Prospects of sharing Bangladesh’s agricultural resources

Thursday, 4 August 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka treasure their relationship, which is deeply rooted in shared history and culture. People of the two counties have maintained close links over the centuries.

According to the Mahavansa, the Vanga (Southern Bengal), Prince Vijaya Singha conquered Lanka (Sri Lanka) in 544 BC and gave the name ‘Sinhala’ to the country. If this is true, we share the same genetic material (there are quite lot of similarities in physical features of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans) and also the soil, climate, crops, agricultural practices and food habits, which make it feasible to have common programmes in agriculture.

Area wise Bangladesh (147,5790km2) is about two times larger than Sri Lanka (65,610km2) and populated with 162 million people, one of the highest population densities (1099.3per km2) in the world. About 62% of population earn their livelihood through agriculture and related activities. Share of agriculture to GDP of Bangladesh is around 21%.

Agriculture of Bangladesh at a glance

The whole country of Bangladesh lies below 180m amsl except some parts of Chittagong hill tracts. Three distinguishable seasons i.e. hot humid summer (March –June), cool rainy monsoon (June-October) and cool dry winter (October-March) can be recognised compared to Yala (April- August) and Maha (September-March) in Sri Lanka.

The average temperature ranges from 340C (in summer) and 100C in the winter and average annual rainfall is around 1,600mm.

Agriculture is the single largest producing sector of economy since it comprises about 30% of the country’s GDP and employing around 60% of the total labour force.

Rice, jute, sugarcane, potato, pulses, wheat, tea and tobacco are the principal crops. The crop sub-sector dominates the agriculture sector contributing about 72% of total production. Fisheries, livestock and forestry sub-sectors are 10.33%, 10.11% and 7.33% respectively.

Bangladesh is the fourth largest rice producing country in the world and is the largest producer of Jute. Rice being the staple food, its production is of major significance. Area under rice is about 10.6 million ha during 2008 and 46.5 million metric tonnes of rice was produced. About 75% of rice growing area is under high yielding varieties (HYV) and 86% of rice production is from HYV. The average rice yield is around 4.4t/ha.

By comparison, wheat output in 2005-2006 was nine million metric tons. Although rice and jute are the primary crops, maize and vegetables and fruit crops are assuming greater importance.

Fruits and vegetables in Bangladesh

Nearly 100 different types of vegetable comprising both local and exotic types are grown in Bangladesh. Vegetables are important for nutritional, financial, and food security in Bangladesh. However, the availability of vegetables is only about one-fifth of the recommended requirement of 200 g/person/day.

Area and production

The area under vegetable farming increased from about 171,830 ha to about 195,951 ha during 1990-1997. Likewise, the production of vegetables also increased from about 1.09 million m tons to about 1.29 million m tonnes during that period.

However, summer vegetable cultivation is constrained by adverse climate and pest attacks. The major winter vegetables are cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, brinjal, radish, hyacinth bean, bottle gourd, etc.

Major summer vegetables are pumpkin, bitter gourd, teasle gourd, ribbed gourd, ash gourd, okra, yard-long bean, and Indian spinach, kakrol, patol and others. Some vegetables like brinjal, pumpkin, okra and red amaranth are found to grow in both the seasons.

Bangladesh abounds with a large variety of tropical and sub-tropical fruits. The most widely cultivated fruits are mango, jackfruit, black berry, pineapple, banana, litchi, lemon, guava, custard apple, wood apple, elephant apple, golden apple, Indian berry, papaya, tamarind, melon, watermelon, cashew nut, pomegranate, palmyrah, plum, rose apple, Indian olive, and Indian jujube. Mango which has about 260 local varieties is considered to be the most prominent fruit crop in Bangladesh.

There are many minor edible fruits that are locally available in the wild and are also cultivated, such as latkan, monkey jack, uriam, rattan, river ebony, garcinia, water coconut, wild date palm, etc.

May, June and July are specially treated as national fruit festival months in Bangladesh when almost all the major and minor fruits are matured and available. A few fruits are available throughout the year. These are the papaya, sapodilla, coconut and banana.

The common imported fruits are orange, apple, pomegranate, grape, date, and mandarin.

In Bangladesh the cultivation of temperate fruits has been unsuccessful, except for grapes in some places. Oranges are cultivated only in very limited areas in Sylhet and in remote areas of Rangamati (Sajeek) and Bandarban (Ruma) Districts.

Prospects: Germplasm

1.Rice: Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has recently developed rice varieties tolerant to salinity and submergence. Some other varieties have been developed which are tolerant to pest and diseases common in Sri Lanka.

2.Vegetables: Numerous vegetable varieties (open pollinated) are available with better quality. As majority of the vegetables found here, except a few, are found in Sri Lanka too, initiation of bi-lateral germplasm exchange program seems worthy and of greater value to both countries. Some vegetable varieties found here are superior in their size, quality and taste (Kakrol or thumba karawila, bitter gourd, snake gourd, ivy gourd, etc.) than what is found in Sri Lanka. Certain green chilli varieties available here are suitable for dry chilli production as they have required pungency level.

