Bangladesh in 2014: Agriculture and Overseas Employment

 

In January 2014, Bangladesh Awami League was elected to state power for the second consecutive time since 2009. This time, the government aimed to fulfill the pledges made in its 2014 election manifesto titled: “Marching Ahead Bangladesh” as well as sustaining the momentum of development started during its earlier tenure since 2009.

The fact that the current government has massive public support for its activities was manifested in the public opinion polls conducted by the leading English daily newspaper Dhaka Tribune. Published in September 2014, the polls clearly showed that the current Awami League (AL) government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is enjoying overwhelming popular support.

75% of the respondents surveyed were satisfied with the current government’s first 6 months in power following the January 5 elections. A significant majority, around 70% of the respondents, felt that the country is headed in the right direction. A majority, 53%, of the respondents voiced their support for the current government to complete their five years tenure. An overwhelming majority of respondents, nearly 78%, expressed their objection to any forthcoming agitation movement by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

The overwhelming public support for the current Awami League government has been manifested in this week’s national opinion polls too.The polls show that nearly 72% people consider the government to be very successful or successful. On the other hand, most consider Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to be unsuccessful. 62% people feel that BNP has failed to project itself as a better alternative than the Awami League. Nearly a fourth of the people opined that the government has no major failures.

In a series of special reports, we will look at the state of the various sectors of the country in the one year which has now passed since January 2014 under the leadership of the Awami League government. In this second of our special reports on 2014, we look at the state of the country’s agriculture and food security sectors and overseas development under the Awami League government.

Agri

Agriculture and Food Security

Record production and growth 
2014 was a very good year for Bangladesh in terms of its agricultural output and ensuring people’s food security. Various steps taken by the government and favourable weather conditions resulted in record production of major crops and better prices for farmers. The agriculture and service sectors saw 3.35% and 5.58% growth in 2014, up from 2.4% and 5.5% respectively in 2013. Exports of agro-based products also saw a 15% growth in 2014, with earnings worth US$ 615 million. Major crops like boro, wheat, jute, potato, ginger and summer vegetables witnessed record production. Besides crops, poultry and fisheries also saw record growth with production increasing at all time highs for both. Farmers received higher prices for their produce in 2014 compared to 2013.

According to data by the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM), prices of major crops including Boro and Aus crops, onion, wheat, maize, jute, ginger, mustard seed and summer vegetables in 2014 were 10-15% higher compared to that in 2013. Boro sold at TK 680-800 per maund (40 kgs) in the May-June period. Farmers got TK 800-1000 per kg for onion, TK 800-900 for wheat, TK 900-1200 for jute (desi), TK 1350 for jute (tossa), TK 680-720 for Aus paddy, TK 1600-1800 for ginger etc. Production of Boro crop hit record high at 18.95 million tonnes while wheat output rose to a 11 year high at 1.302 million tonnes. Potato output was also set at a record high 8.95 million tonnes, summer vegetable production 4.0 million tonnes, jute production at 7.0 million bales, online the highest at 1.65 million tonnes and ginger at a three year record high of 72,000 tonnes.

According to Department of Fisheries (DoF), fish production reached the highest ever 3.55 million tonnes in 2014. Poultry sector production increased by nearly 15% in 2014 compared to 2013, as per data of Bangladesh Poultry Industries Coordination Committee. Better prices of crops helped boost both farm and non-farm sectors in rural areas. With the rise in purchasing power of farmers, agro-processing industries, farm equipment and inputs, housing and construction materials, mobile and electronics, clothing and private clinics have seen a boom in the outgoing year.

Exporting rice
For the first time since independence, Bangladesh became a rice exporting nation in 2014. Bangladesh has already exported 50,000 tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka. After Sri Lanka, Bangladesh is now going to export rice to India following bumper production and adequate stocks at home. India has proposed to import 30,000-40,000 tonnes of rice from Bangladesh for its north-eastern states like Tripura. India will send a delegation soon to Bangladesh to finalise the matter.

Fourth largest fish producer
According to 2014 report of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Bangladesh presently stands fourth in producing sweet water fish. In 2013/14, Bangladesh government disbursed US$ 179.5 million as agricultural loans to fish farmers. From 2004 till 2014, Bangladesh's fish production increased by 53%. According to Bangladesh Statistics Bureau (BBS)'s latest economic census says that in the 2013-14 fiscal year, the country produced approximately 3.46 million tonnes of fish, of which about 2 million tonnes were farmed. With the protection of hilsa fries and other initiatives, production of the country's most popular fish hilsa has gone up from 52,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes.

With prices of fish remaining within the reach of the common people, there has been a 100% increased in per head consumption of fish over the past 10 years. Fish exports have gone up by 135%. In the 2013-14 fiscal Bangladesh's export earnings from frozen fish went up by 17.35% to US$ 532.1 million. FAO predicts Bangladesh will be the first of the four countries to achieve massive success in fish production by the year 2022. This is followed by Thailand, India and China. According to FAO, Bangladesh stands 25th in global standing for catching sea fish. However, after settlement of the maritime boundary issue with Myanmar and India, catching fish from the Bay of Bengal is likely to increase manifold.

Bangladesh became self reliant on food production. Gone are the days of Monga (seasonal and localised famine).On the international stage, Bangladesh is now the fourth highest paddy producing country. Persistent bumper yield of rice stopped the country from imported rice in the last five year. Hector wise production of rice wheat and maize has crossed the global average growth. Bangladesh is now an example for multiple cropping in a single land.The country stands well above its annual food grain consumption requirement of less than 30 milliontonnes. With an annual growth rate of 40.5 milliontonnes, the country crossed the global average growth.

