Socio-economic and Environmental Impacts of Technological Change in Bangladesh Agriculture
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Widespread controversies exist on the delayed consequences of technological change or ‘Green Revolution’ technology in agriculture largely due to the approach utilized in the evaluation process and the extent of issues covered. Early evaluations, focussing on issues of production, employment, and income only, failed to account for the delayed consequences of technological change on regional variations, gender equity, poverty and the environment. The present study employed a holistic approach to evaluate the impacts of technological change in agriculture, specifically, on productivity, employment, gender equity, income distribution, poverty and the environment at the local level and on regional development, aggregate crop production and foodgrain sustainability at the national level. The overall hypothesis is that though modern agricultural technology increased production, employment and income, it has exacerbated income inequality, poverty, gender gap in employment, regional disparity and environmental degradation and is threatening food production sustainability. In this context, the research is designed with a blend of economic (crop input-output), biophysical (soil fertility) and behavioral (farmers’ perception) analyses to capture the diverse issues (employment, income, income distribution, poverty and environment). Database of the study consists of time-series data for 47 years (1948 – 1994) and farm-level cross-section data of cropyear 1996 collected from three agro-ecological regions including soil samples from representative locations and information on infrastructural facilities. Economic principles and concepts are used as the basic tools of analysis and hypotheses are empirically tested using quantitative as well as qualitative techniques. The results of the analyses validated the concerns raised at the outset of the study. At the national level, though technological change played a significant role in raising regional agricultural development level, it has also contributed significantly to regional disparity with most regions being stagnant and underdeveloped over the past 20 years. Technological change also significantly contributed to aggregate crop productivity over the past 30 years. Returns to scale estimation using conventional factors revealed that ‘constant return to scale’ prevails in Bangladesh agriculture. Incorporation of technological and infrastructural factors in the estimation revealed ‘increasing returns to scale’. But, declining productivity of modern rice, the major vehicle of technological change, is raising doubts on sustaining food production. The current increase in food production is largely due to switching from local to modern rice varieties and may not be sustainable in the long run. Trend analyses of 47 years of foodgrain (rice and wheat) production revealed that productivity is reaching a saturation value of 2,200 kg/ha, raising doubts on food production sustainability to meet the growing demand for food. Farm-level analysis of farmers’ response to price changes revealed that probability of adopting modern technology increases with output price rise and decreases with input price rise. Intensity of modern technology adoption is higher in underdeveloped regions. Farmers have moderately inelastic response to price changes for foodgrain crops and highly elastic response for non-cereal crops. Consideration of the possibility of switching between local and modern foodgrain varieties, that is, allowing movement along a ‘meta-production function’ improved the elasticity estimates for foodgrain crops. Highly elastic response is observed for soil fertility improvement in foodgrain production and inelastic response for non-cereal crops. The response to infrastructural development and education work in opposite direction for these crop groups. While infrastructure development and farmers’ education level increase input demand and output supply of non-cereal crops, these decreases input demand and output supply of foodgrain. At the local level, although modern agricultural technology significantly increased employment, input demand, prices and crop incomes, the gain from employment remained skewed in favor of men and income in favor of large/medium farmers. Also, significantly lower wage is paid to female labor, if hired, indicating further discrimination against women. Land and other resource owners are the highest beneficiaries of technological change. Production of modern varieties alone contributes 35% to total income inequality, thereby, indicating unexpected adversity of modern technology on income distribution. Poverty is estimated to be highest in ‘high adopter villages’ with 63% of population below poverty line, thus, reinforcing the unexpected adversity associated with technological change. ‘Declining soil fertility’, ‘effect on human health’, ‘reduction of fish catch’, and ‘increase in insect, pest and disease attacks’ are the major environmental impacts of technological change identified in the study regions as perceived by farmers. Soil fertility positively influences prices, modern technology adoption, crop and agricultural income and negatively influences demand for labor, animal power and pesticides, and non-agricultural income. Infrastructure development also positively influences prices and non-agricultural income and negatively influences technology adoption and input demand (except animal power and agricultural credit). The ‘medium adopter’ villages characterized by diversified cropping system, larger with land endowment (0.96 ha/farm), better soil fertility and developed rural infrastructure revealed least income inequality and incidence of poverty. The gini-ratio of per capita income is estimated at 0.34 for the ‘medium adopter’ villages as compared to 0.44 and 0.45 for the ‘high adopter’ and ‘low adopter’ villages, respectively. Findings of this study, therefore, establish the superiority of ‘medium adopter’ villages with respect to distributional implications and challenge the conventional notion that high level of modern technology diffusion is the key to agricultural development and economic growth. Rather, a diversified cropping system including medium level of modern variety adoption yields higher income and causes least inequality and poverty. Therefore, based on the study results, an integrated agricultural development planning model comprising of six components: (1) limited modern technology diffusion, (2) crop diversification, (3) soil fertility management, (4) rural infrastructure development, (5) price policy and (6) economic diversification to non-agricultural activities, is proposed. The first three components are interlinked and needs to be implemented simultaneously. The remaining three components will smoothen the process by: (a) enhancing effective input delivery and output marketing systems through developed infrastructure, (b) responding to price signals through appropriate pricing policies, and (c) engaging in other income generating activities through economic diversification. A policy of animal power and output price subsidy is suggested to curb price risk and promote crop diversification. Also, crop insurance policies, marketing, transportation and infrastructure development are suggested to reduce yield and marketing risks. Human resources development, intensification of bottom-up planning and collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are suggested as strategies to improve farmers’ technical skills. Integration and close coordination among facilitators: relevant government agencies, NGOs, financial institutes and the farmers are identified as the key to achieving the goal of sustainable agricultural development.
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