Boro growers suffer crop loss in heat shocks; now they worry over flash floods, hailstorms and rice import during harvesting season
Amidst growing worries over a heat wave-induced crop loss and projections of flash floods and nor’westers, Boro farmers are still unsure what price offer they’re going to get from the government this year.
Continuous imports of rice from abroad during the peak domestic harvesting season also adds to the worries.
Ideally, the Food Planning and Monitoring Committee (FPMC) – a cabinet body comprising eight ministers – meets in early April to take stock of the food reserve situation, crop situation in the field and set prices and targets for the procurement of Boro paddy, rice and wheat from farmers.
This early indication from the government is considered crucial for the farmers, who invest heavily in the irrigated rice Boro, premier among the three rice seasons in Bangladesh. But this year, farmers who have already suffered some crop losses owing to heat shocks, haven’t had any indication of a price incentive yet.
When asked, food ministry officials involved in the process told Dhaka Tribune on Saturday that the ministers couldn’t meet for the FPMC meeting over the last two weeks. “We’re planning to hold it in a day or two, if needed virtually, amidst the nationwide lockdown,” said an official asking not to be named.
The government bought only over 80,000 tons of rice against a target purchase of 800,000 tons from the farmers in the last rice season – Aman. Now, Boro growers are looking forward to a government announcement on how much rice and at what price it will buy from farmers in the Boro procurement season.
Farmers are also worried about continuous imports of cheaper rice from across the border during the peak domestic harvesting season. Over the past four months more than eight lakh tons of rice have been imported by the food department and also by private traders, with three lakh tons more being in the import pipeline.
Initially, the government initiated the import move to replenish its poor grain stock and control the high market price of rice. But it went into the international market very late into the season, resulting in a flooding of the local market with imported rice during the peak Boro season, which farmers fear may have dampened the current market price.
Earlier this month, a heat wave struck standing paddy in over 50,000 hectares of Boro fields in more than 12 districts, causing up to two lakh tons of probable crop loss. Officials say that once a full assessment is done across the country, the loss figure would most likely much be higher as high temperature and mild heat waves are still persisting in many other rice growing regions.
Meanwhile, the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) of the Bangladesh Water Development Board has made projections of probable flash floods sometime at the end of April.
FFWC spokesperson Md Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan told Dhaka Tribune on Saturday that the centre had already advised all agriculture departments concerned to make sure farmers in Haor region harvested Boro paddy – even if 80 percent is ripened – before the onset of flash floods.
“There is news of rainfall upstream [in Northeast Indian] and if the volume increases in the coming weeks, it may trigger flash floods in our Haor zone,” said Bhuiyan.
Meanwhile, the government’s capacity to intervene and rein in high rice prices has been handicapped by its poor stock. The Food Ministry says that till this week the government has only 3.7 lakh tons of rice in public granaries. This stock volume is much less than usual for this period of the year.
Amidst the lockdown-induced financial hardship among lower-income bracket people, the government is heavily banking on cash dole-outs instead of food assistance.
Analysts say if the government now offers a good purchase price and procures a big volume of Boro directly from the farmers – instead of from rice millers and middlemen – it will help it replenish the dwindling stock, halt rice import and well compensate farmers’ high investments in Boro.
The Agriculture Ministry is expecting over 20 million tons of Boro rice this year from 4.8 million hectares planted.
During last year’s Boro season, the government had announced a purchase of around two million tons of paddy and rice but eventually bought only half the amount.