|Developing the non-farm Sector in Bangladesh: Lessons from other Asian Countries (WB, 1996, 116 p.)|
Rice Cultivation: Choosing Appropriate Technologies Rice cultivation has become more capital and chemical intensive over the past two decades, and methods of planting have also begun to change with the advent of new varieties. The now-practiced, highly labor intensive methods of planting, weeding, harvesting, and threshing have some advantages: they provide employment and, given the relative price of labor, they represent an efficient technological choice. But they also perpetuate a state of agricultural involution" and might be keeping Bangladesh in a low level equilibrium trap. At this stage, a technological shock that reduces the demand for agricultural labor can have three beneficial effects. Firs´, it could push large numbers of workers to seek nonfarm jobs creating a supply of labor that would stimulate such activities. Second, to the extent that such a shift in technology increases linkages to industry, alternative employment opportunities would develop. Third, intensified, modern farming practices, with greater use of tubewell irrigation, would gradually increase the number of middle-size farms having much higher incomes and a broader range of 17 consumption demands. Greater consumption demand can encourage a diversification of rural production and magnify the multiplier effects of household spending. Estimates of rural multipliers for Asian countries fall in the 1.7-1.8 range whereas multipliers for African countries which have a narrower base of rural activities, rarely exceed 1.6 (Hazell and Haggblade 1989). Bangladesh is closer to the African mark, and if it is to sustain rapid growth must move toward the East Asian mark.
What are the technological choices for rice agriculture? Four possibilities have been around for many years and have become well-established in many East Asian countries. First, labor-and bullock-intensive ploughing can be done with the help of small walking tractors that also provide traction for pulling wagons. Such tractors-widely used in China, for instance-are produced and repaired by local industries. They alleviate some of the drudgery of farming, provide transport, and give rise to valuable linkage effects. Backward linkages from agriculture become more pronounced as the capital intensity of farming increases (Vogel 1994). Second, labor can be saved by using direct-seeding rice varieties, now being adopted, that eliminate the need for transplanting (see Naylor 1992). Third, pre-emergence and other broad-action weedicides can reduce substantially the effort devoted to removing grasses and sedges that compete with rice crops. The need for weeding is not eliminated, but the amount of time needed to weed is cut. Fourth, the mechanization of threshing and the widespread adoption of small rice mills can substitute for labor, speed up operations, and contribute to the development of rural industry.
Southern China, Taiwan (China), Japan, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries, all broke away from highly labor-intensive agriculture, even when factor endowments would have discouraged mechanization or adoption of the full biochemical package of inputs. This shift, although initially labor-displacing and disruptive of established social relations, work routines, and an economic system built around traditional agricultural technologies, quickly opened new opportunities for employment in nonfarm activities. In addition to raising incomes and diversifying sources of earnings, labor-conserving technical change and the spread of linked, nonfarm activities gradually reduced the importance of subsistence farming. It also encouraged producers to become market orientated drawing them toward cash crops whose processing further deepened the rural industrial base.