MICROCREDIT lenders reportedly pressuring farmers in Sunamganj — who are as yet financially unstable and unable to manage daily meals after their crops had been damaged by flooding in March — to repay the instalment of the loans that they took after the flood in their efforts to get on a stable footing is concerning. While managers of such non-governmental microfinance institutions said that they had instructed their workers not to pressure the clients for loan instalments, the farmers who have borrowed money said that they were being pressured to pay the instalments in time and were even being threatened that they would be given no further loans if they did not replay the instalments. What field workers of the agencies have said also corroborates the farmers’ accounts. The field workers said that they had been directed to apply tactics of all kinds but for physical assault to push their clients to pay back in time the money that they took. The situation is reported to have reached such a pass that farmers had to sell their cattle to repay the loan instalment, leaving their family half-fed and without repairing their thatched houses that were damaged in the flood.
While such an action of the microcredit lenders is inhuman, this clearly shows that the lenders stand in breach of the government’s instruction not to collect loan instalments from the farmers until the next boro harvest. The prime minister on April 30 asked non-governmental organisations, microcredit lenders and banks not to collect, or pressure the farmers to pay, loan instalments until the harvest of the next crop and to provide them with fresh loans if they need them. Standing boro rice on 1,66,612 out of 2,23,082 hectares of wetlands in the district was, as New Age reported on Thursday, damaged by the flood, putting 350,000 farmers in trouble. Besides, about 50,000 fishermen came to be affected because of the fish morality in major wetlands and water bodies, caused by severe water pollution, in Sunamganj in the middle of April. Seedbeds of 1,200 hectares and transplanted aman on 9,500 out of 28,000 hectares were also damaged and about 3,000 houses were either destroyed or damaged in the latest flooding that began in the middle of August. In such a situation, it will spell a disaster if the government cannot stop the microcredit lenders from pressuring the farmers of Sunamganj to replay their loans.
While the government must not only act in accordance with the prime minister’s instruction and stop lenders from getting onto the farmers, but also must see through that the instruction is followed in all other areas as 22 districts have recently been flooded, leaving farmers there in a similar situation. Besides, the Microcredit Regulatory Authority, set up in 2006 to supervise microfinance operations of non-governmental agencies and to work in areas of financial inclusion, must also play a role in stopping microcredit lenders from menacing farmers for the repayment of loans.
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