Research and technology Knowledge

Posted July 1996

Technology assessment and transfer
for sustainable agriculture and rural development
in the Asia-Pacific Region

Bangladesh

M.S.U. Chowdhury
Executive Vice-Chairman
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC)
Dhaka, Bangladesh


1. Technology assessment for varying agro-ecological zones, production systems and resource endowments

The introduction of new technologies in the form of high yielding varieties was initiated in Bangladesh after the great famine of 1943. Since then, seed technologies under different development programs were introduced more or less successfully. Emphasis was given on development of much needed infrastructural facilities in the agricultural sector. It got momentum in 1966 when IRRI varieties were introduced and a "Green Revolution" in the country essentially began. The present Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BAD) was established in the early 1960s to provide institutional support mainly in the form of inputs for disseminating new agricultural technologies.

The Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) in its farms tested new varieties and compared production management packages. At that time there was no organized assessment of technologies at national level. After the (BRRI) in 1970 and introduction of new HYV rice varieties the necessity of assessing the technologies became more urgent. This led to the establishment of Seed Certification Agency (SCA) in 1974. The main responsibility of the agency is to identify suitable "seed technologies" that could be recommended for the dissemination to the farmers. Establishment of SCA was the first step towards institutionalization of assessment of agricultural technologies in the country.

Though acceptance of "seed technology" at farmers' level was commendable, it was realized that since the vast majority of the farmers are resource poor, there is a need to develop improved management technologies, requiring minimum input but at the same time being more suitable to the small farming environment. Such type of research was initiated since 1974 through Cropping System Research (CSR) followed by the Farming System research (FSR) programme in early eighties. Within a short span of time, CSR/FSR developed a sizeable number of location-specific technologies. These technologies were validated through annual workshops, seminars, etc. for dissemination.

However, there was no mechanism at national level to verify performance of these technologies in the farmers field. Establishment of the national Technical Coordination Committee (NTCC), Regional Technical Committees (RTCs) and District Technical Committees (DTCs) in 1982 took care of this situation and also helped in establishing research-extension linkage. RTCs and DTCs are working closely with the extension agencies and farmers and have proved to be effective in assessment and transfer of technologies.

Some research institutes have mechanisms of technology assessment. The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has a strong On-Farm Research Division (OFRD), which is responsible to carry out verification trials for technologies at different agro-ecological zones, in the research stations as well as in the farmers' fields. On-farm trials are carried out at different Multilocation Trial (MLT) sites with farmers' participation and under supervision and support from OFRD.

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute has a rice based farming system as well as Adaptive Research Division (ARD) which play a role in the assessment and the transfer of technology developed by the institute. The annual research and extension workshop held regularly also play an indirect role in technology assessment, transfer and feed back.

The Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) performs technology assessment and transfer activities through a small number of subvention centres in some jute growing areas of the country.

The Sugarcane Research Training Institute (SRTI) does not have any exclusive set up for assessment and transfer of technology, but it has a rather strong training activity extending down to farmers' level. This has created a positive impact in the diffusion of technology.

All these four institutes (BARI, BRRI, BJRI and SRTI) have farming systems research programmes which contribute to technology assessment and transfer.

Prior to 1947, rural development work in this part of the sub-continent was a casual affair. Soon after 1947, the attention of the Government was drawn to rural development. Such efforts were limited and unorganized. An organized nation-wide extension network for technology transfer started from 1983 by merging six extension oriented divisions into a Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE). The NTCC at the national level coordinates the technology transfer mechanism between research and extension. At the regional and district level the RTC and DTC is responsible for diffusion of technology and its feed back to NTCC.

The district is the most important focal point for managing the operations of DAE. Each of the 64 districts of the country has a technical set up of one Training Officer and 2-3 Subject Matter Specialist (SMS) headed by a Deputy Director of Agriculture Extension (DDAE). The next institutional service to the farmers are the Thana. Each of the 460 Thanas has a technical set up of one Thana Agriculture Officer (TAO), two Subject Matter Officer (SMO), one Additional Agriculture Extension Officer (AAEO).

