It has been six months since farmers harvested potatoes and wheat. However, if someone asks for data on the amount of crops produced and their area during the last harvest from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the state agency responsible for generating data at the national level, he will be disappointed because no information is available.
Take Boro rice for example.
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It is the largest rice crop in Bangladesh, accounting for about 55 percent of the total annual production of the main cereal. Growers harvested the crop in May and June according to the BBS harvest schedule.
Two and a half months have passed and a good amount of the staple has already been consumed. Farmers brought in harvests of Aus paddy in July-August.
If you ask the BBS, you will be told that the Boro rice production data was ready and awaiting approval from the Minister of Planning.
The delay is nothing new.
The statistical agency takes several months to publish estimates of agricultural production. But timely release of data is vital for planning sourcing, importing, storage, and market intervention to keep prices stable.
“Authentic and timely data on production and demand is vital. In their absence, it becomes difficult to prepare purchase, import and distribution plans, ”Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum said.
“In many cases, we have to plan on the basis of assumptions, which is not always appropriate.”
Jute, harvested a year ago, is the last crop for which he finalized production and area data, according to the BBS website.
Due to the lack of updated data, crop data prepared by the Agricultural Extension Department (DAE) has become the main source of information. But in most cases, DAE estimates are revised downward following the release of BBS data.
For example, the DAE estimated boro rice production at two crore tonnes in the last fiscal year. It was then revised down to 1.96 crore tonnes after the BBS provided the data.
At that time, rice prices rose amid demand from the Agriculture Ministry for a bumper crop and delayed import decisions.
The price peaked more than three and a half years in April, according to data compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The BBS said it intended to release data on agricultural production within two months of harvest. In reality, it takes a long time.
BBS chief executive Mohammad Tajul Islam said boro rice production data was ready and the agency was awaiting approval from the Minister of Planning to release the report.
He said the BBS needs to spend time collecting raw data, processing it and cross-checking it.
Since the work is mostly done manually, a lot of time is wasted, according to the BBS.
Bureaucratic delays are another factor hampering faster release of production data for major crops, officials said.
The agency collects information on the production of rice and other important crops from five farmers from five unions in each upazila of the country’s 64 districts.
After collecting the data, the report is sent to the district level. The district level compiles the data and passes it on to the divisional level, which collates it before sending it to head office.
After compilation and finalization, the BBS presents the crop data to the Minister of Planning for approval.
In some cases, the data collection process faces disruption due to natural disasters or overlaps in the field, a BBS official said.
The timing of data collection varies from region to region depending on the harvest period, he said.
The BBS manager, however, describes the process as lengthy although he intends to provide information as quickly as possible.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said spending a lot of time reviewing agricultural production data was not acceptable as it impacted policy decisions.
“I have already asked the BBS to come up with solutions on how to analyze the data after collecting the raw data at the field level. If they want to adopt a technology to produce the analysis instantly, I will approve it. “
Tajul Islam said the BBS will introduce two separate software programs for rice and other crops to capture data at the field level.
“This will help us provide an instant result of agricultural production.”
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue, called real-time data vital.
“In the absence of real-time data, political decisions are made on the basis of past data. As a result, a weakness is observed in operational decisions.”
With the growing demand due to rising incomes, real-time data on production, inventory and trade has become important for farmers, traders and government, he said.
The economist urged the ministries of agriculture, food, trade and planning to devise ways to generate timely data on major food items.
“At the same time, it has become important to re-estimate the national demand for major food grains, including rice,” he added.
He suggested using digital technologies and devices to collect and process crop data to make estimates 15 days after harvest.
Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chattogram-based BSM group chairman, said many countries have conducted several surveys to get a feel for agricultural production and publish import data for proper planning.
“The timely and regular publication of data helps reduce the mismatch between demand and supply and maintain market stability,” he said.
Quazi Shahabuddin, former director general of the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS), stressed the need for accurate data instead of snapshot data with flawed statistics.
He suggested using BBS provisional data for policy decisions, as the final report hasn’t changed much.
Mr. Asaduzzaman, former research director at BIDS, also called for the generation of authentic data.
Wais Kabir, former chairman of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, said agricultural agencies in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka have estimated agricultural production.
“This can also be tracked in Bangladesh, and the DAE can be given the task.”