Govt, development partners move to mechanize farm sector of Bangladesh suffering from high labour cost and manpower shortage

The use of draft animals for tilling soil has long gone.

With 98% of its land ploughed by 700,000 power tillers, Bangladesh is now one of Asia’s most mechanized countries as far as land preparation for farming is concerned.

But when it comes to the planting and harvesting of rice, grown on 11 million hectares of land in the country, the tasks are still largely carried out by hand.

Unlike developed farm economies, all crops grown in Bangladesh are largely planted, weeded and harvested by hand. Mechanization is missing here.

A shortage of farm labourers and high labour costs have made growing crops such as rice increasingly expensive.

Now that the government and its development partners have recognized the value of mechanizing these operations, they have embarked upon a big-time farm mechanization program to avoid dependence on imports, particularly of rice.

While the government is providing Tk200 subsidy toward promoting farm mechanization, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has begun implementing a program of over Tk180 crore to support the mechanization of agriculture in Bangladesh by enhancing the capacity of the private sector to develop, manufacture and market innovative new technology.

According to Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, Bangladesh’s annual market for farm machinery now stands at over Tk10,000 crore and continues to grow by 10%.

He recently sought India’s investment under public-private initiative in farm mechanization in Bangladesh.

All these initiatives are expected to result in the rapid adoption of crop harvesting machinery, such as combine harvesters and reapers and the planting of rice through using rice transplanters.

The Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) is implementing the USAID Feed the Future (FtF) Bangladesh’s Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia Mechanization Extension Activity (CSISA-MEA) in southern Bangladesh, and the districts of Bogra and Cox’s Bazar. The International Development Enterprises (iDE) and the Georgia Institute of Technology have also partnered with CIMMYT in this USAID initiative.

USAID Director John Smith-Sreen said the number of farm labourers would drop by a half over the next one decade in Bangladesh.

And he said the objectives of CSISA-MEA were to boost the competitiveness and efficiency of domestic and private sector-led agricultural machinery manufacturing, enhance institutional capacity for agricultural mechanization through the development of a skilled and youth workforce and improve access for farmers to agricultural machinery, production and marketing services.

Farmers to adopt new mechanization technology

CSISA-MEA project head Tim Russell expects that at the end of the project period by 2024, as many as 243,000 farmers will be adopting new labour-and cost-saving mechanization technology.

This will be achieved by supporting at least 100 light engineering companies and 15 machinery marketing companies to design and manufacture or import appropriate and cost-efficient machines.

The agricultural machinery manufacturing sector will be supported to improve its capacity to manufacture competitively priced and high-quality machines and spare parts. To do this, CSISA-MEA will facilitate the training of 2,000 light engineering company staff in manufacturing skills.

The activity will also facilitate access for at least 5,000 machinery service providers to these new labour- and cost-saving machines to the finance they will need to purchase them, and to training in machinery use and maintenance, and in business management. 

Currently, a high rate of mechanization is already in place in Bangladesh as far as land tilling, irrigation, pesticide spraying and grain threshing are concerned. But in terms of transplanting and harvesting there persists a very low rate of mechanization.

Manual labour still claims the highest input cost in rice production of the country, as it is still essential for transporting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, drying and many other related activities.

Farmers and rural entrepreneurs have been trying to further mechanize some of these operations in order to reduce cost of production and time of operation.  

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