A block is the closest unit of institutional service to the farmers. In each block there is one Block Supervisor (BS) to provide extension services to nearly 900 farm families. The number of block stands at 12.640. The total staff (Professional/technical/support) strength of DAE is 23,422. The role of agricultural extension is to assist farmers, through education in improving farming methods and techniques, increasing production and income and thus enhancing their quality of life. It makes all technological information available to the farming community and provides training and guidance for adoption of modern technology. It gives possible solutions to the problems of the farmers and brings unresolved problems to the notice of researchers for finding solutions.

The agricultural extension system, therefore, acts as a bridge between researchers and farmers. With the emergence of the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) concept under BARC and the creation of a unified extension services under DAE the concept of technology transfer mechanism gained importance and BARC established the Technology Transfer Monitoring Unit (TTMU) in 1989 to provide leadership for the development and implementation of the technology transfer programmes. It is a complex programme involving many agencies such as 10 NARS institutes, four public extension agencies, private organizations including NGOs, agribusiness enterprises, progressive farmers and concerned individuals.

The basic purpose of TTMU is to facilitate the rapid transfer of technology by promoting the free flow of NARS-generated technologies through a network of private, public, NGO and other agencies which can transfer technology to farmers. The functions of TTMU can be grouped into four categories:

  1. Identification of mature technology.
  2. Assessment and verification of technology.
  3. Development of technical information packages.
  4. Transfer of technology.

The TTMU maintains close contact with the NARS institutes and collects mature technology from them. It has four Sectoral Technical Advisory Committee on crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. These committees have members representing NARS institutes, public extension agencies, NGOs, donor communities and farmers representatives. They validate the mature transferable technology and provide guidelines for preparations of information materials in a package. TTMU disseminates the technology through technology transfer agencies to farmers.

TTMU is primarily concerned with the "wholesale" of technical information to many different intermediaries (public and private extension services including NGOs) who will adopt and retail the appropriate information to farmers. Once a technology is identified for transfer to the beneficiaries by the Sectoral Technical Advisory Committee, a technology transfer working group comprising scientists, extension personnel, communication specialists and NGO representatives is assigned to develop booklets, folders, fact-sheets, audio-visuals, slides, with sound transfer systems. Thus the quality of work is ensured. Moreover, linkages, coordination and cooperation among technology producing and utilizing agencies continue to improve. The NARs based technology transfer programme through TTMU although a new concept yet proved useful.

Major agro-ecological zones

Bangladesh has a highly diversified agro-ecology. Thirty main agro-ecological regions and 88 sub-regions have been identified, but there are large variations in micro climate within each zone. Some 521 soil series have been recognized in Bangladesh in the three major physiographic units of flood plains (80 percent), hills (12 percent) and terraces (8 percent).

Major farming/production systems

Production systems used by farmers in Bangladesh are characterized by low efficiency. Consequently, the majority of the farming community cultivate their land under input-starved conditions. Poverty of small and marginal farmers limit their ability to make adequate investments in production systems. Moreover, natural hazards like flood, heavy rainfall, drought, salinity, storm, etc. have been affecting the production systems at different levels and also act as strong determinants of land use in each of the production environments. Bangladesh farming systems are basically subsistence in nature, but reasonably well balanced and broad based, covering activities involving crops, livestock, forestry, homestead, fisheries etc. Agro-climatic conditions and resource potentials are the main determining factors for our farming systems.

Objectives and constraints of farm households

The estimated income per household was Tk. 34,379 in 1988-89. The average household size is 5.54 persons which gives a per capita income of Tk. 6,205. The average number of earners per household is about 1.5 persons. Nearly one-fifth of the households own very little land (less than 0.02 ha) and another 35 percent own up to 0.20 ha, who can be considered as functionally landless. The aggregate share of landless and functionally landless thus was about 53 percent in 1988-89 as against 40 percent recorded in the 1983-84. Average income earned by landless and functionally landless households constitute about 21-28 percent of the mean income recorded by the large landowning households during 1988-89.

