Maize grains could be exportable
Maize after having been incepted during 1970 in Bangladesh, crawled ahead gradually to grab lands showing a noticeable trend since 2003. Owing to augmenting poultry industry, demand of its grains is on a hike making its cultivation profitable even more than rice. Farmers took this profit-advantage accommodating more lands under its disposal. Current production trend hints its export potentiality as one of the feed and food commodities of Bangladesh.
Being a C4 crop, maize has two to three folds yield productivity compared to those of C3 crops like rice and wheat. It can be grown in a diverse climate. Its grains are being used as poultry, livestock and fish feeds creating a ready market to sell by the farmers. The green straw is suitable to prepare storable and palatable silage to cater the crisis period of livestock feeds.
Owing to such production benefits, farmers have adopted this crop widely over the last decade which has already occupied some lands of paddy, wheat, pulses and oilseeds. This crop is also being grown in Kharif-1 season (summer) in lands which otherwise would have remained fallow. Such occupation is driven by the soaring demand of feed mills for maize grains.
Maize's expansion was more conspicuous between 1990 and 2000. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Bangladesh reaped 117 thousand tons of maize grains from 29 thousand hectares of land in the growing season of 2002-03 which climbed to 3288 thousand tons from 401 thousand hectares in 2017-18.
Owing to an elaborated research, several open pollinated varieties and hybrids of maize have been released by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). Importing seeds of high yielding exotic hybrids along with uninterrupted supply of production inputs also contributed to the expansion of this crop.
Before 2016-17, wheat was the second highest grain producing crop after rice. Its acreage rose gradually showing the highest area of 882 thousand hectares in 1998-99. The crop's area fell to 331 thousand hectares during 2018-19. Such a drop-down mainly attributed to the increased temperature caused by climate change. Further, severe attack by the blast disease during or after 2014-15 posed the crop of lesser interest to farmers.
On the contrary, although maize was initiated much later than wheat in 1971, due to steady ascent of the poultry industry, the crop gained a faster drive. As per 2018-19 BBS data, its area has been 35% more than that of the wheat. And, as such maize had a gigantic leap leaving the wheat behind.
Not only the yield productivity, but also a shorter life span has made this crop unique to be easily fitted in the existing cropping systems. Maize has more disease resistant capability compared to rice and wheat. Its seeds contain more protein and lower glycemic index and as such, are superior to rice even for the diabetic patients.
In Bangladesh, farmers grow maize mainly in the cropping patterns of T. aman-maize-mungbean, T. aman-maize-aus rice, T.aman-potato-maize and T.aman-Rabi crops-maize. In Rabi season, maize competes with paddy, wheat and other Rabi crops; while in Kharif-1, with jute. However, Kharif maize production is constrained with the frequent storms that cause damage and lodging of the plants reducing the yield.
Since Mid 2000s, maize's growth rate in Kharif-1 (summer) was higher than that of Rabi (winter). The data of 2013 showed 18% of maize lands under summer contributing only 16% to its total production which may be attributed to lesser availability of sunlight due to cloud cover. Planting in wider rows of 60 centimetre makes it possible to grow many short duration crops as intercrops in the same plot.
Maize production is mainly concentrated in the central and northern parts of Bangladesh, still leaving its expansion possibilities in other parts. Especially in the south, vast amount of land remains fallow after the harvest of T. aman which may be taken under maize's cultivation. However, its production in that area may be constrained by the lack of irrigation facility which must be solved before mass introduction in that area.
According to BBS data, during 2002-03 growing season, maize area was around 29 thousand hectares against 707 thousand of wheat. Thereafter, wheat area gradually dropped down, while that of the maize rose. In 2016-17, maize area was 390 thousand hectares against that of wheat of 416 thousand hectares. During 2017-18 growing season, maize's acreage was 401 thousand hectares against that of wheat (351,000 hectares).
Statistics regarding the acreage and production of maize is unavailable yet from BBS after 2017-18. USDA, indexmundi and knoema estimated the area of 331 and 520 thousand hectares for 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively assuming the respective productions of 3500 and 4500 thousand tons. The Department of Agricultural Extension projected the acreage and production to be nearing or above 550 thousand hectares producing over 5100 thousand tonnes for 2020-21.
According to the Feed Industries Association of Bangladesh (FIAB), the annul demand of feed in the country is 6-8 million tonnes needing to import 1-3 tons to cater the burgeoning demand. As its acreage has been expanding rapidly, it may be expected that in near future, Bangladesh will be self-sufficient in this crop with even a surplus. This paves a way to develop export oriented feed industries in Bangladesh.
The currently produced maize grains are used solely as feeds which are from yellow grained varieties. But worldwide, white grains are widely used for human consumption in many of the African, Central American and South American countries. Despite their home production, some of those countries have to import white maize grains from the USA or elsewhere. Bangladesh could take this advantage in future.
Dr Md Jafar Ullah is a professor of Department of Agronomy, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University