FARMERS, who largely have not received fair prices for their produces for years, are now floundering in problems caused by the COVID-19 emergency and natural disaster such as prolonged flooding that have disrupted not only their activities but have also constrained the marketing of their produces and products and affected the crop farming cycle. Farmers could not cultivate the aman crop in more than a third of the areas that have faced flooding since June and in low-lying central areas that are still inundated. While fish farms have been washed away during the flood, with the investment having already disappeared, livestock resources are in a difficult situation because of an acute shortage of fodder. Vegetable growers and poultry and dairy farmers have also been hit hard because of a disruption in the supply chain. The livelihood of more than half of the population is directly or indirectly related to agriculture, which accounts for about a quarter of the gross domestic product. About four-fifths of the farmers are small-scale growers and a majority of them do not have adequate access to land and do not have enough money to grow crops, which makes them highly dependent on loans and forces them to sell their products and produces to money lenders in advance.
Experts believe that farmers have never been so much distressed as many of them might never get back to farming unless the government helps them with cash aid and other incentives such as loans on low interest. Experts also believe that such a situation is a reason to be worried about because unless the farmers are able to get back in harness, food security could face some challenges. The Department of Agricultural Extension in the data it has released centrally has not given any indication of the distress and, rather, said that it was only 0.5 per cent behind its aman farming target while the farming of vegetables, aus, jute and maize have exceeded expectations. But the agency’s Rangpur divisional office says that 83,000 hectares of land targeted for aman farming have still been unused although the season has almost been over. The agricultural ministry in the middle of August said that flooding had destroyed aman crop worth Tk 3.8 billion, with initial damage in agriculture said to have been estimated at Tk 13.23 billion when about a quarter million farmers in 37 districts have been affected. The official data are said not to have considered losses to be resulting from late aman farming. Such a situation also speaks of inadequacy in the assessment of losses, which the government should immediately attend to.
There has so far been no cash aid for farmers but for Tk 195 billion for distribution to farmers at 4 per cent interest to help them to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. The government, in the first of a series of economic measures to cope with the emergency, earlier announced a package of Tk 50 billion for export-oriented industrial sectors at a service charge of only 2 per cent. There is, therefore, no reason for the government not to announce a favourable package of cash aid in grant and loans for a large number of farmers to cope with not only COVID-19 fallout but also other issues that have put them in such a difficulty. The government must immediately deal with the issue.
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