Daily Star

  • More 25,000 hectares under Boro in Sylhet

    About 25,000 hectares are turning into double-crop lands in Sylhet district this year with cultivation of Irri-Boro in the current season for the first time. Loss of Amon paddy this year compelled farmers to cultivate Irri-Boro on the vast lands left fallow earlier. Farmers in large number in Sylhet Sadar, Golapganj, Beanibazar, Kanaighat, Zakiganj and Jaintapur upazilas are bringing the lands under paddy cultivation to recoup crop loss due to floods.

  • Declare Feb 14 as Sundarbans Day

    Environmentalists at a discussion yesterday urged the government to declare February 14 as Sundarbans Day. They said the Sundarbans with its rich bio-diversity is protecting the southwestern region of the country from natural calamities, but the forest resources are being plundered, threatening ecological disaster. The largest mangrove forest in the world must be preserved in its natural form as it is essential not only for our survival but also for the existence of the mankind, they added.

  • High-value agriculture and agri-business in Bangladesh

    THE demand for food in Bangladesh and around the world is changing rapidly. Driven by economic growth, rising incomes, and urbanisation, demand is shifting away from traditional staples toward high-value food commodities. High value agricultural commodities include fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, and livestock products, many of them processed before reaching the market. In Bangladesh, additional demand for these commodities is projected to be worth about $8 billion by 2020 (in 2005 prices). This represents an enormous opportunity for food producers, processors, and sellers. Owing to the greater labour intensity characteristic of high value agricultural production, it also provides an opportunity to generate rural employment and raise rural incomes. More than 80% of people living on less than $2 a day in Bangladesh live in rural areas. This spatial distribution of poverty makes capitalising on the opportunities afforded by high value agricultural production an important strategic priority for those seeking to reduce poverty in the country. Yet, for all of its promise, capitalising on these opportunities is fraught with challenges. High value agricultural products are generally far more perishable than traditional staples, and require more sophisticated post-harvest technologies and faster and more controlled transport. Insufficient processing capacity, the lack of cold storage facilities or a functioning cold chain, and the persistence of transport bottlenecks are significant constraints to high value agriculture in Bangladesh. The promise of generating higher income and increased export revenues by accessing international markets is matched by the challenges of meeting the exacting quality and safety standards that apply in those markets -- and by the prospect of having to compete with high quality imports from those markets. Most importantly, even assuming that opportunities afforded by high value agriculture are successfully seized upon, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that the benefits of this success will extend naturally or automatically to those who need them most urgently -- Bangladesh's rural poor. A new report published this month by the World Bank and the IFC-SEDF, entitled High-value Agriculture in Bangladesh, examines the opportunities and constraints that Bangladeshi agro-businesses face in shifting to this type of production. The report presents case studies of five high-value agricultural industries/sub-sectors: aquaculture, small-scale commercial poultry, fruits and vegetables, high-value aromatic rice, and dairy, and examines cross-cutting issues that emerge as priorities for promoting high-value agriculture and related agro-business development in Bangladesh. Bangladesh's strong comparative advantage in fish production, together with burgeoning domestic and foreign demand for fish products makes aquaculture an industry of tremendous potential growth. Yet, quality problems and low productivity could blunt the competitiveness of the shrimp export industry. Improvements in pond management and the use of disease-free seed are needed to significantly improve the productivity in brackish water shrimp farms. Genetic improvement of fish stocks, combined with technical advice for farmers, are essential to sustain the freshwater aquaculture industry. Quality advisory services could also transform Bangladesh's poultry industry, where rapid growth in the last 15 years has been concentrated among large, well-established commercial enterprises. Improving technical knowledge, efficiency, control over inputs, and access to credit among small-scale poultry producers could extend this growth, generating employment and helping reduce poverty in rural areas. It will also enable them to better deal with the urgent practical realities surrounding highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Consumption of fruits and vegetables is growing in Bangladesh. Yet, the limited availability of reliable planting material and hybrid seed keeps productivity low. Post-harvest losses are high. Farmers need better market information to synchronise production with demand. High informal transportation tolls lead to excessive marketing costs. The prospects of profitably adding value through processing are limited by unreliable power supplies, which also afflict rice milling -- including the high-value aromatic rice treated in the report. The variable performance of Bangladesh's fruit and vegetable exports is unlikely to improve unless specific steps are taken to ensure long-term growth. It is important to note that the value added in Bangladesh's domestic market will likely dwarf any value addition obtainable through exports. Production for domestic consumers will also have a far greater impact on farmers' incomes than production for export. Even with relatively slow growth in per capita milk consumption compared to other high value foods, domestic production still cannot meet existing demand and Bangladesh relies heavily on imports of powdered milk. But unless they can significantly improve productivity, dairy producers in Bangladesh are unlikely to compete with imports. Dairying appears to be profitable only in certain parts of the country, where feed is more readily obtained and where there is some milk-marketing infrastructure. In these areas, farmers would benefit from better marketing arrangements as well as more effective animal health and breeding services and improved animal nutrition strategies. The formation of effective dairy producer associations could go far in improving milk marketing. The case studies presented in the report suggest a number of recommendations and policy options for developing agro-business in the country. A number of these relate to improving the investment climate and providing a more enabling environment in which the costs and intricacies of doing business are significantly reduced. Some relate to removing policy distortions, regulations, and informal tolls and costs that make doing business unnecessarily cumbersome. The case studies point unambiguously to the cardinal importance of food quality and safety. Consumers must be confident that the high-value products available to them in the market are not a public health risk if demand for these goods is to continue growing. Improving the awareness and understanding of food safety risks, and how to minimise, them is necessary for producers, consumers, and everyone along the supply chain that connects them. The capacity of institutions with regulatory responsibilities needs to be developed with new skills and technologies. High-value agriculture requires technical skills and knowledge not generally associated with more traditional production, making human capital development and knowledge management important elements in the transition. There is a lack of reliable data on most high-value agricultural commodities that deprives policy makers, planners, and investors of critical information. Systematically benchmarking and monitoring this information will enable planners to identify, document, and scale-up best practices in high value agriculture and related value chains. Access to timely and reliable market information and to new technologies will go far in determining the competitiveness and profitability of agro-businesses. Applied research is needed to build an effective knowledge base that is available to investors who participate and compete in high-value agro-business. The institutions that carry out this research and develop new technologies adapted to conditions in Bangladesh will require combinations of public and private financing and management. Procurement arrangements like contract farming are expanding rapidly in Bangladesh, and provide for more orderly marketing with less price volatility and better sharing of risks and rewards. Contract enforceability remains a major challenge, with breaches common among both producers and purchasers. Building trust and developing positive social capital is ultimately the best way to improve contract enforceability, but this of course takes time. Strengthening producer organisations may help enforce contract terms on the farmers' side, and a variety of other institutions can provide alternative fora for dispute resolution. Associations formed around professions, industries, and commodities are likely to play a very prominent role in developing high-value agro-business in Bangladesh. Effective producer groups often enable small-scale farmers to forge mutually beneficial partnerships with private industry. While the private sector will continue to take the lead in developing high-value agriculture and related agro-business, the role of government remains essential. It is essential in fostering an enabling business environment for market-led growth through stable and undistorted economic incentives and in providing critical public goods and services. The public sector's regulatory role is also very important in ensuring that the growth of high-value agriculture and agro-business does not deepen poverty, accentuate prevailing inequities, or harm the environment. Closer collaboration between the public sector, nongovernmental organisations, and the private sector would be extremely beneficial in addressing the combinations of opportunities, risks, and challenges that the shift to high-value agriculture carries for Bangladesh. Xian Zhu is Country Director, World Bank, Bangladesh, and Mona Sur is Senior Economist, Agriculture and Rural Development Department, World Bank.

