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Subsidising diesel price for irrrigation
Bangladesh Rice Foundation

FUTURE public sector investments for developing new irrigation facilities should mostly use the surface water resources of the country, with a strong emphasis on small-scale schemes. The technical design and management model of these schemes should be improved, using the experience gathered so far, to ensure optimal use of the available water resource, social equity and maximum benefit to the water users. For the increased use of surface water resources, the Ministry of Water Resources, and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) should be implementing agencies.
Subsidy for pumped irrigation water: To reduce the cost of pumped irrigation and to help increase farmers' profit from rice production, the government should adequately subsidise the price of diesel fuel used for irrigation. An effective system of managing subsidy ensuring that the benefit reaches the target farmers must be found. The subsidy will also benefit the nation by promoting price parity with neighbouring India. For that matter, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance and Planning have to be the implementing agencies.
Trans-border river flow: The government must continue to be vigilant to ensure that the flows of the trans-border rivers are not significantly reduced by deliberate actions by the upper riparian country. Reduced flows will have devastating effects on the overall ecology and production environments of Bangladesh.
Implementing Agencies for this purpose will be the Ministry of Water Resources, the BWDB and the Ministry of Finance
Arsenic in groundwater: Although a modest beginning has been made, the problem of toxic-level arsenic in groundwater should be addressed with high national priority. Sustainable support should be provided to research programmes directed to fully comprehend how long-term use of high-arsenic irrigation water may affect the quality of soil, rice and other grain crops (wheat and maize), vegetables, and the food chain, and how to overcome the effects. The threshold levels of arsenic concentration in irrigation water for different crops should be established. Here the recommended implementing agencies are the Ministry Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD&C), with support of NGOs
Performance of "major" irrigation schemes: To achieve substantive improvements in the capacity utilisation of surface water in the major irrigation schemes, the BWDB must make all-out efforts to ensure implementation of the planned reorganisation of its management structure and functions initiated through the BWDB Act 2000. To this end, the BWDB must (1) involve all important stakeholders, including community-based organisations (CBOs), in the planning and implementation of irrigation management, and (2) establish an improved system of accountability for its staff at all levels. Implementing Agencies for this purpose should be the BWDB, Ministries of Water Resources, Agriculture, Finance and Planning, and Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives
Supplementary irrigation in Aman season: To ensure timely growth, development and good harvest, the Aman rice should be covered by provision and readiness for supplementary irrigation as and when needed due to inadequate rainfall. Presently, the extent of supplementary irrigation in the Aman season is very small although large areas suffer from inadequate rainfall at the time of establishment and/or the critical reproductive stage of the crop. The government should promote such use of available irrigation facilities for the Aman season. Here the recommended implementing agencies are the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and National Agricultural Research System (NARS) institutes.
Fertiliser: The constant pressure to grow more food per unit land has, over the past several decades, led to a very high land use intensity and consequent severe depletion of plant nutrients in the soil especially in areas grown to modern varieties of rice and wheat. Soil fertility regenerating practices such as occasional following, rotation with legurninous or green-manure crops and application of farmyard manure (FYM) are rarely done by farmers. Of the many nutrients taken up by the plant from the soil, only three inorganic nutrients (N.P and K), along with one secondary nutrient (Ca), have been supplied to our soils from applied fertilisers for about four decades. The importance of most other nutrients was not recognised earlier. But now S and in some places Mg, Zn, B, and Mo have become a limiting factor in crop production. Although there has been a tremendous increase in fertiliser application, the proportions of different nutrients used are not at all balanced. Nitrogen constitutes about 80 per cent of the total nutrients generally used. If the present trend continues along with intensive cultivation of high yielding crop varieties, the productivity of our soils is likely to substantially decrease in the future.
Available reports indicate that about 70 per cent of the net cultivable area in the high and medium high land categories has soil organic matter contents below the critical level. Frequent tillage operations required for high cropping intensity increased the decomposition of soil organic matter. The major obstacles to increasing and sustaining productivity of rice land are the low and declining organic matter, deficiencies in secondary and micrornutrients like Mg, S, Zn, B and Mo and farmers' continued practice of imbalanced application of fertilisers.
