Digital Agriculture in Bangladesh

Digital Agriculture in Bangladesh


Bangladesh is largely an agrarian economy, farming and agriculture accounts for 16 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), almost half (about 47 per cent) of the working population depends on this sector for food security and poverty mitigation. With its population projected to reach 230-250 million by 2050, the country faces declining arable land and a growing population to feed and employ.

Traditionally rice, wheat, mango, and jute are the primary crops, and rice and wheat are mostly used for domestic consumption as food crops. Cultivation of maize is usually for poultry feed. Tea is grown in the northeast part of the country as a cash crop. Bangladesh is the fourth largest rice producing country in the world and is also exporting.

Production of rice, wheat and corn is expected to increase due to good weather and increased plantings, according to an April 19 Global Agricultural Information Network report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The focus is on cultivation of hybrid and high yielding variety plantings as the country anticipates importing 200,000 tonnes of rice in 2020-21 to ease food security tensions owing to COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA said.

While wheat production is also projected to increase. It is forecast at 1.25 million tonnes, primarily reflecting decreased concern over wheat blast, and strengthening domestic prices, the USDA said. Wheat imports also are being spurred over food insecurities caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2020-21 marketing year wheat imports are forecast upward to 6.4 million tonnes.

Unlike rice and wheat, Bangladesh’s corn imports are expected to decrease as increased domestic production is expected along with lower demand from the feed sector, the USDA said. The country’s livestock and poultry sector have slowed production due to lesser demand in the times of the Coronavirus. The USDA lowered Bangladesh’s 2020-21 marketing year imports to 1 million tonnes.

The country is seeing a higher corn output as some producers are looking to grow higher margin crops and hoping to achieve higher profit margins. The USDA forecasts about 5.1 million tonnes of corn to be produced in Bangladesh for the 2020-21 marketing year.

In 2009, the Digital Bangladesh program was launched to focus on transforming the country into Digital economy by 2021, with the four pillars being – Human Resource Development, Connecting Citizens, Digital Government, and Promotion of ICT Industry.

Current Scenario & the Need for ICT in Agriculture

Undeniably, industrialised nations have established that agri-tech is an essential solution for socio-economic development. Governments vision is being translated into increased support and investment on the digital front across Bangladesh, the agriculture and food value chain is likely to witness accelerated digital transformation.

Digital Agriculture in Bangladesh

However, considering the existing agri-value chain of the country, data is presently getting digitized only between the processing companies and the large distributors, and what happens next remains a mystery. Negligible transactional data can be tracked from the distributor to the retailer further to the farmers. 

Lack of last mile e-literacy for using mobile based apps by farmers could be a bottleneck that needs resolve. Short-term literacy drives imparted through government aided programs involving farmer groups based on crop cycles, farm area and livelihood conditions could immediately awaken the process. Once the adaptability of the producers becomes stable and substantial data can be collected, processed for patterns and key indicators, the next step could be using high-end digital technologies. Next, simple tools developed and implemented via mobile can be introduced with these growers. A dedicated application that sources data from multiple sources – including farmer profile & land information, transactional data at the point-of-sales, weather information and voice calls, will solve several pain points.

Firstly, it will eliminate time lag from order placement to delivery. Secondly, ensure faster buyback guarantees for farmers. Thirdly, it empowers all stakeholders to be timely and efficient. Lastly, this digital solution paves way for a sustainable way to strengthen market linkage between smallholder farmers and consumers.

What is changing the agri-ecosystem of Bangladesh?

For the first time in years, agricultural research is entering a new age in Bangladesh, diminishing the months and years it took to collect farm data with paper-based methods. Increasingly, electronic smartphones and tablets are being used by researchers, extension workers and farmers. This is sure to revolutionize the efficiency of data collection and will be crucial to propose practices to build resilient farming systems that stand up to climate change.

Over the years, the USAID and Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and has also reinforced Big Data Analytics for Climate-Smart Agriculture in South Asia projects. Under this project, capacity building and training was imparted to 125 Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) agents, to use tablets for gathering agronomic information of rice and wheat farmers, all across Bangladesh.

This pioneering pilot effort began in late 2019, so far extension workers have collected data from over 5,000 farmers, with detailed information on climate responses, including the management of soil, water and variety use to understand what drives productivity. The DAE is enthused about learning from the data and plans to collect information from 7,000 more farmers by end of 2020.

Partnerships with expert national and international researchers has directly benefitted DAE’s with development of efficient systems for collection and analysis of massive data to generate relevant climate-smart recommendations for farmers, said the department Director General Dr. M. Abdul Muyeed. Such widespread monitoring is examining how farmers cope with climate stresses, the agronomic data collected is then used to estimate greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of this research and extension partnership is aimed at identifying ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change, he explained.

“This body of work will strengthen our ability to generate agriculturally relevant information and increase the climate resilience of smallholder farmers in Bangladesh,” Dr. Muyeed said.This next-gen big data examination and monitoring suggests improved agricultural practices.

Scientist, Timothy J Krupknik said, “By obtaining big datasets, we are now using innovative research methods and artificial intelligence (AI) to examine patterns in productivity, the climate resilience of cropping practices, and greenhouse gas emissions. Our aim is to develop and recommend improved agricultural practices that are proven to increase yields and profitability.”

Furthermore, these surveys could also potentially aid evaluation of on-field tests of technologies in agriculture, fetch information on need-based training programs, serve local knowledge centers and support the marketing of locally relevant agricultural technologies.

Future of digitising farming

Digital Agriculture in Bangladesh

Using Mobile applications farmers can anticipate and respond to pest attacks, crop failures and climatic changes through timely weather-based agro-advisory messages; reducing market distortions and helping farmers to plan production processes.

The importance of ERP software in agriculture is high, due to the potential to streamline the entire value chain from procurement -production-distribution. This empowers growers and related businesses to respond more organically to external challenges of supply chain, environment, or excess demand by adjusting the systems accordingly.

Over the last few years, companies that use Artificial Intelligence in farming, enables producers to scan their fields and monitor each stage of the production cycle. Utilising such tools not only improves resource use, but also enhances remote maintenance and quick decision making. Considering the various government initiatives and Private Public model being proposed in agriculture and aquaculture, the trend of digitizing the supply chains seems to be looking upward for the agriculture landscape in Bangladesh.

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SourceTrace is a SaaS (Software As A Service) company that focuses on sustainable agriculture and empowerment of farmers.

SourceTrace's advanced technology platform DATAGREEN provides comprehensive solutions to manage all aspects of the agricultural value chain.


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