Faced with a bumper production and a sharp fall in price which hit the farmers badly, the government is seriously considering exporting surplus rice, sources in Agriculture and Food ministries said. There is no alternative but to export rice to ensure fair price of paddy as local market price will not be sufficient for the farmers to make the sector thrive further, they said.
Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque termed the situation ‘very critical’ saying farmers are counting massive losses as they are not getting fair prices in the local markets while the harvesting of Boro paddy has begun across the country. He said the high-ups in the government are trying to find ways to protect the farmers’ interest.
If Bangladesh exports the rice, the farmers will get a fair price for their products, he said. From the high-yielding variety, farmers got about five to six tonnes of paddy from each hectare. The amount was double for the super hybrid variety. The farmers had a bumper yield this year as favourable weather, coupled with the absence of insect attack and rain in February and March, helped abundant growth of rice, according to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) and experts.
But neither the DAE nor the research institutions had any study about the production or foreign markets to export rice. According to experts, the country will have to take initiatives to increase the export of rice to foreign market. As neigbouring countries like India, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand are self-sufficient in rice, they do not need to import rice from Bangladesh, the experts said.
So, Bangladesh will have to explore new markets to sustain its agriculture sector. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, a specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, can be a target for Bangladesh to export rice. If Bangladesh can convince the UN to export rice to the organisation, it will be a success story for the country, the experts said.
Besides, in every season, the government fixes prices of crops adjusting with the production cost so that farmers can get fair price. The government will procure a total of 13 lakh tonnes of foodgrains directly from farmers during this Boro season. The government will buy parboiled rice at Taka 36 per kg while atap rice at Taka 35 per kg and Boro paddy at Taka 26 per kg, according to sources.
Meanwhile, the farmers’ hopes are being dashed in many ways due to a drastic fall in paddy price, wiping the smile off their faces. The farmers are selling one maund (40kg) paddy between Tk 450 and Tk 500 at their respective local markets throughout the country against the average production cost of Tk 650-700.
The farmers continued to hold protest rallies and human chains demanding fair price of the paddy.
Agriculture and Food ministers, high-ups of concerned departments have already discussed the issue with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in order to find out how the government can help overcome the prevailing situation. Acute shortage of farm labourers and illegal activities of syndicates, middlemen and other beneficiaries are the main reasons behind the drastic price fall, the officials of Agriculture and Food ministries said.
The government feels the export of surplus rice could be a possible remedy to overcome the difficult situation and help farmers overcome losses. “The government is considering exporting rice to benefit farmers,” a high-up in the Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday. A decision will be taken within 8 to 10 days after high-level discussions, he added.
When contacted, Arifur Rahman Apu, Director General, Directorate General of Food, said the pace of paddy procurement has not got momentum yet. “We have already asked our field-level officials to expedite the procurement. We, along with the minister, will got to field to expedite the procurement,” he said.
Replying to a query, he said they are going hard against the syndicate, middlemen and rice mills owners who are involved in bringing down the price of paddy.
“We have already started monitoring the market strictly. We will do everything to bring smile back on farmers’ faces,” he said.
Contacted, Dr Ismat Ara Begum, Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Bangladesh Agriculture University, said the farmers have not been getting fair price since long. “It is very unfortunate for all of us. Our farmers completely depend on their produced foodgrains’ prices. If the price fall continues, the agriculture sector will face a serious disaster. On the other hand, farmers will be discouraged to cultivate paddy,” she said.
Ismat Ara said the government will have to take realistic measures to ensure fair price of paddy in order to keep the farmers happy and prosperous. “Farmers of different places have aired their frustration over low paddy prices. Some farmers were so upset that they protested by burning their crops,” she said adding, “I wonder if some farmers will grow rice next year because they are not getting a fair price in relation to the production cost.”