Testing of agricultural soils: An effective coordinated programme of testing agricultural soils throughout the country should be undertaken in which both the public and private sectors would play major and complementary roles. The specifics of this programme should be based on the findings of focused investigations into the present efforts in this direction by Social Research Development Institute (SRDI) and DAE as well as the private sector organisations providing soil testing services to farmers on payment. The programme should have clear targets to achieve in different areas within specified time periods and provisions for periodic reviews. The recommended implementing agencies for the purpose are the Ministry of Agriculture and the SRDI.
Updating fertiliser guide and dissemination of prescribed fertiliser doses: The Thana Nirdesika and the Fertiliser Recommendation Guide for balanced fertiliser packages should be updated every five years reflecting the changing status and requirements of soil nutrients, especially for increasing rice yields and sustaining soil health. The desired changes to be adopted in the guides and the mode of on-farm demonstrations and farmer training effectiveness should be identified through sound on-the-ground investigations of efficacy of the existing practices. The DAE should more effectively disseminate through on-farm demonstration and farmer training the prescriptions of the Thana Nirdesika and the Fertiliser Recommendation Guide. Here the recommended implementing agencies are the Ministry of Agriculture, the DAE and the SRDI.
Encouraging balanced use of fertilisers: To encourage balanced use of fertilisers, the government should continue to provide subsidy for the import of DAR TSP, NIP and Zn and gradually raise the price of urea to reach the full-cost price within a few years, say five to six years, by issuing advance notifications. A mechanism that guarantees the full benefit of the subsidy reaching the target farmers must be devised. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives should be the implementing agencies in this connection.
Promotion of multi-nutrient fertilisers: Through extension training, publicity and incentives, the government should encourage farmers to use multi-nutrient fertilisers like N-P-K-S-Zn, especially in intensively cropped areas where the rate of nutrient removal from the soil is high. The recommended implementing agency is the Ministry of Agriculture.
Integrated nutrient management (INM) and mass awareness: The DAE should establish in every Thana large-scale block demonstrations of the integrated use of inorganic fertilisers and organic materials in rice and rice-based cropping areas to educate farmers about the long-term benefit of this practice for sustaining soil health. Concurrently, the DAE should implement a sound mass awareness programme to promote integrated nutrient management (INM) and organic recycling (application of cow dung, farm yard manure (FYM), compost, poultry manure, and/or green manure crop) for sustaining soil health. For this purpose, the recommended implementing agencies are the Ministries of Agriculture and Information.
Fertiliser efficiency improvement: Research and extension efforts should be on high geared to increase fertiliser use efficiency from the present level of 27 per cent to at least 50 per cent in the next 10 years so as to reduce farmers cost of production. Currently, available technologies such as deep-placement of urea granules should be propagated more rigorously. If required, this should be done with some subsidy given on granular urea. The Ministry of Agriculture does need to implement this.
Pest management: Pest control becomes critically important when severe insect or disease infestation occurs in the field. Average pest damage in rice is reported to be more that 15 per cent of total production. The DAE is responsible for testing and endorsing the efficacy of pesticides that are locally produced or imported. It has rudimentary pesticides testing, facilities at the headquarters. The DAE is fighting an uphill battle against undesirable elements engaged in illegal or extra-legal activities dealing with pesticides. Some multinationals are locally producing or importing some pesticides that have long been banned in the country of their origin and some other countries because these are environmentally hazardous. Many retailers are engaged in selling pesticides of different brands imported from neighbouring countries, some of which are fake products or has dangerously toxic materials. The indiscriminate use of pesticides in the rice fields is destroying not only the beneficial insects and predators but, as commonly believed, also the breeding grounds for indigenous fishes.
The DAE is committed to implementing the policy for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technology, enacted by the government in 2002. But IPM is yet to spread in the country in a significant way or to make any significant impact. It is reported that the IPM training has reached only about 0.5 per cent of the 37 million farmers of Bangladesh. This needs a careful review for identifying the problems for the very slow adoption of the IPM technology and for taking remedial measures.