Successful policies of 2009-13 carried on to 2014
Immediately after assuming power in 2009, the agriculture friendly Awami League government reduced the price of non-urea fertilizers to a half and on three occasions lowered its price from 70% to 78%. The genome sequence of local and toshua jute along with harmful fungus for more than five hundred crops were unfolded. High-yielding and adverse weather sustainable 145 new varieties of crops were invented. Zinc enriched rice BRRI 62 was introduced. 9.5 million farmers opened bank accounts with only TK 10 deposit. They received various financial helps through these accounts.

In a landmark feat, the present government has revamped the entire fertilizer distribution chain to ensure easy distribution to the farmers. Around 34 thousand retail fertilizer distributors were appointed. At least one distributor is available at every upazila level. Taking a giant leap forward, the government embarked on a project to provide subsidy to mechanized the farming system. Due to subsidy, process of seeds, irrigation and fertilizers kept within an affordable prize. In 2013-14, Agricultural Ministry has allocated US$ 167 million to speed up 81 development projects. A whopping US$1.54 billion was disbursed for the promotion of agriculture. Bangladesh has been a success story in developing rice verities that can offset adverse impact of climate change. To this end, as many as 81 high yield rice verities have been engineered. Of them, two are drought tolerant verities, nine can fight slat and four are flood tolerant. Bangladeshi researchers developed the first ever zinc enriched rice variety.

Around 14.5 million farmers were given agricultural input assistance cards. Government food storage capacity increased from 1.4 million to 1.9 million metric tones. To ensure food availability for the low income people, the government distributed more than 1.5 million metric tonnes of food grains under the OMS programme in five years. Additionally, 3,48,135 metric tonnes food grains were distributed to 7.7 million easy card holder families and other 71,236 metric tonnes were distributed at a low price to 4th class employees and village police. More than 5.4 million metric tonnes of food grains were distributed under various social safety net programmes like food for work, VGF and VGD.

In 2014, for meeting the demand of urea fertilizer in the country, 92% work on the project for construction of ShahjalalFertiizer factory, having a capacity of 580 thousand metric tonnes, has been completed. The prevalence of the goiter disease has been brought down to 1.60% through implementation of the iodized salt project. Bangladesh Accreditation Board had been granted full membership of the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC).

Food grain production during 2014 has risen to more than 3.5 million metric tonnnes. A total of 976,000 metric tonnes of rice and 811,000 metric tonnes of wheat have been distributed under the public food distribution programme. The storage capacity of government warehouses has been raised to 1.95 million metric tonnes. US$ 52.7 million were spent as incentives and rehabilitation expenses for compensating losses to farmers incurred during various natural disasters.

Bangladesh has been ranked 57th in 2014 Global Hunger Index (GHI), showing improvement in hunger level along with nine other countries. According to the index, the country reduced hunger more significantly than any other South Asian countries. Over the last year, the production of rice and wheat has increased by 3 percent. In line with the National Agriculture Policy, the National Agriculture Extension Policy-2014 and National Micro-Irrigation Policy-2014 were formulated. The Awami League led government has set up first ever call centers aiming to make the cultivation related information easily accessible to the farmers. From any corner of the country, anyone can dial 16123 to get information related to agriculture round the clock.

Overseas employment

Overseas Employment

Sending Bangladeshi workers to overseas destinations was declared a ‘thrust sector’ by the Awami League government. In the year 2014, 420,612 Bangladeshi workers were sent to various overseas destinations, including 67,583 female workers. In the six years under Awami League government, 2.87 million Bangladeshi workers were sent abroad for jobs, contributing a total of US$ 76.60 billion as remittances to the country.

Due to the successful diplomatic measures taken by the government, Malaysia legalized the stay and work of 267,803 unauthorized Bangladeshi workers. In December 2014, Kuwait, which was previously one of the largest markets for Bangladeshi migrant workers, announced that it would resume hiring workers from Bangladesh after they stopped doing so since 2006. Recruitment is likely to start from February 2015 for all sectors, including construction and manufacturing under an agreement that is likely to be signed soon. This followed after successful lobbying by the government in November 2014.

In August 2014, Malaysia announced that from henceforth, it would hire Bangladeshi workers in all sectors of the country, which till then was restricted to the forest sector. Following a successful visit by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in October 2014, United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it would open discussions with Bangladesh for recruiting Bangladeshi workers which remained ceased from 2012. In order to facilitate this, UAE decided to post a LabourAttache at its embassy in Dhaka.

Government’s successful labour diplomacy resulted in the expansion of overseas labour markets, with Bangladeshi workers being sent to 160 countries. Support from the government came in the form of reduction of migration costs and providing necessary training to workers. Government has set up 47 vocational training centres at district headquarters, and four institutes of marine technology across the country to impart training to a large number of workers. Prices of immigration were also strictly controlled. Workers were sent abroad under government –to-government system at an immigration cost of 60,000 TK for Korea, 10,000 Taka for Jordan, 32,000 Taka for Malaysia etc. The Expatriate Bank gave more than US$ 3.5 million loans to 2,510 abroad going workers.

Currently, a project is underway to set up 400 Upazila level vocational training centres to produce skilled and semi-skilled workers. Due to such measures, coupled with the uplift in global economy, the government is targeting sending a further 600,000 to 700,000 Bangladeshi workers overseas per year. Such success in sending Bangladeshi workers overseas, Bangladesh also saw its incoming remittances soar in 2014. By December 26, Bangladeshi people living overseas sent home US$ 14.71 billion against US$ 13.22 billion last year, marking 11.27% rise on year-on-year basis. The country also saw the highest ever inflow of monthly remittance in July this year with US$ 1.49 billion.

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