Eighty-eight per cent farmers have suffered economic losses because of the production and marketing challenges induced by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to two surveys carried out by Brac recently.
Nationally, farmers lost Tk 56,536.68 crore in estimated income in one and a half months and more than Tk 2 lakh on an average.
This was experienced by 100 per cent of fish farmers, 97 per cent of livestock, 93 per cent of poultry and 81 per cent of crops and vegetables.
The findings were shared at an online media briefing yesterday.
Some 42 per cent had no way to cope with the crisis, while 95 per cent have not yet received any form of support.
Around 82 per cent do not see the problems going away soon and 41 per cent find loans the sole way to survive if they are unable to produce next season.
Around 64 per cent heard about the government stimulus for them but 79 per cent do not know how to avail it. Though the assistance is scheduled to be delivered through banks, only 20 per cent of farmers have previous experience of taking bank loans.
In order to recover from the losses, 68 per cent farmers are seeking credit on easy terms, 58 per cent fair prices of produce, 48 per cent availability of inputs at fair prices and 45 per cent full operation of markets.
Aiming to get an insight about the impact of the COVID-19 on agriculture and food security, the surveys were carried out among 1,581 farmers over the phone and 21 wholesalers, retailers and input sellers covering 64 districts from the end of March till mid-May.
One focused on the situation faced by farmers at the grassroots producing crops and vegetables, poultry, fisheries and livestock. The other survey concentrated on the changed market situation and how it has failed to serve the farmers during the lockdown.
Using secondary price data of the state-run Department of Agricultural Marketing, it found panic buying in late March led the prices of essential items such as rice to go up by 300 per cent and then came down in early May for drying up of demand.
However, this in some cases such as that of poultry led to a reduction in production, causing a 26 per cent rise in prices from in the last week of April. Farm gate prices dropped for poultry (44 per cent), dairy (22 per cent) and vegetables (38 per cent to 90 per cent).
The studies suggested establishing innovative farmer-friendly credit disbursement systems, including microfinance institutions and NGOs alongside collection centres closer to smallholder producers.
Farmers' produce could be distributed through open market sale and as relief and midday meals while allied sectors such as that of seed, fertilizer, feed, storage and transport be incentivised, said the studies.
They also recommended subsidising poultry, fishery and livestock subsectors with inputs and developing guidelines to help farmers remain productive in this "new normal" situation.
Professor Emeritus MA Sattar Mandal, former vice-chancellor of the Bangladesh Agricultural University, suggested local government representatives act as guarantors so that farmers can fast avail bank loans.
He advocated for the upcoming budget to focus on farm mechanisation and associated research at universities and backward and forward linkage support. FH Ansarey, executive director of ACI Agribusiness, said the previous three months' produce helped get through the pandemic shutdown period and so measures should be taken fast to get by the coming months.
He advocated for ensuring working capital and technical assistance for farmers, establishing storage facilities under public-private initiative and reducing tax on agricultural products.
Eleash Mridha, managing director of Pran, said the pandemic pointed out the role middlemen play and restrictions should be relaxed in areas where infections were not present.
Five farmers joined the meeting to share their experience.