Agriculture is a predominant sector in Bangladesh in generating livelihood, employment, and GDP contribution. Although agriculture remains the third most contributing sector to the country’s GDP, its contribution has decreased over the past decade going from 17% In 2010 to 12.6% in 2020.   The industry is also a significant contributor to export earnings and provider of raw material sources for other sectors, such as poultry and livestock feed, leather, frozen food, canned food, etc. It is the core of the Bangladeshi economy, playing an essential role in reducing poverty and achieving food security in the past.
However, the already vast population of the country keeps increasing, going from 147.6 million in 2010 to 164.7 million in 2020.  The agriculture sector is now facing challenges to increase productivity and achieve food security for the ever-burgeoning population. This sector requires productivity growth by achieving higher profitability and productivity through mechanization, irrigation expansions, modern agricultural production methods such as high yielding drought-resistant seeds, flood control, agricultural intensification, and diversification, etc.
Bangladesh’s agriculture industry has reached where it is today due to the wide adoption of the green revolution after the nation’s birth.
Green Revolution in Bangladesh
Globally, the term Green Revolution first came into light during the 1960s. It refers to the increase of agricultural production due to research technology transfer that resulted in high yielding variety (HYV) seeds, chemical pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, and controlled methods of irrigation and cultivation. 
Before the Green Revolution flourished in Bangladesh, the local rice production was slow. After the independence from Pakistan, the war-torn country faced difficulties due to being financially incapacitated and working with a terribly weakened infrastructure. These shortcomings made rice production fall in the 1970s, further aggravated by the deadly Bhola cyclone. The Green Revolution spread rapidly in the country from the 1970s to the 1980s. The land area irrigated using modern technology went from 0.9 million acres to 5 million acres. Using HYV seeds, food grain production went from 8 million tons to 13 million tons between 1950 and 1970. 
Modern fertilizers and technology were not popular at the early stage of their introduction, remedied by the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation, and Bangladesh Water Development Board. Moreover, multiple NGOs and government institutions came forward to revolutionize Bangladeshi agriculture and make the Green Revolution successful.
The impact of the adoption of HYV seeds, chemical fertilizer and pesticides, and modern means of irrigation can be observed in the following graph, where a steady growth of the yield rate of AUS, popular rice of the country, can be seen –
This growth trend in crops continued to the 2000s and beyond, helping the country achieve food security for its vast inhabitants.
Current Situation and Challenges
Currently, the agriculture sector has not reached its fullest potential because of a few caveats, such as fluctuations in food prices, natural disasters, volatile international markets, and more. Agricultural productivity is not up to the mark either, even though Bangladesh’s total factor productivity (TFP) score is satisfactory at 1.23, which is more than the global average of 1.18. Among the neighboring countries, India (1.24) and China (1.4) have much better performances.  It is not satisfactory because Bangladesh has one of the highest government expenditures in agriculture in the world. Despite that, the productivity level has not improved very much.
A few reasons behind the lowered productivity are –
High Cost of Inputs
Research has found that the usage of inputs in Bangladeshi agriculture is high compared to the standard amount.  Farmers have been found to use more water than necessary for irrigation and fertilization. This occurs mainly due to negligence and the assumption that the crops need more water than they actually do. Excess use of inputs like this drives up the production cost, hampering efficiency, and thus, productivity. To address this, modern crop production methods, such as proper water resource management, monoculture, irrigation, inorganic fertilizer, chemical pest control, etc., are required.
Absence of Appropriate Institutions
Although various government institutions are dedicated to helping agriculture and the economy as a whole, no institutions currently prioritize monitoring agricultural productivity and taking steps to improve it. This is significantly hampering the potential that the country can reach when it comes to productivity.
Over the last 28 years, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has developed 38 HYV of rice. However, these newer versions of rice are not disseminated well to the farmers for many reasons, including little extension effort. As a result, farmers still use a few popular modern rice varieties released in the 1970s, including BR11 and BR1. Re-use of the same seeds over an extended period has led to lower agricultural productivity because the crop diversity has been compromised.  This could have been prevented had there been any institutions dedicated to disseminating the newer, better high yielding varieties of grains.
Inefficient Investment and Use of Funds
Investments for the agriculture sector are present through both public and private financing. However, these investments are not used efficiently, which results in a failure to get the full benefit of the investment. 
