FT Online

2019-05-12 10:37:15 BdST

Bumper Boro yield: Millers eat up farmers' pie

Farmers are left in the lurch because of falling paddy prices this peak Boro harvest period, only benefitting millers and traders.

The government's drives to procure 1.2 million tonnes of the staple and export 1.0 million tonnes have failed the peasantry, market observers maintained.

Boro is the largest crop in Bangladesh with its 55 per cent contribution to the national rice production.

Department of Agricultural Marketing and the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) data showed paddy prices declining by 35 to 40 per cent last month.

Boro harvest began in the country's lowlands in April.

But milled rice prices remained almost the same level during the period as coarse rice sold at Tk 36-40 a kilogram, medium Birridhan-28 at Tk 48-50 in Dhaka.

Finer rice miniket, jeerashail and najirshail sold at Tk 55-68 a kg, according to the TCB.

Seasonal Birridhan-28 paddy is selling at Tk 520-600 per maund (40kg) in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, haor and other regions now.

The production cost of paddy was Tk 780-900 a maund based on areas during the time, the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) data showed.

The Boro acreage, however, was 4.824 million hectares this fiscal year -- a 1.0 per cent rise in a year.

The government expects a record output of 19.7 million tonnes of rice, DAE director general Mir Nural Alam said.

More than 48 per cent of harvest has so far been completed in the country, he added.

Mr Alam said the outgoing fiscal year is a bumper year for rice as Aman production also made a record.

Jasim Uddin, a farmer from Shahbajpur under Jashore Sadar, said Boro was produced at Tk 28,000 per bigha (48 decimals in his area) this season.

But they were getting 35-36 maunds of paddy worth only Tk 20,000-21,000 per bigha, he mentioned.

Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation president Zainal Abedin said their study of three districts in Rangpur and Jashore regions found farmers incurring 33 to 40 per cent loss this year.

Farmers have "no access" to government procurement drive, he told the FE.

"Traders, millers and local power elite were eating up all benefits, thus depriving both farmers and consumers," Mr Abedin said.

Arifur Rahman Apu, head of the directorate general of food, said robust local production has lessened rice imports recently.

The government procured 1.4 million tonnes of rice last season. It has targeted 1.2 million tonnes this year.

He said bumper productions have helped the government contemplate permitting 1.0 million tonnes of exports.

"We have a stock of 1.037 million tonnes of rice at the moment," Mr Apu stated.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) researcher Iqbal Ahmed said successive bumper crops have resulted in the fall in paddy prices, hurting the farmers.

The government should buy paddy directly from farmers so that they could make some profits, he observed.

Mr Ahmed said time is ripe for the government to start minimum support price to keep farmers in cultivation-now a key challenge for rapid diversification of economic activity.

"If farmers are not compensated for their losses, they would be discouraged to grow more rice," he commented.

"And rice production might fall next fiscal year like that in fiscal year 2013," the researcher said.

Dr Abdul Hamid, chairman of Agrarian Research Foundation, said production cost is rising year on year, but prices remain almost stagnant considering the past five years' harvest seasons.

The farmers should be given direct cash subsidy and input subsidies to reduce output cost, he suggested.

Mr Hamid said the government's projects to provide farmers with modern equipment should be interest-free.

However, the international rice market showed a slight decline this week.

Indian and Vietnamese parboiled rice now sells at $358-382 per tonne against $360-385 a week back, according to food ministry.

The ministry data shows importable rice price is Tk 34.156 to Tk 37 a kg now when prices of same quality local rice is Tk 28-32.

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