We are in concurrence with leading agricultural economists who have suggested at a seminar that a special fund be formed for farmers so that they receive price support during the harvesting period. The crisis of farmers remaining in debt and poverty, because they cannot get fair prices for the crops they so painstakingly grow, is far from over. Yet the recent budget speech has not mentioned such a huge problem in one of our most crucial sectors. In fact although it is common knowledge that farmers cannot even cover their production costs and must incur heavy losses every year, there has been no special allocation in the budget so that they get fair prices.
The assurances made by the agricultural minister and planning minister, however, give us some hope that things may be different in the next harvesting season. The agricultural minister has said that the government will provide price support to purchase farming equipment to reduce production costs. He has also promised to take steps to stop middlemen from depriving the farmers of fair prices. It goes without saying that any government spending in this sector is defeated if the middlemen are not eliminated.
There is no doubt that the agricultural sector must be made profitable for the farmers and we hope the steps to commercialise the sector, as the planning minister has assured, will be effective.
All this is possible if the incentives provided by the government are utilised in a transparent manner so that genuine recipients are benefitted. The problem of fund allocation must also be solved. Last year only Tk 5,201 crore was spent from the Tk 9,000 crore budget. What is the point of having funds for a sector if a large portion of it remains underutilised? We must get out of this unproductive cycle.
Providing support to farmers is not a charitable move; it is the only way we can ensure that the agricultural sector survives. If farmers continue to be burdened with losses, they will switch to more profitable, non-food crops (such as tobacco) or give up their profession altogether. We cannot be in such a precarious condition where our food security will be at risk. Farmers feed the nation through their backbreaking labour. We owe it to them to provide support during times of crisis.