No one thinks about the interest of farmers
Published on Prothom Alo
31 January, 2021
Sohrab Hassan and Iftekhar Mahmud
M Asaduzzaman is a former research director at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). He has served as one of the members of the government’s climate change expert group. Besides, he is involved in the policy making and research on food, agriculture and climate change in the country. He spoke to Prothom Alo about the current food situation in the country, market prices, problems and prospects of agriculture and the situation of the farmers.
Q. What is the reason behind the price of rice fluctuating for several years?
The price of rice mainly depends on the supply. When the supply decreases, prices rise. The main source of supply of rice in the country is domestic production. If there is a shortage, it will affect the market. On the other hand, the population increases every year, resulting in the more demand for rice. But the production may not always keep pace with the demand. Apart from this, there are interventions in the market by various quarters . As a result, the supply decreases and the prices go up.
Q. How much the flaw of rice market management is responsible for this?
The marketing system of the agricultural products in the country is very weak. We recommended that the relevant authorities would give importance to this issue while preparing the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). But the situation has not improved in so many years. The government doesn’t have much to intervene here. Actually, the rice mill owners and traders control the rice market. As a result, if the price goes up, it should be understood that they have a role in this case. However, if the government does not know who are behind the price hike and how they do it, there is no way to control the price of rice.
According to a recent study by the Agricultural Research Council, syndicates operate in the country’s rice, potato and onion markets.
There have been the talks of syndicates in the country’s rice market for a long time. But are the people supposed to control the price doing their job? Don’t they have any power to control? We have to think about all this. If the intervention of the syndicate comes to the fore in the research by government agencies, then the question may arise as to what the government agencies are doing.
Q. How can the farmers benefit despite controlling the price of the rice?
Just as the rice, the price of paddy is controlled by the rice mill owners too. The farmers only get the price at which the rice mill owners buy the paddy. In most of the cases, farmers do not get the price fixed by the government. Thailand and India, the world’s major rice exporters, keep the prices stable in their own markets even if the price of rice fluctuates in the international market. There is a method of this. For example, a farmer wants to sell the paddy quickly after harvesting. It’s because he has to pay for the production cost quickly. He bought a large portion of the agricultural equipment on credit. The wages of agricultural labourers need to be paid as well.
When the farmer comes to the market to sell a lot of paddy at a time, the owners of the rice mill bought it at a lower price. And when the price of rice goes up in the market, they sell it. This rule is prevailing in Bangladesh right now. But in Thailand or India, farmers get the opportunity to keep the paddy in community based warehouses after harvesting. They also get agricultural loans at low interest. They sell paddy little by little throughout the year. As a result, the prices of rice remain under control in the domestic market and the farmers get good prices as well. This method can be introduced in Bangladesh. We have to build an effective market system for agricultural products.
Q. The pattern of production of our paddy has changed.
Earlier, the production of paddy mainly depended on the ‘Aman’ season. From the eighties onwards, production in the Boro season has been increasing rapidly. High yielding variety of paddy grows in winter when there is no risk of natural disasters. If the supply of irrigation water is smooth then there is no much concern about the production of the paddy. Only early floods pose a threat to the production of Boro in the haor (water reservoir). On the contrary, there is a high risk of crop failure due to floods and cyclones in harvesting Aman rice. As a result, the production of Boro paddy in the country is increasing very naturally.
Q. Is our dependency on Aman decreasing?
It cannot be said that it is coming down. Because, every time we have had a famine or food crisis in the last 150 years, the reason was the loss in Aman production. Even when the production is low due to floods or cyclones, the price of rice rises in the country. However, the price of rice went up in 2017 after the Boro disaster in haor. Then the deficit was met by import.
Q. Is there any confusion about the information of production and demand of rice?
It is an old problem. The Department of Agricultural Extensions and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics provide different data on crop production. The reason behind the discrepancy of the information may be whether the field data collectors actually go to the field or not. As a result, it is difficult to understand on the basis of which information the government will take policy and strategy. This problem will continue if we cannot build a single and reliable database.
Q. We also saw the crisis of rice and onions and complexity in importing this year. When there was demand, there was no import and when there was import, there was no demand.
It is not related to the decision of import; the problem lies in the implementation. Probably, the responsible government agencies do not understand when and how to import. Because, two months after the prime minister’s approval the process of importing started. There are also doubts as to whether those, who were permitted to import, are in fact real importers or not. As a result, it has to be seen whether the crisis in the market is being kept alive by importing rice in the wrong time after getting the permission. Again when the farmers have started getting a little better price of paddy, the price is being reduced by increasing the supply.
Q. In India, the farmers are agitating to get a fair price for the agricultural products. What is the condition of our farmers?
One of the reasons for the movement in India is that the farmers are not getting a fair price. There are many more reasons. Large companies are being given more benefits in the agricultural and food products’ market. Farmers are protesting against this. The movement is mainly led by the wheat farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Thus, the situation of Indian farmers is different from that of our farmers.
Q. What are the main problems for the farmers and agriculture here?
The main problem of our farmers is that no one thinks about them. There is no political party to speak in their interest. The dangers of climate change and water problems will be much greater in the days to come. The farmers use the water in producing a kilogram of rice here. It is because the farmers here are accustomed to cultivate paddy by submerging it in the water. The method of cultivation by using less amount of water has to be found. In that case water suppliers will be discouraged. Therefore, they have to be given incentives.
Q. Is it possible to increase agricultural production?
Absolutely it is possible. There is still the possibility of raising the production of any kind of crop by 30 to 40 per cent. We are meeting the demand of ginger, garlic, onion, lentil and soybeans by importing. These can be produced in the country. Our scientists need to focus on producing improved varieties of crops other than just rice.