- 2 African nations, where Bangladeshi peacekeepers are deployed, will be selected
- First draft agreement on contract farming signed with South Sudan in 2013
- Move can generate employment for 40-50 lakh
After almost a decade of only forming task forces and holding inter-ministerial meetings on the prospects of contract farming in Africa, the foreign ministry now seems to take the lead in a fresh drive to make it a reality and reach land lease agreements with at least two African countries.
The agriculture ministry and the foreign ministry have agreed to initially select two from African countries where Bangladeshi peacekeepers are deployed.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers are currently deployed in eight countries including DR Congo, Lebanon, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Western Sahara, Mali, Central African Republic.
Farming in Africa can prove to be instrumental in not only achieving food security, but also generating employment opportunities for 40-50 lakh people, at a time when Bangladesh has seen a decline in manpower exports to the Middle East.
On 28 November, the foreign ministry sent a draft agreement made with South Sudan on contract farming to different ministries asking for their opinions within two weeks.
According to the 2019 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, only 8.8% of South Sudan's agricultural land is used as cropland, which is land used for the cultivation of crops. Bangladesh, on the other hand, cultivates 91.9% of its agricultural land.
The draft was prepared by the agriculture ministry in 2013, but since then there has been little progress.
It says that initially land would be leased for 25 years, after which there would be extensions in five-year terms.
Earlier on 23 November, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, at a meeting he jointly chaired with Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak, advised the embassies of Bangladesh in African countries to lease land there to begin contract farming.
At the meeting, Bangladesh Bank officials said they were working on a policy on sending money abroad from Bangladesh for contract farming, the bar on which ended earlier ambitions.
The foreign minister said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had directed the ministries of agriculture, foreign affairs and commerce to work together in this regard.
The ministries and departments concerned have jointly taken various initiatives to implement the prime minister's directives, he added.
Departments and institutes under the agriculture ministry of Bangladesh will help train African agricultural officers.
In this regard, the agriculture ministry will send a short-term training module to the foreign ministry by mid-January.
In a presentation at the meeting, the agriculture ministry said food grains, maize, jute, onion, mango, almond, pumpkin, peanut, along with other vegetables and fruits, can be produced in African countries as the climate there is similar to that of Bangladesh. There is also a possibility of cattle-rearing there, ministry representatives said.
The foreign ministry has also started working on a draft agreement for contract farming, which will be signed with African countries.
Many African countries have been offering the option of contract farming to Bangladesh for more than a decade.
China, Egypt, India, Pakistan and some European countries have already been successful in reaping benefits from the contract farming model in Africa.
Various companies in Bangladesh applied to the government to lease land in Africa, but received no response.
In 2014-15, the Nitol-Niloy Group applied for capital transfer to start contract farming in Africa. Abdul Matlub Ahmad, chairman of the group, told The Business Standard that they dropped the plan after failing to get permission from the ministries concerned.
"The prime minister held two or three meetings to start contract farming in Africa at that time. We applied after her encouragement to invest there. But it was not possible because Bangladesh Bank changed the law and did not give permission to open a capital account," he said.
"Investment in agriculture in Africa requires little money. But for this, you have to run to different ministries and departments for years which discourages the entrepreneurs," he added.
He said that if permission was given to open capital accounts, many people from Bangladesh would be interested to start contract farming in not only African countries, but also in the United States.