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Govt needs to protect interest of farmers, not millers

OVER the years, the rice procurement programme of the government, irrespective of whichever party or alliance is in power, has hardly been above and beyond any question or controversy. Let alone allegations of mismanagement and irregularities, which have often marked the procurement, there have always been question as to whose interest this programme is meant to protect and promote — farmers, millers or their middlemen. Not surprisingly, thus, questions have been asked about the government’s rationale about procuring rice, and not paddy, directly from farmers. According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, the women rights organisation Karmajibi Nari iterated the familiar demand that the government should buy paddy from farmers during the aman season, on the ground that procurement of rice ultimately benefits the millers.
Immediately after the government had announced its decision to begin its procurement drive from December 1, leaders of the Bangladesh Krishak Samity, an association of farmers, publicly criticised the initiative, which stipulates purchase of two lakh tonnes of aman rice between December 1 and February 28 at Tk 30 per kilogram. The association expressed its concern that the government’s plan would help the millers to put pressure on the farmers to sell their paddy at lower prices. It also alleged that the plan had been adopted essentially to help the millers sell rice from their old stocks. Besides, it argued that the price fixed by the government for aman rice procurement was unrealistic in view of the increase in the cost of production.
In the wake of a projection by the Department of Agriculture Extension of bumper production of aman this year, we expressed our apprehension that it may not be in the best interest of the farmers. Such apprehension, as we argued, is based on the bitter experiences that farmers have had in the past few years, during which although they produced more crops than the government’s target, defying all odds, they ended up with a raw deal while the millers and their middlemen lined their pockets. It is worth noting that different quarters, including farmers themselves, have been clamouring for the government to buy paddy directly from the growers by setting up procurement centres at each union. There have also been calls for fixing procurement rates, factoring in the increasing production cost, so that farmers do not end up having a raw deal. Regrettably, however, such calls seem to have thus far fallen on deaf ears.
The government needs to realise that repeated instances of farmers selling their produces at prices lower than the production cost have already left many farmers broke and prompted many others to stop cereal production altogether. It goes without saying that such a scenario is not auspicious for the country’s food security. Hence, the government needs to revise its decision on procurement with the best interest of farmers in mind.

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