3.Fruits: As indicated above several fruit types available here are of better quality than Sri Lankan counterparts. Among them mango, banana, jackfruit, black berry, seedless lemonin are observed to possess superior characteristics than in case of Sri Lankan varieties.

4.Other crops: There is number of highly productive underutilised/indigenous food crops (country beans, colocasia, moringa, etc.) which can be used in future breeding programmes.

Prospects: Technology

1.One of most important agriculture technologies developed and practiced here in large scale is IPM for vegetables in which Sri Lanka is lagging behind.

2.Quality of the vegetables produced in Bangladesh is far better than that in Sri Lanka. This may be due to harvesting at correct maturity stage.

3.Every year glut in potato (farm gate price is four taka/kg) production is experienced. In addition to initiation of importing potato it is, recommended to organise a platform to share knowledge through exposure visits/training, etc.

4.Arrangements should be made to utilise facilities and to have collaborative activities with Institutes such as Bangladesh Institute for Nuclear Agriculture, Mushroom Production Institute and facilities for residue analysis of agro-chemicals at Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute in a mutually beneficial programme.

5.The Spice Crop Research Institute in Bogra excel in research and development activities and breeder seeds production of onion and other spice crops of the country can provide training opportunities to Sri Lankan research staff.

6.Ex situ germplasm collection of local and exotic horticultural crops at Bangladesh Agriculture University, Mymensingh is an exemplary location worthy of visit by Sri Lankan horticulturists. It houses local, south Asian and other exotic types of fruit crops. The centre at BAU is not for mere exhibition purposes as most of the Sri Lankan ex-situ germplasm gardens but utilise the collection actively for breeding and improvement purposes.

7.A recent publication on plant varieties of Bangladesh contains morpho-molecular characterisation of 157 varieties of 20 crops species which can help scientists and policy makers to protect plant variety and farmers rights.

8.Agriculture and research sectors in this country are supported by the presence of country offices/representatives in almost all CGIAR centres (CYMMIT, IRRI, World Fish Centre, etc.) and others like FAO, ADB, World Bank, CIRDAP, APARI etc., which is seriously lacking in Sri Lanka.

What can Sri Lanka offer?

The Trade Agreement between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh was signed on 8 February 1977. There are 48 exportable items from Bangladesh and 36 items from Sri Lanka under this agreement. The balance of trade between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is observed to be in favour of Sri Lanka and amount has been slightly increasing from US$ 15.5 million to 22.7 during the period 2005 to 2007.

Sri Lanka’s major agricultural export items to Bangladesh are natural rubber and copra while Sri Lanka’s major import items from Bangladesh are cotton and jute and jute products.

During the recent visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, several MoUs were signed on 18 April 2011 including a MoU between Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council (BARC) and Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy (SLCARP) on cooperation in agriculture and the MOU agreed on the following:

1.Exchange visits of scientists, trainees, graduate scholars and other professionals

2.Working scientists to be made available

3.Exchange of germplasm and other materials for breeding, testing and propagation of improved lines/varieties/breeds of crops/livestock and poultry/forest and fish species

4.Free interchange of all scientific information of value

5.Joint sponsorship in research, training, seminar/workshops and technology transfer projects, etc.

6.Collaborative research programmes for agriculture cum rural development

It is suggested to set up a joint committee with representatives from both parties to meet once a year, alternatively in Colombo and Dhaka for the execution of MoU and to suggest necessary measures for its development. Therefore, the ground is already set for exchange and sharing of germplasm, human resource development activities, knowledge, information and work sharing and renewal of trade. The following areas will be highly beneficial for both the parties.

List of potential agricultural exportableitems from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh:

1.Ornamental fish

2.Coconut and coconut based products

3.Cut flowers, cut foliage and ornamented plants

4.Edible fruits and nuts (papaya, cashew, rambutan, mangosteen, durian)

5.Natural rubber

6.Cinnamon/spices (especially type of cinnamon used here is not real cinnamon and known as “bastard cinnamon” due to its low quality which contains a toxic chemical known as Kumarin. Therefore, introduction of Sri Lanka cinnamon is not only trade but also a humanitarian move.)

7.Betel leaves


9.Rubber products

10.Herbal medicine and herbal cosmetics (Nature Secrets has already started business)

CIC Agri Business has already signed an agreement with AGORA supermarket chain to produce vegetable seeds and to export/import fruits and vegetables. Haychem Company Ltd. is also conducting business in Bangladesh. Since labour is cheap here, custom seed production (especially hybrid seed) ventures are more profitable than in Sri Lanka.

CIC Agri Business Sri Lanka has already formed a joint venture with Rahima Frooz Ltd. of Bangladesh to expand its agri business operations in Bangladesh. The joint venture company Rahima Frooz-CIC will be a replicate of a CIC Agri Business model in Sri Lanka evolving in Bangladesh. Haychem Company Ltd. is also having business in Bangladesh. Since labour is cheap in Bangladesh, custom seed production (especially hybrid seed) ventures would be more profitable than in Sri Lanka.

(The writer is a Senior Programme Specialist – Crops, SAC, Dhaka.)

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