That the majority will get less and the minority more has become more of a rule in this part of the world. This is proved to be true in the distribution of subsidized farm inputs and disbursement of loans among farmers.
The unfair distribution of subsidized farm inputs, including fertilizer, seeds, and loans is being viewed by the experts as a major challenge the farming sector has been facing for quite some time.
Notwithstanding the vital role it is still playing in the economy, the share of the agriculture sector has been declining continuously. The sector that once recorded an annual growth rate of about 6.0 percent is growing at little over 1.0 per cent now.
Lopsided distribution of incentives and loans, according to experts, has been undermining the efforts of the small and marginal farmers to come out of the vicious poverty cycle and also the natural pace of growth of the agriculture sector. This should not have been the case since the small and marginal farmers constitute more than 75 percent of the farming community. Only 8.0 per cent of the farmers fall in large category and 15 percent in medium one.
But the small and marginal farmers are also allegedly deprived of their due when it comes to the delivery of services by the extension workers of the directorate of agricultural extension (DAE). Only 27 percent of the small and marginal farmers get DAE extension services and 28 per cent of large farmers do receive the same. A survey carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in a number of districts across the country has produced all these statistics.
The situation is also identical as far as the disbursement of farm credit is concerned. The banks usually disburse farm credit at interest rates far lower than that they make available to any other sector of the economy. The cheap loans are meant basically to help the small and marginal farmers. But there is always a large gap between the objectives of any such program and the actual outcome.
The Bangladesh Krishi Bank (BKB), a state-owned specialized bank, is designated for disbursement of farm credit. It has been the leader of the farm credit market in the country. The IFPRI survey has revealed that only 5.2 percent of the loan disbursed by the BKB in the year 2015 went to marginal farmers and 9.1 percent to small farmers. But the large and medium farmers together got 26.7 percent of the BKB loans in that year.
The discrimination comes in contrast to the expanding role of the small and marginal farmers in food production. A research study was jointly done by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), about 50 percent of the food production in the country is under the control of the marginal farmers. In 1988, the extent of control was over only 18 percent.
The question naturally arises: how could the marginal farmers expand their control over production of rice if they were deprived of the government incentives?
In fact, the marginal and small farmers are left with no options other than making aggressive moves. For their own survival's sake, these people have been making desperate moves to boost their per acreage output.
There is no denying that there has been a transformation of rural Bangladesh. Thatched houses are seen few in numbers in villages these days. Most villagers, economically, are now better off than before. Notable improvement in road transportation and marketing of agricultural produces and increase in remittance inflow and public sector development investment have made the transformation largely possible.
But one particular factor---dominance of the rural elites having political connections-has remained unchanged. This factor comes into play at the time of distribution of government incentives, fiscal or otherwise. The marginal farmers are among the people who are usually bypassed.
The woes of the small and marginal farmers do not end there. Most of them being share-croppers cannot preserve their rice harvest and are forced to dispose of the same usually at prices lower than their cost of production. The irony is that they are required to buy food grains at higher prices later for their daily consumption.
It is no secret that the small and marginal farmers have been receiving a raw deal from all concerned despite their remarkable contribution to the country's food production in particular. There has to be a change in the situation. The government should ensure that its field-level agricultural extension workers serve these farmers better than before. It should also devise some mechanism to make available the subsidized farm inputs to them.
This report was first published in The Financial Express