A substantial proportion of income earned by land-poor households originate in non-farm and non-agricultural sectors. About 38 percent of households are classified under various non-agricultural occupational categories indicating the growing importance of non-farm and non-agricultural income. About 23 percent are predominantly agricultural labourers and fishermen, but their share is restricted to only 14 percent of rural income. About 14 percent of households are female-headed. Average monthly income of the female headed households is about 35 percent less than the male-headed households in rural areas.

The main objective of farm households is to produce more food from the limited land available to them. Farmers are capable of maximizing production per unit area when they have adequate control over the factors of production. Farmers' choice and decision making in the production process are greatly constrained by factors which are beyond their control. The poor performance of their agriculture is generally ascribed to its physical, institutional, socio-economic and organizational environments, which together determine agricultural growth. The constraints faced by the farmers vary from region to region, and even within a region and among different districts, thana, union, villages and even farm families. Allocation of resources is mainly determined by the family needs in foods, availability of resources and degree of risk in farming. The farmers realize well that under risky conditions the resource investment is to be made in a manner which will not cause a great loss to their investment.

Unsustainability indicators

Crop production in Bangladesh is risk-prone. Environmentally the country is and has always been a hot spot of problems that often trip her agricultural production system off the balance. These problems are triggered by the recurring events of floods, droughts, salinity, erosion and land instability.

In Bangladesh, water for crop production is available in a relatively uncontrolled manner. It is too much and too uneven during monsoon and too little during the dry season. Heavy and highly uncertain rainfall in most parts of the country cause frequent flooding and waterlogging and make crop cultivation extremely hazardous. About 5.6 million ha flood prone land are now cultivated. Given the high risk in these areas, farmers minimize their potential losses by growing low-yielding varieties and reducing the use of modern inputs. There are also large variations within the seasons and from year to year in the quantum of rainfall received which cause considerable instability in agricultural productivity. Even in the years when the total rainfall is normal, long drought spells or inadequate rainfall in crucial months of transplantations and plant growth adversely affect production.

About one fourth of the total cultivable land are affected by drought in every year with different intensity. About 0.3m ha are waterlogged. Over the centuries the natural topography of this densely settled region has undergone changes to such an extent that poor drainage and waterlogging have become acute problems in large areas. Colossal losses to property and crops every year result due to floods and waterlogging. The heavy, erratic and uneven seasonal patterns of rainfall also create serious soil erosion problems, constraining agricultural development. Some of the coastal soils have developed problems of salinity. Different degrees of salinity occur mostly in the dry season in about 0.82m ha of coastal and offshore tidal plains in Bangladesh. The extent of salinity ranges from less then 2 to more than 15 milli mbhs.

The large number of rivers and rivulets are now silted up, making vast areas prone to floods. About 2 billion tons of silt and clay are carried by rivers every year. The annual losses due to pests, diseases and weeds ranges from 20-50 percent of the total yield and even higher in some crops. Losses during storage account for another 14 percent. The production capacity of the cultivable land has been diminishing due to extensive use of land to produce a number of crops all the year round, unbalanced use of chemical fertilizers, and injudicious use of pesticides. It is reported that about 60 percent cultivable land is deficient in sulphur and zinc. As a result, production per unit area is declining in some cases and almost stagnant in others.

Critical areas and determinants of sustainability

The problems of sustaining agriculture are many and they are growing in extent,j intensity and complexity. At the heart of the agricultural sustainability is the conservation of soils for future long-term food production. But the population boom has made an unprecedented pressure on cultivable lands to grow more food. The population of 71.5 millions in 1971 increased to 114 millions in 1991. The increasing pressure has adversely affected the man-resource ratio and this is primarily manifested in depletions, non-conservation and sub-optimal utilization of natural resources. Large population base and high rate of population growth have created a highly unfavourable demographic scenario frustrating the agricultural development efforts in the country. Land-man ratio is extremely low and landlessness has been continuously rising.

