Appropriate Scale Mechanization with Model Entrepreneurships: A Key to Sustainable Paddy Production in Bangladesh
This post is written by Dr. Chayan Kumer Saha and Dr. Md. Monjurul Alam, Department of Farm Power and Machinery, Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Paddy is the staple food crop in Bangladesh and produces enough to feed her people. However, Paddy production has become challenging and expensive due to labor migration to urban areas and industries, and the high cost of labor wages resulting from labor shortages, especially during seed planting or transplanting and harvesting seasons. Using traditional postharvest practices, farmers can incur paddy losses of around 14% at the farm level. To feed millions of people in the future, production needs to be expanded and intensified — a tough task to do without mechanization. Tilling, irrigation, pesticide application and threshing operations are mostly mechanized, and transplanting and harvesting are also gaining their ground for mechanization in the northern and northeastern areas of Bangladesh. However, agriculture in the southern delta (Feed the Future Zone) of Bangladesh is characterized by low productivity due to salinity, waterlogging, less practice of modern technologies, inadequate control over water resources and repeated crop losses due to natural calamities.
The Bangladesh Agricultural University, in partnership with the USAID Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL), Kansas State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is implementing the Feed the Future project entitled “Appropriate Scale Mechanization Innovation Hub (ASMIH)-Bangladesh” to make smallholder farmers in the southern delta of Bangladesh resilient. The project focuses on the suitability, scalability and sustainability of appropriate scale technologies, capacity building and women and youth engagement. Results from the ASMIH-Bangladesh project showed that the use of identified appropriate seed planting, transplanting and harvesting machines could save at least half (50%) of the costs compared with manual farming. Mechanization can increase the cropping intensity with efficient operational time management. The research findings also indicated that the use of combine harvesters (from reaping to threshing) can save losses up to 5%. These technologies are being adopted in the southern delta by overcoming existing challenges. The Government of Bangladesh is providing subsidies (50% all over Bangladesh and 70% in haor and low-lying areas) through a project of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), worth around $350 million, for expediting the popularization of these technologies among the farmers. The ASMIH-Bangladesh team has contributed to developing the national mechanization policy in Bangladesh and has been contributing to identifying appropriate machines for the DAE project.
The overwhelming majority of farm households in Bangladesh are smallholder households. For the smallholder farmers, it is very difficult to access the services by purchasing these expensive machines, though the government is providing a large investment through the subsidy program. Further, a smallholder farmer cannot utilize the full capacity, even of a small size machine, due to small farm holding. Therefore, custom-hire service provisions, either owned by an entrepreneur or a farmers’ cooperative, are operating in Bangladesh. To address this issue and strengthen the service provisions, ASMIH-Bangladesh is working with the entrepreneurs to establish single shade service points where smallholder farmers can get the services in time with minimal rates, and at the same time, entrepreneurs can get their return on investment quickly. Such an example is Mr. Martin Boiragi, aged 55 years, a farmer from Sadarpur, Kalapara of Patuakhali district in Bangladesh. He is the head of a family of eight members, including his parents, four brothers and sisters who solely depend on agriculture. Based on the training received from the ASMIH-Bangladesh project, he adopted mechanical harvesting and transplanting technologies that address the labor shortage and reduce the cost of paddy production. Mr. Boiragi acquired a power tiller and an irrigation pump. Later, he purchased a rice transplanter and Yanmar Combine Harvester through the government subsidy program with the cooperation of ASMIH-Bangladesh. Martin Boiragi is a good organizer who leads a group of 25 farmers in his neighborhood, including seven female farmers. He also serves his community as a local agricultural machinery service provider. He harvested 12.35 hectares (ha) and 8 ha of paddy field in Boro 2021 and Aman 2021, respectively, after purchasing the combine harvester and transplanted 4 ha of paddy with the rice transplanter. Farmers in his neighborhood are quite pleased with the performance of the combine harvester and expressed interest in having the services in the next seasons. One of his neighbors, Jalal Hawladar, was encouraged by seeing his success and bought a rice transplanter to provide custom hire service to farmers. He has also received training from the ASMIH-Bangladesh project.
On the other hand, Khan Md. Sajjatul Nur Niloy, an 18-year-old farmer and youth entrepreneur from Purbadhala Upazila in Netrokona district, has been running Swapnonir Agro-BD, an agricultural machinery service enterprise, since December 2021. Since February 2021, he has been serving as one of the single shade service point owners of the ASMIH-Bangladesh project and purchased a BAU-STR dryer for his own use. Prior to that, he worked for Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) as a contract seed grower (his family company) and owned a combine harvester. After receiving training and guidelines from ASMIH-Bangladesh on mechanical rice transplanting and harvesting, he began to consider starting a custom hire service business for his neighboring farmers to mechanize his neighborhood. He currently owned a power tiller, a rice transplanter, a seed tray preparation machine, two combine harvesters and a winnower. Mr. Niloy is currently in charge of all Swapnonir Agro-BD activities, including machine operation, maintenance and overall business management. Mr. Niloy provided services to 42 farmers during the last transplanting season and over 180 farmers during the harvesting season. He also used a BAU-STR dryer to dry 25 tons of paddy. He has begun to work with DAE during the last Boro 2022 season, and with the technical assistance of the ASMIH-Bangladesh project, he successfully transplanted 20.2 ha of paddy in his upazila. These kinds of service points are attracting other entrepreneurs to adopt the same single shade concept and smallholding farmers have machinery services in time with lower prices. The support and mentoring of ASMIH-Bangladesh boosts the confidence of these entrepreneurs for ensuring services in the localities, as well as DAE and BADC confidently engaging these service providers in the synchronized cultivation activities and in seed production. There are several reasons to believe that this kind of entrepreneurship model will sustain the mechanized paddy production and ensure food security in Bangladesh.
Key leaders and implementers include: Michigan State University, North Carolina A&T University, Tillers International, Bangladesh Agricultural University, Royal Agricultural University at Phnom Penh, Nazi Boni University at Bobo-Dioulasso and the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute.