Is Bangladesh underutilizing its potential in agriculture?
Industry insiders also say there is a huge growing demand in Europe as vegetable prices in those countries are very high
Bangladesh has seen an increase in vegetable exports in April this year compared to the same time last year. According to the Ministry of Agriculture data, Bangladesh exported $180 million worth of various types of vegetables compared to the previous year’s $164 million. More than 70 varieties of vegetables are being exported to 53 countries like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia to name a few.
Industry insiders also say there is a huge growing demand in Europe as vegetable prices in those countries are very high, making it more convenient for those nations to import vegetables from Bangladesh. The traders in the northern region of the country have exported high volumes of potatoes to neighbouring countries like Nepal, which has also contributed to the high export volume.
According to the sources at the Department of Agriculture Extension, around 28 million tons of vegetables are being produced across Bangladesh. The production of vegetables has increased significantly (37%) in the last decade, although only a small per cent of the country’s total arable land could be brought under vegetable cultivation.
Modernizing techniques and education for the farmers on cultivation has contributed to the increase in production. Bangladesh is however lagging way behind as only Tk 208 crore is spent in the first year from a five-year allocation of Tk 3,020 crore. In Mid-2020, the government decided to subsidize up to 50% on purchase prices of the machinery.
Despite the coronavirus running havoc throughout the entire globe, the demand for necessities has remained the same. Due to the lack of flights from Bangladesh and having to pay heavy cargo rates, the Bangladeshi vegetable exporters are losing orders for 30 tons each day. India had an upper hand when it came to exporting, as the country has more flights going out. Ever since the surge of coronavirus cases in India, the number of flights has gone down and so has the export.
There have been reports last month from the European Union (EU) lifting the ban of betel leaves from Bangladesh. According to Dhaka Tribune’s published article last month, the ban was placed due to Bangladesh’s slack phytosanitary measures.
This caused a huge trade depletion, as the country would export around $40 million worth of betel leaves before the ban, to only $2 million. Ever since the ban has been lifted, sector insiders estimate an annual export worth $60 million. This ban has sent warnings to exporters and producers to make sure they maintain the quality and standards of the international markets.
In order to meet the compliance for exports, the exporters are now bound to collect crops from farmers who have adopted good agricultural practices. Making sure hazardous chemicals and pesticides are not being used as they would not be allowed to sell contaminated produce overseas.
Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables and Allied Products Exporters Association (BFVAPEA) president SM Jahangir mentioned that collecting crops from contract growers has been made compulsory for them under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) officers. There is however a very limited number of chilling and packaging facilities, for which a large amount of farm produce is wasted.
The government should also ensure such facilities in major growing hubs including Narsingdi, Comilla, Rangpur and Khulna. The business insiders also mention the huge potential in vegetable exports as the country only makes 45,000 tons to 50,000 tons of vegetable shipment annually against its local production of 12 million tons.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Satkhira, mango farmers and exporters are expecting an increase in export orders from Europe this year; as the fruits are gaining popularity in the continent.
Himsagar, Langra and Amropaly are the few varieties of mangoes being exported to Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. Himsagar mangoes account for 20% to 25% of total mangoes produced in Bangladesh every year and are one of the most popular in Europe and the Middle East.
On behalf of the DAE, the farmers are also being trained on the production and post-harvest management of the exportable mangoes. This will enable farmers to be more informed and efficient which will help them meet international standards.
There is also fear among the exporters that they might lose the Middle Eastern market to the Indian exporters, as cargo charges have gone up way too high. To put things in perspective, the exporters of perishable goods are now having to pay around $4 to $4.5 for carrying a kilogram of vegetables from Dhaka to London. Whereas, it was only around $1.5 to $1.7 in the pre-pandemic period.
“The exporters are paying an incredibly high airfare which is hindering export growth,” said Mohammad Monsur--the general secretary of Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables and Allied Products Exporters Association (BFVAPEA). This has been a constant complaint among all the exporters, and they have urged Bangladesh Biman Airlines to provide a separate cargo freighter for exporting agricultural produce.
Modernizing agriculture has become vital to keep up with the pace of the food processing industries both in local and foreign markets. This is not only limited to mechanization but also depends largely on the process of production.
As the world now moves toward a more efficient production, agriculture specialists have urged farmers to develop such practices. Hydroponics is a method of producing vegetables and fruits without soil, in a controlled environment.
Although the set-up of the production facilities can be very expensive, the quantity of the output can be very fruitful for the farmers. There are a few such hydroponic farms around the country, in Gazipur and around Dhaka. These farms are still at a very infant stage, but moving towards that direction can be beneficial for the local farmers if they can adapt to these new changes.
Modernizing agriculture has to be an initiative taken by the government, as the initial process can be overwhelmingly expensive. Speaking to Dr A F M Jamal Uddin, professor at Sher-e Bangla Agricultural University, he mentions how these new techniques can be revolutionary in terms of increasing production.
These new processes require very little to no chemicals which are harmful to the human body and thus can meet any compliance standards. These soil-less processes of production are also possible in the urban landscape, which means the production can take place in limited spaces around Dhaka city, minimizing the cost of transport to the cities and for export--also, decreasing the chances of wastage.
Bangladesh is an agriculture-based economy and has been so ever since its inception. It’s high time the agricultural sector is modernized with up-to-date machinery and the introduction of various processes to the farmers so that Bangladesh can benefit from the increased exports of agricultural products to various parts of the world.
Source from: Mahmud Hossain Opu(2021). Is Bangladesh underutilizing its potential in agriculture? Retrieve from: Dhaka Tribune(June 30th, 2021). https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/economy/2021/06/30/is-bangladesh-underutilizing-its-potential-in-agriculture