The fact that the government has included agriculture in its current export policy as a priority sector is undoubtedly a right step forward. Though various agricultural items produced by our farmers especially vegetables have long been in the overseas markets to meet the needs of Bangladeshi expatriates, the necessary thrust was lacking at the policy level to duly promote those produce in the government’s export list. Such an emphasis was overdue for the simple reason that the country’s export basket, which has been overwhelmingly dominated by a single item, the Readymade Garment, (RMG), was in need of diversifying. Now that agriculture has been added to the export basket as a viable candidate, it is an important development in that direction. Especially, it is welcome news for our traditional farmers as well as entrepreneurs who are engaged in growing and marketing agricultural produce commercially.
It is worth noting at this point that our farmers who have been eminently successful in growing diverse kinds of agricultural crops in large quantities have long been facing uncertainties in marketing their produce in the peak season. It so happens that they often find it hard to sell their farm products in the local market. In fact, it is poor marketing which is basically controlled by the middlemen that lies behind such a peak season glut in the market. As a consequence, farmers have often to sell their produce at throwaway prices. Sometimes, they even dump their products of hard labour on the roadside to rot.
Clearly, such untoward developments have been a big disincentive to farmers. So, it is important that those farmers growing crops worthy of export are provided with an assured and profitable market free of uncertainties, particularly, owing to the middlemen. In that case, it would be required of those concerned at the relevant ministry in the government to ensure that farmers can directly benefit from the decisions to be taken at the policy level in this regard. At this point, it is good to know that to expedite work the government has already made certain moves to form committees with a view to formulating an action plan. The said plan, it is learnt, would set long-term goals to boost export of agricultural goods. Commendably, meanwhile, the officials concerned in the marketing department of the Ministry of Agriculture have carried out consultations with the apex body of the exporters of vegetables, fruits and allied products.
In this context, those behind the plan would do well to note that Bangladesh is the world’s third largest producer of vegetables and the seventh biggest in growing fruits. Unfortunately, these successes have not been reflected in the export of those products as far as the records go. In fact, agricultural products account for only 2.0 per cent of the country’s total export. In the fiscal year 2019-20, for example, the country earned over US$469 million from exporting various processed and fresh agricultural products. Of those, a small percentage (0.41 per cent) valued at U$163 million came from vegetables. Here the export figures for the agricultural goods, especially for vegetables, speak for themselves. This is hardly acceptable. So, it is time agriculture was allowed to claim its due share of the export market. As such, those formulating a policy to boost export of agricultural products have to be up to the challenge before them.