By the time Saminul Islam reached the government buying centre with 500kg of paddy on Thursday, the officials had already wrapped up the procurement activities there. No more buying, he was told, because the procurement limit was reached.
With a sullen face, the farmer returned home to Dhairkhata village in Lalmonirhat sadar upazila, and all the Tk 400 he spent on carrying the grain from his home and back went to waste. The government buying centre, known as the local supply depot (LSD), is located on Kalibari Road in the upazila headquarters, 3.5km from his home.
“I got 55 maunds of paddy (2.2 tonnes) from three and a half bighas of land this season. I sold two maunds for Tk 900 in the local market due to family necessity,” he said. “I thought I would get Tk 13,000 from selling the 500kg, and do the Eid shopping for my family.”
Saminul is a listed farmer and can sell up to 500kg of paddy against the agriculture card he has. But the number of listed farmers far exceeds the number of farmers from whom the food directorate could buy the amount specified by the government. So, whoever could force their way early to the LSD could make a sale, and the rest did not.
Food Inspector Tariqul Islam, who was assigned at the Kalibari Road depot, said he was authorised to procure 242 tonnes of paddy from 484 listed farmers (500kg each), but the agricultural department sent them a list of 6,500 farmers.
“So, I followed the ‘first come, first served’ policy, and made the purchase after verifying their agriculture cards and the list,” he said.
He acknowledged that many farmers failed to make sales.
Another listed farmer, Taibur Rahman, 52, of Jummapara in Lalmonirhat municipality, faced the same problem. He alleged that rice mill owners, businessmen ad politically-connected people were able to sell, while “genuine” farmers like him could not.
Farmer Saminul said, “We, the marginal farmers, get deprived whereas politically-backed farmers, and businessmen are benefited.”
A rice mill owner in Lalmonirhat town, Uzzal Hossain, said he sold 500kg of paddy to the government depot at the sadar upazila. “Many other rice mill owners, businessmen, even political people, sold theirs as they are also farmers,” he said.
On Thursday, Amjad Hossain, 56, a farmer and Awami League activist at Gokunda village, sold 1,000kg of paddy at the Teesta depot in the upazila headquarters.
“I made the sale against two agriculture cards -- one is mine and the other is my wife’s. My wife got the card as she works with me and thus also a farmer,” he said.
Amjad harvested about 31 tonnes of paddy from five bighas of land, he said.
However, Amjad’s co-villager and farmer Naser Ali, 58, failed to sell his paddy at the Teesta depot on the same day. “I saw political people and businessmen crowding the supply depot, and the food inspector preferred them over us,” he said.
When asked, the food inspector at the Teesta depot, Harunur Rashid, said, “I was allowed to buy only 115 tonnes of paddy from 230 farmers where the list has 3,800 farmers. I made all the procurement after matching the agriculture cards with the list.”
The officer said he had police deployed at the depot after he was threatened on Wednesday when two groups of farmers affiliated with the ruling party clashed over who would sell their produce first.
Talking to The Daily Star, most of the marginalised farmers in Lalmonirhat’s other upazilas including Aditmari, Kaliganj, Hatibandha, and Patgram said they failed to make sales.
This boro season, 310,105 tonnes of paddy were grown on 48,150 hectares of land in Lalmonirhat’s five upazilas. But the government set the procurement limit at only 1,493 tonnes from 2,986 farmers while there are 55,000 farmers on the list in this district. It means that less than six percent of the listed farmers could make sales.
Enamul Haque, agriculture officer at Lalmonirhat sadar upazila, said, “We made the list of farmers based on our survey. Whoever has land and lives on farming was enlisted.”
When asked why the procurement limit exceeds the number of listed farmers, he said, “We enlisted all the farmers who came to us, and sent the list to the food directorate. It is the responsibility of the food directorate to decide how they would procure.”