Policy Recommendations: Pesticide regulation: The existing institutional mechanism for regulating the manufacture, import and quality control of pesticides must be made adequate both in public and private sectors. DAE's capacity for pesticides management should be strengthened in terms of trained staff, laboratory facilities, market monitoring and control tools (including legal tools, if needed, to punish culprits). The DAE should develop partnerships with non governmental organisations (NGOs), CBOs and the private sector for effectively implementing its programmes. For this purpose, the implementing agencies should be the Ministry of agricultural and the DAE.
Implementation of the IPM programme: The IMP programme should be given a high priority in DAE's overall agenda and the National IPM Programme should be systematically implemented with full force through the regular extension programme of the DAE. The problems responsible for the slow pace of implementation should be carefully investigated and remedial measures adopted to fast-track IPM adoption by farmers. In this connection, the recommended implementing agencies are the Ministry of Agricultural and the DAE.
Credit support: For generations, farmers in this country, especially small and marginal ones, have suffered from shortage of capital to invest in agricultural production. Informal moneylenders exploited them for a long time. Specialised banks like the Bangladesh Krishi Bank (BKB) came into being decades ago but could not provide the small farmers meaningful access to credit. Their operational inefficiency led to high accumulation of overdue loans in many cases. The co-operative credit system was also inefficient and ineffective in satisfying the credit needs of our farmers. A special agricultural credit programme launched in 1977 through the nationalised commercial banks (NCBs) helped to increase the supply of credit but their performance was not satisfactory due to inadequate field supervision, complicated loan-granting procedures, corruption, and poor recovery. The poor and small farmers were by and large bypassed.
The emergence of non governmental organisations (NGOs) in the 1980's led to significant expansion of micro-credit in the rural areas. Their procedures are simple, the real cost of credit is relatively low and loan recovery rate is very high. How, disbursement of loans by NGOs is much higher than that of the formal banks. However, only a small part of NGOs' credit is allocated for crop production. Thus, the small and marginal farmers are bypassed by both the formal banks and the NGOs, and consequently they have no recourse but to fall victim to local moneylenders. New policy measures are needed to streamline the credit system for farmers, especially small and medium ones, so that adequate credit becomes available in time at low cost. Credit facilities for service providers to farmers also need sympathetic attention.
Crop agriculture remains a risky enterprise for farmers. An attempt to establish a crop insurance programme was made on a pilot scale many years ago by the Sadharan Bima Corporation (SBC), but it did not succeed. Since then several studies were undertaken on the prospects of crop insurance, one of which was by a government team led by the Principal Secretary, which visited the crop insurance schemes in a number of southeast Asian countries. More recently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) made a study and submitted its report to the Ministry of Finance. The present situation indeed calls for an in-depth review of the issue in the light of past experience and information, and formulation of a viable solution.
Policy Recommendations: Special windows in commercial banks for farm credit; To ensure easy and timely access to credit by small and marginal farmers, all commercial banks (NCBs and private) should be advised to establish special windows with targets in their semi-urban and rural branches for handling farmers' credit. This initiative will open up a new avenue for the banks to invest their funds in a most socially desirable sector of the national economy. If necessary, the banks may involve the local NGOs and CBOs in an appropriate manner in loan processing and repayment mechanisms. The recommended implementing agencies for the purpose are the Bangladesh Bank and the Ministry of Finance and Planning.
Small banks for village micro-credit: We support the government's recent decision to launch small capital banks to extend micro-credit facilities in the villages across the country under the Micro-credit Regulatory Authority Act. The government should ensure that the service of this facility is available to small farmers for crop production purposes. Here the implementing agencies should be the Bangladesh Bank and the Ministry of Finance and Planning
Crop insurance: The government should have an in-depth review by a team of experts of the prospects of instituting crop insurance for rice farmers in the light of the present and anticipated near-future production scenarios in the country. The team's mandate would be to formulate a workable crop insurance programme for rice and other major crops, starting initially in selected areas. In this connection, the recommended implementing agencies are Ministries of Finance and Planning, Agriculture, and Commerce. (By Courtesy: Bangladesh Rice Foundation)