Amid allegations of meddling in rice procurement process at government warehouses and complaints of low prices of paddy at open markets, villages in the country’s northern districts are abuzz with Nabanno -- a festival of harvest.
Despite farmers’ complaints of low yields following pest attacks and floods, the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) is expecting a bumper yield of 60 lakh tons of paddy from 19.07 lakh hectares of land in 16 northern districts.
However, in Sirajganj, the DAE recorded a total loss of the crop on 882 hectares of land due to flood, while it recorded a reduction in yield on 16.67 hectares due to rice blast disease in Dinajpur.
Farmers and traders said they could not be much enthusiastic this harvest season as each maund of course variety paddy was being sold below Tk 670 at local markets, whereas their production cost for a maund was higher than Tk 800.
On the other hand, the price for each maund of fine varieties they were getting at the markets were between Tk 1000 and Tk 1200 against per maund production cost of Tk 1,000.
This year’s yield and price are both below the expectations of the farmers, although the situation slightly improved from that in the previous year, when price for a maund of paddy was more or less Tk 500, said, Debdulal Dhali, additional director of DAE in Rajshahi zone.
He also said harvesting of almost about 86 percent of paddy in the zone has already been completed.
Many paddy farmers said although they have been witnessing losses for the past several years, they would still continue cultivating paddy because cultivating paddy brings joy in their hearts. For many others, growing paddy has added benefits as they can use its by-products to feed their livestock.
During a recent visit to different upazilas in the northern districts, this correspondent saw the areas buzzing with different activities relating to paddy harvest.
Farm labourers were busy harvesting paddy from fields while men, women and even children were stacking, separating and winnowing the paddy at their yards.
Paddy farmer Moazzem Hossain was supervising labourers winnowing and processing paddy at the yard of his house in Borboria village of Naogaon’s Raninagar upazila.
He said he had to spend an additional Tk 1,500 on pesticides as rice blast disease affected many paddy fields in the area. “I might barely recover the money I invested on paijam [fine] variety of paddy, but I am not expecting any profit from Swarna [course] variety.”
Robi Dhanoar was stockpiling paddy sheaves at his yard at Kuch Kurulia village of Naogaon’s Sapahar upazila. He cultivated course variety on four bighas of shared land, hoping to harvest 15 maunds from each bigha.
He said, “I cultivated paddy without expecting any profit from it. I did it for the straws that will be used as fodder for my cattle.”
This correspondent met Patani Mardi, from the same village, who was on her way to a paddy field with food for her husband and son. “They went there at dawn. I stayed home to prepare meal for them. Now I will join them and help out in cutting paddy and bringing those home.”
Mahbubur Rahman of Ambari area in Parbatipur upazila of Dinajpur said due to pest attacks, yield of paddy this year has been six maunds lower than that of the previous year.
He also said the government initiatives to ensure fair prices do not come to any use as ordinary farmers do not get the chance to sell their paddy to government warehouses where local political leaders influence the preparation of farmers’ lists.
“I went to the warehouse, but returned after learning that the political leaders had already made their list of farmers from whom paddy would be procured,” he alleged.
Kongkon Karmakar from Dinajpur and Mostafa Shabuj from Bogura contributed to this report.