Harvest losses and lower profit margins are pushing farmers away from cultivating paddy. The common coarse varieties are being abandoned in favour of expensive finer varieties and profitable fruit orchards. The Dhaka Tribune’s Bilkis Irani travelled across three northern districts – Naogaon, Dinajpur, and Panchagarh – to investigate the price anomalies. This is the finale to a three-part series on the crisis in rice prices
Farmers in many areas of Naogaon district had to wait until the recession of flood waters during August-September last year. A rice variety that can be harvested in less time than is required for the widely cultivated Swarna was the answer to this situation, and many farmers therefore chose to cultivate Chinigura, a fragrant and non-boiled rice variety, in their fields.
Md Rabbani of Lolbol village under Mohadebpurupazila was inspecting the quality of the sheaves of Chinigura plants in his field on December 2. He said about half of the farmers in his village had opted for the cultivation of Chinigura that season while 9 out of 10 farmers in the neighbouringBagdhana village had planted the variety.
“Generally, Swarna gives a yield of about 18-20 maunds per bigha [one bigha equals 33 decimals], and the Pyjam gives about 15-16 maunds. But this season, the flood had caused a yield loss of about five maunds per bigha. Those who cultivated Chinigura immediately after the recession of the flood water were fortunate enough to recuperate the loss,” Rabbani said.
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“The cultivation of this Atap (non-boiled) rice costs less for the seeds and fertilizers. You can get a yield of 19 maunds by planting only two kilograms of seeds in one bigha of land,” he added.
Farmers in the area noted that cultivation of the Chinigura variety enables the cultivation of three crops a year instead of two crops. Although the yield is a bit less compared to the conventional varieties, it earns about Tk 1,300-1,400 per mound.
Rice fields turn into mango orchards
As this correspondent travelled across the villages in Sapaharupazila, she came across numerous mango orchards on the roadside fields. The locals noted that most of the mango orchards had been rice fields just three years ago.
The groundwater level in this region has depleted to a great extent and most of the farmers cannot afford the cost of the irrigation. The fact that mango plantations do not require much irrigation is the driving factor behind the conversion.
MdMajumder, a mango orchard owner at Sapahar Bazar, said: “There is no loss in mango plantation. We can make profit from the orchards within just one-and-a-half-year of the establishment. Rice cultivation will give you a profit of Tk 4,000-5,000 per bigha, whereas you will make a profit of Tk 70,000-80,000 from a mango orchard of the same size.”
Records kept at the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) show that the acreage of paddy during Boro season in Naogaon has shrunk to 6,280 hectares in 2017 from 10,200 hectares five years ago.
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Monojit Kumar, deputy director of Naogaon DAE, told the Dhaka Tribune that the farmers have gradually been turning away from paddy cultivation as they are failing to make much profit from it.
“The hybrid paddy gives them higher yield, but the market price shrinks when the production is high. That is why many farmers are looking for alternatives. Some of them are going for mango plantations instead of paddy cultivation, while some are taking up vegetable gardening. Many among the farmers have either given up agricultural activities, or have ended up selling off their lands.”
Jakir Hossain of Baliagari village in NaogaonSadarupazila used to be a full time farmer just a few years ago. Subsequent losses with the paddy harvest forced him to look for an alternative livelihood.
Now he runs a fertilizer shop in the locality. “I faced losses with the paddy cultivation. Now I spend more time and money in fertilizer business, though still continuing paddy cultivation to a small extent.”
Additional reporting by Sazzadur Rahman Sazzad, KhondakerMdAbdurRouf, and MdFaruk Hossain