It is the farmers who should be the main beneficiary of government food procurement plans
At a time when the prices of coarse rice have registered nearly a 37 percent increase year over year, the government’s announcement of a plan to buy paddy and rice from farmers and millers in the upcoming Aman harvesting season comes as a welcome move.
The initiative to boost its rather below par food stock by procuring from the growers and millers sends a good message to the volatile rice market. It gives confidence to rice traders and consumers alike that the Aman harvest will not be as bad as feared owing to the floods this year.
A stock of over 1.5 million tons of food grain in public granaries is always considered a good threshold level to maintain for the government. A comfortable stock gives the government the power to intervene if and when the market behaves erratically.
The government’s current food reserve in hand is just little over one million tons.
If replenishing its food stock is just one idea behind the public procurement of grains, the other important goal is to give price support to the farmers who grow the paddy.
But year after year, the food department’s lack of initiative in buying paddy directly from the growers has resulted in millers and traders gaining out of the price supports, instead of the growers.
Unfortunately, the Aman procurement plan that the inter-ministerial Food Planning and Monitoring Committee (FPMC) released on Wednesday does not put farmers at the centre of the plan.
During last year’s Aman harvest season, the government bought well over half a million tons of paddy directly from the growers and over 300,000 tons more from the rice millers. However, in this year’s procurement plan, the government will buy only 200,000 tons of paddy from the farmers and 600,000 tons of rice from the millers.
If this year’s previous big rice season’s (Boro) experience is anything to go by, we will again see the ostensible government instruction from the top is somehow not translated into action.
The government high-ups clearly wanted to reach procurement price benefits to the farmers and had accordingly set a target of buying 800,000 tons of paddy directly from the growers.
Unfortunately, the Food Department bought only a quarter of the targeted volume from the farmers. It, however, purchased a huge bulk of over one million tons of rice from the millers and middlemen, thereby not reaching the price benefits directly to the farmers.
Market sources say the same section of dishonest millers and middlemen who got the major piece of the government’s food procurement pie, later largely ignored a Food Ministry call to not hoard and not artificially hike the price of rice, particularly coarse rice that the poor and ultra-poor largely consume.
According to yesterday’s price monitoring report of essentials by the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the price of coarse rice registered the steepest rise of nearly 37 percent compared to its price in the corresponding period last year, while that of finer and medium varieties rose by 10 to 12 percent.
The Food Department’s procurement drive will work well if the department enhances its own capacity to reach out to the farmers and procure paddy directly from them rather than depending on the whims of rice millers and middlemen, a section of whom are notorious for hoarding rice and increasing the price artificially, to the detriment of all.