Sustainable Support System for Farmers in Bangladesh’s Less-Served Areas
In Bangladesh, rice is the main crop, accounting one-half of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) and one-sixth of national income. Rice is grown on 10.5 million hectares per year, a figure that has remained nearly constant over the last three decades. Nearly all of Bangladesh’s crops are still planted, weeded, harvested and threshed by hand. This post focuses on two cases of mechanized rice transplantation, which has had a significant influence on productivity by lowering field losses and alleviating labor shortages.
Transplanting, weeding, harvesting and threshing are the four most labor-intensive activities in rice farming, with transplanting out the rice seedlings one of the most tiresome, back-breaking and time-consuming of the four stages, taking 123-150 labor hours per hectare. This is made worse by the growing labor shortage resulting from an increase in industrialization and migration.
Mechanical transplanting of rice seedlings is a novel technology that has only recently been made available to farmers in Bangladesh. Mechanical rice transplanters reduce labor requirements, and the government’s Department of Agricultural Extension subsidy program is increasing their popularity, particularly in locations where the workforce is scarce. The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia-Mechanization and Extension Activity (CSISA-MEA), funded by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, has been working with lead firms that import mechanical rice transplanters and with regional seed companies marketing rice transplanter services, supporting them to market rice transplanters and train machinery solution providers and farmers on how to use them.
Ali Ahmed, a 22-year-old undergraduate student from Teknaf Upazila, Cox’s Bazar and Mosharof Hossain (55 years old) from Lama Upazila, Bandarban district, both found it hard to find the necessary labor for planting and harvesting, and so each decided to buy a rice transplanter from a CSISA-MEA partner lead firm, the Metal Private Limited (TML). The partnership provided training to them on raising seedlings for use with a rice transplanter and operating and maintaining the machine. Ali and Mosharof have become pioneers in mechanized farming, as the first in their neighborhoods to buy and commercially operate rice transplanters.
In the 2021-2022 winter season, Ali and Mosharof hired out their services, using their transplanters to plant boro rice for neighboring farmers with considerable success. Ali said, “I started with just eight hectares [of work], but I intend to expand to 30 hectares by next season — and I want to do major things with this machine in the near future.” Mosharof now offers his rice transplanting services to other farmers on an affordable, fee-for-services basis, meaning he can earn money to support his family. For the winter rice season, he and another farmer grew seedlings from 50 kg of seed and began planting them out using the rice transplanter. Mosharof said, “I’ve had an order to plant seedlings on five hectares of land,” adding, “I expect this to expand next season. Hill tract soil is quite suitable for using a rice transplanter — and if I get support, I’ll buy a combine harvester as well.”
Ali and Mosharof have both become strong advocates for mechanical rice transplantation, which is continuing to attract a large number of farmers. This initiative has also supported the development of several female entrepreneurs who are now commercially cultivating seedlings for mechanical transplantation.