Marginal farmers in the southern coastal regions of Bangladesh are cashing their main crops in a hurry due to a lack of money for their sustenance.
They are currently selling out their early Aman paddy for Tk 450 to Tk 500 a maund (44 kilograms), for which they could have fetched Tk 1,100 to Tk 1,200 if they had waited till the end of December or early January.
The main reason for this is a cash crunch. The farmers are being deprived of better prices when Aman is in season, which is their main crop. Due to the high salinity in the region's water, they are able to grow a limited number of other crops like chillies, watermelon and sweet potato the rest of the year.
This has become a common scenario for farmers of char (coastal island) areas including Char Barret, Miajan, Kachua, Diarakachua, Roysaheb, Wadel, Basudevpasha, Nimdi, Char Federation, Mominpur -- all under Baufal upazila in the district.
Md Azahar Khan, a farmer of Diarakachua, cultivated Aman paddy on 45 acres of land in September.
But waiting for a payout till January is unimaginable for him as he has to fend for a family of 12 that includes his parents, five daughters and three sons.
“Finding no solution to my current dire state, I sold 300 maunds of paddy in advance to a local moneylender at Tk 480 a maund. I also had to repay the money I borrowed to buy fertilizers and pesticides for the Aman crop.”
Abdus Salam Howlader, a farmer of Char Miajan, cultivated paddy on 50 acres that has an estimated yield of 200-250 maunds.
“I already sold 100 maunds of paddy in advance at Tk 490 a maund to make ends meet.”
Azahar Ali Bapari, another farmer of Char Miajan, sold off the entire lot of paddy he grew on three acres of char land.
“I know I could have fetched Tk 1,100 a maund if I had held on to the stock. But I have no alternative.”
“It would have really helped us if we could get access to local microcredit or banks to keep us afloat till January. But it is not easy to get credit,” said Bapari.
The farmers often approach the local wholesalers and offer their Aman paddy for lower prices. The wholesalers hold the stock in go-downs and sell off to rice millers across the country when the prices go up.
This scenario is not unique to Baufal; it is prevalent in other char areas like Charborhan, Charhadi, Char Shahjalal under Dashmina upazila, and Char Biswas, Charkazol under Galachipa, Char Montaj, Chalitabunia, Char Lata under Rangabali upazila.
Md Bellal Howlader of Char Montaj borrowed Tk 40,000 from a local mohajon (moneylender) in November, on the condition of paying back in paddy at a lower rate. “If I didn't need the money then, I could have cashed in on a good amount later.”
Md Jahirul islam, a mohajon of Kalaiya bazaar under Baufal upazila, said farmers come to them to help bridge the time gap between planting and harvesting.
Md Likhon, another mohajon of Mowdubi under Rangabali upazila, said the farmers come to them to avoid the banking process, which they deem to be complicated.
“They are uneducated and fear the system. Also, commuting to the mainlands to get finance is an added expense for them,” he said.
Md Farid Ahmed, deputy general manager of Bangladesh Krishi Bank, said the farmers have to maintain nominal banking to get a loan.
Many char farmers do not have their own lands and cultivate on others' lands as sharecroppers; the farmer keeps two thirds of the harvest and gives a third to the land owner, he said. This further complicates the process for them, he added.