Diversification in agriculture

Traditional agriculture–centering mainly on the production of food grains — has served a purpose, no doubt, in feeding the growing population of Bangladesh. But this singular emphasis on food grain production is also costing the country dear in different ways. It has created the necessity or urgency of crop diversification.
Mono copping or production of only food grains in the same land round the year causes loss of soil fertility. However, such fertility loss can be avoided if rotation of crops or planting different crops at different times on the same land is practiced. Besides, the singular pursuit of food grain production leads to under production of cash crops and increases the country’s import dependence of their products.
For instance, from an exporter of spices, Bangladesh has turned into a net importer of the same as croplands progressively were used less and less for spice cultivation. Oilseeds are imported or in their crushed form to meet the needs of cooking oil. But once upon a time, Bangladesh was self sufficient in producing oilseeds to meet its entire consumption requirements.
Besides, there are important crops –such as cotton and rubber– the cultivation of which can substantially reduce import dependence. Experiments established that cotton of the finest quality can be produced in Bangladesh. The soil of this country is well suited for cotton cultivation. The country’s main export commodity at present is ready-made garments (RMG). But value-addition in the RMG sector at present is only 25 per cent. But the same can climb to 70 per cent or above, fairly soon, if only cotton in increased quantities is locally produced to be used for making yarn and fabric. In that case, foreign exchange earnings from the RMG sector will also rise substantially.
Extension of rubber cultivation to the same end is also possible. Similarly, stepped up production of oilseeds and spices can lead to a substantial saving of foreign currency by much reducing the import needs of these commodities. The cumulative effect of the wider and successful production of these cash crops will translate into vital balance of payments support for the country by reducing imports and increasing export values.
Understandably, the pressure of the country’s huge population for food creates the compulsion for using lands very extensively for food production. But this problem can be circumvented considerably by going for higher yields of food grains from limited lands (through using higher yielding seeds) to set free considerable lands for the cultivation of cash crops. This strategy might ensure continued high production of food grains while also freeing up farmlands for planting the commercial crops.
Then, there are other products to be derived from lands which have much prospects namely baby corn, gherkin, cut flowers, orchids and condiments. All of these and more can be grown in the country especially with an eye for export. Thus, these agricultural commodities can open up a rich new field of export. However, to successfully diversify into these areas of agricultural production, it will be necessary to build capacities at all levels in respect of technology, standardisation, infrastructural and institutional facilities right from the start of production stages to export.
Government declared diversfication of agriculture and export of new agriculture oriented products as its thrust policy some years ago. Venture capital and other forms of patronisation to this end were also declared. But evidences of vigorous implementation of the policy or its notable bearing of fruit, are not visible. If the policy has been faltering, then it needs serious investigations why it is not creating the desired impact. After such an assessment and identification of the bottlenecks, it can be recast with emphasis reduced or increased in different areas, as required, and also increases in support activities accordingly. Diversification of agriculture in support of the above objectives is a pressing need indeed for the national economy.