The government is relishing this year's bumper Boro rice harvest but not farmers.
The latter are facing the perils of plenty---a notable drop in paddy prices.
Farmers are deeply frustrated by the ruling market prices of paddy. In a rare show of frustration, farmers and their sympathisers are organising protests on roads and highways in many parts of the country.
Farmers, media reports say, are incurring a financial loss ranging between Tk.7.0 and Tk.10 a kilogramme of paddy because of the production-cost and the selling-price mismatch.
As the harvest of Boro, the largest crop having nearly 55 per cent share in the country's rice production, began last month, the paddy prices started falling. Market data compiled by both the Agricultural Marketing Department and the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) showed that paddy prices declined by 35 to 40 per cent in April alone.
Interestingly, there has been no impact of the falling paddy prices on the retail rice market in defiance of the normal market rules.
The coarse rice is now selling at Tk 36-Tk 40 a kg, medium quality between Tk 48 and TK 50 and fine varieties between Tk 55 and Tk 60 at the retail level.
The production cost of Boro paddy this year at the growers' level is estimated at between Tk 20 and Tk 25 a kg as against the selling price of the same between Tk 13 and Tk 15 a kg.
With paddy and rice processing cost estimated at Tk 3 a kg, the retail price of the newly harvested coarse variety of Boro rice should not be more than Tk 20 or Tk 22 a kg. But the same is being sold at Tk 36 a kg at the moment. The gap is also quite large in the case of medium and finer varieties of rice.
Many tend to suspect that the paddy prices have been kept at low levels deliberately with a view to benefitting rice millers under a behind-the-scene arrangement.
Millers are now buying paddy from farmers at lower prices. After processing, they would sell the same to the government at Tk 36 a kg.
Apparently, to facilitate unhindered procurement of paddy at low prices by millers, the Directorate of Food is yet to start the official procurement of Boro on a full scale. The procurement drive was due to start from April 25 last. But, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder inaugurated the food procurement programme at a function in Bogra, a major Boro rice growing area, on Wednesday last.
The government has a target to procure 1.0 million tonnes of parboiled rice, 0.15 million tonnes of atap rice and 0.15 million tonnes paddy during this Boro season at Tk 36, Tk 35 and Tk 26 a kg respectively.
The main objective of the government's rice procurement programmes is to ensure fair prices for the country's rice growers, But that objective is hardly fulfilled. For, the food department prefers buying rice from millers. Since farmers do have little option to sell milled rice to the government procurement agency, they sell paddy to agents (fariahs) of millers instead at lower prices.
According to media reports, nearly 50 per cent of Boro rice has already been harvested and the harvest of the rest would be completed soon. Farmers harvesting late are also unlikely to accrue benefit from the government's procurement drive which is, allegedly, designed to help millers and a section of dishonest food officials.
The latest demand from rice traders to allow export of rice is also a part of their ploy to push up rice prices in the domestic market when their own silos are full.
One has ample reasons to believe that millers are damn powerful these days. They even dare take the government, farmers and consumers hostage to their greed for making undue profit. They would not have been successful had not an influential quarter extended their support in exchange for some pecuniary benefits.
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