Labour crisis during transplanting and harvesting period is a very common problem in Bangladesh. The direct and indirect effects of industrialisation have driven farm labourers from farming to other occupations. Thus, the number of agricultural workers is constantly decreasing, and in the future, the crisis will gradually increase. Agri-mechanization can solve this problem because modern agricultural machinery works much faster than human labour. Also, it needs fewer people to operate them. However, we know mechanization requires comparatively large land, collective farms for synchronized cultivation.
The farming lands of our country are small due to various reasons; including division of inheritance and the farmers are also not very keen on pairing them. Another problem is all the farmers in an area don’t cultivate their land at the same time and don’t use same variety. Due to the selection of different varieties and planting time, all the crop fields are not planted and get mature at the same time. That’s why using agricultural machinery at any particular locality of Bangladesh is not economically viable.
Considering above mentioned problem scientists thoughts that if the whole process of cultivating crop in an area could be brought under the same system, then the machinery could be used profitably while maintaining the land’s borderline. So they have come up with a compelling way named it ‘synchronized cultivation’.
The present pro-farmer government has taken various steps for sustainable mechanization to make agriculture modern and profitable; Synchronized cultivation is one of these. In this process, farmers will transplant together the same variety of a crop or different variety that has the same growth duration at the same time in a particular area using a machine. In this method, all the process of transplanting the seedlings in the main field, all the intercultural management, and finally, the harvesting of the crop will be done simultaneously using different machines.
For example, if farmers want to plant a rice field in a synchronized way, they have to grow seedlings in portable trays which can transplant in the main field using a rice transplanter. As planted together, all the rice will become harvest-ready at the same time. Afterward, the rice can be harvested and threshed at the same time with the help of a machine. For these reasons, the use of machinery in synchronized cultivation will become more accessible, and the number will rise. As a result, time, labour, and overall cost will decrease in rice cultivation, and the profit margin for farmers will increase, which will create an easy path for Agri-mechanization.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Department of Agricultural Extension implemented synchronized cultivation on a pilot basis in 12 upazilas of 12 districts of the country for the first time in the fiscal year 2019-20. Due to its great success, government decided to continue the programme in the fiscal year 2020-21 as well.
During the last Boro season, this programme was implemented in 61 districts on a broader scale. The Department of Agricultural Extension is directly responsible for its implementation, and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) provides technical assistance. According to rice scientists, this initiative will lead to a rapid expansion of newly released varieties of rice and increase the use of machinery. Synchronized cultivation method can prevent wastage of time in transporting agricultural machinery from one land to another. Even on small lands, agricultural machinery can be run profitably at total efficiency.
The government’s recently formulated synchronized cultivation policy states that one synchronized plot should be exhibited in at least one upazila in each district by the synchronized farmers’ group. Furthermore, every year this process should be continued with new groups to implement it in phases. The maximum number of farmers in each group should be 35, and the amount of land should be 50-60 acres. The number of female farmers in each group should be at least 30%. The selection of crop varieties should be made in a way so that it can equalize the growth duration of the variety. Also, raising and planting of rice seedlings should be done through mat nursery to harvest roadside rice before moving towards inside the field. This way it will be easier to use machines in crop production.
One of the challenges in synchronized cultivation is the production of mat-type rice seedlings in trays. In this method, seedlings are made in polythene or flexible trays without making a seedbed. Therefore, according to the planting time, seeding has to be raised. It uses a mixture of soil and cow dung in the ratio of 3:2. The seeds are then sprinkled again with a mixture of half the soil and cow dung and placed on a flat surface, soaked with water. Seedlings emerge within three days of seedbed formation. However, the production of mat-type seedlings seems to be somewhat complicated to the farmers. However, it is possible to produce mat-type saplings successfully through integrated initiatives. If the germination capacity of the seed is less than 80%, an additional seed should be placed later on in the tray as required.
Before sowing, the seeds in the tray should be soaked for 18-20 hours with Azoxitrobin or Pyraclostrobin group anti-fungal solutions like Amistartop or Celtima (2-3 ml/liter per kg of seed). Then it should be washed with clean water and rest aside. Depending on the variety, 120-140 grams of seeds should be sown in each tray. Seeds should be sown in such a way that there are 2-3 seedlings per centimeter. In case of the disease in the trays, Amistartop or Celtima should be mixed in 2-3 ml/liter of water and sprayed well. The trays should not be irrigated approximately within six hours after spraying. After sowing the seeds evenly, one layer of soil should be lightly applied, and it in no way should be too thick.
25-30 day old seedlings should be transplanted in the main field during Boro season, and 15-20 day old seedlings should be transplanted in Aus and Aman seasons. That means the height of the seedlings should be approximately 15 cm. In this method, the seedlings are raised in 20 to 25 days. Later the seedlings are planted through Rice Transplanter. However, even if planted by hand, seedlings should be planted in rows to make inter-care easy.
At present, the farmers of our country complaining that rice cultivation is not much profitable. One of the ways to make it profitable is to reduce production costs. Thus, there is no alternative to synchronized cultivation to reduce the cost of production.
In the conventional method, transplanting seedlings in one hectare of land costs about Tk 12,000-16,000, whereas using rice transplanter it costs only Tk 3-3.5 thousand. In the same way, in the case of harvesting, there is a huge shortage of labour in the country as harvesting starts almost at the same time. In this case, the cost of harvesting rice with a combined harvester is Tk 3,500-4,000 per hectare, while the cost of cutting, transporting, and threshing with labor costs around Tk 18,000-20,000 per hectare in different areas. Thus, if mechanization can be introduced for planting and harvesting it will be possible to save about Tk 25000-26000 per hectare.
Agriculture Minister Dr. Md. Abdur Razzak MP said in a recent workshop, “The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is working relentlessly to make agriculture modern and profitable. A project worth Tk 3,020 crore has been taken with utmost importance in the mechanization of agriculture. Besides, 274 posts of agricultural engineers have already been created to create a skilled workforce to accelerate agricultural mechanization. As a result, agriculture is moving towards mechanization.
The writer is Senior Liaison Officer, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. Email: [email protected]