A sustainable rice production system will call for protection of rice land, and increasing productivity through optimal and scientific use of all inputs. Effective institutional arrangements at the national and local levels will be required for these. A recent policy development -- A National Rice Policy for Bangladesh -- of Bangladesh Rice Foundation, throws light on some priority issues and corresponding policy recommendations in this connection. Such issues and recommendations are being discussed here.
Land is a scarce natural resource for Bangladesh. At present, the net land area available for cultivation is about 8.0 million hectares and the total cropped area is about 14 million hectares. About 70 per cent of the cropped area is planted with rice every year. There is a little or no opportunity for bringing more land under cultivation. Yet, about 80,000 hectares or 1.0 per cent of the total agricultural land is going out of agriculture every year for other uses. Rice land, even those with irrigation facilities, are continuously being shifted to non-agricultural use. This issue deserves a high priority attention.
Today with a cropping intensity of about 178 per cent, Bangladesh produces about 26 million tons of clean rice annually, which have to be increased to 30 million tons by the year 2020 if we want to maintain the current level of per capita production. As the scope of further increasing cropping intensity is extremely limited, the increase in production will have to be realised by raising yield per unit area, for which arresting the wanton use of the rice land for non-agricultural uses is urgently required. Land is almost totally privately owned. Since it is a scarce and critical national resource, the use and management of rice land should be regulated through a combination of legal and administrative measures and incentives keeping in view the greater national interests.
The National Land Use Policy, Bangladesh (NLUP, B), which was enacted in June 2001, formulated comprehensive prescriptions for improving the utilisation and management of land in the country. Unfortunately, no action plan for implementing the policy guidelines has been developed as yet. Tile recommendations made below are, in agreement with those of the NLUP, B. The government does need to take appropriate steps to implement these recommendations on a priority basis.
Policy Recommendations: a) Mass awareness for protecting rice land; a strong mass awareness programme should be launched using various media to explain the critical importance of protecting rice land and legal restrictions should be imposed on transfer and use of rice land for non-agricultural use. For this purpose, implementing agencies have to be the Ministry of Land and the Ministry of Information.
b) Less productive land for non-agricultural use: Non-agricultural or less productive land should be earmarked in each mouza or village for building cluster houses, village markets, rural industries, brickfields and other non-agricultural purposes. Incentives should be provided to private entrepreneurs in and around markets and in semi-urban areas to build and sell housing plots, flats, shops. rural industrial units, etc. on such earmarked land.
Essential infrastructure facilities and services like internal or approach roads, electricity connections, piped water supply, gas supply, primary and secondary schools, market places, health clinics, etc., should he provided on priority basis to such land and thereby spare rice land from non-agricultural encroachments. Use of productive land belonging to educational and other public institutions and land acquisition proposals of various government and semi-government bodies for industrial and other purposes should be seriously reviewed, keeping in view the scarcity of land. Essential development projects should be allotted space only on non-agricultural or low productive land. Implementing agencies for this purpose have to be Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperations (LGRDC) and Ministry of Land.
c) Land use committees: Strong local government institutions should be promoted for the purpose of preserving good quality agricultural land. Upazila and Zila Land Use Committees headed by the Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) and the Deputy Commissioner (DC), respectively, should be set up to consider and recommend land allocation for non agricultural purposes. Ministry of Land and Ministry of LGRDC are the recommended to be implementation agencies for the purpose.
Inputs: rice seed, good seed, forms the fundamental need for good crop production. The National Seed Policy(1993), which covers seeds of all important crops and emphasises a balanced development of the seed industry with participation of both the public and the private sectors, is a testimony of the government's recognition of the critical importance of seeds in Bangladesh's agriculture. But serious implementation of the policy is still wanting.
Seeds saved from an earlier harvest by farmers' themselves constitute about 90 per cent of all seeds used in rice production. The other sources of seed supply are the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) (about 5.0 per cent), and non-government organisations (NGOs) and the private sector (about 5.0 per cent). A few seed companies and NGOs have been engaged in recent years in selling hybrid rice seeds to farmers.
The traditional methods used by farmers for growing and saving rice seeds often produce low quality seeds contaminated by pathogens, mixture of seeds of weeds and other rice varieties, inert matter, etc., which result in poor germination and production loss. Lack of knowledge of the problems and their feasible solution is a major constraint to improving farmers' practices for growing and preserving rice seed.
Several recent projects to develop practical models for improving farmers' seed preservation have produced valuable lessons. The Thana Cereal Seed and Technology Transfer Programme of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) focusing on the farm level yielded promising results. The German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) funded project implemented by BADC and the Seed Industry Development Agency (SIDA)/Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA)-Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) project, both focusing on farmer group participation, yielded promising outcomes. A community-based seed production and training project, supported by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Poverty Alleviation Through Rice Research Assistance ((PETRRA) project and implemented collaboratively with several NGOs, Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and about 400 farmers in seven upazilas through seven seasons, produced encouraging results. Currently, DAE has a programme for farmers' training and production-preservation of rice seeds.
