The majority of South Asia is still an agrarian society depending on agriculture for livelihood and survival. Approximately, 60% people in India and Bangladesh are involved in agricultural activities to earn their livelihood. Out of them, over 87% and 70% of rural people in Bangladesh and India respectively derive their income majorly from the agrarian sector. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in the economy of the developing countries.
Being the most prominent sector of the economy, bilateral cooperations in the agricultural sector can pave the way to overcome the current economic challenges in India and Bangladesh.
Challenges faced by India & Bangladesh in Agriculture
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the already agonized agriculture sectors in South Asia. With the spread of virus, disrupted labour and transportation during the lockdown, it is not an unknown fact that the agricultural sector has taken a hit.
Being neighbours and sharing one of the longest land borders with each other, India and Bangladesh faces similar kinds of challenges in agriculture. These are –
Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on economies. Both India and Bangladesh are no exception to this. India’s GDP shrank 23.9% in the second quarter of 2020 even though the gross value added (GVA) from agriculture, forestry & fishing grew by 3.4% at constant prices in April-June 2020. Meanwhile, the agricultural sector in Bangladesh saw a decline to 3.11% in FY 2020 from 3.92% in FY 2019. These were the impact of the countrywide lockdown placed to reduce the spread of the Covid-19. Both of the countries being agrarian in nature, 60% of total population derives their livelihood from agriculture. Hence, it remains one of the most hit sectors in both the countries.
With the lockdown and restrictions in movement of goods and transport services, farmers struggled to harvest and sell their winter crops, hence facing widespread losses.
Mass Exodus of Migrant Workers
The workers of India and Bangladesh have faced double effects of the pandemic with the mass exodus of migrant workers and their humanitarian struggles. Millions of workers were forced to go back to their native places in both the countries due to lockdown. Many Bangladeshi workers who used to work in India also returned under the dire situation.
In India, when the lockdown announced in March 2020 put the migrant workers from rural areas in harm’s way both physically and economically. With factories and transportation shut down, and no mode for survival, migrant workers took to take long walks to their homes.
Bangladesh also witnessed a similar mass exodus of migrant workers from urban areas of Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj,etc. A large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers also returned from abroad. These workers have lost their source of income and cannot return until the crisis brought by the Covid 19 could be handled. Even though the government of Bangladesh introduced various initiatives to reintegrate the migrant workers into the workforce, however, the stigmatization of Covid-19 being brought by outsiders still remains in Bangladesh.
With the mass migration, there are labour issues due to which there is farm labour scarcity in some areas and excess in others. In Bangladesh, for instance, farm wages have been rising steadily in the past decade but with migrants returning to their villages, wages have gone down. In the Indian state of Punjab, farmers are ferrying migrants who have gone to their native places in Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh back to Punjab to work on paddy farms. Since paddy sowing depends heavily on manual labour, the shortage due to the earlier exodus has led to a rise in wages, which will impact farmer’s profit margins.
On 20 May 2020, one of the dangerous cyclones, Cyclone Amphan hit the Bay of Bengal, affecting both India and Bangladesh. With a wind speed of 210 km/hr, it first hit the land of the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. In India, it affected more than 4 million people. Amphan hit particularly at the Sundarbans at the border of India-Bangladesh. Though the storm was weakened when it hit land in Bangladesh, it still impacted more than 55,600 homes and displaced over 100,000 people. Amphan was the most powerful cyclone ever to form in the Bay of Bengal, and though it weakened before making landfall, it caused widespread damage in both countries. Cyclone Amphan is considered to be the costliest disaster in the Bay of Bengal.
According to Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, Amphan destroyed over 28 percent of the Sundarbans, damaging a significant portion of the area’s mangrove forests. In addition to causing livelihood and human ramifications of the cyclone, it has also impacted the agriculture in both India and Bangladesh. There will be a long lasting impact on coastal communities’ livelihood. The storm has surged and salinized large portions of cropland making it unusable for yielding crops in the coming years.
In June 2020, the monsoon flooding added additional woes to the agricultural sectors of both India and Bangladesh. Both of the countries are still facing the effects of the pandemic, the migration, cyclone and a flood on top of that, just adds to the complexities.
The monsoon floods affected eight states in India. Odisha and Madhya Pradesh were the most affected states of India. There were 17 and 19 deaths recorded so far in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh respectively. There have been over 10,382 houses and 168,904 hectares of crop area affected due to these floods.
The excessive rains in Bangladesh has opened widespread havoc impacting food insecurity, livelihood and disruption of agricultural production. Around 7.53 million people were exposed to moderate flooding causing 700,000 households requiring food security and agricultural livelihoods support. There have been severe losses of crops, poultry, livestock and fisheries in 92 percent of the total affected unions. It is estimated that 125,459 ha of agricultural land require rehabilitation.
Bilateral Cooperations for Mutual Benefits for India and Bangladesh
The ongoing crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic and the additional challenges both countries face due to monsoon floods, mass exodus of migrants, cyclones are common to both the countries. As neighbouring countries with quite a close diplomatic relation and porous land border, the need for a bilateral cooperation could be stressed between India and Bangladesh.
In a webinar on ‘Regional Cooperation in Trade and Development of Agriculture: Perspectives from Bangladesh and India’, the executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), Selim Raihan said that bilateral cooperation and political willingness were most important in improving the trade in agriculture. The economic shutdown is hampering movement of products between the two countries and affecting farmers of the countries. With the opening up of the land ports, reviving the marketplaces along the borders of Bangladesh and North East India, can strengthen business-to-business communication. Hence, the enhanced cooperation will help farmers of both countries to market their agricultural products. This kind of cooperation can benefit farmers of both countries, increase regional trade and assist in export earning.