Application of proper doses of NPK, zinc and sulphur is the key factor in increasing production and if fertilizers are not applied properly in time, dose and method the production of HYV crops is hampered. Though the use of fertilizers has increased over the years, it is still among the lowest in the region. Balanced and location-specific fertilizer recommendations are not used widely.

On the other hand chemical fertilizers are used by farmers with no consideration of the actual requirement of the soil. Use of nitrogenous fertilizer is higher than others. According to 1989 data the NPK ratio was 10.8: 4.4:1. Due to constant use of NPK without any zinc and sulphur, about 25 percent of the arable land is deficient either in S or Zn. At present, the fertilizer use efficiency is also very low. As a result, the fertility of soil is decreasing gradually. Therefore, to sustain soil fertility proper management is necessary. Lack of adequate drainage facilities is another major constraint of agricultural production in Bangladesh.

The provision of infrastructure, highways and irrigation canals has contributed to the obstruction of natural drainage resulting in problems of waterlogging. This problem is particularly acture in command areas of irrigation projects. There is inadequate coordination among the various agencies responsible for the public utility services.

Objectives and technological requirements for sustainable agriculture

Increase of production per unit of land is the best way to increase agricultural productivity. But improving productivity has a direct relation to the natural environment and sustainability. Changes in soil and water management practices are needed to achieve increases in productivity. Traditional agricultural production systems have been sustained for centuries. However, to meet the demand of foods for the ever increasing population and for saving the resource endowments for future generations a more dynamic view on overall agriculture is needed. Sustainability issues are relatively new aspects of our agricultural development and all agricultural activities centre around these issues now. At the heart of sustainability is food security which is one of the fundamental problems being faced by Bangladeshi farmers and it depends on the reliability of production and peoples' access to food supplies.

At present research activities are directed towards meeting future food needs and developing technologies that help to mitigate the risk of farmers and do not bring major changes to the farming environment. Chemical fertilizers, pest and disease control, irrigation, reduction in post-harvest losses, etc. are necessary to increase production. New technologies should be economically profitable, socially acceptable and technically sound. It is not sufficient to seek self-sufficiency in food production. It is also essential that food quality is improved to maintain normal health. Food should no longer be comprised of rice and wheat alone, it should encompass a wide variety of crops to overcome the problems of malnutrition or undernutrition. There is need for crop diversification integrating the crop component with livestock, poultry and fisheries. This means that traditional commodity research needs will have to be balanced with a farming systems research/whole farm approach.

Technological options

Technological advancement is crucial to sustainable agriculture. Major portions of such advancement will come from traditional agriculture, but a significant role will be played by the application of modern technologies that need to be developed locally. At present, major emphasis is being given to develop technologies in the following areas:

2. Technology transfer

Technologies in operation in farmers' fields

The farmers of Bangladesh are used to living with nature. Over centuries they have used traditional indigenous technologies adapted to various risks. Such technologies range from those of minor casual crops to pulses and food staples. Farmers adapted drought tolerant varieties of Aus and B.Aman and flood tolerant varieties of B.Aman rice. A further risk aversion technology is the mixed cultivation of Aus and B.Aman. The local plough, minimum tillage, traditional cultivation of sugarcane, mixed cropping of vegetables, etc. are some examples of farmers innovative technologies. These technologies require almost no or very low input and their productivity is also very low, but they are well adapted to local conditions.

Farmers in Bangladesh are also using modern production technologies. Over the last two decades a major thrust in research was given to develop modern varieties of different crops. The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute has developed 26 modern varieties of rice which cover at present 35 percent of the total rice cropped area. A major breakthrough has been achieved in wheat production. At present, 95 percent of total wheat area are covered by modern varieties, developed/adapted by BARI are now grown in 64 percent of the potato area and contribute to 70 percent of total potato production in the country. Some improved varieties of pulses, oilseeds, tubers and vegetables have also been developed.

