Agricultural diversification is one of the essential components of economic growth. It is the stage where traditional agriculture is transformed into a dynamic and commercial sector by shifting the traditional agricultural product mix to high standard products, which has a high potential in stimulating production rate. Here, agricultural diversification is supported by a change in technology or consumer demand, trade or government policy, and by transportation, irrigation, and other developments of infrastructure. The transformation of the manpower from agricultural work to other associated activities like poultry, livestock, fisheries, etc., and also of the non-agriculture sector for rural people, diversification, or focusing on associate activity, is important because it gives them an opportunity to earn extra income and overcome poverty.
Diversification of agriculture in Bangladesh is manifestation of a shift of resources from rice to other cereal crops, from cereals to non-cereal crops, and from crops to non-crop agriculture. Status of agricultural diversification: The average value of Agricultural Diversification Index (ADI) and its growth rate is 0.56 and 0.77% during 1993-2010 respectively. However, the overall agricultural diversification is showing an increasing trend with fluctuating nature. The regression equation (y=0.52+0.0043x) also implies that the AD in Bangladesh is showing an increasing trend. AD also shows a sharp increase that took place in 2007 which was due to the combined effect of sharp increase in the productions and prices of some vegetables, spices, fruits, and fish. The commodities which productions increased in 2007 were groundnut, garlic, turmeric, potato, mango and jackfruit. Again the commodities which prices increased were lentil, mustard, chili, pointed gourd, potato, okra, pineapple and fish. In the regional context, the highest agricultural diversification took place at Chittagong and Barisal region over the time due to the increase of the productions and prices of some noncereal commodities mentioned above during 2007. Again, the lowest agricultural diversification took place at Rangpur and Rajshahi region over the years. The percent share of income from cereal crops to the total income was higher than that of the income from noncereal commodities at Rangpur and Rajshahi region implying a wide scope for diversifying agriculture introducing high value crops and non-crop commodity to the existing agricultural farming in future.
Are the farmers capable of effective and efficient agricultural diversification? Agriculture in India and other Asian countries is facing multiple and complex challenges which are expected to become more severe with the passage of time. Some of the major challenges are sustainability of natural resources, impact of climate change and decline in factor of productivity. Besides, the declining trend in size of land holding poses a serious challenge to the profitability and sustainability of farming. In view of the decline in per capita availability of land, it is imperative to develop strategies and agricultural technologies that enable adequate employment and income generation, especially for small-holders (farmers with <2.0 ha of land) who constitute the vast majority of the farming community in the developing world. No single farm enterprise, such as a typical mono-cropping system, is likely to be able to sustain the small-holder farmer. Integrated farming systems (IFS) are less risky if managed efficiently, as they benefit from synergisms among enterprises, diversity in produce, and environmental soundness. On this basis, IFS have been suggested for the development of small and marginal farms across Asia, and researchers have developed strategies which have benefited small-holder farmers by providing additional income and employment and minimizing risk. However, these IFS have not been promulgated and promoted effectively.
Agricultural diversification depends on farmer's condition. From a study, we see the problems and constraints with the following findings. The respondent farmers who cultivated different diversified crops faced various problems during farming. Their problems were linked with three major areas such as production, marketing and social. The major production related problems were infestation of insect and diseases (39%), lack of working capital (25%), low quality feed (18%), lack of HYV seed/sucker/chick/fingerling (17%), higher cost of production (15%), lack of drainage facility (9%), natural calamities (7%), and damage of roots & crops (6%). The major marketing related problems were higher price of feed (56%), higher price of vitamins and vaccine (42%), higher price of fertilizers (29%), lower price of outputs (17%), higher price of pesticides (13%), higher price of seed/ fingerlings/chick (11%), transportation problem (9%), adulteration of fertilizers and higher price of irrigation (8%). Finally, the scarcity of labour and its higher price (29%), load shading of electricity (18%), stealing of fruits (8%), and lack of training (4%) were associated with social problems. Non-diversified farmers were asked why they did not cultivate diversified crops in order to understand their opinion about the constraints of agricultural diversification in the study areas. The major constraints to agricultural diversification were lack of suitable land/land far away (45.3%), lack of own and sufficient capital (44.25), scarcity of labour and its higher price (26.4%), higher cost of production (24.7%), lack of fair price of the produces (17.5%), lack of training facility (9.2%), infestation of insects and diseases (8.9%), higher price of fertilizers (8.3%), and required higher labour (8.1%).
Bangladesh has made effective and sustainable gains in agriculture mainly through government policy support and the enterprising role and contribution of its farmers. Bangladesh's agricultural efficiency is well manifested by exemplary success in food production, and efficient supply and distribution. Keeping in view the perspective to ensure sustainability of the agriculture sector and its potential to contribute to overall growth, there is a need to expand productivity on the one hand, and to assess its multiplier effect on the economy, on the other. Despite limitations in size, scale and magnitude, agriculture continues to support GDP growth through increasing rural income and employment, stimulus to small and medium enterprises (SME)s including agro-based industries, and an efficient blend of labour-intensive and limited capital-intensive manufacturing. Higher farming yield and productivity can generate additional resources that would enable expansion of agro-supportive services. To ensure sustainable and efficient contribution of agriculture to growth, there is a need to prioritise addressing the critical challenges and constraints that this sector faces.
Achieving crop diversification has often been stressed as a major policy objective. Yet, past policies in the agriculture sector had promoted rice cultivation at the expense of minor crops. While static profitability analyses indicate greater relative profitability of many noncereal crops, risks in marketing these produce are found to be significantly high. More importantly, land characteristics are found to largely limit the expansion of area under these crops. Along with it, minor irrigation in Bangladesh is found to have favoured cereal production, making the crop economy less diversified. In order to achieve greater diversification in the crop sector, future policies need to facilitate exports, promote agro-processing industries, and emphasize on research to develop field channel designs that will facilitate simultaneous production of both cereals and non-cereals within the same command area. Along with these, large scale investments on flood control and drainage, continued support for canal re-excavation, and more rational planning of rural housing are called for to increase the size of suitable land.
Media and community support and engagement has contributed to significant momentum to agriculture revitalisation and overall efficiency. This is well reflected through the programmes over the past three decades by media and development personality Shykh Seraj, through popularising policy dialogue based on farmers' views, experiences and insights for incorporation in key national development strategies and programmes. On the one hand, this has facilitated mainstreaming agriculture in the comprehensive development discourse. This adds value to skills and entrepreneurship expansion and substantive stakeholder engagement. Finally we can say that Bangladesh is an agro-based country. It is time to prioritize the sector in terms of its agro-economy, agro-business and agro industrialization. More study research is a must for a healthy and sound condition of our agricultural sector. We cannot depend on traditional agro system. Industry imports should come from agriculture which will enrich our international trade market. We are hopeful of flourishing our country through agricultural diversification.
Dr Forqan Uddin Ahmed is a Writer, columnist, researcher and Former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar & VDP