Despite different initiatives, most of the paddy farmers in Sunamganj are not benefitting from the government’s ongoing food procurement programme allegedly because of the actions of middlemen and lack of monitoring.
While only a minority of farmers (less than seven percent of the total number) are eligible to sell paddy, many middlemen are using fake farmer cards or allegedly resorting to foul play, depriving genuine farmers. But nobody is watching this, the farmers alleged.
This year the government is buying one maund of paddy for Tk 1,040. But most farmers are not in the government list. As a result, they are being forced to sell their produce in the open market at Tk 520-650 per maund.
To ensure the fair price, the government came up with different initiatives including announcing a 20 percent incentive on rice export so that businessmen buy more paddy from farmers and export more. In addition, the government raised its paddy procurement target from 1.5 lakh tonnes to 4 lakh tonnes from across the country.
Still most farmers do not get the benefit.
In Sunamganj, 3.84 lakh farmers have produced 13.18 lakh tonnes of paddy this boro season, but the government will procure only 17,353 tonnes from 25,000 farmers, according to the district food office and Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
The government will also buy 31,977 tonnes of rice from 300 millers.
Procurement will continue till August 31.
HOW FARMERS ARE SELECTED
First of all, representatives of local government bodies like union parishads prepare a list of farmers. Then the local DAE office arranges lotteries and selects the farmers from whom the government would procure paddy.
Ashish Kumar Roy, food officer in Shalla upazila, said it was not possible to buy paddy from all the farmers. For example, 6,619 farmers in the upazila applied to sell paddy to the government, but only 912 were selected through lottery.
However, farmers alleged that there was some foul play involved, which favours people associated with the ruling party.
Khairul Bashar Thakur Khan, legal affairs secretary of the central committee of Krishak Sangram Samity, said the government officials are favouring the ruling party men in the name of lottery, and thus depriving real farmers.
Middlemen are also playing a role in depriving farmers of their profits.
Mohammad Ali, a member of North Baradal Union Parishad of Tahirpur upazila, said farmer Abdul Malek of Brahmangaon village died three years ago, but a middleman sold paddy using the dead man’s farmer card. This is one of many instances of how middlemen, who are locally influential, use fake cards, he said.
WHAT HAPPENS TO MOST FARMERS
Visiting Madhaynagar rice market in Dharmapasha upazila, the biggest rice wholesale market of Sunamganj, this correspondent found that rice mill owners were buying paddy directly from farmers.
Kamrul Islam, a farmer from Karchar Haor in Bishwambhapur upazila, said, “I’m selling paddy here for Tk 550-650 per maund because I was not selected in the government’s lottery. I may give up paddy cultivation in the future.”
Only eight out of 190 farmers in his village made it to the final list through lottery, he said, adding that they got the fair price, but the rest did not.
Farmer Swapan Kumar Barman of Bishwambhapur said most farmers of his village took bank loans for paddy cultivation. Since they are not getting fair price, they do not know how they would repay the loans. “One maund of paddy is not worth even 1kg of hilsa. How can we survive?” he asked.
Jyotirmoy Roy, a rice trader and president of Madhyanagar Dhan Arotdar Samity, said, “We are buying paddy at Tk 540-680 per maund as farmers are desperate to sell their paddy for survival.”
Bazlul Majid Chowdhury Khasru, president of Haor Bachao Sunamganj Bachao Andolon, claimed that farmers were forced to sell paddy to middlemen at a lower price due to the lack of government’s monitoring and proper initiatives.
The government has so far bought 9,444 tonnes of paddy and 16,496 tonnes of rice till yesterday (August 19) in Sunamganj, according to the district food controller.
Contacted, Sunamganj District Food Controller Zakaria Mostafa said DAE enlisted the farmers under supervision of local UP chairmen and the upazila executive officers.
“We cannot verify who is a middleman or who is a farmer. We collect paddy only after seeing the farmer card. None of us is involved in irregularities,” he said.
When told that they have procured only 50 percent of the target since April, he said, “We will apply for an extension of the procurement period.”
Md Safar Uddin, deputy director of local DAE office, also denied the allegation of irregularities.