By M. A. Monayem Miah

Agricultural diversification is the change in enterprise choices and input use decisions based on market forces and profit maximization principles (Pingali and Rosegrant, 1995). This diversification implies a shift of resources from primary staple crop, namely rice, to other cereal crops, from cereals to non-cereal crops, and from crops to non-crop (livestock, fisheries and forestry) agriculture.

In its efforts to attain self-sufficiency in food production to feed a growing population since 1972, the government of Bangladesh has promoted cereal crop production with the introduction of high yielding varieties (HYV) of rice and wheat and by launching Green Revolution and Grow More Food programmes. As a result of these initiatives, cereal crop production has increased tremendously, but land allocation and yields for minor crops, such as pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits and spices, has decreased. Despite the policy emphasis on cereals, demand for minor crops increase and the government expended valuable foreign exchange to import them. To ensure the success of the diversified cereals policy, large quantities of fertilizers were imported to improve the nutrient status of soil.

In 1989, realizing the importance of growing minor crops, the government launched the Crop Diversification Programme, which was undertaken jointly by the government of Bangladesh, the government of Netherlands and Canada's International Development Agency. Crops included in the programme were tubers (potato, sweet potato, aroid), oilseeds (rapeseed, mustard, groundnut, sesame, sunflower, soybean) and pulses (lentil, black gram, mungbean, chickpea, field pea, cowpea, and pigeonpea).

Crop diversification patterns
Different crop diversification patterns were recommended and practiced throughout the country. The major cropping patterns based on land types are listed in Table 1. Boro, Aus and Aman are all transplanted rice varieties.

Five of these cropping patterns were reported to be highly adopted across the country (Table 2).

Public policies and strategies for crop diversification
The government of Bangladesh emphasized agricultural diversification in various policy documents. The Ministry of Agriculture stated that the crop production system dominated by rice was neither scientific nor acceptable from an economic point of view. The ministry emphasized the need to increase the area and production of other minor crops such as potato, sweet potato, pulses, maize and millets in the Fifth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002) (FFYP, 1998). The plan intended to promote crop rotation of shallow-rooted crops with deep-rooted ones and legumes followed by non-legumes to enhance farmers' incomes and to help maintain better soil structure for long-term sustainability. The specific objectives of the plan were as follows:

  • To sustainably increase productivity and real income of farming families in rural areas through sustainable intensification of rice production and locally appropriate crop diversification.
  • To attain self-sufficiency in food-grain production along with increased production of other nutritional crops.
  • To encourage export of agricultural commodities, particularly vegetables and fruits.
  • To promote adoption of modern agricultural practices in dry land, wetland and coastal areas.
  • To ensure sustained agricultural growth through more efficient and balanced use of land, water and other resources.
  • To encourage comparatively large farms to graduate into commercial farming.

Despite policy support and constant encouragement from the government for crop diversification, measurements against the Simpson Index indicate that diversification remained low over the years. Lack of technological advancement was considered to be the main constraint.

Impact of agricultural diversification programmes
Although diversification remained low, some studies show positive impacts of the Crop Diversification Programme on production of minor crops (Alam, 2005; Rahman, 2008). Rahman (2008) reported that production of potato, oilseeds, pulses, fruits and vegetables increased in those areas under the programmes as compared to the non-CDP areas. He also showed that the level of crop diversity actually increased by 4.5 per cent over the 36-year period from 1960 to 1996, when the two agricultural censuses were conducted. Alam (2005) reported that there was a modest increase in potato production, which was attributed to growth in acreage and yield. He found that yields of pulses and oilseeds increased due to the adoption of improved production practices.

Constraints to the promotion of CDP crops
Each CDP crop experienced a different set of problems. However, the Ministry of Agriculture (2000) identified some common constraints for promoting crop diversification:

Lack of suitable land: Most farmers used their suitable land to cultivate high yield varieties of Boro rice and the potential for expanding area under CDP crops was limited.

Lack of water and technologies: Most of the CDP crops, except pulses, require irrigation during the dry season, but subsistence farmers could hardly afford to irrigate crops other than rice.

Low adoption rate of new varieties: Although a good number of improved varieties for different CDP crops and maize were available, diffusion of these varieties was still limited.

Imports discourage diversification: A large quantity of pulses, oilseeds and edible oils are imported every year. Imports bring down the local price for pulses exposing local producers to competition against world market prices.

Existing marketing system discourages diversification: Prices on most CDP crops generally drop to their lowest levels during the local harvest period. Farmers are compelled to sell at least 40-50 per cent of their output at any price prevailing at harvest to meet their cash needs.

Future policy needs
The government of Bangladesh is still emphasizing agricultural diversification throughout the country, which calls for rigorous policy analysis and in-depth review of past government initiatives toward CDP. It also calls for thorough evaluation of the changing situation for the country's agricultural production, consumption and export--import balance at the macro level. Future policy frameworks need to take into account what we know so far.

  • Agriculture is still the single most important sector of the Bangladesh economy. Although the overall rate of increase for the agricultural share of the GDP has declined over the years, specific increased rates have occurred in specific agricultural subsectors. The annual growth rate of the crop subsector decreased from 6.2 per cent in 2000/01 to 4.2 per cent in 2009/10. On the other side, the growth rates for livestock, fisheries and forestry subsectors increased from 2.8, -4.5 and 4.9 per cent in 2000/01 to 4.0, 4.5 and 5.9 per cent respectively in 2009/10 (Ministry of Finance, 2010). Non-crop agricultural production has exhibited a relatively high rate of growth in recent years.
  • Agricultural diversification toward products with higher added value contributes to more rapid agricultural income growth and employment by stimulating small-scale farmers' participation in the market.
  • Diversified production is also likely to lead to diversification in consumption, which is required for healthier and more balanced diets.
  • Non-cereal crops like pulses and oilseeds are more profitable than modern rice and wheat cultivation due to lower input use, lower production cost, and suitability of producing these crops under non-irrigated or semi-irrigated condition. On the other side, the cultivation of high yield varieties of cereal crops involves high risk and incompatibility with existing irrigation system.
  • Poverty and malnutrition are crucial problems in Bangladesh. The incidence of poverty and malnutrition is greatest in rural areas and is typically severe among small and marginal farmers. Agricultural diversification will be the best strategy to achieve the millennium goal of halving the number of people in severe poverty by 2015.
  • The rapid growth in domestic demand for fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fats and oils is also creating new opportunities for diversification of agricultural production beyond cereals. Diversified agriculture could also be promoted through encouraging further diversity in food consumption. The share of rice and wheat in the total food basket has declined both in rural and urban areas, while the share of potato and pulses has increased.

Much emphasis was given in the Fifth Five-Year Plan (1998) to three objectives: attain self-sufficiency in food grain production; increase production of other nutritional crops; and increase exports of vegetables and fruits keeping in view domestic production and need. Such an emphasis at the policy level enhanced agricultural diversification in Bangladesh. Current national policy documents, including the NAP (2010) and NFPPA (2008), also recognize the need for diversifying agricultural production.

Policy guidelines should be developed for policy planners and practitioners in a formal and structured manner by pooling lessons learned from past initiatives. Five key research questions for future study are recommended:

  1. What changes have occurred in land use patterns due to implementation of past agricultural diversification programmes?
  2. Are the diets of rural households with diversified agricultural production richer in micronutrients than rural households not practicing diversified production?
  3. What can we learn about practical applications from past successes and failures?
  4. What are the key constraints in implementing an agricultural diversification programme?
  5. Do we need a set of strategies to implement agricultural diversification programmes based on products and regions?

(References available upon request)