Last few year’s abnormal fall of paddy price and increasing production costs have raised concerns among farmers
The average demand for rice has dropped slightly because of reasons such as urbanisation and an emphasis on alternative food by well-to-do people.
However, the population has exceeded 17 crore and growing. Rice is still the main source of a large part of the people's calorie demand.
Our country is too small in proportion to the population, and land suitable for cultivating paddy is gradually declining for reasons including housing and industrialization.
On the other hand, the amount of farmland has also been reduced due to the cultivation of non-crop fruits, flowers or pisciculture.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic (BBS), the amount of cultivable land in 1980 was 2.10 lakh acres, which has been reduced to 1.80 lakh acres in 2007.
Certainly it is much less now, but all the previous governments and the incumbent one have given importance to agricultural production in Bangladesh. Agricultural scientists and expansion workers have tried their best.
Above all, the farmers of Bangladesh tackled the situation with their extreme toil and have made the impossible possible with advance technology and agricultural material on that little amount of land.
Today, the country with long food shortage is producing a little surplus in the production of major cereal rice. However, the situation cannot be termed as sustainable. Our farming system is largely nature dependent.
Sometimes Bangladesh becomes a country of deficit due to the effects of hostile nature.
Everyone connected with the government knows how hard it is to confront that deficit. Last few year's abnormal fall of paddy price and increasing production costs have raised concerns among farmers.
To tackle the situation, some rice export has been allowed, yet there are no positive changes in the situation. The fallen price of paddy is always far below the cost of cultivation. Whereas most farmers own small land or are shared farmers, with some exception. Even a season's loss leaves them in debt.
Under the circumstances, farmers are naturally becoming reluctant to cultivate paddy. In several districts of the northern part, also known as grain-stock of the country, the paddy land is gradually turning into mango garden.
A large amount of land is being used to cultivate fisheries and vegetables. All of these are necessary, but they cannot be an alternative to paddy cultivation. The rate at which land is decreasing, there is little chance of increasing the production capacity of paddy at the same rate.
The high dependence on rice will not drop suddenly.
Accordingly, to a recent report by an English daily, many shared farmers are waiting for a chance to change their profession, and some already did. The price for public purchase of rice-paddy is Tk26 to Tk36.
Only a few people get the opportunity to sell paddy at these government purchasing centres. Our rice production is 3.62 lakh tonnes. This is less than 2 crore at the Boro season alone. However, the capacity of government warehouses with silos is 21 lakh tonnes.
The silos are also used to store wheat. The government has a plan to increase this capacity to 30 lakh tones by 2025.
It is true that the picture of the country's financial competence comes to the fore with gross domestic product (GDP). However, along with that we also see that employment is not increasing in the same rhythm.
As a result, there is increasing financial inequality in the society. According to the BBS statistics, the contribution of agriculture to the country's GDP is now 14.10 per cent. According to a report of the same agency, 45 per cent of the labour force is engaged in this sector.
Therefore, irrespective of the contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP, in terms of considering food security and employment, it wouldn't be an exaggeration if we term it as the most important sector in the country.
Maybe the service sector is at the top, contributing 52.85 per cent to GDP. This is a good side of the economy. But, the role of agriculture in the expansion of the service sector is also huge. In the larger definition, fisheries, livestock and forestry all are under agriculture.
The demand for rice per capita will gradually decrease due to dietary changes. But the population growth rate is higher than the decreasing rate. The consumption of rice as food will gradually decrease if the rate stabilizes and we achieve the better living condition of developed countries.
In those days, the amount of cultivable land will also decrease. We cannot take improved technology and production more than a certain level. Therefore, we need to take different measures to make rice cultivation attractive.
Agricultural commodities are considered essential in all countries. Even hardline capitalist countries such as the United States are giving away a variety of incentives to the producers to ensure availability.
As a result, even in a country of people with such higher income, the price of bread, rice, vegetables, milk, dairy products, chicken and eggs is much the same compared to our country.
We are also getting rice in a much cheaper price, but by breaking the farmers' spine. The middlemen are playing a major negative role here. They are not involved with the rice production system, but they now have control over the farmers.
Besides, the kind of incentive the government is giving to farmers seems insufficient over time. The government doesn't have the opportunity to buy all the paddy.
So it is worth considering giving them a cash subsidy to make up their shortfall. In the current administrative system, local administration can work alongside with union councils and agricultural extension workers.
Md Sharif Hasan is a faculty at the Department of International Relations, University of Rajshahi.