Varietal development of cash crops also is in progress. So far, 19 improved sugarcane varieties and seven jute varieties have been developed. These varieties have a high yield potential. Poultry rearing in scavenging condition, use a urea-treated straw, cockerel exchange programme, introduction of exotic breeds of poultry and duck, beef fattening, etc. are some of the technologies that have already been adapted in Bangladesh. Technologies on bamboo propagation and preservation have been developed and strong location-specific agro-forestry programmes are in progress. It has been estimated that only 40 percent of the developed technologies have so far reached the farmers. Besides, farmers are adapting some of these technologies only partially on a component basis, thereby failing to derive full potential yield benefit. The Bangladesh NARS has developed a sizeable number of production management technologies, such as fertilizer and irrigation management, pest management and cropping systems, etc., which are expected to have a positive impact on production.

Gaps in technology transfer

A wide gap exists between potential yield and what farmers are getting out of the new technologies (Table 1). The national average of improved rice, wheat, potato and mustard varieties are far below their achievable potential yields. Rice, potato and what fields could be increased by 3, 4 and 2 times, respectively. This analysis has been based on the results of national demonstrations and averages of the results of maximum yield potential studies for five years. Even in pulses and oil seeds the use of modern available technologies can double production. Research results established that more than 50 percent increase in crop production may cone from HYVs of different crops using only recommended doses of fertilizers.

Table 1: Yield gaps in major crops in Bangladesh, metric ton/ha
Crop5 years average yield
(1984-1990)
Achievable yield with farmers'
management
Yield gap
Rice
Aman
Boro
Aus
 
2.01
2.63
1.83
 
3.75
4.50
3.00
 
1.74
1.87
1.18
Wheat
Potato
Mustard
Sugarcane
2.13
10.25
0.75
41.40
2.98
24.80
1.84
94.31
0.85
14.55
1.13
52.91

Reasons for transfer gaps

It has been recognized that agricultural research institutes have generated a large number of technologies which can increase production tremendously if they are quickly transferred to and properly utilized by the end users. There are obvious deficiencies and gaps in proper dissemination of technologies to the farmers but the major problem is the chronic inability of most of the farmers to utilize those technologies properly. The gaps in yields are mainly due to improper and unbalanced use of inputs, primarily fertilizer and water. Acceptance of new technologies by farmers is mainly hampered by financial problems and insecurity. Various resources in kind and cash are needed to adopt the new technologies which are beyond the reach of resource-poor farmers.

On the other hand, resource-rich farmers who are capable of adopting new technologies are selective and not always interested in accepting new technologies due to weak input delivery structures. Moreover, lack of adequate irrigation and drainable facilities, poor research and extension linkages and inadequate power, transport and marketing arrangements have made farmers reluctant to accept modern technologies.

Accompanying measures for technology transfer

A distinctive feature of Bangladesh agriculture is the predominance of very small farmers and the large number of fragmented holdings, scattered over different parts of the villages. The consequence of sub-divisions and fragmentations are serious and very harmful for agricultural development. To alleviate population pressure and unemployment farmers cultivate their land intensively. To meet the immediate needs, inputs are used only for rice and some pulses. This has narrowed down the scope of diversification of crops as well as agriculture. The attempts to increase agricultural production over the years were accompanied by soil erosion, land and environmental degradation. Moreover, less than 40 percent of the total arable land is used during Rabi season. Technological innovations backed by support services and input supplies are needed to bring more land under cultivation.

Rainfed farming dominates Bangladesh agriculture. Although technologies for irrigated crops and water management are now available, nearly 70 percent of the farmers depend on rainfed agriculture are not getting enough technology support. In rainfed farming, supplemental irrigation in T. Aman, minimum tillage and surface mulching technologies have been developed which help conserve post monsoon residual soil moisture and support dry season crops.

