CNI Desk: The government has proposed a slightly higher budget allocation for the agriculture sector in the upcoming fiscal year compared to that of the outgoing fiscal year, aiming to ensure better food security during COVID-19 pandemic.Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Thursday proposed to allocate Tk16,437 crore in agriculture sector that is 2.89 percent of the total budget for the fiscal of 2020-21.

The ministry was given Tk14049 crore in FY’19-20 which is 2.69 percent of the total revised budget. Compared to the outgoing fiscal, the allocation is slightly higher and percentage of allocation has also increased.Proposed budget was Tk13,910 crore for the Ministry of Agriculture which was 2.99 percent of the total budget in FY 2018-19.

Ensuring food and nutrition security for the large population in Bangladesh, and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers, farm labourers and relevant others engaged in the agriculture sector are the main challenges, the minister said, adding, “ We have been successful in sustaining self-sufficiency in rice production and maintaining a high growth rate in agriculture thanks to the relentless efforts of the present agriculture friendly government and implementation of different programmes.”

He said in the budget speech, “Agriculture is a priority sector in Bangladesh. The zero rate is proposed to be unchanged for basic ingredients of the agriculture sector, especially fertilisers, seeds, insecticides. I propose to continue and extend the tax incentives and exemptions on agricultural equipment and spare parts.”

Various steps will need to be taken in agricultural production, marketing and different other areas to tackle the imminent challenge of food scarcity, he said.

“At present, farmers are cultivating plenty of onions in our country. But with the zero duty rate on imported onions, domestic onion farmers are weary of being deprived of fair market prices compared to production costs. This may discourage farmers from cultivating onions in future. Therefore, I propose a small rate of customs duty on onion import to ensure fair market price for onion farmers, encouraging onion cultivation and reducing dependency on imports.”

To give fair market price of marginal salt farmers, the government proposed to increase the existing duty rate on industrial salt (sodium sulfate/disodium sulfate) to protect the salt farmers and mitigate public health risks.A total of 109 high yielding varieties of different climate-resilient crops have been developed since 2009.

Innovation of climate-resilient crop varieties will continue in the next fiscal year by strengthening applied research. Besides, extension of crop diversification, reduction in post harvest loss of crops, and mechanisation of farming will be reinforced. Research activities to develop quality jute seed and innovate diversified jute products will continue.

“We have taken up a project of Tk3,198 crore to promote farm mechanization. An allocation of Tk9,500 crore is made in the next fiscal year for agricultural subsidies. An allocation of Tk 5,000 for the Agriculture Refinancing Scheme will also be made through Bangladesh Bank in the next fiscal year,” the minister said.

As in previous years, sales price for chemical fertilisers will be kept unchanged in the next fiscal year irrespective of their import costs, while providing incentives to the agriculture sector will be continued.