Boro cultivation rises on higher prices
Rice cultivation has increased during the current Boro season as farmers have been encouraged by higher prices for the kitchen staple.
Total acreage of the irrigation based crop rose 3 per cent year-on-year to 48.83 lakh hectares from 47.62 lakh hectares the previous year, according to estimates by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
"Because of the increased price of rice, farmers have allocated a larger portion of land, where they grew maize and wheat earlier, for Boro rice cultivation," said DAE Director General Md Asadullah.
The chief of the department said the latest estimate of acreage is final.
"Crop conditions look excellent. We expect a good crop unless there is no natural calamity before harvesting," he added.
Harvested mainly in the April-May period, Boro rice accounted for 54 per cent of total production of 3.65 crore tonnes of rice in fiscal 2019-20, data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics showed.
During the current fiscal year beginning from July, agricultural production suffered because of repeated floods that fueled price hikes for the staple grains amid concerns and speculation among farmers, millers and trades of reduced yields of Aman, which provided 39 per cent of the total rice output in fiscal 2019-20.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last month said output from two rice crops -- Boro and Aus -- had been good because of generally favourable weather conditions in 2020.
However, production of Aman crop, harvested by the end of last year, was estimated to be at its lowest level in three years due to flash floods between July and August, it added.
The UN agency said favourable weather conditions since the beginning of November 2020, strong domestic prices, ample supplies of irrigation water, above-average June to October monsoon rains and support for planting activities benefitted crop germination.
It also said the government encouraged hybrid rice cultivation through a series of measures, including financial support and provision of hybrid seeds to increase productivity this season.
Asadullah said the incentive brought about results. Farmers planted hybrid rice on 12 lakh hectares this season, up 33 per cent from 9 lakh hectares the previous year, said the DAE Chief.
Farmers are also turning to some new varieties of rice.
"Farmers respond positively and increase cultivation when prices remain high as they expect profitable prices," said Jahangir Alam, an agricultural economist.
"There may be a dispute about the actual acreage but it is true that farmers have cultivated the grains on a higher area of land after Aman rice production dropped for floods," he added.
On March 10, the FAO said the price of rice had been steady in February and were well above their earlier-year levels.
The UN agency said in Dhaka markets, rice prices held steady in February and were 40 per cent higher than that of a year earlier.
Prices saw a continuous increase in the previous 11 months, reflecting tight market supply following stagnant production for three consecutive years, limited imports and strong demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Now the question is whether farmers will get fair prices for their produce," he said citing the arrival of rice imported by the food ministry and private traders.
Until March 15, the total amount of rice imported was 5 lakh tonnes, data from the food ministry showed.
Alam said the government has plans to allow imports of 10-15 lakh tonnes of rice, which may affect farmers in the coming harvest.
"This is the concern," he said. "The government should ensure that growers are getting profitable prices."
He added that the government should buy 10 per cent of the paddy grown by farmers for 20 per cent higher prices than the cost of production.
"The government can hire private sector entities to store the grains as it does not have enough capacity. It can also use godowns of the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation to store grains," he said.