Most of the research and development activities for producing HYV of rice, the country’s staple grain, focus on producing HYV varieties that have great results in favorable growing conditions. Little attention is given to developing HYV of rice that can grow in unfavorable conditions, such as dry zones largely dependent on monsoon and saline zones. The environment of the country is challenging for growing crops. So, more focus should be given to produce a broader spectrum of varieties that can combat environmental challenges. 
Limitations of Land
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries globally, with a population density of 1,239.7 people per square kilometer of land in 2018.  This land-to-man ratio is highly unfavorable for agriculture. Further, the land area for agricultural production has been used to its limit since the 1980s.  Green Revolution technology has already helped increase the land-use intensity. One example would be the introduction of Boro Rice grains, a crop that grows out of season, depending entirely on supplemental irrigation.
The available land for agriculture is reducing because of the demands of the growing population. Along with that, land quality is also being compromised due to a decrease in fertility and an increase in the salinity of the soil.  Absence of crop diversity due to the use of the same crop varieties repeatedly compromises soil quality. These are making it tougher to get more yields, using the available land to its fullest potential.
Climate Change and Environmental Challenges
The impacts of climate change on agriculture are progressively becoming more hostile. Bangladesh is one of the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Some of the significant hazards the country is increasingly facing now are cyclones, floods, tornadoes, tidal surges, river erosion, earthquake, rising soil salinity, rising water level, and waterlogging, as identified by the government.  Because of the volatility of the environment, crops that can grow in unfavorable conditions are more critical now. This includes crops and seeds that can withstand salinity, drought, and prolonged water submersion. The country’s major crops, such as rice, jute, wheat, maize, potato, oilseeds, etc., should be given priority. The government is investing in research to make HYV seeds that can also withstand unfavorable conditions. Alongside that, proper water resource management, effective flood control, irrigation, and drainage are required. 
Undoubtedly, the ongoing pandemic has dealt the most significant blow to the agricultural productivity of the country. A report by Asian Development Bank has stated that the containment measures due to the pandemic had a severe impact on the rural household economy, such as delayed harvest, inability to sell produce, labor and non-labor input disruption, and increased cost.  The biggest problem faced by farmers during the pandemic is not getting fair prices for their produce, followed by inability to reach the market, increased input price, and unavailability of labor, as per a study by BRAC. This study has also estimated that the four core sectors of agriculture, fisheries, poultry, livestock, and crops and vegetables, have lost an approximate income of 656 billion BDT (6.7 billion USD) over the COVID-19 crisis.  To help the sector cope with these challenges, for the fiscal year 2021-22, the budget for the Agriculture Ministry has been raised by 7.59 billion BDT (89.3 million USD)compared to the previous year, with the total amount being 162 billion BDT (1.9 billion USD) For further help in containing the impact of the pandemic, the budget has proposed 95 billion BDT (1.1 billion USD) in farm subsidies, which has been increased by BDT 5 billion (58.9 million USD) from the previous fiscal year.  Besides the budget allocation, the government had also created and disbursed a stimulus package of BDT 50 billion (588.6 million USD) for the pandemic-hit farmers, which expired in July 2021. 
The Way Forward
Crop Diversification and Introduction of Exotic Varieties
Throughout the Green revolution, research on the agriculture of Bangladesh has been primarily focusing on the main crop of the country, rice. The rice research has been very successful, as the volume of rice production has increased dramatically. Crop diversification of rice has been done well, too, with new variants coming up that are resistant to salinity and submersion. Apart from rice, the government aims to make 22 new crop varieties and 21 new types of agricultural technology. Non-cereal rice research on producing environment-friendly as well as disaster-tolerant varieties of jute is already ongoing. 
However, there are many other crops in the country with substantial potential. Research has shown that non-cereal crops, such as vegetables, potatoes, cotton, onions, etc., have economic and private returns as high as, or even higher than, modern rice production.  The focus of research and development should be shifted to these crops to utilize their potential.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a rising trend of new entrepreneurs investing in farming non-local fruits and vegetables. This was credited to the job loss of many Bangladeshi migrants in foreign countries due to the pandemic. Returnees from COVID-affected countries dealt with their unemployment by investing in agriculture and cultivating exotic crops besides the local types, which paid dividends. These exotic crops include Chinese leaves, lemongrass, french beans, red cabbage, sweet corn, broccoli, beetroot, squash, baby corn, Thai rice research basil, Thai ginger, dragon, and other exotic fruits.  The entry barrier to growing these crops is high, as extra care and increased investment are required. However, if the import of these vegetables and fruits is reduced in favor of the locally grown items, the farmers can gain much from it. In addition to that, reducing the entry barrier through subsidization can help keep the cost of these products low.