Eventually, most of the rice seeds would probably be produced in the private sector involving farmers, individually and in groups, NGOs, and commercial seed firms. But the Government must maintain a strong role for assuring the quality of seeds, for which the current infrastructure is inadequate. Historically, BADC maintained a reputation for supplying quality seeds of rice and wheat, but because of limitations in capacity, BADC could create only limited impact at the national level. The performance of the Seed Certification Agency (SCA), which is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the quality of all commercially traded seeds, has been highly unsatisfactory. The SCA, which is controlled by the DAE, suffers from serious lack of capacity in terms of both manpower and facilities to address the seed quality control issues of the rice sector.
Policy Recommendations: a) action plan for implementing the National Seed Policy: The recommendations of the National Seed Policy (1.993) concerning rice should be implemented without delay throughout the country by the DAE, involving NGOs, CBOs and the private sector following a target-oriented action plan meticulously prepared for this purpose. A regular monitoring and review mechanism must be made an integral part of this action plan. All major stakeholders e.g. farmers, DAE officials, NGOs, CBOs, the private sector, and researchers should be involved in developing the plan. The suggested implementing agencies for such works are Ministry of Agriculture and BADC
b) Transforming BADC into an autonomous seed development authority: for impacting on the seed sector in a major way, the BADC should be transformed into an independent and autonomous Seed Development Authority or into a public-private joint venture which would be responsible to (I) promote and coordinate production of quality seeds to meet at least 20 per cent of total rice seed requirement with a view to ensuring 100 per cent seed replacement at the farmer level every five years; (II) produce Foundation Seed for all parties e.g. NGOs, seed business firms, and farmers who could produce quality seeds for the market; (III) purify traditional rice varieties, with special emphasis on fine and aromatic varieties, and make the products available to target farmer communities; and (iv) provide relevant training and consultative services in modern seed processing, testing, and storage facilities. Here implementing agencies recommended for such actions Ministry of Agriculture and BADC.
c) Strengthening breeder seed production facility; The BRRI has adequate land but limited capacity and resources in scientific manpower and infrastructure for producing Breeder Seed in adequate quantities. Sufficient manpower, infrastructure and funds should be provided to Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) for meeting the national requirement of Breeder Seed. For such activities to follow, such implementing agencies: Ministry of Agriculture and BRRI
d) Autonomous Seed Certification Agency
The Seed Certification Agency (SCA) should be transformed into a strong autonomous entity, with adequate manpower and testing facilities to effectively implement the following mandate:
(1) to monitor, control and regulate the quality of seed commercially produced in the public and the private sectors, and certify them; and
(2) to carry out the seed quarantine requirements for imported and exportable seed. The SCA will work closely with the MOA (DAE), BADC, local government, and the concerned private sector NGOs and CBOs. The recommendations implementing agencies for actions in this connection are Ministry of Agriculture, DAE, and SCA.
Irrigation water: Water is an essential input for the survival and performance of the rice plant. Water from an irrigation source must be supplied to the rice field in the Boro season when rainfull is insignificant or totally absent.
In the Aman season, irrigation is needed for a good performance of the crop in most years, especially when rainfall onset is delayed at the beginning or when rainfall is inadequate towards the end of the season.
About 60 per cent of the 14 million hectares of cropped area (8.4 million hectares) has access to irrigation water.
About 83 per cent of the irrigated area (6.97 million hectares) is served by groundwater under what is often called "minor" irrigation scheme and the rest by surface water sources. Shallow tubewells (STWs), deep tubewells (DTWs) and other small devices account for 75 per cent, 17 per cent, and 8.0 per cent of all groundwater-served areas, respectively. All STWs and most DTWs are privately owned. About 53 per cent of the total surface water irrigated area (1.43 million hectares) is served by low-lift pumps (LLPs) that are mostly privately owned and number between 75,000 and 80,000. LLPs draw water from rivers, canals or other surface impoundments. Major irrigation schemes, in which water is transported in canals fed by water pumped or diverted from rivers, account for about 35 per cent of the total surface water irrigated area. These irrigation systems, which are owned and operated by the Bangladesh Water Development Board(BWDB), chronically suffer from severe underutilisation of their actual potentials. Very small-scale surface water irrigation schemes using traditional techniques of water lifting serve about 176,000 hectares.
In recent years, clear signs of over-exploitation of groundwater have surfaced -- permanent decline in the water table found in many areas, with concomitant increase in the cost of pumping, and toxic levels of arsenic found in thousands of STWs. The high arsenic is causing devastating effects on the health of thousands of people drinking STW water for some years.
In the public sector, small-scale surface water-based irrigation schemes with 1,000 hectares or less in service area arc now developed by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED). About 400 such schemes were established in the past several years. Some of' them use the water impounded in re-excavated "khals" or natural waterways.
The cost of irrigating rice is much higher in Bangladesh than in any other neighbouring country. Irrigation accounts for a hefty 28 per cent of the variable cost of rice production in Bangladesh compared to 13 per cent in the Punjab (India), 8.0 per cent in Thailand, and 6.0 per cent in Vietnam. The difference is mostly due to the fact that, unlike farmers in other countries, farmers in Bangladesh have to pay almost the full cost of the fuel and electric power used in pumping groundwater.