Agriculture needs massive investments to face odds : Suggests FAO country chief

Khawaza Main Uddin


Bangladesh needs massive investments in agriculture and agro-processing to attain their higher growth, create employment opportunities and deny possible impacts of the current global recession on this key sector, says the country chief of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Ad Spijkers further suggests arrangement for bringing consumer groups at the doorsteps of the farmers to ensure fair prices of the agricultural produces as incentive for gaining higher farm production and productivity.
As the still unfolding financial crisis worldwide is set to have negative impacts on Bangladesh’s different sectors including remittances and agriculture, he feels that the country must be adequately prepared with long-term vision to make sure that ‘agriculture is the backbone of the economy.’
Currently, there are apprehensions that possible decline in remittances earning and exports of jute, jute goods, frozen foods and leather products may deal severe blows — both in terms of prices of products and investments required for farming — to the country’s agriculture, which accounts for approximately 20 per cent of gross domestic product but employs more than 60 per cent of the national workforce.
‘Investment and technologies in agriculture is the most important issue to face the future challenges for sustainable agriculture system,’ Spijkers told New Age in an exclusive interview.
‘Investment in agriculture is essential for intensification, diversification, sustainability and resilience of the food production system as well as to maximise the role that agriculture can play in promoting economic growth and food security.’
 The Bangladesh chapter of the UN body, which is mainly a technical, specialised agency, is supporting the Bangladesh government, seeking external funds for agriculture, to mobilise development partners, including multilateral financial institutions, to funnel resources to the farm sector, the FAO official said. He referred to his recent talks with the World Bank and Danish, US and British donor and lending agencies in this regard.
The FAO, having the mandate of giving technical assistance in broader agriculture including livestock, fisheries and forestry, provides assistance for several programmes on food policy, food safety and natural resources management and is directly involved in helping 1.5 million farmers after the twin floods and cyclone Sidr in 2007.
Dwelling on the dilemma between providing fair crop prices to farmers and keeping food prices lower for the vulnerable groups, Spijkers, who earlier served the FAO in East Asia (Vietnam, China and Cambodia) before the Bangladesh mission in late 2006, expressed his views that input pricing should be efficient and cost-effective while there should be good incentive through fair out prices.
‘You have to keep the farmers smiling. Last harvesting season, they got incentive for Tk 28 per kilogram rice price,’ he said also suggesting that Bangladesh could replicate a Netherlands model to link consumers’ groups to the market close to the farm gates to address the huge trade gap between farmers’ level prices and the ones in any kitchen market in the metropolis.
In this context, the FAO representative favoured pilot project on making crop insurance work because, he pointed out, crop insurance schemes were difficult to design and deliver, especially in fragmented agricultures. He still maintained, ‘Farmers should be kept insured in any way in terms of their production and marketing.’
He also emphasised the need for promoting strong farmers’ organisations, such as Farmers’ Field School, that had already worked successfully in many countries and in Bangladesh as well. ‘Collective organisation of the farmers is crucial not only for fair pricing but also to protect various interests of farmers in terms of information, technologies, inputs and marketing.’
The FAO believes Bangladesh has immense scope to attain self-sufficiency in foods and also significantly increase crop production particularly, wheat, maize, potato, pulses, oil seeds and vegetables. Spijkers is for renewed emphasis of high value added products such as vegetables, fruits, pulses, spices, fishery, poultry and livestock.
He recommended resource endowment in research and extension, education to farmers, diversifying crops, introduction of different crops in changing climatic conditions, cost-effective irrigation and efficient management of water for farming, use of fallow land, and balanced use of fertilisers to improve soil fertility to achieve the goal of exploiting maximum potentials of agriculture.
The country is also said to have a huge prospective of improving the agro-based industries and of creating employment opportunities and avenues of exports. ‘The future thrust of the agro-based industries depends mostly on advance research and marketing,’ noted the FAO official.
His suggestions for the government include allocation of more resources, especially increasing revenue budget to invest in the farm sector, apart from encouraging private sector investments in agriculture with proper support and regulation.
Spijkers maintained that urgent attention should be given to safety nets for the bigger segment of the (rural) poor who are ‘food insecure and do not have the purchasing power to buy adequately the food it needs.’

Source: The Daily New Age, 30 March 2009


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