Only 1 percent of Boro farmers have been able to sell their produce at the government-set purchase price of Tk 1,040 per maund this year, according to a study by Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).
On average, farmers have received just Tk 765 per maund, found the study, based on surveys on 2,834 farm households across the country.
Year after year, Boro farmers have reported having to sell their paddy far lower than the government-fixed prices. Not getting due prices this year came as a double blow to them as they had to bear increased production costs because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Besides, they earned 40 percent less profit compared to previous years.
A nationwide government drive to purchase Boro paddy from farmers began on April 26. It will continue till August 31.
About half the respondents said they got between Tk 701 and Tk 900 per maund. About 13 percent were forced to sell per maund of their produce below Tk 600, according to the study.
On the other hand, production costs increased by 13 percent this year, it said.
"We asked the farmers how much it cost them to harvest paddy this year, and how much it would have cost had the pandemic not struck," said Dr Narayan Das, senior research fellow at the BIGD, while presenting the findings at a webinar yesterday.
The study, based on a rapid survey titled "Effects of Covid-19 on Boro Rice Farmers" was carried out between May 20 and June 3. To ensure that households affected only by the pandemic were taken into account, those hit by cyclone Amphan were selectively taken out.
About 43 percent of the land considered for the survey was rented, meaning the farmers tilling those land were sharecroppers.
In addition to Narayan, the research team comprised of Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BIGD, and research associates Md Saiful Islam and Semab Rahman.
One of the major reasons for a rise in production costs was the labour shortage. Because of the lockdown, movement of labourers was restricted, leading to high labour wages. Sixty-five percent of the farmers interviewed cited increased labour costs as a reason, said the researchers.
Dhaka and Chattogram divisions saw the highest rise in wages, they said.
Meanwhile, 40 percent of the respondents said the cost of pesticides rose, 36 percent said the cost of fertiliser went up, 21 percent talked about irrigation costs and 20 percent pointed at increasing transport costs.
The study found that the yield loss per acre due to the pandemic was 7 percent. "If we extrapolate that for the total amount of land cultivated for Boro, nationally, the yield loss this year amounted to 4.82 crore maunds, worth Tk 3,687 crore," said Narayan.
Labour shortage was also the most highly cited reason for the drop in production volume.
Dr MA Sattar Mandal, emeritus professor at Department of Agricultural Economics and former vice-chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, however, said according to his research, the labour cost was less.
"My personal finding is that the wage rate was in fact less because there was a movement of people from urban areas to rural ones. They were available as farmhands," he said.
Speaking at the webinar, Md Nasiruzzaman, secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, said, "We had a labour shortage during the lockdown, but we tried to overcome that by supplying combined harvester machines."
Sudhir Chandra Nath, business director at ACI Seed, pointed out that while procuring rice, the government prefers rice millers who can maintain moisture control of the harvest, thereby depriving farmers of the government-set prices.
"The government should purchase grain from the farmers instead of rice from the millers," he said.
M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, senior advisor to BIGD, also spoke at the event.