Success in production normally brings a bonanza in profit, but not so in Bangladesh. Every time there is a good harvest of rice, the farmers have to brace for a shock of fall in the price. This time the high yield of Boro paddy is a cause for worry for the farmers who are having to count a loss of as much as Tk 300 per maund (37 kg). And a glut of rice on the market causes them to be held virtually hostage to the middlemen, and they are forced to sell at the asking price.
Understandably, the price of rice is a seasonal phenomenon coinciding with the harvesting season of the three main crops. But while the Aman harvest saw a rise in the wholesale price of rice in January, encouraging the farmers to invest more in rice production, the situation now is very discouraging. We feel the rice procurement drive this year should commence sooner than other years. And this is where we feel the government should step in by procuring the bulk of the product directly from the farmers at an equitable price, without the middlemen coming in. In fact, it was time the administration edged the middleman out of the matrix and created conditions to allow direct market access to the farmers. It is the middlemen who manipulate the market and rob both the producers and the consumers of fair price, selling in wholesale market at almost double the cost of purchase.
In this context, we find the agriculture minister’s remarks that procuring rice would not be of much help rather surprising. He feels that a syndicate of the politically powerful, food department officials and large rice traders hogs the procurement process and sells rice to the government. We are constrained to say that it is the ministry’s responsibility to prevent the syndicate(s) from controlling the market. It is also the ministry’s job to monitor the situation constantly. The high yield was predictable and it is the ministry’s concern to protect the interests of both the farmers as well as the consumers.