184,440 hectares of land still left to be harvested
Alongside lack of technology and other high paid jobs, there is a huge shortage of farm hands in Sunamganj during harvest season.
Farmers are forced to pay high wages to agricultural field labour - ranging from Tk500 to Tk700 per day. Many students start working in the fields instead of going to school, to ensure their food security.
Farmer Shona Mia from Sadokpur village of Mollapara union in Sadar upazila said: “In planting season, an agricultural labourer got Tk500 in daily wages, and now at harvest it is Tk600 to Tk700, equal to 1.5 maunds of paddy.”
“Price of every maund of paddy varies from Tk400 to Tk500, whereas we have to pay wages of Tk600 to Tk700 per day. There is no balance between our income and expenditure,” added farmer Bindu Bihari Das from the same village.
Harmuj Ali from Abdullahpur village said: “Due to a shortage of labourers, we need to pay twice or thrice the amount of regular wages, incurring a loss for us farmers.”
Radha Rani Das from Sadokpur village added: “My sons have to work in the fields now instead of going to school. Otherwise, labourers take away whatever rice is produced.”
“The fields are filled with ripe paddy and my family cannot afford labourers, so I am working in the fields instead of going to school,” said Sumon Das, a seventh grader from Charmahallah High School.
Thousand of hectares of ripe paddy, mostly Boro, are left untouched in this harvest time. They are at high risk of getting damaged by natural calamities.
Another farmer, Mohon Das, said: “Production is declining as grain is falling off from plants. Ten minutes of hailstorm and rain will destroy the rest of the crops.”
Boro is cultivated on 228,440 hectares of land in 95 haor areas of 11 upazilas. According to the District Agriculture Extension office, 1,312,974 tons of paddy has been cultivated on these lands, from where 875,000 tons of rice worth Tk3,150 crore will be produced.
Everyday 25 labourers are required to harvest a single hectare of land. So in total, 5,611,000 labourers are required to complete the job, which is double the whole population of the district.
“A labourer works on 15% of the land that produces 7 or 8 maunds of rice. From there I need to sell 1.5 maunds to pay his wages,” Abdul Khaleq, farmer from Isagari village, said: “Then I have to pay more for threshing.”
A local, Motindro Das, added: “I have heard about a harvesting machine but never seen it. Government can give farmers easy loans for buying those machines.”
Deputy Director of the District Agriculture Extension Office, Bashir Ahmed Sarker, said: “Farmers are given suggestions regularly on how to face this crisis. Necessary steps are being taken to provide them with harvesting machines at a subsidized rate.
“Not only government but private organizations should come forward to help them, as the machines are too expensive for farmers to afford,” he added.
Deputy Director of Local Government Division, Emran Hossain, said: “All local leaders have been ordered to support farmers. Due to higher wages, labourers move to stone and sand mines. We have requested mine owners to stop their work, to help out the farmers.
“Sunamganj contributes to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with its rice production, but 84,440 hectares of land is still left for harvesting,” he added.