  • 'Take action against Rajpur land grabbers'

    Speakers at a view exchange meeting yesterday called on the authorities to evict land grabbers from about 300 bighas of land at Rajpur in Lalmonirhat and return them to the genuine owners. They also called for stern action against the illegal encroachers. Rajpur Char Land Recover Committee organised the meeting at Cirdap auditorium in the capital, with Shudhir Chandra Mohonto, convenor of the committee and a former union parishad chairman, in the chair. A booklet titled 'Roktakto Rajpur' was also launched at the programme. Eminent economist Prof Muzaffer Ahmad, former adviser to the caretaker government Sultana Kamal, University Grants Commission Member Prof AHM Zihadul Karim, Assistant Professor Abdur Rob of Jahangirnagar University, FEMA President Munira Khan, ActionAid Country Director Farah Kabir and representatives of Rajpur char dwellers spoke at the programme, moderated by Bidhan Chandra Pal of The Hunger Project. Expressing their shock at the land grabbing incident during this government, the speakers criticised the local administration for their inaction and demanded withdrawal of false cases filed against the real owner of the char lands. They also urged all to unite to launch a social movement to protect the char dwellers across the country. Representatives of the char dwellers alleged that a well-connected political leader in collusion with the local police administration has grabbed at least 300 bighas of char land in Rajpur. His men also tortured the real owners of the land when they refused to hand over their land to him, they added.

  • Three best performing project teams get ADB award

    Bangladesh Resident Mission of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) yesterday awarded three best performing project teams implementing projects in Bangladesh. The 2007 award-winning project teams are the Northwest Crop Diversification Project (NCDP) implemented by the Department of Agriculture Extension and Bangladesh Bank, and the Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement (Sector) Project (UGIIP) and the Rural Infrastructure Improvement Project (RIIP), both implemented by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED).

  • 'Increase taxes on tobacco products'

    Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance (BATA) yesterday urged the government to increase taxes on the tobacco products in the coming budget to check the massive use of tobacco in the country. "Taxes on all tobacco products including dried tobacco leaves, 'gul' and 'zarda' have to be increased for effectively controlling the use of tobacco,' said Consumer's Association of Bangladesh (CAB) General Secretary Kazi Faruk at a press conference at Jatiya Press Club.

