The government has been making good progress in buying rice from millers but it is lagging far behind its target for buying paddy from farmers, who had protested recently for not getting decent price for their produce.
With only a month and week left until the government procurement ends, the food ministry has only been able to buy, as of July 15, less than 30 percent of its paddy purchase target of 4 lakh tonnes.
In stark contrast is the government’s progress in buying rice from millers. Since the procurement began on April 25, it has bought 69 percent of its target of 11.5 lakh tonnes.
An expert has said the government is unlikely to achieve its buying targets before the deadline.
However, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder told The Daily Star on Monday, “We could not buy paddy directly from farmers in the last 10 days due to heavy rain and flood in some areas. But we have already formed 20 teams and sent them to various districts to expedite the paddy procurement.”
He said they have also instructed local offices to speed up buying rice too.
On July 15, the minister asked all deputy commissioners to ensure that paddy is bought directly from farmers.
The offices of the Upazila Controller of Food buy paddy from farmers at the upazila level, and the offices of the District Controller of Food at the district level. The UNOs and DCs monitor the process, said officials.
The slow paddy purchase is hurting tens of thousands of farmers some of whom took to the street earlier this year as the market price for Boro paddy was lower than the government-estimated production cost.
The government had estimated the production cost to be Tk 24.83 per kg.
Good Boro and previous Aush and Aman harvests, higher stocks at public and private granaries as well as imports caused paddy prices to plummet in the local market.
This week, a kg of paddy was being sold for Tk 16, according to the data of the Department of Agricultural Marketing. The government buys paddy for Tk 26 a kg from farmers.
Millers have been preferred over growers since 1991. That year, the Directorate of Food bought 15 percent of its procurement target as paddy from growers. It got the rest from millers in the form of rice.
Millers have been gaining more from the government’s food grain procurement policy, the objective of which is to provide price support to farmers.
Frustrated by low prices, many farmers this year threatened to stop growing paddy and the government had to say that it would buy 4 lakh tonnes of paddy from growers rather than the 1.5 lakh tonnes it initially intended to.
Md Asaduzzaman, former research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said the price of paddy was poor and it was unlikely to increase this year. “So, the farmers are likely to suffer this year.”
“The data of procurement shows that the procurement system favours rice than paddy. I doubt whether the government can achieve its targeted procurement within the timeframe,” he said.
The slow procurement process is evident at the field level.
In Kushtia for instance, the local food department has a target to buy 2,730 tonnes of paddy from farmers but until July 18, it purchased only 1,174 tonnes. However, it already bought 26,000 tonnes of rice against its target of 29,000 tonnes.
“Yes, we are lagging behind the targeted paddy procurement. It is because of delay in getting the farmers’ lists from the agricultural department. But we hope that we would be able to achieve the target within the deadline,” Monowar Hossain, district controller of food in Kushtia, told The Daily Star.
In Bogura Sadar upazila, the local food office purchased 240 tonnes of paddy. Its target is 787 tonnes.
“In the first phase, we planned to purchase 295 tonnes but we could get 240 tonnes. In the second phase, we plan to buy 492 tonnes but we are yet to start procuring as we got the farmers list recently,” Monirul Haque, food controller of the upazila, told The Daily Star.
Farmer Milon Islam said, “I cultivated paddy on 25 bighas of land but could not sell a single kg to the government as I could not get enlisted.”
Noted economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said the government talks about development of agriculture but not of farmers.
“Farmers take-home pay is very important. If it is not ensured then farmers would not be benefitted. Development of agriculture and development of farmers are not the same and paddy procurement has showed us this,” he told The Daily Star.