The government is set to frame a policy on agriculture mechanisation with the aim of increasing farm productivity by speeding up the process of adoption of low-cost but efficient machinery at grower's level.
A panel, formed by the agriculture ministry, has recently submitted the draft of the policy, which comes in the backdrop of rising cost of production owing to shortage of labour for cultivation.
The draft policy is aiming to encourage expansion of farmer-friendly machinery in view of small farm size, fragmented land ownership and types of soil. It is also targeting to increase cropping intensity with the view to boosting total crop yields.
A policy on farm mechanisation would be instrumental to ensure fast expansion of agri-machinery and address the problems of farm labour shortage and lower productivity, said MA Sattar Mandal, a member of the expert pool of the agriculture ministry.
“With farming becoming commercialised and production not rising for shortage of farm labours, there is no alternative to machines.”
So far, farmers have taken big strides in mechanised tilling and irrigation.
“Yet, there is a large gap in transplanting and harvesting,” said Mandal, a former vice-chancellor of the Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Now, up to 95 percent of land is tilled by power tillers and tractors. Machines are also used for 90 percent of pesticide applications.
Most of the grains, particularly the staple rice, are threshed by machines, according to a previous estimate of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
Progress in the use of mechanised plantation and harvesting has been sluggish in the absence of cost-effective machines that are suitable for many different types of land and fragmented ownership.
At present, only 1 percent of the plantation and harvesting are done by machines, according to the DAE.
“Now, farmers cannot plant and harvest crops timely owing to labour shortage. Mechanisation will enable them to overcome that problem and increase productivity,” said Mandal, who was involved in the drafting of the policy.
Since it is a laborious task, youths with low level of education are not showing interest in farming. “It is possible to make them interested through mechanisation,” said the draft policy.
The draft favoured continuation of subsidy for speedy mechanisation and suggested easy and low-cost credit to farmers and entrepreneurs, who sell mechanised cultivation on rental basis.
The policy also recommended rationalised tariff structure for import and domestic manufacturing of farm machinery.
To ensure optimum use of machines, it favoured block based cultivation by organising growers for tilling, planting and harvesting.
The draft policy said incentives would be given to encourage establishment of assembling industry.
The use of renewable energy would be encouraged in mechanised farming and steps would be taken to encourage conservation agriculture.
Apart from this, the draft policy noted areas such as haor, coastal zones, barind and hilly regions and said steps would be taken for fast expansion of mechanisation in these areas.
The policy favoured examination of quality of farm machinery and giving certification so that farmers get quality equipment.
If the farm mechanisation policy is implemented, it will be a real step towards building a developed Bangladesh by way of becoming self-sufficient in food production, said Alimul Ahsan Chowdhury, president of the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturer's Association-Bangladesh.
Mechanisation would expand fast if the government keeps the area open for the private sector instead of barricading it to just the public sector, said FH Ansarey, managing director and chief executive officer of ACI's agribusiness division.
“The government should encourage the private sector to focus on mechanisation in those areas where we are lagging behind.”
Subsidy should continue to facilitate expansion of mechanisation not just in the crop sector but also dairy in order to reducing farmers' production cost and increase their income, he added.
Md Nasiruzzaman, secretary-in-charge of the agriculture ministry, said the policy is prepared to popularise mechanised farming.
“It would be finalised within this year,” he added.