The government has announced an allocation of Tk100 crore to procure machines for harvesting paddy and reduce dependency on labourers
Boro paddy is ready to be harvested all across Bangladesh as Boisakh (Bengali month) approaches, but it is now under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Farmers are worried about harvesting as there is a shortage of farm labourers due to a countrywide transport suspension in line with the general holidays declared by the government.
Apart from this, many parts of the country are under lockdown. People are instructed to stay at home and going outside after sunset is now considered a legal offence.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statics (BBS), farmers from around 25 districts are dependent on farm labourers from other places during harvest time.
Districts like Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Narsingdi and Chittagong are facing an acute crisis of farm labourers.
Moreover, districts in the haor area— Kishoreganj, Sunamganj, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sylhet, Brahmanbaria -- as well as Feni, Munshiganj and Patuakhali also need to hire labourers and are under moderate crisis.
The farmers from the acute and moderate crisis areas mostly hire labourers from Jamalpur, Sherpur, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Kurigram, Jessore, Netrokona, Gaibandha, Meherpur, Naogaon, Natore, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Jhenaidah, Chuadanga, Joypurhat, Rangpur and Nilphamari districts.
However, there is a restriction on their movements due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This creates a big challenge for the farmers, especially in haor area, as they will get only about three weeks to harvest the paddy for soon there will be flash floods in the beginning of May.
During a recent visit to the haor area, our correspondents found that farmers are almost prepared to harvest Boro crops and some have already started.
“Labourers from Mymensingh districts used to come to Sunamganj to harvest paddy but this year they are not here yet,” said a farmer from Sunamganj haor area on Sunday.
Jamshed Ali, a farmer from Balaganj upazila of Sylhet, said: “I am worried that I will not be able to harvest all my crops in due time as there is a shortage of workers because of the countrywide shutdown.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already ordered the district administration and police to help the agriculture labourers and send them to their respective destinations.
However, in reality most labourers do not want to move to other district as they do not have identity cards to prove themselves as farm labourers.
“If we move to another part of the country, we might have to stay there even after the harvest period, as the pandemic may turn deadly in Bangladesh,” said Abul Kalam, a farm labourer from Jamalpur.
“Moreover, bus owners will increase the fares as there is no assurance that they will get a return trip,” he added.
Meanwhile, the government has announced an allocation of Tk100 crore to procure machines for harvesting paddy so that a fewer number of labourers is required.
The government has also planned to supply some harvesting machines to the farmers from their own stock.
However, such initiatives might not be sufficient as the government is mainly focusing on the haor area, whereas there are many other districts which produce Boro paddy.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the government has set a target to produce 20.43 million tons of Boro paddy in the current fiscal year. Out of the total, 3.745 million tons paddy will be produced in seven of the districts under the haor area, which is almost 20% of the total target.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, a total of 180 combined harvesters and 137 ripper machines have been allocated for districts under the haor area.
Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Nasiruzzaman said: “It is time to harvest Boro paddy. Seasonal labourers from different parts of the country, including North Bengal, will start moving to the haor regions.
“So all concerned have been requested to ensure that all their travels and movements are smooth and in accordance to the health guidelines.
“We have already provided harvesting machines to farmers which may reduce dependency on labourers,” he added.