Boro farmers in Tangail are in a dire situation as they are running against time to save the ripe paddy on fields that remain submerged following frequent rain and storm over the past week.
The farmers say they cannot harvest the paddy fast enough as daily labour wages shot up due to unavailability of out-of-the district labourers amid travel restrictions imposed as a measure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tangail produces a significant amount of paddy and this year the crop has been cultivated on 1,69,529 hectares of land in all its 12 upazilas. According to estimates, 6,58,857 tonnes of rice would be produced in the district after all paddy is harvested.
The farmers said while most labourers are not willing to work in the inundated paddy fields, the smaller number of the workers who are willing to do the work are demanding a much higher pay that the farmers had been paying in recent times.
Abdul Hai, a farmer from Bagutia Uttar Para village in Kalihati upazila, said excessive rain in the last few days inundated 1.5 bighas of his land where he cultivated BRRI 29, a variety of Boro.
"Workers from outside the district are not available. Local workers are also in short supply. Most of them don't want to go in the water to cut the paddy. Those who agree, demand at least Tk 900 a day. So I am cutting my own paddy," he said.
Farmer Shamsul Alam, a resident of Bawar Kumarjani village in Mirzapur upazila, said he managed to harvest most of the paddy he cultivated on 250 decimals of land.
But to harvest the paddy on low-lying parts of the land, which got submerged in recent rain, he could not find any labourer for even Tk 1,000 per day.
Unable to afford the steep labour charge, farmer Saidul Islam from Sadar upazila's Poila village started to cut the paddy with the help of able-bodied members of his family.
"What else could we do? I couldn't spend an additional Tk 2,000 for the minimum two extra labourers I needed to harvest the paddy from the submerged field," he said.
Their problems just do not end with harvesting. The harvested rice is ruined if it is stored before it is dried up in the sun. And without much sun over the last few days, the farmers are resorting to boiling the rice immediately after harvest.
The final outcome of such rice looks a bit reddish and its taste is not as good, Saidul Islam also said.
Contacted, Ismail Hossain, deputy director (acting) of Department of Agricultural Extension in Tangail, said harvesting of Boro from around 65 percent of cultivated land in Tangail has already been completed.
Overruling the claim of labourer shortage, he said, "There is no crisis of labourers. If the farmers send us demands, we will provide them with labourers from other districts."