8th Feb, 2006 - Can farm mechanisation lead to greater employment generation and poverty alleviation? The answer is ‘yes’, provided the mechanisation is on a small-scale and equipment are manufactured by rural artisans and small-scale industry. A case in point is Bangladesh, which has been experimenting with this concept for sometime now.
The experiment should be seen in the backdrop of fragmented and decreasing land holdings - from 0.81 hectare per head in 1980s to 0.61 hectare per head now. These holdings are much smaller in size, compared to that in India.
Commenting on this, Nobel laureate Dr Amartya Sen said small holdings are more productive. Dr Sen cited the examples of China and West Bengal and urged for the speedy implementation of land reforms.
However, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) chief scientific officer Dr Wais Kabir said, “Adopting farm mechanisation and generating more employment is a challenging task.” Dr Kabir was recently in India for the first governing council and technical committee meeting of the Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery (APCAEM), a body floated by UN ESCAP.
Bangladesh, Dr Kabir said, had gone for small-scale farm mechanisation, wherein tillage operations are mechanised and most of the farm equipment are manufactured locally. This had given rise to a number of backward industries involved in engine repairs and spare parts manufacturing and boosted income-generating employment.
A large number of forward industries like paddy parboiling and husking mills, flour mills, oil mills, spices grinding mills and poultry feed mills have also benefitted. About 40,000 small and medium sized local metal-working workshops have come up across the country.
All this had boosted non-farm employment opportunities, even as the average annual working days of rural labourers increased by 35% and the wage rate by 88%. As a result of farm mechanization, the annual household incomes of different categories of labourers saw a rise from 75% to 113%.
But all is not hunky and dory on the mechanisation front. Dr Kabir says that globalisation and liberalisation are threatening to wipe out the economic growth seen so far. The government recently allowed free imports of farm implements, but did not fix any standard norms on such imported machineries. Taxes too are not levied on these imported goods.
As a result, these cheap imports have found many buyers, affecting local entrepreneurs, village artisans and also the manufacturing units. “This situation needs to be addressed soon, in the interests of local employment,” Dr Kabir says.
To counter this, Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG)—a global NGO —has taken on itself the responsibility of promoting locally-made farm machinery. Their target group is a large number of small farmers. They are also popularising some of the farm machineries, developed by BARC, like the multi-crop power thresher, winnower and weeder in Faridpur and Gaibandha districts. Many of these implements are affordable by individual small farmers.
The Bangladesh farm mechanisation experiment is based on the modernisation of local village-based technologies. However, the role of the state is now vital in countering the threats faced by farm mechanisation and in creating conducive environment for growth of villages and small scale industries engaged in manufacturing farm implements.
Noted economist Lord Meghnad Desai has rightly said that human development strategy of the government should be based on the needs of the people at the micro-level. In this case also, Government policies should facilitate the poor in making right choices and decisions with regard to employment and livelihood. And if Bangladesh succeeds in this endeavour, it would set an example for India and other developing countries to emulate.