Paddy growers in a tight spot
Gloom prevails among the growers in the face of falling prices of coarse paddy, stoking concerns that low prices will cause small producers to run into debt and prevent them from going for the next crop.
Several farmers say traders are offering as low as Tk 580 for a maund of coarse paddy, namely Swarna, Gutiswarna and BR-11, down from as high as Tk 750 in December.
Prices of a maund of coarse paddy—which roughly accounts for 35 percent of the total annual production of aman of 1.40 crore tonnes—hovered around Tk 650 in January, according to growers from the north, the country's main farming zone.
“It would be tough to cultivate the next crop if the current prices prevail after the harvesting of the boro paddy. Many growers will fall into the vicious cycle of debt,” said Mohammad Mokhlesar, a 50-year-old farmer of Adamdighi in the northwestern district of Bogura.
Mokhlesar has planted paddy on 2.90 acres of land, which includes his own and rented land, and sold 10 maunds of Swarna at Tk 620 per maund yesterday to buy fertilizer and pesticides to take care of the current boro crop.
“I sold the same paddy at Tk 750 in December and was able to make some profit,” he said, adding that the existing prices do not offer margin to him.
Refayet Ullah, a farmer in Pirgachha of northwestern district of Rangpur, said prices of the coarse grain have been on the downward trend for the last two weeks.
“There is no appetite in the market. This is usually the reverse from the trend of the previous year when we saw the prices to rise in the off-season,” he said.
The farmer is in need of money to buy fertilizer but is in doubt whether to sell the grain at the current prices.
Farmers produced good crops in the previous seasons after being encouraged by the rising prices and the presence of favourable weather.
The state-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is yet to release its estimate on the production of rice from aus and aman seasons. But millers, farmers and agriculturists have claimed that production has increased.
Increased production and the carried-over stock affected the prices of the staple, said KM Layek Ali, general secretary of the Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mills Association.
“The situation is really very bad. Prices of coarse grain are not rising even after the government increased its aman rice procurement target by two lakh tonnes this time,” he said.
The possibility of an immediate rebound in prices is unlikely, said Md Abdur Razzaq Babu, a grower in Mohadebpur of Naogaon.
Prices of rice have also declined, he said, adding that he managed to make some profit by selling paddy in the last boro and aus seasons.
Md Shahjahan Kabir, director general of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, said farmers would lose interest to cultivate paddy in the coming aus season if the prices do not increase.
He said coarse rice accounts for 15 percent of the total annual rice production of 3.60 crore tonnes. For aman and aus, it stands at 35 percent and 40 percent respectively.
“Fair prices should be ensured for farmers,” Kabir said.
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman said the agriculture ministry would request the food ministry to procure more aman rice from the market so that prices go up.
“We also have plans to increase public investment in production and farming inputs so that the production cost for growers declines. This would enable them to make profit and allow consumers to buy the staple at affordable prices,” he said.
Md Arifur Rahman Apu, director general of the Directorate of Food, said his office wants to buy paddy from growers in the coming boro harvesting season.
“We will start buying from May. We will take decisions ahead of the harvesting. We will try to address the issue better,” he said.
Refayet Ullah demanded the government buy paddy directly from growers from local markets.
“The food office should announce a date to buy paddy from us. We will bring our paddy to the markets. If the quality of our grain matches their criteria, we will supply.”