Agriculture and food security, both of which have been cornerstones of government policy, have resulted in robust crop production in the country. Yet, we find that farmers in Sunamganj’s haor areas have not been getting the benefit of the various procurement policies that the state has in place. Allegedly, middlemen have been making use of fake farmer cards to buy paddy. This malpractice, along with others, is apparently depriving genuine farmers of the benefit of selling paddy as listed farmers and getting the government-fixed price of Tk 1,040 per maund.
Although only seven percent of paddy growers are to be enlisted in the government procurement, the enlistment process is handled by representatives of local government bodies like union parishads. The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) then arranges lotteries and selects farmers from whom the paddy will be procured. Farmers allege that there is foul play, i.e. only farmers with party links are shortlisted to be eligible to participate in the lottery. Although this has been denied by the authorities, one cannot rule it out because there is no monitoring mechanism available at present.
Since only 25,000 out of an estimated 384,000 farmers in Sunamganj get enlisted to supply paddy at government rate, the rest are forced to sell their crop in the open market at about Tk 520-650 per maund. What it all boils down to is that a fraction of farmers is benefitting from government procurement of paddy and the rest are left to their own devices. Middlemen, wholesalers and mill owners can, and do, offer prices that are nearly half the rate offered by the authorities, and this means that the price per maund of paddy is worth less than 1 kg of Hilsa.
If we take into account that there is politics in choosing which farmers qualify to sell paddy to the government and the existence of fake farmer cards, it is also possible that farmers will start losing interest in growing paddy next season. That will have serious ramifications for food security in the country, and it is time the DAE looked into these allegations seriously.