Wide scope for Sri Lanka-Bangladesh cooperation in agriculture
Posted on June 16th, 2024

By P.K.Balachandran/Sunday Observer

Colombo, June 16: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe that Bangladesh will support Sri Lanka’s agricultural modernization program, when the two met in New Delhi on March 10. They were in the Indian capital to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On his part, Wickremesinghe affirmed his commitment to dispatching a delegation of Sri Lankan agricultural experts to Bangladesh. Its objective would be study Bangladesh’s agricultural modernization program through cooperative methods and gather valuable insights to enhance Sri Lanka’s own agricultural modernization efforts.

Bangladesh’s Phenomenal Growth

Bangladesh’s phenomenal growth in agriculture and agro industries  especially since the advent of Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister in 2008, should be a catalyst for economic engagement between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

With its GDP growing at 6% in 2023, Bangladesh is no longer a basket case”. In 2007-2008, the country had seen food riots.  But Bangladesh is now a South Asian Tiger” developing expertise in several sectors like agriculture, inland fisheries, pharmaceuticals, disaster prevention and disaster management.

Globally, Bangladesh is now the fourth-largest rice producer, the second-largest jute producer, the fourth-largest in mango production, the fifth-largest in vegetable production and the fourth-largest in inland fisheries.

Bangladesh has reached self-sufficiency in food, including rice. The total paddy production in 2023 was a record 58.5 million tonnes. Maize production in 2023 was estimated at a record 4.7 million tonnes. Favourable weather conditions and widespread use of high-yielding seed varieties supported the above-average yields.

The production of the 2023 wheat crop, harvested last April, was estimated at near average 1.1 million tonnes.

Cereal imports have consisted mostly of wheat and some minor quantities of rice and maize. For example, import of rice in 2024 are forecast at a reduced level of 250 000 tonnes.

Bangladesh experiences droughts and floods frequently. But it has found ways to overcome the challenges through climate adaptation techniques.” Bangladeshi farmers in flood prone areas are using a variety of rice which can remain submerged for seven days without getting damaged. They also use rice varieties which can withstand drought and salinity.

In tackling drought, Bangladesh has been able to reduce the use of water in rice cultivation by half – from 3500 litres per kg of rice to 1800 litres. This technique can be used in the arid zones of Sri Lanka. 

Fisheries

Sri Lanka can economize on its fish imports by encouraging inland fisheries with Bangladesh’s help. Sri Lanka had spent US$ 80.5 million in 2023 to import fish – an 18.9% increase from the expenditure for fish imports in 2022 which was US$ 67.7 million.

There is vast scope for developing inland sweet water fisheries in Sri Lanka with Bangladesh’s help as there are many tanks in the island. In the last fiscal year 2022-23, the total production of fish in Bangladesh was 49.15 lakh MT. Bangladesh aims to produce 85 lakh tons of fish by 2041. In 2022-23, Bangladesh exported 70,000 tons of fish.

Reducing Imports

With Bangladesh’s expertise, Sri Lanka can stop importing food items considerably. According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, US$ 1,541 million was spent during the first 11 months of 2023 for the import of food and beverages (mainly cereals and milling industry products, dairy products, vegetables, seafood, sugar and confectionery, and spices). US$ 1,478 million was spent for the same items in the first 11 months of 2022.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries globally, with a density of 1,239.7 people living per square kilometre (2018)—its farming lands are decreasing as population grows rapidly.

However, Bangladesh’s youth and women have taken to commercial agriculture to feed the country. People have not only set up high-value fruit orchards and vegetable farms but are taking to value addition. Small scale agro-processed and agro-dependent industries have come to play an important part in agricultural growth. This spurred the value of agricultural production at the rate of 3.54% per year between 1999 and 2019. The agro-industrial sector now provides employment to 40% of Bangladesh’s labour force. Thus, agriculture remains the largest sector in terms of employment despite industrialization.

Agriculture also provides basic raw materials for industrial processing. Jute is an example of an agro-processing industry. At present, many agro-processing industries are fully dependent on agriculture for their basic raw materials. Rice milling, sugar, tea, fruit juice, spices and so on are dependent on agricultural raw materials.

The role of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute has been key in the increase in grain production. The Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation has worked well on high yielding varieties. The Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture has been mandated to promote nuclear and advanced techniques in agricultural production and also to develop technologies that are environment-friendly as well as sustainable.

Bangladesh used to import livestock but today it is meeting the domestic demand with its own efforts.

Bangladesh’s industrial sector and remittances from Bangladeshis  employed abroad are also contributing to agricultural growth. Earnings by workers in the garment industry and those who are employed abroad are invested in improved agriculture. This has not only strengthened the economy but has empowered the youth and the women too.

Agricultural Tourism

Then there is agricultural tourism. In Bangladesh today, young entrepreneurs have started eco-resorts across the country and people from around Bangladesh and abroad are going to these beautiful places where they can come close to nature. In the past decade, many such resorts have come up.

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