It has been six months since farmers have harvested potato and wheat. However, if anyone requests for data about the quantity of the crops produced and their acreage in the latest harvest from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the state agency responsible for generating data nationally, they will be disappointed as no information is available.
Take Boro rice for example.
It is the biggest rice crop in Bangladesh, accounting for about 55 per cent of the total annual output of the major grain. Growers harvested the crop in May and June as per the crop calendar of the BBS.
Two and a half months have elapsed, and a handsome amount of the staple has already been consumed. The farmers have taken home Aus paddy crops in July-August.
If you ask the BBS, you will be told that the data of Boro rice production was ready and awaiting approval from the planning minister.
The statistical agency takes several months to release crop production estimates. But a timely release of the data is vital to plan about procurement, import, stocking and market intervention in order to keep prices stable.
“Authentic and timely data on production and demand is vital. In their absence, it becomes difficult to prepare purchase, import and distribution plans,” said Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum.
“In many cases, we have to plan based on assumption, which is not always appropriate.”
According to the BBS website, jute, harvested a year ago, is the last crop for which it finalised the production and acreage data.
Because of the absence of timely data, the crop data prepared by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has become the main source of information. But in most cases, the DAE’s estimates are revised downwards following the release of BBS data.
For instance, the DAE estimated boro rice output at two crore tonnes in the last fiscal year. It was later revised down to 1.96 crore tonnes after the BBS came up with the data.
By the time, the prices of rice went up amid the agriculture ministry’s claim of bumper crop and delayed import decisions.
The price shot to more than three and a half years high in April, data compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation showed.
The BBS said it aimed to publish data on crop production in two months after harvesting. In reality, it takes a long time.
BBS Director-General Mohammad Tajul Islam said the production data for boro rice was ready, and the agency was waiting for the approval of the planning minister to release the report.
He said the BBS had to spend time collecting raw data, processing and cross-checking them.
As the work is done mostly manually, a lot of time is lost, according to the BBS.
The bureaucratic delays is another factor hampering a faster release of data on the production of major crops, said officials.
The agency gathers information on the production of rice and other major crops from five farmers of five unions in every upazila of all 64 districts in the country.
After collecting the data, the report is sent to the district level. The district-level compiles the data and forwards it to the divisional level, which collates it before sending it to the head office.
After compilation and finalisation, the BBS presents the crop data to the planning minister for approval.
In some cases, the data gathering process faces disruption due to natural disasters or cross-checking at the field level, an official of the BBS said.
The data collection schedule varies from region to region as harvesting time varies, he said.
The BBS official, however, describes the process as lengthy though it intends to provide information as fast as possible.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said consuming much time in examining crop production data was not acceptable as it impacted policy decisions.
“I have already asked the BBS to find out solutions on how to analyse data after the collection of raw data from the field level. If they want to adopt any technology to produce the analysis instantly, I will approve it.”
Tajul Islam said the BBS would introduce two separate pieces of software for rice and other crops to input data from field levels.
“This will help us provide an instant result of the crop production.”
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, termed real-time data vital.
“In the absence of real-time data, policy decisions are taken based on previous data. As a result, weakness is seen in operational decisions.”
In view of growing demand because of the rising income, real-time data on the production, stock and trade has become important for farmers, traders and the government, he said.
The economist urged the ministries of agriculture, food, commerce and planning to devise ways to generate data on time on major food items.
“At the same time, it has become important to re-estimate national demand for major food grains, including rice,” he added.
He suggested using technologies and digital devices to gather and process crop data to carry out estimates 15 days after harvests.
Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of Chattogram-based BSM Group, said many countries carried out several surveys to get an idea about crop production and release the import data to do proper planning.
“Timely and regular release of data helps curb demand and supply mismatch and keep market stable,” he said.
Quazi Shahabuddin, a former director-general of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), emphasised on the need for accurate data instead of instant data with wrong statistics.
He suggested using provisional data of the BBS for policy-decision as the final report did not see much change.
M Asaduzzaman, a former research director of the BIDS, also called for generation of authentic data.
Wais Kabir, a former chairman of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, said agricultural agencies in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka estimated crop production.
“This can be followed in Bangladesh too, and the DAE can be given the task.”