Amid worries about prospective food insecurity due to the adverse impacts of climate change on agricultural production and agro labour shortages led by rapid urbanisation, there is a silver lining – educated youth in the country are showing a growing interest in agriculture in recent years.
Some are trying to build their career in agriculture without running after conventional jobs while some others are investing in the sector to create an alternative source of income. And through their initiatives, they are creating employment opportunities for others and enhancing food security as they are more inclined towards producing high-yielding as well as high-value crops using modern technologies, according to stakeholders.
Another important feature is that the young agro enthusiasts are more interested in joint venture projects, said officials of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
Md Babu Hossain, assistant director of a project on agricultural mechanisation and collective farming under the Department of Agricultural Extension, told TBS, “Since 2019, about three lakh farmers across the country have been trained on collective farm management and the use of modern agricultural machinery under five projects. Most of them are young and they are more interested in the use of modern agricultural machinery and joint farming.”
An endeavour to revive agriculture in salinity-hit Sandwip
Amid ever-increasing soil salinity due to climate change-induced rises in sea levels, some 1,000 acres of land became uncultivable in Sandwip upazila – an island along the southeastern coast of Bangladesh in Chattogram district – over the past three decades. Besides, about 71.15 square kilometres of the upazila were washed into the sea in the period between 1973 and 2020, according to the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS).
As a result, apart from losing habitats, the people of the coastal upazila are gradually being forced to leave agriculture which was one of the key sources of livelihood for them previously.
In such a vulnerable state of agriculture, an organisation named “Human 25” has started working for the spread and popularisation of agriculture and to make it a profitable profession in the area through social initiatives.
The organisation has been encouraging farmers to grow salinity-tolerant varieties of paddy by accustoming their members to mechanised agriculture for the last two years. The priority areas on which the organisation works include providing quality seeds, fertilisers, and agro-information services to the member farmers.
The members of the organisation cultivate various crops including paddy on 30 acres of land. In the last Aman season, they produced 75 tonnes of paddy on the land. And in the spring season, they have cultivated various rabi crops including mustard, lentils, black cumin, onion, beans, bitter gourd, gourd, and brinjal.
Saleh Noman who is a journalist by profession is the key man behind “Human25”. Asked what stirred him to take up the initiative, he said, “Sandwip was once chiefly an agrarian area, but now almost all agro products including rice, pulses, and vegetables have to be brought from Chittagong city. This gives me great pain.”
“Since long before the Covid pandemic, I had been thinking about how to get those who used to work in agriculture back to the field again. But during the pandemic, I talked to some of my friends living abroad about this and they bought a power tiller for our area.
“At first, we formed a team of five people and handed over the power tiller to them so that they could cultivate land according to their needs. Within a few days, the team was enrolled in a government-subsidised agricultural mechanisation project. Through the project, we collected a rice transplanter, a rice reaper, and a rice dryer machine. Farmers can use these machines for free as per their needs. They are also provided with high-quality seeds, weather kits, gumboots, and flashlights.”
Organic farming turns money-spinner in Naogaon
Another good example of a joint-venture in agriculture is “Bipanan Kendra Prakritik Krishi Naongaon”. The eco-friendly agricultural farm has been established with the participation of 50 farmers on 20 acres of land in Badalgachhi and Raninagar upazilas of the district, where a mango orchard has been created on a 4.5-acre plot of land, a mixed-fruit orchard on one acre, and various winter vegetables have been grown on two acres of land.
Rakibur Haque Sohag, coordinator of the project, said, “We created this completely organic agro project in 2014. We manufacture organic fertilisers and use them to cultivate all fruits and vegetables. This farm was created with an investment of Tk5 lakh, but the annual income from it currently stands at about Tk50 lakh. Over 50 workers run their family with their income from this farm.”
Businessmen, IT engineer friends turn to agriculture in C’nawabganj
In Nachole upazila of Chapainawabganj, two businessmen and two IT engineers have created a mixed fruit orchard investing Tk15 lakh. There are 1,000 different varieties of mango trees on the seven-acre farm. As intercrops, turmeric, sugarcane, different types of winter vegetables, and pineapple have also been cultivated there.
One of the entrepreneurs, Habibullah told TBS, “I have been with agriculture since 2017. But joint investment is much safer. So, I along with three of my friends leased a mango orchard in 2022. We have invested Tk15 lakh to create a mixed fruit orchard besides the mango orchard. We will invest another Tk10 lakh in this sector by next year.”
From Tk7 lakh investment to Tk1 crore annual turnover in two years
Another glowing success story in the agriculture sector is Sunmoon Agro and Fisheries based in South Chattogram. After starting the journey in 2020 with an investment of Tk7 lakh, the project now has a total investment of Tk50 lakh. And the annual turnover of the farm is now more than Tk1 crore.
This agricultural farm has been created on 40 acres of land in Satkania, Lohagara upazilas and the major crops produced there include paddy, papaya, vegetables, and fish.
Shahidul Islam Babar, the owner of the farm, said, “I started the farm in 2020 by planting vegetables on 23 acres of land. At present, the total area of the farm is more than 40 acres, employing about 100 workers. I have plans to invest over Tk50 lakh in this sector in the future. For this purpose, I am looking for 100 acres of land, where I will only cultivate paddy.”
Need for better market management
The youth who have invested in agriculture say that the existing market system does not allow the farmers to reach directly to the buyers, therefore, they are not getting fair prices for their produce. They have demanded to build stores in every upazila under the government initiative.
Agricultural entrepreneur Shahidul Islam Babar said, “Agricultural products worth around Tk50 lakh are sold daily in Dohazari market of South Chattogram alone. But due to lack of storage facilities, we, the vegetable farmers, are not getting fair prices.”
Rakibul Haque of Bipanan Kendra Prakritik Krishi Naongaon said, “We grow crops with capital and labour. But due to a lack of a proper market system, we are not getting the proper prices. The government should work to bridge the gap between the farmers and the buyers to sustain the enthusiasm that has been created among the youth in agriculture.”
Badal Chandra Biswas, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, told TBS, “Climate change and growing demand for nutritious food in the country have created a new trend in agriculture, led by educated youth. Science-based organic agriculture will be the main sector for future growth.”
The Department of Agricultural Extension is implementing the agricultural mechanisation and collective farm management project to increase the involvement of youth in agriculture, he concluded.