Farmers grow food for the nation: They must be protected
It is a misfortune for our huge number of small and mostly disadvantaged marginal farmers across the the country to be compelled to sell Boro paddy/rice staple— the year-long hope of the people—at a price below its production cost; and this deplorable circumstance is likely to make them insolvent which can have harmful effect on our agriculture per se.
The gravity of problem came to nationwide notice when protesting the fall in coarse paddy prices and the scarcity of day labourers in Tangail, Abdul Malek Shikder, a farmer of Bankina village in Kalahati upazila on 12 May set his Boro paddy field on fire. Shikder said: “The government has fixed the price of coarse paddy price at Tk. 500 per maund. We have to pay a day labourer Tk 850 a day to harvest paddy. There are costs of processing the paddy. We can’t even find day labourers at such high wages. We can’t harvest properly and in a timely manner, so I set half an acre of my paddy on fire.”
It was a sad spectacle to watch the anguished wretched paddy growers across the country on TV channels. Farmers — many of them skinny, rickety and too feeble to stand erect— blocked Rangpur highway and dumped paddy grain on the road during a demonstration in Mahiganj Satmatha area in Rangpur. This is because the selling price that is half the cost of production has inflamed rice farmers across the country. For the first time bountiful yield has been eclipsed by genuine frustration. Protests were staged in villages, towns, districts, and in the capital as well. At present, paddy is sold wholesale at Tk450 – 500 for every maund. Many farmers have said the cost of harvesting each maund of paddy is between Tk 1,000 and Tk1,500. Other reports say farmers suffer a loss of at least Tk 300 if they sell paddy at current market price. In Shariatpur, the plight of 90,000 farmers has been exacerbated by the fact that despite all their pleas, the government has only conceded to buying only 0.45% of the total boro harvest.
Bumper harvest as a boon ought to have positive impact, but in this country the situation is the reverse—-whenever the harvest is satisfying the farmers face the fall in the price. The high yield of Boro paddy has become a serious cause for concern for the farmers who are count a loss of as much as Tk 300 per maund (37 kg). Surplus of rice on the market make them practically captive to the middlemen, and they are forced to sell at the asking price. There is reason to rethink ways and means to control crafty manipulation that can harm the food growers.
Alarming as it is, rice prices have fallen to a nearly three-year low impacted by downturn in paddy prices at the farmers’ level following good harvest as well as higher private and public stocks of the grain. The average retail price of coarse rice, consumed mainly by the low-income group, was Tk 33 per kg in city markets the day on May 22—down 24 percent from a year ago, said the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM). The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)says iIt is the lowest since August 2016 when the average retail price of the same quality grain was Tk 33.58 per kilogram, show data from. The FAO data showed that the prices gradually declined after they soared to Tk 47.78 in September 2017. Just more than a year later in November 2018, the prices fell below the Tk 40 mark. Since then, the market prices have gradually been declining because of good crop harvest, a situation that hurts farmers but benefits consumers.
Reportedly coarse paddy producers were hit the hardest followed by fine and medium grain producers as current prices are much below the government-estimated production cost of paddy at Tk 993 per maund (37.20 kilogram). As of May 15, coarse paddy dipped to Tk 540 each maund from Tk 702 for the same quantity a year ago. Bangladesh stocked 3.62 crore tonnes of rice in fiscal 2017-18 and the total production is expected to hit a new high during the current fiscal year, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), rice millers and traders. In addition, fresh imports and carryover stocks have added to the overall domestic supply, said rice millers and traders.
There is there is sufficient wisdom and positive note in Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal’s observation when he said, “If farmers do not recover the production cost, they will feel discouraged to produce crops, Mustafa Kamal said, adding, “We will take all kinds of initiatives needed to save farmers.” The minister gave emphasis on rice export. So, steps will have to be taken for exporting rice.”
But the agriculture minister’s remarks that procuring rice would not be of much help because he feels that a syndicate of the politically powerful, food department officials and large rice traders are in the procurement process and they sell rice to the government. We understand in a sensitive matter like rice the ministry should monitor the market situation and of necessity should intervene to turn aside the syndicate(s) from controlling the market. Good harvest was expected, and it is the ministry’s concern to protect the interests of both the farmers as well as the consumers.
The need of the hour is to begin rice procurement drive this year sooner than other years. And this is where we feel the government should step in by procuring the bulk of the product directly from the farmers at an equitable price, without the middlemen coming in.