Agriculture in the spotlight in COVID-hit Bangladesh.
Agriculture in the spotlight in COVID-hit Bangladesh.Prothom Alo

Throughout the ages, various epidemics have ravaged the world and humanity, often changing the history, at times even leading to the end of a civilization. Epidemics have altered human history especially by bringing the economy to a standstill. Over the last century, several epidemics have plagued human civilization. The Spanish Flu (1918-1920), Asian Flu (1957- 1958), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-2010) are some of the major epidemics. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has spread with alarming speed, infecting millions of people. The damages are already evident in one of the largest economic shocks the world has experienced in decades.

In June 2020,Global Economic Prospects described the both immediate and near-term impact of this pandemic. The baseline forecast envisions a 5.2 per cent crinkle in global GDP in 2020. Global growth is projected at -4.9 percent in 2020, 1.9 percentage points below the April 2020 World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast and in 2021 global growth will be projected at 5.4 percent. Overall, this would leave the 2021 GDP some 6.5 percentage points lower than the pre-COVID-19 projection of January 2020 (IMF, June 2020).

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This kind of impact has been seen in Bangladesh too. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the real GDP growth of Bangladesh is projected at 2.0 percent.

Agriculture is the major sector for our economy and contributes to a significant part of the GDP. This sector is going through a major crisis now because of the pandemic. A breakdown of the entire supply chain, a reduction of the mobility of labour due to social distancing, reduction in people’s purchasing power leading to a fall in demand, and decreased transportation are just a few of the problems.

Obstruction in transport routes, transport restrictions, shortage of labour and increases in product prices, hamper fresh food supply and may result in food loss and waste. The Daily Star reports that in Rangamati, despite bumper production of fruits, farmers are facing losses as prices have fallen drastically in the local markets due to the outbreak.

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Small-scale farmers are vulnerable as they are unable to work on their land, sell their products or buy seeds and other essential inputs. The dairy and poultry industry also face losses because most of the raw materials for feed are imported. As most of the countries across the world temporarily suspended their exports and imports, poultry owners cannot import raw materials for poultry feed. Consequently, we are also not able to export our agricultural goods, which has a detrimental effect on our GDP.

Raw jute and jute products, tea, and frozen shrimp and fish are the major agricultural export items. Bangladesh received USD909 million in the 2018 fiscal by exporting processed items like vegetables, betel leaf, tea, dry food, tobacco fruit and foliage (The Financial Express, 11 July 2019). However, this year such amounts have not been added in our GDP from export. Overall, our economy is facing a great loss.

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For a country like Bangladesh, the agricultural sector can play a vital role in turning about the post-COVID-19 era. Two-thirds of rural households rely both on farm and non-farm incomes. Pro-poor agriculture growth has stimulated the non-farm economy in Bangladesh: a 10 percent rise in farm income generates 6.0 percent rise in non-farm incomes (The Financial Express, 21 September 2020).

As the non-farm income growth is related to farm income, the government needs to focus on fostering a sturdier rural farm economy in the post-COVID-19 era.

As younger consumers take a greater interest in the environmental impact of their buying habits, Bangladesh should be more concerned about other jute merchandise like jute charcoal, jute tea and jute based fabric.

Bangladesh is now producing about 36.2 million tonnes rice, far above domestic need (29.1 million) (AsiaNews.it, 2018) and ranks third in global rice production. This is very positive news during the pandemic. It will work in two ways. Firstly we can satisfy our own needs, and then we can think about export. This can recover some of the lost GDP.

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Though our country was not in position to export rice previously, the government has now declared 15 per cent incentives on export of rice to boost shipment of the staple until 30 June (The Financial Express, 21 September 2020). Secondly, it can create job opportunities for unemployed youth which will increase rice production and help in earning foreign currency as well.

Jute is another golden product for Bangladesh. Bangladesh produced about 1.6 million tonnes jute in the 2018 fiscal and exported about 229,000 tonnes of jute (Global Trade, 9 December 2019). Bangladesh earned about USD791.3 million by exporting jute and jute products in the current fiscal year, which is 14 per cent higher than the previous fiscal year. Overall, the demand for jute is increasing. We can take this opportunity to bring our GDP back to where it was in pre-Covid day by exporting more jute to the international market.

We can obviously use our agricultural products to counter the upcoming year’s financial crisis. Bangladesh has potential enough to increase agricultural productivity and improve the nutritional value of crops.
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It is encouraging to see that, our country is all set to begin commercial production of jute polymer-based bags which are biodegradable and, therefore, environment friendly. So, hopefully, it will add more foreign currency to our country.

As younger consumers take a greater interest in the environmental impact of their buying habits, Bangladesh should be more concerned about other jute merchandise like jute charcoal, jute tea and jute based fabric. These products will be trendy and thereby strengthen our economy even more.

Fisheries is another potential export product. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has recognised that Bangladesh is the 8th top fish producing country in the world and it produces about 4.1 million tonnes fish (Prothom Alo, 24 September, 2019). Our fisheries minister claimed that, Bangladesh exported about 68,655 tonnes fishes and fisheries products and collected revenue about Tk 38.45 billion in the outgoing fiscal year 2018-19, where only shrimp worth about Tk 29.16 billion, which is a big contribution.

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According the government data this sector contributes 3.5 percent to the national GDP of Bangladesh (Prothom Alo, 24 September 2019). So, we can claim it that, the fisheries sector is an established sector that will make a significant contribution to the post-COVID-19 economic state.

Vegetable farming, especially organic vegetable farming has become popular in our country due to its relatively higher yield and higher returns compared to other crops. Bangladesh ranked 3rd in vegetable production in the world (Dhaka Tribune, 21 January, 2019). In the 2017-18 fiscal, our country produced 159.543 lakh tonnes of vegetables, according to the agriculture ministry.

Our country produces some 142 types of vegetables including some foreign varieties and currently exports around 52 types of vegetables to around 50 countries over the world. Organic vegetables are environment friendly and have prospects of bringing in good revenue. That is why we should focus on this and capitalise on this opportunity. This sector could be one of the brightest possibilities when it comes to post-COVID-19 fighting.

Agricultural marketing can play a vital role in overcoming the crisis of both COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 situations. The Bangladesh government has emphasised the importance of the agricultural sector during such time of global crisis. We can obviously use our agricultural products to counter the upcoming year’s financial crisis. Bangladesh has potential enough to increase agricultural productivity and improve the nutritional value of crops. Along with this, the government must establish a strong supply chain which is most important for the product to reach the final consumer, both home and abroad. In this way, we will revive the post-COVID-19 phase of the Bangladesh economy.

Nazhat Nury Aspy is a student of Noakhali Science and Technology University