We must intensify our efforts in strengthening our rural economy
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims that the economy of Bangladesh is the third fastest-growing major economy in the world and the first in South Asia. The burgeoning of the rural economy and agricultural development, the e-commerce growth, the healthy remittance inflow, and an active service sector are the main pillars. Combating the Covid-19 pandemic successfully has contributed to a positive growth rate, something which almost all the developing and developed countries have failed to do so.
Agriculture still continues to be one of the most important sectors of the economy of Bangladesh, and one of the key driving forces of economic growth. According to BBS in 2019, total food grains (rice, wheat, and maize) production was about 44.48 million metric tons, pulse production was 9.38 lakh metric tons, oil crops production was 10.89 lakh metric tons, and potato production was 10.9 million metric tons.
The flood situation was quite alarming this year, with 31 districts being more or less affected by the floods, with significant crop damages. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the total rice production is anticipated to be 36.3 million metric tons where the total rice area is projected to cut slightly to 11.8 million hectares in Bangladesh, assuming good weather conditions and cultivation of hybrid and high yield varieties.
A renowned development expert, Dr Khurshed Alam, chairman of BISR Trust, opined that “ensuring food security for all” is the main concern for sound and sustainable economic development of the country during this emergency situation.
During Covid-19, agriculture and the rural economy are playing a significant role in ensuring that the economy of Bangladesh remains secure, as the industrial and service sectors could not perform well. Most of the affected households are either dependent on the service or industrial sector directly or indirectly, but those who are engaged in agricultural activities are relatively less affected because farmers did not stop going to their farmlands for production.
Agriculture is making a significant contribution to the industrial sector by ensuring cheap food items. The rural economy creates employment through food production, income enhancement, creating more purchasing power, and demand for industrial products.
Farmers have maintained the momentum in terms of their agricultural production and their export earnings, of which a portion goes to agricultural workers. The main pillar of our progress during Covid-19 is therefore the growing rural economy.
Mobile banking and agent banking have greatly accelerated the growth of not only the rural economy, but also in the cities. Money is being transacted very fast through mobile banking and agent banking. E-commerce has been improving very fast, creating shopping opportunities while staying at home.
Bangladesh Competition Commission claimed that, at the end of August this year, the market for e-commerce business in the country was Tk166.16 billion, which was only Tk5.70 billion in 2016. Thus, in the last five years, the country’s e-commerce business has grown almost 30 times.
In order to maintain a conducive environment for strengthening agriculture and the rural economy, it is necessary to create employment opportunities (self-employment) for the farmers, entrepreneurs (micro, small, medium), agricultural workers, and the workers involved in off-farm activities.
We can do this by providing necessary agricultural subsidies (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc), training, and advising on the respective economic activities, providing easy access and adequate credit facilities with low interest, etc. On a priority basis, every village should be developed as a productive hub through conducting quality research, IGA Mapping (an innovative model developed by Dr Khurshed Alam), revitalization of rural economy by amplifying mobile communication using apps for agricultural marketing, and bringing the fallow land into cultivation with a view to ensure a sound economy.
Winter is coming. Infections are also on the rise. There is no alternative but to intensify our arduous effort for sustaining economic growth by promoting our agriculture.
Sultan Mahmud is a Researcher, Bangladesh Institute of Social Research (BISR) Trust. Email: [email protected]