On July 30, Dhaka Tribune published an informative report based on the fact that Bangladeshi “farmers are losing interest in boro” cultivation and shifting to other robi crops like maize, wheat, potato, soya and pulse, facing challenges due to “high production cost against a low market price.”
This is in fact a very positive change in our farmers’ crop selection as it is a highly beneficial practice both nationally and environmentally.
The Bangladesh government has already started promoting crop diversification considering the hazards associated with the general practice of growing a single type of crop around the year.
In March this year, the government instructed the Department of Agriculture Extension to promote crop diversification at district and upazila levels, while many other non-governmental organisations have also been working on this issue for a long time.
Crop diversification is considered very good practice for many reasons and in the Bangladeshi context it is best to avoid the boro, which is cultivated with non-natural irrigation during the dry season.
A comparison of the benefits of robi versus boro crops is as follows.
Groundwater Boro is a very water-hungry crop, which needs nearly five times more irrigation compared to wheat, since a paddy field needs to be submerged under a certain level of water for most of the time.
Another alarming hazard regarding irrigation on boro land is that most of the water is extracted from underground reserves, depleting the precious ground water level.
Ground water is considered to be one of the purest sources of water and therefore it is better to be considerate about using the source, especially in the dry season when the recharge rate is almost zero.
Energy efficiency Irrigation requires fuel and energy, increasing the electricity crisis and power outage during the boro season. The farmers also struggle to get diesel for irrigation purposes, despite the subsidised price.
It costs farmers a lot of labour to carry the fuel to the farmlands, since fuel stations are not abundant in Bangladesh, with almost none in the remote areas.
Soil The practice of cultivating one crop throughout the year is detrimental for the soil, as different crops demand different types of nutrition elements and minerals in the soil. For example, paddy needs more ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen.
This is why if only rice is cultivated in all seasons, this mineral runs low in the soil runs low, and the soil quality deteriorates.
Pest control Diversification of crops also helps in pest control, since there are usually designated pests for each type of crop. It gives the pests a permanent residence if the farmers keep growing a single type of crop on the same farmlands around the year.
However, the pests get confused and lose their breeding and feeding grounds if the farmers diversify the crops they cultivate.
The pests decrease significantly, and the use of pesticides decreases as well, which is good both for human health and for the environment.
Food security While the boro crop struggles and faces different challenges to its growth, and has to be produced in artificial conditions created by irrigation and other support, robi crops like wheat, potato, maze, pulse and soya grow more comfortably in their favorable conditions.
The robi crops are short-day plants which means they need a shorter period of light to mature. Therefore, these crops can be harvested earlier. Thus, they are not vulnerable to early flooding or the norwester which often damages the boro crop.
Economic With so many problems related to boro cultivation and benefits of switching to some other crop, the farmers are wisely choosing to grow other robi crops rather than boro to get better yields.
It has been found that while boro gives a yield of 90 mounds per acre, maize has a yield of 150 mounds.
Coupled with the low production costs of robi crops which need very low irrigation and less pesticides, plowing and fertilisers, the shift is resulting in an increase in the farmers’ profits.
Some may argue that the shift towards robi crops by the farmers could be a threat to our national food security because the staple food of our nation is still rice.
However, the shift towards crops like wheat, maze, pulse and potato rather helps to ensure food security through its high yield from low input.
The only thing we will have to do is make some changes in our food practices. We will have to practice eating some other food items, rather having rice three times a day.
Otherwise, to meet the increasing demand for rice, the government will have to keep subsidising diesel, electricity and fertiliser for boro production.
Without subsidies, the farmers will not go for boro production, since they can only make a very low profit.
Lowering Boro production will also improve our environmental situation relating to soil, water and some other relevant components.