HEAVY losses stare in the face of aman growers as the government procurement programme, which began on November 20, has so far failed to afford them any relief because of irregularities in the process, controlled by middlemen and millers. The government has set the price of Tk 1,040 for 40 kilograms of paddy and will buy six lakh tonnes of paddy and four lakh tonnes of rice directly from farmers, but farmers complain that the government is not buying paddy or rice directly from them, which has forced them to sell 40 kilograms of paddy for Tk 700, Tk 300 below the production cost. The government has, moreover, plans to buy only 10 lakh tonnes, which is 6.5 per cent of the total harvest of 1.53 crore tonnes. The government, as the food ministry web site says, has already procured 22,667 tonnes of rice from millers in November 20–December 22 and has begun procuring paddy from farmers on 16 locations. A situation like this stands farmers where they would not even get their investment in production.
In the boro season of May–July, farmers faced a similar problem and had to sell paddy for prices between Tk 500 and Tk 600, much below the production cost, prompting wide protests among farmers, some of whom are reported to have burnt their produces before harvest. The government procurement programme that time proved to be futile and could not afford the farmers any relief although the government, later, procured paddy directly from farmers at a few places. Farmers and experts have for long blamed a syndicated hoarding by millers and middlemen for the decline in paddy prices in the absence of any regulating mechanism to protect farmer’s interest. Besides, the growing production cost because of a cumulative dependence on agro-industry leaves farmers in a vulnerable position, many of whom were reportedly disappointed about rice production and started opting for other crops. Any such happening might have an alarming consequence. The government’s intention, as the food minister said in July, to build 200 silos across the country and procure more rice directly from farmers to save them has so far remained in words only.
The government, under the circumstances, must intervene and look into whether there is any syndicated hoarding or manipulated procurement and take necessary steps. The government must also scale up its procurement programme to cover a significant amount of the total production and buy paddy and rice directly from farmers. Long-term initiatives such as building an adequate number of silos to increase the government’s storage capacity, which now stands at a worryingly low level, are a must too.
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