Wheat brings no cheers to farmers
Farmers have started harvesting wheat but low prices of the grain have dampened their hopes of counting profits this season.
“We didn't get good prices for paddy and we are not going to get that for wheat either. It looks like my losses will be high this year,” said Abdul Hai, a small farmer in Pabna, a northern district.
The grower shared his ordeal after harvesting wheat, which he cultivated on four bighas (33 decimals) of land in winter.
He bagged a total of 24 maunds (960 kilograms) of wheat, with yield per bigha falling to almost half of last year's owing to hailstorm.
“The crop has heavily been damaged. And the final blow came from the market,” said the 45-year-old Hai, one of the tens of thousands of farmers who planted wheat on 4.89 lakh hectares.
Farmers are now being offered Tk 720-Tk 750 for each maund of wheat, down from Tk 900 a year earlier, he said, adding that the prices were good just after harvest last year.
Mohammad Ashraf Sarker, a farmer in Rajshahi district, said the growers would not be able to cash in gains at the current prices.
Both the growers blamed imports and the delay in government purchase for the low prices of the grain.
Wheat imports rose 27 percent year-on-year to 30.71 lakh tonnes between July 1 last year and March 27 this year, and private traders accounted for 86 percent of the total wheat import, according to food ministry data. The retail price of wheat flour (unpackaged) was Tk 25-Tk 30 per kilogram yesterday, down 11 percent from Tk 30-Tk 32 on the same day a year ago, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
“On the one hand, imports are on the rise, while on the other, the government is yet to start buying domestically grown wheat,” said Sarker.
These two factors mainly hurt small farmers as they cannot hold their produce for long; they have to sell off their produce to meet various necessities.
He said the government should act fast to give price support directly to farmers, as the delayed purchase will only allow traders to pocket gains.
Last year, the Directorate General of Food bought more than two lakh tonnes of locally produced wheat at Tk 28 per kilogram against the production cost of Tk 26 each kilogram, said officials.
This year, it plans to buy about two lakh tonnes of the grain, said its Director (Procurement) Ilahi Dad Khan.
However, the amount of purchase and the procurement price are yet to be finalised, he said, adding that the decision would be taken at a meeting of the food planning monitoring committee, which is expected to take place in the coming week.
Khan expects that his office will be able to start purchasing locally produced wheat from the middle of this month.
The Department of Agricultural Extension targeted to ensure production of 14 lakh tonnes of wheat in fiscal 2015-16, but the total yield may be lower than the target for crop damage, said a senior official of the DAE.