The adoption of new technologies and any increase in the gross cropped area will require further expansion of credit facilities for farmers. However, the assessment of farmers' credit needs is difficult. The flow of institutional credit to agriculture increased by more than 35 time from a low base of Tk. 32.5 crores in 1970/71 to Tk. 1,150 crores in 1984/85. The slow recovery of credit money has posed a serious limitation on the capacity of the lending institutions to extend further credit. Bangladesh Krishi Bank (BKB) is the largest source of institutional credit to farmers and accounted for 66 percent of the total disbursed credit in 1986/87.

It may be mentioned that institutional sources can meet only a very small proportion of the total credit needs of the rural people. The local money lenders have been the prime source of credit to the farmers. A study conducted on the Grameen Bank loanees in 1985 shows that they received 24.1 percent of their credit need from institutional sources and 75.9 percent from private lenders. The NGOs and private voluntary organizations are also providing grants and loans. Government subsidy for major inputs such as fertilizer and seeds to the farmers has been withdrawn for improving commitment of farmers.

A cooperative movement in Bangladesh exists since 1904. Farmers' cooperative societies were formed and typically functioned for obtaining credit. farmers' organizations as technology recipient media are yet to be organized. Several NGOs and the Grameen Bank also are now engaged in organizing such groups.

New technology packages normally consist of improved seeds, fertilizer, water and pesticides. In the public sector, the responsibilities for input supplies lie with the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC). Supply of inputs by BADC is not adequate. Besides, non-availability of inputs in time is also a major problem. In order to improve the situation, the privatization of input supplies has been launched and farmers have begun procuring inputs from local markets.

Nearly 1.5 billion farm households exist in the country and the present Government Extension Department is not in a position to serve all of them. On the other hand, there are many NGOs which are also providing agricultural extension services to the farmers. They have some advantages over the public extension services. Considering the strong infrastructural development of some NGOs, BARC, as the apex body of NARS, is trying to involve NGOs at national, regional, district and thana levels in its diverse activities. Some NGOs have commendable credit facilities and grassroots level organizations. The BARC has recently initiated a technology transfer programme by involving NGOs in the process. This effort has already started to produce satisfying results.

Dissemination strategies

Bangladesh has used the Training and Visit system (T&V) in the extension programme since 1979. Prior to this, research-extension linkages were weak. At present, linkages between research scientists and extension personnel are operative at the national, regional and district levels. Recently, the Agricultural Support Service Project (ASSP) has started functioning. Under this programme, a farmers group approach will be followed in extension service instead of an individual approach followed earlier in the T&V system. The District Technical Committee will play a main role in the technology disseminating process. Monthly research-extension workshops will also play a vital role in technology dissemination and provide feedback to researchers.

On-farm testing. Farm-level evaluation is a pre-requisite for assessing the maturity of a technology. The evaluation criteria are the same as those used by the farmers. Extension workers and farmers along with researchers are involved directly in the on-farm testing activities to keep all concerned abreast about the merit of the technology. Researchers and extension personnel jointly monitor and evaluate the performance of the newly introduced technology which also help provide feedback. They also organize farmers rallies with a view to accelerating the process of technology transfer.

Besides this, Agri-business newsletter, slide-films with sound, fact-sheets, etc., are being used for the rapid dissemination of technology. Bangladesh has a strong FSR programme. At present, 20 FSR sites are functioning across the country with the major objective of on-farm testing of technologies.

Information management systems. An Agriculture Information Centre (AIC) has been established at BARC with a modest capacity. This is linked to NARS institutes by a network called National Agricultural Information System (NAIS). Besides these, BARC has a computerized database on agro-ecological zones, climate, temperature and rainfall of the country. This information is used frequently in technology transfer activities. Agriculture Information Service (AIS) and Fisheries and Livestock Information Services (FLIS) of the Government of Bangladesh are also functioning to provide information in their respective areas. But access to these sources for the field level workers is limited. Measures are being taken to provide up-to-date information to the districts and thana level workers by establishing appropriate linkages.

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