A water pump jets water into a farmland at Sherpur in Bogra. The practice of renting out agricultural machinery services has emerged in rural areas in the past two decades. Photo: Hasibur Rahman Bilu
An informal market for rental of tilling, irrigation and threshing services has emerged in rural areas, thanks to the rapid expansion of mechanised cultivation.
The services market has not only helped absorb a portion of the need for farm workers, but also facilitated development of entrepreneurship as a section of unemployed youth is entering the trade as an alternative to formal jobs.
Rustom Ali of Dhuroil village in Rajshahi charges Tk 120-150 in rent to till a bigha of land. For upland areas, he charges Tk 120 a bigha. "As tilling is difficult in muddy fields, I charge Tk 150 for low-lying areas."
Rustom first began providing rental services by purchasing a shallow tube-well pump three years ago.
With earnings from the first year of rendering services, he bought a second shallow tubewell the next year. To accelerate income, Rustom ploughed back his savings and borrowed Tk 50,000 from a microfinance institution in 2009 to buy a power tiller and a thresher.
Rustom said he, like others, charges Tk 80-100 to irrigate for an hour and demands 20 kilograms of paddy for threshing paddy on a bigha of land.
“It is a much better job compared to working as a labourer on other people's fields,” said Rustom, who earned Tk 56,000 in net profits last year.
Such a practice of renting out agricultural machinery services has expanded in parts of Bangladesh in the past two decades. This not only ensures proper utilisation of the capacity of farm implements but also caters to the needs of small and marginal farmers, a majority of whom cannot afford to invest in the equipment.
The custom of hiring service, analysts said, began with irrigation and later expanded to tiling and threshing. The trade expanded also because of a gradual decline in bullocks and a contraction in the supply of farm labourers after many switched to non-farm activities in rural and urban areas.
Now, a total of 15.53 lakh pumps owned by private operators are in use in Bangladesh, 88 percent of which are shallow tubewells, according to the Minor Irrigation Equipment Survey Report 2008-09.
Experts said most privately-owned irrigation pumps are used to render rental services -- pump owners install wells and pumps on their own plots to irrigate their fields and deliver excess water to other farms.
“The expansion of mechanised irrigation has created jobs for about 19 lakh rural people, including three lakh mechanics,” said Engineer Md Eftekharul Alam, chief of Minor Irrigation Information Service Unit of Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation.
In addition, over four lakh power tillers, 15,000-20,000 tractors and around three lakh threshers (open and closed drum) are also in operation. This accelerated of income of the owners and created different jobs, such as drivers for the power tillers and tractors.
Kamal Hossain, a tractor renter at Mithamoin in Kishoreganj, said he made Tk 3 lakh profits by tilling 600 acres in the current boro season, after paying for fuel and wages for drivers and helpers.
But pay for the rental services vary from place to place, as there are no uniform rules prescribed.
Aminul Islam Ranju, a farmer at Dhulirchar of Gabtoli, Bogra, said farmers in his locality have to pay Tk 100 for a single power tilling session. For irrigation water, they have to give a fourth of the paddy produced on a bigha of land.
Economist Mahabub Hossain, also executive director of Brac, said the system of crop sharing for irrigation should be stopped to ensure an optimum use of water.
“Farmers have to give one fourth of their crops to get irrigation water at different places. Such a system sometimes leads to the misuse of water."
“The government should have a rule prescribing the hourly charge for irrigation, to stop misuse,” he said.
Mahabub said farm mechanisation is advancing in the backdrop of a scarcity of agriculture workers and a rise in farm wages.
“It has helped reduce the cost of production for farmers. Such mechanisation is good in the case of labour shortages. But if there are abundant labours in agriculture, it will not be good from a socio-economic viewpoint,” said Mahabub.
He however opposed faster expansion of mechanisation by capital-intensive machinery, such as tractors and combine harvesters. “In the Bangladesh context, power tillers are appropriate."
“Considering present farm sizes, the availability of labour and wage rates, mechanisation will be premature if tractors and combine harvesters spread fast. It will result in a displacement of a greater number of agricultural labour.”