4th May, 2005: Dhaka, Bangladesh - The development and expansion of agriculture and agro-based industries in the rural areas is actually needed primarily for striking a happy balance between the goals of economic growth and equity. Although absolute poverty in rural Bangladesh -- where the majority people live, has considerably reduced, it is still quite widespread. Even if it happens to decline further in the future, relative poverty in terms of opportunities and income differentials may become a big issue in the coming days.
The recent incident in Kansat was just a pointer. Unless the spread of education and exposure coincide with a steady increase in rural employment, there would always remain a possibility that the rural people may begin to complain at some point of time that they are economically worse off than others. A sense of deprivation may unite and lead them to agitate against it putting the whole society in jeopardy. A planned exploitation of the development potentials of agriculture and agro-based industries in the rural areas will help substantially reduce unemployment and check the current alarming trend of rural-urban migration. Besides, a balanced development of agriculture and agro-based industries in the rural areas alongside manufacturing industries in the urban centres will make them mutually more complementary to help optimise growth. When the major sectors of the economy will pull up one another, the economy will become self-sustaining to a good degree.
In this context, Finance and Planning Minister Saifur Rahman underscored the other day the need for strengthening and expanding the agro-based industries while addressing the students of Sylhet Veterinary College at a rally brought out by them hailing the decision to establish a veterinary university. The government, the minister said, attached top priority to developing such industries to eradicate poverty by raising the income level of rural people. If accelerated growth can be ensured in the agriculture sector, it would directly, as was rightly noted by the Finance and Planning Minister, benefit the rural people by improving their livelihood and increasing income. That will help establish social justice and expand the safety network.
Initially, there should be a proper assessment of the development potentials of agriculture and agro-based industries. This assessment is essential as the prospect of agro-based industries in this country is neither unlimited nor diverse. If agriculture has to come up as an industry, it must have link with foreign market and due emphasis should be given not only on raising productivity through intensive research and better land and water management but also on production in conformity with international sanitary and phytosanitary standards. Bare production increase of foodgrains and vegetables without regard for the standard requirement will not suffice for having large-scale commercial access to foreign markets. Arrangements for preservation and airfreight of vegetables for export should be also ensured.
Commercial culture of traditional sweet water fishes with better management of agriculture for controlling water pollution by fertilisers and pesticides will help not only in meeting the local demand but also that of people of Bangladesh origin, who are now working or settled abroad. More industries for fish and poultry feed production should be established in rural areas to stimulate pisciculture and poultry farming on a large scale. The government may think of seeking market access for poultry birds and substituting milk import with local production by utilising the services of livestock officials, particularly vets. It will help save a huge amount of foreign exchange, now spent annually on milk import, and augment the local supply of animal protein, the demand of which is now met largely with live-animals, particularly cows, bought from the neighbouring countries and transported through land-routes. Some applied research and support with bank loans could help enhance the production of local fruits like pineapples, guava and mango, jackfruits, which are rich either in protein or vitamin. Some study should be undertaken to ascertain whether these fruits could be grown on a commercial scale and processed for export.