  • Training on disaster management beings

    A seven-day training programme titled 'Regional learning by doing VCA (vulnerable capacity assessment) exercise' started at a city hotel yesterday, says a press release. Bangladesh Red Crescent Society together with International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent organised the training. Bangladesh Red Crescent Society Chairman Prof Dr Mohammed Abdur Rabb inaugurated the training programme. Through this training we could assist better the most vulnerable people during natural disaster, Abdur Rabb said in his speech. Members of the sister national societies from Canada, Mexico, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal are attending the training. Bangladesh Red Crescent Society secretary general and Head of Delegation of the Federation Selvaratnam Sinnaduarai were also present in the inaugural ceremony.

  • Sylhet chamber chooses lands for special economic zone

    Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) has selected 1,000 acres of land for setting up an special economic zone in order to attract investment especially from the non-resident Sylheties. The special economic zone, adjacent to Fenchuganj-Tamabil Bypass Road Link, will provide land and other infrastructural facilities to the entrepreneurs to set up manufacturing and other industrial units. "We will submit the proposal to the government for acquiring the land,' said SCCI President Junnun Mahmud Khan. He said the chamber has completed a feasibility study on setting up a special economic zone or an industrial park in Sylhet division from where a large number of expatriates are living mainly in the UK and USA. The SCCI has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the British-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BBCCI) in 2006. Under the deal, the BBCCI will bring together the non-resident Sylheties to invest in the economic zone. It is expected that 65 percent land of the zone will be provided to the expatriates. According to the feasibility study, Sylhet has available land, abundant natural and forest resources to set up an economic zone or industrial park. There is an ample scope to increase production of various agricultural commodities. In Sylhet division, there is also scope to increase fish production through undertaking aggressive programmes and activities. Sylhet has economically significant storage of minerals for industrialisation. Natural gas, limestone, sand stone and sand, glass sand and coal are available in this region. Some supports should be provided to the non-resident Sylheties to encourage investment. The supports include investment security, one-stop services cell for registration, licensing and regulatory formalities, prompt and easy access to physical infrastructure like plots and utility connections, access to institutional support for identification of the reliable and good local partners, strong access to business support services such as banks, insurance and shipping, easy access to reliable expert and consulting services, access to amenities and recreation facilities, and cargo shed and jet fueling station in Sylhet airport, the study said. In the economic zone, there will be scope for establishing power plants, agro processing units, re-rolling mills and steel casting mills, said Nasim Hussain, senior vice-president of SCCI. As the seven sister states of India are very near from Sylhet, the entrepreneurs or the investors will have an easy access to the seven sisters to export their products, he said. "We are hoping to get a huge response from the Sylheti expatriates,' he added.

  • Protect forests, save wildlife in CHT

    Speakers at a discussion meeting here yesterday urged the government to protect forests and the ecology to save the wildlife in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They called for creating awareness and strict enforcement of environment laws. The meeting, held at the Zilla Shilpakala Academy hall room in the hill town, was organised by scouts. Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Mohammad Khalilur Rahman was present as chief guest while Pankhaiya Para High School Headmaster and District Scouts Coordinator Omar Faruk presided over the function. They also urged local environmental activists and NGO officials to work united to save the environment and the ecology for the sake of humans. Once the ecology is destroyed, it creates a chain affect, which will bing disaster for all, the speakers said. Officials, teachers, journalists, NGO representatives and civil society members and enrironmentalists attended the meeting. After the meeting, a colorful rally, joined by hundreds of people, was brought out in the town to create awareness about the need for protecting the environment.

  • $65m Japanese loan for disaster rehabilitation

    Japan and Bangladesh signed an agreement in Tokyo yesterday concerning Japanese loan assistance of US$ 65 million for 'emergency disaster damage rehabilitation' project in the country. Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, who is now visiting Japan, and Masahiko Koumura, minister for foreign affairs of Japan, signed the agreement after their bilateral meeting, said a release from the Japan embassy. Japanese Ambassador Masayuki Inoue pledged the loan to Finance Adviser Dr Mirza Azizul Islam last month. The rehabilitation project under the loan will be started following the signed agreement. Asian Development Bank (ADB) is co-financing the loan. The objective of the project is to support 'quick restoration of economic and social activity' in the areas damaged by the floods and cyclone, through providing quick-disbursement type of import financing for essential agricultural commodities. Rehabilitating and reconstructing damaged public infrastructure, thereby contributing to sustainable economic growth, are also among the objectives. Japan has been assisting disaster mitigation and damage recovery of Bangladesh for long. For recovery from the damage caused by cyclone Sidr, Japan already has provided emergency relief goods equivalent to about US$ 327,100 and emergency grant aid through UN agencies equivalent to US$ 3.7 million. Japan has already started the assessment procedure for construction of additional cyclone shelters in affected area. In addition, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is planning to support for rehabilitation of rural infrastructures with Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and water supply facilities with the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) under technical cooperation projects.

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