Recent Projects of International Institutions
To address some of the challenges in agricultural productivity discussed earlier, development organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank, etc., have undertaken several projects in Bangladesh. Several other projects related to improving the livelihood of the marginalized population and resource management also have an indirect impact on improving agricultural productivity. A few recent notable projects are –
World Bank Projects
Integrated Agriculture Productivity Project (IAPP)
This project used climate-smart agricultural technologies, crop varieties, agronomic practices, and production technologies to enhance the resilience of production in the southern and northern areas of the country. These areas are impacted by drought, flash flood, and saline intrusion caused by tidal surges. This project also supported the adaptation and mutation programs for heat-tolerant, saline-tolerant, and drought-tolerant crops, crop diversification, and enhanced soil health management.   The duration of IAPP was 2012-2016. During this time, 1.47 million farmers and their families benefited from it, with an increase of 15% and 37% in the income levels of crop farmers and fisherfolk, respectively. 
Nuton Jibon Livelihood Improvement Project (NJLIP)
This project is also referred to as The Social Investment Program Project (SIPP-III). It has been developed after the two predecessor projects, Social Investment Program Project (SIPP) and Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Project (SIPP II), were successful. It was approved in 2015 and ended in June 2021. NJLIP aims to raise the livelihood of the people living under the poverty line by strengthening and building community institutions. These institutions will help mobilize these people and provide enough funding for livelihood and small infrastructure support, agricultural production knowledge, and nutrition awareness. This project will also increase economic opportunities for the poor through utilizing producer groups, societies, and cooperatives that aid access to markets.   Through improving the people’s livelihood in the selected areas, the agricultural productivity of these areas has also improved.
National Agriculture Technology Program (NATP-II)
The NATP-II is an ongoing project, approved in 2015 and set to finish in 2023. It aims to help the Government of Bangladesh to increase food security and productivity, promote adaptation to climate change, and improve nutrition using diversified and safer foods. This project utilizes better agricultural production practices and enhanced technology. It also targets to increase the participation of women and smallholder farms by enhancing their access to markets. 
Asian Development Bank Projects
Preparing the Climate and Disaster Resilient Small-Scale Water Resources Management Project
This is an active project that was approved in 2019. It aims to improve agricultural productivity and profitability by implementing sustainable, effective, and participatory water resource management in the chosen geographic areas of Bangladesh. The water resources under this project will be supported by including disaster and climate resilience features in the facilities and infrastructure, promoting crops and cropping practices that are disaster and climate tolerant, and establishing agricultural value chains.  The activities of this project can bring down the cost and usage of agriculture inputs, thus driving productivity.
Southwest Area Integrated Water Resources Planning and Management Project
This project was approved in September 2015 and will last until June 2022. This project aims to enhance the management of water resources located in the southwest region of Bangladesh. The project supports irrigation system updates, flood control, and drainage to address the problems in current water usage hampering fisheries and agriculture. The ADB funded the institution of Water Management Organizations (WMOs) to promote infrastructure renovation and integrated water resources management. Through ensuring proper management of water, an instrumental agriculture input, productivity can be improved. 
In the past, the Green Revolution paved the pathway for Bangladesh’s agriculture to reach unprecedented heights, skyrocketing agricultural productivity and achieving food security for the country’s vast population. However, as time passed, new challenges and issues halted the country’s agricultural productivity, which is now in dire need of enhancement. To combat these challenges, the Green Revolution should now focus on diversified crops that are immune to the natural calamities this country faces every so often to combat these challenges. This can only be possible if the steps taken are focused on better technology, management, and distribution of resources.
Mariam Bint A. Mannan, Content Writer and Dipa Sultana, Business Consultant, at LightCastle Partners, have prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]
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Tags: Agriculture, Agricultural Productivity, Green Revolution