AgroTech in Bangladesh: How Technology is Disrupting Traditional Agriculture Practices- Part II

    LightCastle Analytics Wing
    LightCastle Analytics Wing
    AgroTechnology in Bangladesh

    The second part of the AgroTech series focuses on mechanisation of farming, access to finance for farmers and new techniques of farming.

    Mechanisation in Agriculture

    Mechanisation has been one of the key driving factors in agriculture for a very long time. As technology has progressed, mechanisation has become more efficient and beneficial to all stakeholders. Although about 90% of the land in Bangladesh is plowed using power tillers and tractors, the process of seed sowing, transporting and harvesting have remained manual in about 98% agricultural households.[5]

    ItemEstimated Number of UnitsUnits per 1,000 Hectares
    Tractor35,0002.32
    Two-Wheel Tractor700,00046.42
    Pump (DTW)35,3222.34
    Pump (STW)1,523,609101.04
    Pump (LLP)170,56911.31
    Rice Transplanter4000.03
    Reaper5000.03
    Combine Harvester2000.01
    Close Drum Thresher220,00014.59
    Open Drum Thresher150,0009.95
    Figure: Status of Agricultural Machinery and installed power in Bangladesh / Source: SAARC Agricultural Center, Krishi Gobeshona Foundation[6]

    Contemporary farmers are now finally starting to move to mechanised methods for seed sowing and better produce. Some of the most recent developments in this field are:

    • Seedling Guns: Seedling guns  eliminate the need for the need of manual sowing by sowing with the help of a launcher type device that launches seeds into the soil at appropriate distances which saves both time and money for the farmer. 
    • Drip Irrigation: Drip irrigation makes irrigation easier and more efficient by using a long connecting pipe to water all parts of the field at the same time. This cuts down on labour costs and saves time for the farmer. It also enables better irrigation in smaller spaces like roof tops.

    Access to Finance

    Access to finance is very important for farming households to get them through tough times and to boost farming expansions.Examples of some platforms working to facilitate access to finance are as follows…

    iFarmer

    iFarmer facilitates funding for agricultural households through their platform that can be accessed through both their website and application. It has 4 broad offerings:

    1. For Farmers:
      • The platform enables farmers to get access to funds from investors and the platform manages and facilitates this funding process. So far the platform has brought more than 5000 farmers under their network disbursing more than 100 Million BDT in funds and facilitating agricultural produce worth 150 Million BDT.[7]
      • The platform also provides the option of buying farm produce directly from the farmers on their platform through their virtual marketplace.
    1. For Funders: The app allows interested investors to fund different farms based on their preferences. This process only requires one to recharge one’s iFarmer account with adequate funds and the app suggests investment opportunities based on the amount of funds in the account. So far, the platform has generated over 28 Million BDT for its investors by connecting them to over 5000 farming households.[7]
    2. For Financial Institutions: iFarmer also collaborates with financial institutions such as microfinance institutions, banks, insurance companies and non-banking financial institutions to better facilitate funds. Small and Medium enterprises are funded through financial institutions. iFarmer uses alternative data and a proprietary credit scoring algorithm to identify the viability of the customers. Their  lending partners then approve the applications and transfer the fund within the shortest possible time. 
    3. IoT- and Cloud-Based Solutions: iFarmer also offers IoT-based solutions for advanced farming. Fitbit for cattle and intelligent soil sensor are two of their most popular solutions in this segment.
    1. Fitbit for Dairy Cattle: The system is known as ‘Cowdy’ and it monitors cattle sleep, heat cycle and activity in real time and provides timely recommendations to the farmers. It is fairly easy to set up and can also detect diseases and put out health alerts of potential sick cattle.
    2. Intelligent Soil Sensor: Intelligent Soil Sensor can easily and affordably track and analyze soil fertility, pH and moisture in real-time. The ISS can help control soil fertility, including in remote areas, during growing season and in the field. Combined with ISS weather data, productivity can be enhanced and crop loss chances reduced.

    Advanced Farming Practices

    Although technology has progressed by leaps and bounds as evident from the previous segments, advanced farming procedures have also become increasingly popular by making the best use of low-cost technology. This is particularly important for a country like Bangladesh whose farmers often lack adequate funds and suffer from inadequate yields.

    • Low-Cost Greenhouses: Low-cost greenhouses eliminate the need to wait for specific seasons to cultivate specific crops. This method is quickly gaining popularity in Bangladesh as more and more investors are flocking to this sector. For example: Paramount Agro has created two 22 thousand square feet greenhouses where they combine both old and new technology to get the best produce irrespective of the seasons.[9]
    • Hydroponic Farming: This system blends aquaculture — fish and other aquatic animals bred in tanks — with hydroponics, where plants are grown in water. The water is pumped from the fish tank onto the beds where the plants grow. While the fish excretions provide the plants with nutrients, the clean water is recirculated back into the fish tank. Although the initial cost for building the facility would be high, the recurring cost is low and there are two sources of income: fish and vegetables. In comparison, the water demand is one-tenth of traditional agriculture. 

    Although this system has its perks, it is challenging to figure out the exact cooling and humidity requirements. These things require study and might not be readily accessible by all types of people. 

    The Way Forward for Agro Tech

    Agro Tech has been gaining popularity steadily for the past few years and with the growth of income and tech savviness, this trend is likely to continue for a long time into the future. But as with all modern technologies, there are some serious impediments in the path of this progress that need to be addressed before this growth can happen. 

    • Network and internet issues: Although cell network expansion has happened for the last few years, internet in the rural areas is still not upto the mark. As the volume of data from the systems increase, it will be very hard to achieve real time functioning for even the best systems
    • Smartphones: Most information based systems require farmers to own a smartphone and that is hard to come by at the moment. Thus the companies have to rely on SMS connectivity that bars their understanding of the farmers’ problems. Although, currently Bangladesh has a smartphone penetration rate of 41%, (as of January 2020) it is not enough given the expansive nature of our agriculture ecosystem.[10]
    • Behavioral Change: Most farmers rely on age-old methods for cultivation and are often rigid in their beliefs. This makes customer conversion very tough for the companies and is a challenge for customer retention too as farming practices are dependent on weather and a hundred other factors. 
    • Costs: Most advanced agricultural practices require a large setup cost. This entry barrier often discourages farmers from taking on these projects. Although this can partially be solved through loans and discounts from the vendors, the high costs will certainly increase the skepticism in the customer mind.

    Although there are several impediments in the proper development of this agro tech ecosystem, companies and platforms are still making a difference in different agricultural markets. The profit opportunities are also bringing in both investors and farmers regularly which is a huge positive for this fast growing sector. So, even if the existing impediments can be minimized to some degree in the future, this sector has a very strong growth potential. 

    Eqra Mohammad Resalat Ohee,  Content Writer and Farah Hamud KhanSenior Business Consultant & Project Manager, at LightCastle Partners, have prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

    References

    LightCastle Analytics Wing

    LightCastle Analytics Wing is the research division of LightCastle Partners. It is tasked with producing periodic reports on the different sectors of the economy, analyzing trends in markets and making methodical, thorough and intelligent analysis to improve strategy and drive business growth.