Empowering Smallholding Farmers to Build Decent Agriculture

Photo: Collected

According to agriculturists Madan M Dey mention that the reformation of agriculture must begin with creating an agricultural system in which smallholding farmers will easily survive beside big farm holders. The technological efficiency of smallholding farmers is decreasing in Bangladesh and the disappearance of these farmers may not help build a decent society. The combined contribution of smallholding farmers is still greater than big farm holders in Bangladesh but their dominance is diminishing. He also said that technological innovations available in Bangladesh did not suit the need of smallholding farmers in Bangladesh as they held small plots of land or a small pond or both. In this context, agricultural reform must bring agricultural growth keeping smallholding farmers alive.

Professor Abul Barkat clarifies the khas land are important resources for inclusive development. He also suggested that a “Decent Social System” is possible to build up by distributing khas land among marginal and poor people properly. "Decent Social System" is based on a democratic state system, which puts loyalty to nature at the front position; all socio-economic and political foundations should be built on the basis of the influence of nature. The fundamental objectives of the theory of decent society are accelerating the process of human enlightenment; creativity promoting knowledge system; instilling high sense of solidarity; process of making human rationality up; making people free from all forms of inequality; free from rent-seeker; making a state for 100 percent people’s ownership and master less civic governance. The theory of ‘decent society’ presents eleven principles to renovate decent Bangladesh from covid-19 impacts. 1. We want development-welfare-progression, but the development would be nature-environment oriented; 2. We need economic growth. We don’t need environmentally harmful, socially unjustified, human resources destructive growth; 3. Growth should be inequality reduced; 4. Growth must be employment-creation oriented; 5. Per capita income or growth domestic product is not development. It must be ensure healthy life of women-children-old-marginal-poor-deprived-isolated people; 6. We want to transform the power of youth to real resources; 7. We want positive social impact; 8. People’s ownership on natural resources (land, water body, forest, space resources, coal, gas and mineral) on behalf of nature; 9. We want to uphold human security and equal opportunity for state-society-economy’ development; 10. Promote inequality reduced home grown development philosophy; 11. We want to extract the taste global economic opportunities.

Abul Barkat scientifically estimates the political economy of khas and char land status and injustice towards mass people – religious minority peoples, indigenous peoples, marginal farmers, fish collectors and women. In general there are 50 lacs acres khas land in our country. Bur Barkat says, krishi khas land-12 lacs, non-agri char land-26 lacs and wetlans-12 lacs− in total 50 lacs acres. Executive authority says, 44% of 12 lacs khas land has been distributed among marginal peoples. But professor barkat has said, 88% of khas lands, char land, water bodies are encroached by land grabbers. Distribution system itself is a crisis towards marginal farmers. He also depicts a real account of balumohal, jolmohal, chingrimohal, pathormohal,estate of tea, prawn culture in south-west part and land laws. We have four fundamental resources – land (jomi), Forest (jongle), water (jol) and Human resources (jonomanus). The people who cultivate these resources are not owner actually. Their rights are vaporized through the − extreme version of free market economy. About 48 indigenous groups are alienated by demographic engineering, crisis in char land makes rural to urban migration and increases urban poverty, local farmers and fishermen are deprived to get real price of their products, land rights of women are in crisis, coastal ecological security is currently under threat due to prawn culture and contract farming between local farmers and national or international companies.

Land Reform expert Shamsul Huda said that the country’s agriculture made progress over the years but not the standard of lives of those farmers who made the progress possible. Their living standard is degrading with no access to decent education and medical care. Agriculture economist Sattar Mandal has said decent agriculture is essential for a decent society as well as decent technology is required for decent agriculture.

Commercialization of agriculture with the dynamics of change in its nature and diverse impact is now a reality in rural Bangladesh. Prevalence of commercial cultivation has undoubtedly contributed to food security. But concerns are there whether all the rural households can avail the benefits? In order to minimize the adversities of the fixed rent leasing and contract farming, time offers to employ bio-fertilizers to increase soil fertility; contract farming should not be long-term; high tax should be imposed on tobacco companies; unplanned land use including grabbing of land should be stopped; farmers need to understand that too much use of fertilizers and pesticides could be counterproductive.

To minimize the extensive use of ground water, for avoiding arsenic contamination and other human and natural disasters, the rational use of surface water in the Boro period needs to be encouraged. For that purpose, the present river and water management system should be reformed with ‘open river approach’, instead of existing cordon approach, which will accommodate the monsoon over flow of water for the dry season. Farmers, in order to maintain soil fertility, need to be encouraged for conducting rotation of crops, maintaining leisure period of the crop land, going for regular soil test etc. Social Safety Net program in the rural area should be broadened both in terms of coverage and amount.

To reduce income inequality due to non-farm activities, institutional arrangements need to be on board so that the poor and marginalized households get an access to education, health, credit and extension services. In the face of growing inequality among the rural households, efficient and target oriented public spending should be ensured to develop human capital of poor and marginalized households.

If we utilize the fundamental resources – land, water bodies, forest and human resources through proper policy configuration and implementation, public participation and power decentralization and give back the fundamental rights to farmers, women, fishermen, indigenous peoples, religious minority peoples and marginal peoples – the total production from land, water and forest will be high and the development would be sustainable.

However it is totally politico-economic decision to ensure land, water, forest, indigenous people’s security, land rights of women as well as trim down inequality, deprivation and discrimination to ensure decent farming system.

Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.

Matiur Rahman is a Research Consultant, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), Dhaka.

  • Agriculture of Bangladesh
  • Empowering Smallholding Farmers to Build Decent Agriculture
  • Agriculture
  • Covid-19

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