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Mechanizing our way to super agriculture

  • Published at 06:50 pm May 24th, 2018

How helping the local agro-machinery service market can push Bangladesh's agriculture to the next level

Once upon a time one would see the hapless farmer labouring behind a wooden plough drawn by a pair of bullocks tilling the fields under the scorching sun. Putting in backbreaking labour and long hours to prepare land for harvesting had not only been draining physically, but stunted the growth of agri-business in rural Bangladesh. Today, any casual observer can see that much of the tillage and irrigation operations and the threshing of rice, wheat and other crops have been mechanized. A vibrant market for local machinery service provider (LSP) in rural Bangladesh has begun to burgeon and flourish. These LSPs are farmers who own agricultural machinery and provides machinery services to small hold farmers in Bangladesh starting from ploughing to land preparation, transplanting, seeding, irrigation, weeding, spraying, harvesting, threshing and drying. The development of this LSP market has been indispensable towards the transformation of agriculture in rural Bangladesh, as we discover from the success stories of so many farmers, who, hailing from very humble beginnings, has transformed the dynamics of agriculture in their communities. 

Moslem-Hawlader is a LSP farmer in Jogoddol, Barisal who travelled to Saudi Arabia in pursuit of work. Underpaid for his service and utterly dissatisfied with the experience, he soon returned to Bangladesh in search of work. Unfortunately, he met with further grim realities as he lost most of the inheritable land from his father. However, things turned over when he purchased a power tiller operator  with his savings and gained extensive experience on the use of such a machinery through a project initiative of the Cereal System’s Initiative of South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) - a USAID funded initiative of The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). This dynamic technology has allowed him thresh more crops which was not possible by hand. Using a power tiller, Moslem could now prepare land quicker than he could by animals and he began to educate fellow farmers in the community about the full merits of its returns. Moslem who came from very humble beginnings was pivotal in steering the wheels of change in his village and went on to become a uniquely qualified agricultural leader and trainer in a very isolated part of Bangladesh. 

Cultivating a knack for agricultural services business, Rina Begum (35), a homemaker in Dhutrahati village in Faridpur, embarked on what would be a life-changing venture. Her initial access to credit from a local micro finance institute, aided by the CSISA-MI project, enabled her to purchase a new seeder attachment for the family’s power tiller. Soon after the purchase of the power tiller operated seeder (PTOS), she established a business that offers planting services to other farmers. Rina enthusiastically communicated with her client farmers, collected payments and tracked incomes and expenditures. Expanding women’s access to microfinance is crucial to achieving inclusive growth across all sectors. Women disproportionately face financial access barriers that hinder them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Rina Begum’s path to empowerment through agri-business is exemplary and she is the embodiment of hope for other women in her neighbourhood and beyond. “With my own money, I renovated this house and this makes me confident,” says Rina.

The major Research and Development of farm machinery in Bangladesh has been led by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) mostly with government funding and with support from international organizations such as The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). In terms of international collaboration for agricultural mechanization, International Rice Research Institution (IRRI) and CIMMYT played a crucial role through various projects. CSISA-MI’s work with national partners has facilitated popularization and demonstration of scale–appropriate farm machinery for resource conservation agriculture. It has arranged for the demonstration of machineries for innovative cropping patterns incorporating new varieties through five hubs in Mymensingh, Rangpur, Barisal, Khulna and Faridpur. 

Despite the developments, mechanization still fails due to a lack of funding opportunities for LSPs. The creation of an environment where LSPs can gain easy access to microcredit is crucial.  Skill training of LSPs needs to be deployed on a greater magnitude as they often struggle from a paucity of calibration knowledge and consequently, fail to derive the full economic benefits from their equipment. The absence of an after sales service for imported agricultural machinery in Bangladesh tends to exacerbate their predicaments. 

Mechanization has a crucial role to play at all levels along the entire value chain towards modernizing and intensifying agriculture in Bangladesh; it boosts productivity in rural areas – a core element of rural development – and ultimately leads to food security.

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