A selling price that is half the cost of production has inflamed rice farmers across the country
This season has seen perhaps one of the best paddy yields in recent years. But instead of rejoicing, farmers are in despair with lamentably low market prices. Over the past three weeks, a bountiful harvest has been overshadowed by the grief and travesty of rice farmers throughout Bangladesh.
Protests have erupted in villages, towns, districts, and in the capital as well. In some areas, a standout form of protest has been to set a rice field on fire in order to send a very clear message: selling at current prices is the worse option.
Currently, paddy is sold wholesale at Tk450-500 for every maund (1 maund=40kg). Many farmers have said the cost of harvesting each maund of paddy is between Tk1,000 and Tk1,500. Other reports say farmers suffer a loss of at least Tk300 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.
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Of a 161,000 tons of paddy harvested in Shariatpur, the Food Division has announced it will purchase only 740 tons. A bitter twist is that while the government is procuring so little paddy, it is also buying 1,613 tons of rice from the district as well. This trade essentially cuts the farmer out of the picture as wholesale buyers and middlemen buy from farmers at low prices and sell high to the government, effectively setting up the current crisis that hundreds of thousands of farmers are living through.
There are growing concerns that the crisis of paddy prices may force farmers to shift away from rice to other cash crops.
In Moulvibazar, fine weather and hardly any pestilence have helped bring in a brilliant harvest. But farmers remain fearful as market prices cannot cover the cost of harvesting. The price barely covers labour wage and leaves next to nothing to bring any positive change to the lives of farmers.
Under the circumstances, farmers have grown a grievance against authorities, whom they accuse of being negligent and unsympathetic to the plight of those who rely on paddy for their livelihood.
In Rajshahi, as protests erupted throughout the city, MP Fazle Hossain Badsha, general secretary of Bangladesh Workers’ Party, said the price of paddy can be no less than Tk1,100 per maund.
The MP noted that Bangladesh is now entirely self-sufficient in food, a great leap from its past as a famine-ridden country. He praised the farmers whose backbreaking work has helped Bangladesh achieve food security, but lamented the lack of government initiative to help the farmers.
LDA urges govt to buy paddy directly from farmers
The Left Democratic Alliance (LDA) urged the government to directly buy paddy from farmers to ensure fair prices, at a rally organized by the Jatiya Samajtanrik Dal in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, yesterday.
Addressing the issue of the low price of paddy, Revolutionary Workers Party General Secretary, Saiful Huq, said: "We have had a great yield of paddy this year and our farmers are being punished for this by the government.”
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He said: “Our agriculture minister recently said his ministry can do nothing for the sake of farmers.
“The agriculture minister should have resigned out of his own moral responsibility before he said something like this.”
LDA central leader Liakat Ali said: "Farmers are setting their paddy on fire in protest.”
MP Hasanul Haq Inu said: “The government must stop importing rice and think about exporting it.
Legal notice served to government
A legal notice has been served to the secretaries of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture to buy paddy directly from farmers at a fair price.
Supreme Court lawyer, Mohammed Emdadul Haque Sumon, sent the notice by post. The notice cautioned that a writ will be filed with the High Court if necessary steps are not taken within three working days.
In addition, the notice asked for withdrawal of the permission to import rice and take necessary steps to facilitate export of rice in order to provide farmers a fair price. Furthermore, it suggested the government take initiative to maintain firm regulations to ensure fair prices for paddy farmers.
On Saturday, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is worried about the falling prices of paddy across Bangladesh and the effect it is having on farmers.
He also said the government is looking for ways to address the issue.
Mizanur Rahman, Dhaka; Kazi Nazrul Islam, Shariatpur; Saiful Islam, Moulvibazar; Abdullah Al Dulal, Rajshahi; Abdullah Al Numan, Tangail; and Biswajit Dev, Jamalpur, contributed to this report