Lack of finance prevents farmers in Bangladesh from diversifying their rice crops

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  • About 15 million farmers in Bangladesh grow only five to six varieties of rice, despite the availability of more than 130 different rice varieties, resulting in efficient monoculture that puts farmers at increased risk of pests and lower yields.
  • Observers attribute this to a lack of government support to help farmers explore alternative rice varieties, which typically have lower yields and lower prices than the more popular varieties.
  • The lack of financial support means that many farmers have to take out high-interest microloans for operational expenses, forcing them to grow the most profitable rice varieties, locking them into a vicious cycle.
  • Observers have called on the government to do more to encourage farmers to diversify their rice crops, pointing to long-term benefits in the form of improved soil health and resistance to pest attack.

Bangladesh is home to more than 130 different varieties of rice, but a lack of economic incentives means farmers here only grow a handful of the high-yielding types. This has given rise to a virtual monoculture system, which farmers and experts say threatens both long-term production and soil quality.

Most farmers, on the other hand, suffer a vicious circle of dependence on high-interest microcredit for agricultural inputs, which leaves them overly dependent on high-yielding varieties and little room to experiment with other varieties.

Abdur Razzak, a 48-year-old farmer from northern Dinajpur district, has been cultivating the most popular varieties – known as BRRI-28 and BRRI-29 – for 15 years, which produce around 6 metric tons of rice per hectare of land, or about 2.7 short tons per acre.

“A few years ago we tried the BRRI-35,” he says. “[We] dropped it the following year as it only produced about 3 [metric] tons per hectare”, or 1.3 short tons per acre. Worse still, the market price of BRRI-35 and other lesser-known varieties is lower than popular varieties due to lack of demand.

Like Razzak, some 15 million farmers in Bangladesh depend on only five to six varieties of rice in an effort to maximize their production, growing them on 8.6 million hectares (21.3 million acres) of land. This has made Bangladesh the fourth rice producing country in the world, producing 36 million metric tons of rice per year to feed its 170 million people.

A rice paddy in Bangladesh. A cycle of reliance on high-interest microcredit for agricultural inputs leaves farmers overly dependent on high-yielding rice varieties and little room to experiment with other varieties. Image by Abu Siddique/Mongabay.

Other popular varieties are BRRI-58, 50, 63 and 74, all named after the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute which developed them. But it is the BRRI-28 and 29 that dominate, representing approximately 50% of all the rice grown in the country, due to their better yields and market prices.

Farmers and researchers claim that the return on investment is the main reason for this practice, which has resulted in efficient monoculture. The high cost of production – ranging from irrigation and labor to fertilizers and pesticides – and uncompetitive prices mean farmers have no incentive to explore beyond the dominant varieties.

Lack of access to affordable financing

In a country where agriculture is a mainstay of the economy and where farmers play the main role in ensuring food security, farmers have little formal access low-cost funding for their operational needs.

Generally, there are three sources of financial support available to Bangladeshi farmers. First there is father, local lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates on loans that must be repaid in weekly installments. Next come the non-governmental organizations that offer microloans, followed by public banks.

Although the latter, with their lower interest rates, would be the ideal option for farmers, most fear banks because of the convoluted bureaucracy. The government established the Bangladesh Krishi Bank in 1973 with the aim of supporting farmers, but even today it has not gained much popularity.

“Unfortunately, bureaucratic entanglements, third party involvement in the loan disbursement process and political intervention have rendered the bank ineffective,” said Fazle Rabbi Sadeque Ahmed, the bank’s deputy managing director. Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF).

Between dadon and NGOs, farmers tend towards the latter. But even here loans are not cheap: the average annual interest rate is 31%.

“We are forced to sell the paddy at a low price immediately after harvest to repay our loans,” said Dilip Kumar, a 40-year-old farmer from another northern district, Lalmonirhat. “If we wait to sell it, the interest on our loan will increase.”

Irrigation in a rice field
The high cost of production – ranging from irrigation and labor to fertilizers and pesticides – as well as uncompetitive prices mean that farmers have no incentive to explore beyond the dominant varieties. Image by Abu Siddique/Mongabay.

Risks of Monoculture

“If farmers cannot get a fair price for their produce and cannot access finance to meet their [production] needs in time, they will definitely opt for the varieties that have the best yield,” said Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, a environment and climate change researcher problems.

He said this makes the dominance of monoculture the fault of the government, as it has failed to meet farmers’ interests by allowing them to explore other varieties of rice.

A 2019 study suggested that the adoption of alternative rice varieties could help Bangladeshi farmers avoid risks such as pest attacks and low long-term yields – risks that further increase over-reliance on rice. a few varieties.

Repeated monoculture also degrades soil health, which Ahsan Uddin, who is a member the Independent Technical Advisory Group of the Green Climate Fund, also imputed to the government.

“Farmers are not responsible for damage to soil health. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure the availability of technology, financing and cultivable varieties. The government has failed in this regard,” he said.

“The government should put in place a mechanism for farmers to get a fair price for their produce,” said Jibon Krisna Biswas, former chief executive of BRRI. “Otherwise they will continue to grow varieties like BRRI-28 and BRRI-29. This leads to monoculture, which will lead to long-term ecological ruin.

Banner image: Farmers with freshly harvested paddy. Image by Md Arifur Rahman via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Climate change is testing Bangladeshi farmers’ dependence on rice varieties

Quotes:

Zohir, S. (2001). Impact of Agricultural Input Market Reforms on Crop Sector Profitability in Bangladesh. Extract from SAPRI Bangladesh website: http://www.saprin.org/bangladesh/research/ban_agri_input.pdf

Bidisha, SH, Khan, A., Khondker, BH and Imran, K. (2015). Returns to agricultural microcredit: quasi-experimental evidence from Bangladesh. Bangladesh Development Studies, 38(4), 31-46. Extract of https://www.jstor.org/stable/26538717

Tisdell, C., Alauddin, M., Sarker, MA and Kabir, MA (2019). Agricultural diversity and sustainability: general characteristics and Bangladeshi illustrations. Sustainability, 11(21), 6004. doi:10.3390/su11216004

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Agriculture, Agroecology, Biodiversity, Crops, Economy, Economy, Livestock, Finance, Food, Food crisis, Food industry, Food prices, Food security, Monocultures

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