constraints in Bangladesh agriculture. Considering the overall situation, it becomes evident that Bangladesh agriculture only meets the conditions of weaker sustainability.

Suggestions on the Future Policy Directions in Bangladesh Agriculture:

Coming to think of the policy directions, the most important issue that comes into mind is the stress that the Bangladesh agriculture has had on ground water resources. As a result, more attention should be paid to this particular resource on the basis of which effective policies should be implemented. Pricing policy for ground water irrigation could be one of the Market-based solutions. Other potential solutions may include assigning individual or community-based property rights and thereby providing financial incentives where necessary (Alauddin and Quiggin, 2007, pp.121-122). In addition, effective methods of retaining the rainwater could be done to encourage surface water usage. If possible, the future dams and barrages should be constructed in such a way that it protects the city from floods as well as help in recharging the aquifers.

The next most important policy option should be to encourage greater investment in the Agricultural Education and Research & Development (Alauddin and Sharma, 2009, pp.22-23). This will involve creating awareness among the farmers by educating them regarding the environmental hazards resulting from high use of ground water, chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc. Policies should also concentrate on substituting the use of chemical fertilizers by organic fertilizers. Furthermore, focus should be on diversification of agricultural sector by increasing production of protein rich products such as pulses, livestock and fisheries. This is because these require less of land and water but at the same time provide with higher nutritional values. An alternative option could be the adaptation of wet-seed rice culture, something still not practiced in Bangladesh (Alauddin et al, 2008, pp.24-25).

Policy suggestions can be extended to include the provision of crop insurance facilities by public and private institutions. Also timely availability and delivery of critical inputs such as fertilizers, water etc. should be improved along with greater certainty in energy supply. As already mentioned, a hard nut to crack should be to check the population growth. Not only this, the dependency on rice being the staple food should also be reduced by increasing dietary dependency on protein-rich products (Alauddin and Sharma, 2009, pp.23-24). Above all, the agricultural sector of Bangladesh should be protected from global competition.

In conclusion, it can be said that the current scenario of Bangladesh agriculture is quite at stake. Therefore it becomes increasingly necessary to conserve it from further degradation. Although the existence of several hot spots, which are in a condition of disrepair already, may hinder the conservation goal, the bright spots still provide us with some rays of hope.

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