It will be budget for the people, says agriculture minister

With all eyes on the upcoming budget to be tabled in Parliament on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque has said that the government will prioritize the health and agriculture sectors the most in the budgetary allocations. 

“The two ministries will get the utmost priority. We have been told by the top brass of the government not to slash the allocation for the two major sectors in the current fiscal year despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The same will apply in the next fiscal too,” he said. 

Razzaque, who has served as food minister earlier, said the apparel and agro-based production sectors as well as social safety net, too, would get prominence in the next budget, aimed at keeping the wheels of the economy moving.

“In a nutshell, no one will be without food; we will ensure food for each and every person. Even though our per capita land is shrinking, we’d keep to production. If needed, we’ll import too– but nobody will starve and that is our spirit,” the minister said.

The government is also set to expand the social safety net in the upcoming budget as Covid-19 has pushed at least 2.5 crore people below the poverty line. 

Terming the national budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 as one of the people amid the pandemic, he said no one in the country would be left without food as the government was focused on mechanizing the agriculture sector to meet growing demand.

Efforts would also be made to make the agricultural sector profitable, with special attention to hybridization, as he put it.

The budget will be the second straight budget in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, which emerged in the country on March 8 last year. 

Razzaque, a senior figure in the ruling Awami League, said: “The agriculture sector will get Tk3,000 crore in five years for mechanization, with Tk680 crore to be allocated in the next fiscal year.” 

Razzaque stated that mechanization could bring great relief from the mounting labor costs nowadays and so help the agriculture sector become profitable. 

The government in the outgoing fiscal year allocated a Tk5,000 crore stimulus package for the pandemic-hit agricultural sector. Banks lent the money at just 4% interest to farmers in line with the central bank’s guidelines.

“Generally, we provide the sector with a Tk14,000-15,000 crore loan every financial year at 8-9% interest rate. But in the forthcoming fiscal year, we will continue the 4% interest rate against the soft loan to be disbursed among farmers,” he said.  

The government, he said, was keen to ensure the growth of the industrial sector, “for which we’re planning subsidies and stimulus packages for this sector as we did last year,” he said.

The think tank Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) recently called for more emphasis to be placed on health, social security, agriculture and education in the national budget for the fiscal year 2021-22. 

Bangladesh had proposed the highest allocation (Tk29,247) for the health sector for the 2020-21 fiscal year, followed by Tk 22,489 crore for the agriculture sector in a bid to ensure food security and prevent any possible food crisis in a post-corona situation. 

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