Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina addresses FAO 36th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific as chief guest virtually from a hotel in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. — UNB photo

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday emphasised enhancing collaboration among the Asia-Pacific countries in agricultural research and education for ensuring food security alongside transferring and sharing of cutting-edge technologies.

‘For ensuring food security . . . collaboration among the countries of the region in the field of agricultural research and education should be enhanced,’ she said.

The prime minister said this in her first recommendation among three placed at the opening ceremony of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 36th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.

She, in her second point, said that transfer and sharing of cutting-edge technologies like bio-technology, nanotechnology, and robotics in agricultural sector needs to be strengthened among FAO member states in the region.

In the final point, she added, ‘As modern agriculture needs huge investment, special fund could be created to finance and support the agri-sector.’

Bangladesh, for the first time, is hosting the virtual regional hybrid event. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina joined it remotely from her place of residence in Abu Dhabi.

She said that the Covid pandemic had affected the agricultural sector like other sectors. At the initial stage of the pandemic in 2020, the supply chain was disrupted affecting both the producers and consumers, she said.

‘However, our timely and effective interventions helped the sector recover fast. We took special measures, including mechanisation, to ensure unhindered food production and supply of agricultural inputs,’ she added.

Sheikh Hasina continued that the Covid pandemic revealed how vulnerable human beings are in the face of such disaster, and it has also made surfaced how the human race by acting together can face such challenges.

She went on saying, ‘Food security is surely the most pressing issue for the people. About 305.7 million people in South Asia still suffer from hunger. We can arrange food for them easily if we all make sincere effort.’

Director general of FAO QU Dongyu and fisheries and livestock minister SM Rezaul Karim spoke in the conference presided over by agriculture minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque.

Focusing on Bangladesh’s agriculture sector, the prime minister said although the relative significance of the agricultural sector in GDP has been diminishing in the country, the absolute contribution did not fall, but has rather increased and the agricultural GDP saw a 40 per cent rise since 2005-06.

Despite the fall in its share, agriculture still remains the main source of employment, providing livelihood to 40 per cent of the labour force, she said, adding that currently about 22.7 million people of which 45 per cent are women are directly employed in the agricultural sector.

Now many agro-processing industries are fully dependent on agriculture for basic raw materials like rice milling, sugar, tea, fruit juice, spices, edible oil, tobacco, jute textiles, cotton textiles, starch and others, she said.

Thus, agriculture still remains the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy, she continued.

Mentioning that Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in the production of rice, vegetable, fruit, fish, meat, egg and milk production in the last 13 years, she said that her country also became self-sufficient in rice production by producing nearly 38 million metric tons of rice a year.

In the world, the prime minister said, Bangladesh is ranked 2nd in jute and fresh water fish production, 3rd in rice and vegetable production, and 4th in tea production as well as stands first among the 11 hilsha fish producing countries.

‘These achievements have been possible due to continuous policy support and incentives provided by our government, as well as the efforts of our hard-working farmers,’ she said.

She added that entrepreneurs had also created a thriving private sector where agriculture was growing and expanding.

The prime minister said, ‘Despite these successes, we realise that we have to do more for achieving food and nutrition security in the real sense. It is because these sectors are prone to shocks from nature and climate related abnormalities.’

Noting that Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries affected by climate change, she said that climate change was also a major threat to sustainable agriculture.

‘Therefore, we have been implementing various adaptation and mitigation projects from our Climate Change Trust Fund to offset the impacts,’ she added.

Meanwhile, the prime minister on Thursday urged the United Arab Emirates business community to invest largely in Bangladesh Social Economic Zones and high-tech parks particularly in readymade garments, leather, jute, food, ICT and IT Enabled Services.

‘Our financial markets are now ready to support advanced private equity and fin-tech solutions. The Digital Bangladesh that we had aspired for almost 12 years ago — is now a reality. I, therefore, invite you to come and partner with us,’ she said.

The prime minister was addressing the joint business council organised by the business communities of Bangladesh and UAE at the virtual meeting room in the place of her residence.

Spelling out various measures taken by her government to create a conducive environment for foreign investments, she said, ‘I assure you all that Bangladesh is now a land of lucrative opportunities.’

The prime minister said that Bangladesh was moving fast in urbanisation, industrialisation and in increasing tele-density to connect individuals to governance, innovation and markets.

‘Our aim is to connect our factors of production seamlessly into the global markets,’ she said.

She also said that Bangladesh offered a huge domestic market of more than 168 million people, adding, ‘Our population is young, energetic, and ambitious.’

She said that Bangladesh’s disposable income was rising faster than many comparable countries for her government’s deep and wide innovations in agriculture and extension, productivity and remittance.

The business forum was held at the DP world pavilion in the Dubai 2020 Expo venue.

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, commerce minister Tipu Munshi, prime minister’s private industry and investment affairs adviser Salman F Rahman, UAE state for foreign trade minister Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, FBCCI president Jasim Uddin, UAE Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry chairman Abdulla Mohamned Al Mazrouei also spoke on the occasion.

Later, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the FBCCI and the UAE Chambers to establish a joint business council between the two countries.

FBCCI president Jasim Uddin, Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Abdulla Mohammed Al Mazrouei signed the MoU on behalf of their respective sides.

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