Young Bangla of Centre for Research and Information (CRI) as one of the largest youth platforms has been working with a large youth community for many years to hear their concerns and closely working with Bangladeshi youth. It hosts “Let’s Talks” to create an interdisciplinary platform for policymakers, researchers, practitioners, private sectors, and youth to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends, and concerns as well as practical challenges and solutions in the fields of Youth Development. In this policy forum, panelists answer questions raised by youth and recommend integrated youth-friendly development policies and actions to be taken for youth empowerment. In conjunction with the previous Let’s Talk, Young Bangla organized Let’s Talk at Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Mymensingh, on ‘Smart Agriculture and Innovation’ which was held on 18 January 2023.
Over the last several years, Bangladesh witnessed a strong surge of growth in most of the development indices spanning from the economy to human and social development. Every year, Bangladesh sets new records in agriculture production, remittance earnings, foreign exchange reserves, export earnings, and foreign direct investment in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh has accorded the highest priority to agricultural development. Agriculture is significantly transforming from digital agriculture to smart agriculture in conjunction with Digital Bangladesh to Smart Bangladesh. It’s evident that smart agriculture will enhance food production and the quality of agricultural products, decrease production costs, ensure food security, and redouble the brand premium. Smart agriculture will make use of IoT and sensor technology to pump up agriculture in Bangladesh to high-end mode. Effectively managing and monitoring crops, livestock, and fisheries using smart devices (sensor-based devices), user-friendly interfaces, communication channels, etc, would greatly influence food safety and ensure nutrition deficiency in the country.
With this view, the relevant policymakers and experts from the agriculture sector and the students and youth of Mymensingh had an interactive discussion and idea-sharing session. The let’s talk was focused on different contemporary issues, especially on the government initiatives in boosting smart agriculture, the extension of smart agricultural technologies, smart technologies adoption, training for farmers, youth involvement in agro-business, and environment-friendly smart agro-technologies. The participants and panelists also discussed food nutrition, meeting consumer demand, and many more.
Professor Dr. Shamsul Alam, State Minister for the Ministry of Planning, Waseqa Ayesha Khan, MP, Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources, Professor Dr. Lutful Hassan, Vice-Chancellor, Bangladesh Agricultural University, and Umma Kulsum Popi, Joy Bangla Youth Award Achiever and Co-founder BD Assistant and Premium Fruits participated as panelists on this Let’s Talk event.
Professor Dr. Shamsul Alam, State Minister for the Ministry of Planning says, “Our farmers are experts in their profession. As the country is moving forward to becoming a smart Bangladesh, we are creating agricultural personnel who would benefit the agriculture of Bangladesh by inventing new technologies. The students of today will be the leading force in the future. We strongly emphasized increasing the skilled workforce by establishing educational institutions focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and introducing specialized curricula.”
The students showed concern about the performance of modern technologies that vary in the field. In reply, Professor Dr. Alam answered, “The difference in the performances of the technologies is natural to happen because piloting of technologies in a controlled environment (such as a lab) always performs better than implementing in a natural and uncontrolled environment (such as a field). We can do more research and provide intensive training to the Department of Agricultural Extension officers and the farmers to reduce the difference in performance. Besides, research centers and practical labs should be established in villages, and most importantly, students should be involved in direct farming activities that will increase communication with farmers and understanding of their needs.”
On the topic of price fluctuation and overpricing of agricultural products, the Minister responded that weather and climate are the variables that create uncertainty in agricultural production. Dr. Alam mentions that the government is providing full support to the farmers in every possible way because it understands the significance of agriculture and the role of the farmers in this country. Subsidies, farming loans, electricity supply, and modern irrigation are major government assistance, as mentioned by him. The State Minister concluded by saying, “Revolution is an ongoing process. We are moving forward from the Green Revolution to a Smart Revolution. Smart Agriculture is an integral part of the ongoing Smart Revolution. We can already see the modernization and innovations in farming in many ways, and only you, the students can take it forward.”
Waseqa Ayesha Khan, M.P., while answering questions related to the environmental impact of smart agricultural and modern innovations she said, “The government is aware of this issue and taking necessary steps. Since we have to move towards innovations, we are also thinking about making existing technology more environmentally friendly. For example, the government is planning to replace diesel-fueled irrigation machines with solar-based machines, and already this project is in the pilot phase in 22 districts. This project can bring new changes in fuel efficiency, and the government is also planning to provide incentives and easy loans to farmers, especially women.” In her speech, she also included the importance of agricultural education and entrepreneurship scopes in farming for the youths.
Professor Dr. Lutful Hassan, Vice-Chancellor of BAU, discussed the importance of planning and research to boost the agricultural sector. He inspired students to emphasize understanding farmers’ and consumers’ needs in planning any initiative or project. He also drew attention to geographical zone-based technology development to provide instant solutions to regional farmers. Dr. Hassan added, “The development of modern technology correlates with value addition. To ensure the mechanisation into sophistication, research and education are crucial.”
Umma Kulsum Popi, Joy Bangla Youth Award Achiever, inspired young students in agriculture entrepreneurship to grab smart techniques such as vertical farming, rooftop pisciculture, supply chain management, and training for farmers. She also said, “All the significant changes in Bangladesh agriculture are results of initiatives taken by youth. In the future, the delegation of responsibility also comes upon them. Take initiatives and contribute to research more.”
The panelists seemed overwhelmed by the intelligent and insightful understanding of the students and youth reflected throughout the discussion. Alongside, the students found inspiration and guidance from policymakers and experts.