Tasarul Islam, a farmer in Godagari, Rajshahi, was not doing very well financially from his traditional crop cultivation. But that changed when he began cultivating onion seeds – a high value crop – after receiving training in a government project.
With the increase in income, he gradually started cultivating high yielding varieties of tomatoes and brinjals along with rearing livestock.
"I used to cultivate only paddy, but my family could barely survive by selling it. With the training and assistance from the agricultural officers, my income started increasing. Currently, I earn about Tk5 lakh a year from my farms," said the 34-year-old farmer.
Many other farmers have had similar experiences. They received training under a project named Second Crop Diversification Project and began cultivating high-yielding and high-value crops.
The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) implemented the project, focusing on the use of good quality seeds, reducing postharvest losses, and pest management.
According to an evaluation report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which funded the project, the farmers' income has increased by 65% on average through cultivating a diversified array of high-yielding and high-value products.
Farmers' income has increased by up to 86.5% in high value summer vegetables, 26.5% in spices, 25.7% in fruits and 20.4% in other crops after they received training under the project.
The project that started in 2010 aimed at cultivating 50,000 hectares of land, but by the time it ended in 2017, the cultivation of high-value crops spread over 94,000 hectares of land as many farmers outside the project became interested.
According to the DAE, over 1,000 big entrepreneurs have emerged across the country who are producing high value products.
DAE Director General Md Asadullah told The Business Standard, "Young agri-entrepreneurs are now producing most of the high value products. Besides, many farmers are abandoning traditional farming after they received training, seed and loan facilities through the project."
Around 3.25 lakh farmers were trained under the Second Crop Diversification Project involving Tk415 crore.
The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) has, however, pointed out the high interest rate of loans provided by Brac under the project and a risk that farmers will not get a fair price because of ineffective marketing.
But in its evaluation report in 2020, it acknowledged the project's impact on increasing farmers' income and creating jobs and suggested that such projects can be taken up in future as the employment of poor people in the project areas has increased by 15-20%.
Post-harvest loss reduction
The project taught farmers about post-harvest loss management methods – such as transporting products in crates instead of sacks.
The farmers were able to decrease their losses by up to 10% in fruits and vegetables, 20% in potatoes, 10% in spices, 15% in corn and 25% in pulses by implementing the methods they learned.
The farmers said they cultivated conventional seasonal crops, but high value crops can be produced throughout the year. That enables them to get high prices for their goods almost round the year – if they can market it properly.
As farming high value crops are costly, the farmers often have to take loans.
Bipul Mandal, 27, a farmer in JhalakathiSadarupazila, said earlier he could not earn more than Tk40,000-50,000 a year by selling paddy, but for the past three-four years he has been earning around Tk5 lakh annually by producing high value crops.
"Cultivating high value products is costly, but it fetches higher profit too. It is very important to have a loan facility for farmers because without the money they will not be able to produce it," he said.
Former DAE official Fazlul Haque, who was the director of the project for the last six months of it, said, "Commercial cultivation of guava was started through our project. A campaign to start producing malta [citrus] was also started under the project. Currently, these fruits are being cultivated extensively. We spread various technologies of cultivating off-season vegetables among the farmers. Now we are witnessing its benefits."
He said, "Under the project, the farmers learned about different things like carrying crops and vegetables in crates instead of sacks after harvesting them. This decreased post-harvest losses."
However, it was not possible for the farmers and the market to advance much on the issue of fair price, he said, adding that there are still opportunities to work on this.
The project was implemented in 27 districts in the northwest and southwest regions of the country, where 36 types of high value crops were cultivated. Good quality seeds were provided to the farmers under the project.