Back in 1971 when Bangladesh first became an independent nation agriculture was the dominant driver of the economy; accounting for over 70 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). About three quarters of the entire labor force were employed in the sector and as a result 80 percent of the population were located in agrarian rural areas.
Fisheries, livestock and cottage industries received generous grants and were nurtured for decades following the birth of the nation. High-yield rice production, better irrigation and chemical fertilizers reduced the gap between supply and demand of food Attaining self-sufficiency was a government priority and this was successfully achieved.
Nowadays the picture looks quite different. Only 12 percent of GDP is contributed by agriculture and 40 percent of the labor force are employed in the sector. The reduction in agriculture has forced many to urbanize and this in turn has exacerbated the housing shortfall which is expected to double by 2021.
The achievements of the sector have recently been highlighted by the World Bank in a report titled ‘Dynamics of rural growth in Bangladesh: sustaining poverty reduction’. According to the report, diversification is a key priority in the sector, a key step to achieve that is by removing the remaining regulatory constraints to private sector participation in the seed business. This will inject new ‘technological vigor’ in the stagnating agriculture sector.
The problem on the supply side is not due to lack of innovation but from biased ‘reform’ proposals. The highest priority now remains the improvement in infrastructural development and opening up the market to reduce bureaucratic middlemen.