Debashish Sarker Dev (upper photo) is an Assistant Professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Bangladesh and a PhD Student at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Khondokar H. Kabir is an Associate Professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Bangladesh.

COVID-19: scope to reassess the ongoing trajectory of agriculture and development

With COVID-19 set to plunge the world into prolonged crisis, our authors argue against top-down development approaches centred on urbanisation and industrialisation in agriculture-based developing countries. Rather, they maintain, preparing for the after-effects of the pandemic has to focus on the local level and the crucial role of agriculture.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a reality check for the whole world. While the pandemic has already created a global health and economic crisis, its long-term impact is predicted to reach much further. People are in hunger, out of food, and altogether, particularly in poorer communities, measures addressing survival and maintaining social order are causing them mental pressure. As a pandemic without remedies and medicine, COVID-19 requires a united effort from all sections of society to contain the disease. But can we really say that countries are sufficiently equipped to provide all groups of people with public support on the basis of their preparedness plans? The current COVID-19 crisis has in fact exposed a lack of preparedness in terms of public support in many developing countries, among them Bangladesh (WHO, 2020). 

Local social values deconsidered

What could be observed in the recent past was that developing countries, themselves primarily agriculture-based, were starting to shift towards an industry-based economy in order to keep on a development path. The gulf between rural farming and the urban industrial community has widened immensely. The socio-cultural values of the farming community and the experience it holds appear to be absent in the mainstream development agenda. The western way of development, based on urbanisation and industrialisation, has been presented to the less developed countries as the best option for development, and it has resulted in a concept for social development devoid of any base considering local social values. 

Making travel restrictions, local lockdowns and social distancing necessary for a prolonged period, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down westernised development trends in many developing countries. The situation is particularly dire for agriculture-based countries, which are in transition to an industry-based development path. COVID-19 is putting the resilience and sustainability of both their agricultural sector and their industrial sector to the test. Agricultural produce has already seen a demand drop of 20 per cent globally. Neither are self-isolation or social distancing helping with the perishable agricultural market (Nicola et al., 2020). People have begun to realise that the first asset for survival is a better food and agricultural system. Does this give us scope to look at our social development plans from a different perspective?

All over the world, governments and global development agencies are launching numerous financial programmes and providing funds to the poor and developing countries targeting the economy and a development sector revamp. Nevertheless, past and present experience with pandemic crises appears to have made people wary of development agencies focusing on a notion of westernised, urban-centred development to base any economic revamp on while forgetting that core social principles vary from country to country. With further economic and social crisis looming on the horizon, the only way to prepare quickly for the future is to opt for a people-centred, locality-specific development plan.

What can be done?

First of all, local farming people’s experience with the pandemic, and above all their response to it, need to be acknowledged and assessed in order to be better prepared for pandemic after-effects. The present top-down approach pursued by development agencies is out of touch with the truly affected farming communities. In order to achieve better recovery preparedness, these communities’ lived experience regarding the social, cultural and institutional practices involved in dealing with the prolonged crisis needs to be heard.

The second aspect could be mainstreaming agriculture as the key development mechanism in agriculture-based developing countries. Even in industrially developed areas, it makes no sense to ignore the agricultural sector’s role in balancing industrial growth and development. It is argued that sustainable development can be better achieved through the expansion of local demand rather than gearing economic activities to the foreign market, and developing the agricultural sector not only promotes this area but also helps to maintain the sustainability of industrial progress (Miah et al., 2020). 

However, the truth is that despite being aware of how important agriculture is, the global community, following a top-down approach, is investing more in the industrial sector. While a top-down approach ensures strong management, it has a slow response from people in times of an emergency as people are less connected with it. The full potential of the agriculture sector to act as a development resource is yet to be harvested in the development schemes around the world. A crisis like COVID-19 provides us with limitless opportunities to reshape our way of seeing agriculture as a development tool. Whether we grasp them or not is up to us. At any rate, investing in agriculture can only have a positive impact and bring about better preparedness for future crises. 

Debashish Sarker Dev is an Assistant Professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh and a PhD Student at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Khondokar H. Kabir is an Associate Professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh.

Contact: dev.agext@bau.edu.bd

References:

Miah, M. D., Hasan, R., & Uddin, H. (2020). Agricultural development and the rural economy: The case of Bangladesh. In M. K. Barai (Ed.), Bangladesh's economic and social progress from a basket case to a development model. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1683-2_8

Nicola, M. et al. (2020). The Socio-Economic Implications of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review. International journal of surgery (London, England). doi:10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.04.018

WHO. (2020). Lessons from the 2009 pandemic: Insights from Bangladesh, Mexico and Vietnam [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/influenza/spotlight/lessons-learned-from-the-2009-pandemic

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