Bangladeshi gov't attaches more importance to agriculture sector

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DHAKA, Apr 20, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Bangladesh has attached more and more importance to its agriculture sector, which contributes more than 21 percent to national GDP, since the country faced an acute shortage of foodgrain after being hit by super cyclone Sidr in November 2007.

In the latest move, the government, in its 34.24 billion taka ( about 489.14 million U.S. dollars) stimulus package announced on Sunday in the backdrop of the global financial crisis, kept aside 58 percent of total allocations as agriculture subsidies and agriculture loan recapitalization facility.

Apart from this, the South Asian country's central bank Sunday issued a circular to commercial banks fixing the maximum limit of their annual lending rate at 13 percent for different sectors including agriculture.

"The country's long-neglected agriculture sector is getting now more and more government's attention," agricultural activist Shaikh Siraj told Xinhua on Monday.

Siraj, also director and head of news of local private television Channel-i, said not only Bangladesh but also many other governments in this part of the world ignored the importance of agriculture in the last 15-20 years.

"Further developing the agriculture sector, which employs more than 67 percent of the country's total workforce, could be one of the options to minimize the impact of the global economic downturn, " he said.

The World Bank last week said Bangladesh has averted the first round effects of the global financial crisis so far but warned of possible worsening situation in the coming months.

Director General of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, a state-sponsored think tank, Mustafa K Mujeri said the agriculture sector has come into the limelight during the last few years since the country was hit by cyclone Sidr as well as devastating floods in 2007.

The food prices in Bangladesh skyrocketed nearly 60 percent between 2007 and 2008, putting the poor and lower income groups of the country into hardships.

In September last year, the central bank of Bangladesh made mandatory for all local and foreign commercial banks to disburse agriculture credit to ensure food security of the country.

Later in October last year, the central bank also relaxed its credit policy with a view to facilitating the disbursement of agricultural loans to sharecroppers and landless farmers across the country.

The then caretaker government for the first time in the country 's history also observed the National Agriculture Day on Nov. 15 last year to recognize the contributions of farmers as Bangladesh is an agrarian country.

Bangladesh's newly-elected government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after she took office on Jan. 6 this year, also completed her maiden month with some major steps in the agriculture sector to boost food production.

In the first weeks, Hasina reduced the prices of diesel, widely used for irrigation, and almost halved prices of non-fertilizer items as part of her commitment to boost agriculture production and thereby bring down the prices of essentials -- a major election pledge.

"It seems that the steps taken by the immediate past caretaker government and current democratic governments helped to boost food production in the country," Mujeri said.

According to the central bank of Bangladesh, the country's rice import in the first 9 months of the current fiscal year (July 2008- June 2009) dropped to 626,000 tons, more than 30 percent lower than that in the same period of last fiscal due to rice production growth at home.

"There is very good opportunity for other Asian countries like Bangladesh to go ahead nurturing agriculture with due importance. China and Vietnam are the best examples before us," Siraj said.

He also emphasized the urgency of accelerating agricultural development activities for sustainable growth in the sector particularly in food production.

Official statistics showed Bangladesh surpassed the production targets for Aus (spring paddy) and Aman (summer paddy) crops last year and is expecting to achieve 18 million tons Boro (winter paddy) of production target, which will help the country further reduce the dependency on rice import.

According to the central bank statistics, the food stock in government godowns is over 1.3 million tons in February this year while the amount was 600,000 tons during the same period last year.