All these award winning farmers achieved success at their own initiative. Later, the banks persuaded them to take huge loans. With the loans they expanded their agricultural enterprises and other farming business and incurred huge losses. They blamed the current crisis on the banks’ noncooperation and not getting enough money for their produce. They also blamed political instability not getting good prices of their produce.

Experts, however, identified some other systemic factors for their predicament. They said it also has to be considered whether the farmers had sufficient competence and training to manage large farms set up with loans of Tk 20-30 million, whether there was crisis mitigation system, insurance etc. The four award winning farmers from Ishwardi had none of these facilities.

There are 15 national award winning farmers in Ishwardi. That is reportedly the largest number of national award winning farmers in one upazila across the country.

I was a successful a litchi farmer. It would have been better to kill me than provide the loan for cattle farming
Abdul Jalil alias Kitab Mandal

Local people and farmers said all but the four award winning farmers are in a good condition in the upazila. They have kept their farms at a medium level and have not taken big loans.

Once a rich farmer, Kitab Mandal told Prothom Alo, “I was a successful a litchi farmer. It would have been better to kill me than provide the loan for cattle farming.”

A day at Moyez’s house

Moyez Uddin is from Jagannathpur village in Ishwardi upazila. He used a method of controlling nitrogen levels to increase pollination in the jujube orchard.

Agriculturalists said as the female flowers bloom late in jujube trees, male flowers start maturing by then. By controlling the nitrogen level, Moyez Uddin enlarged the lifecycle of stamens, which increased pollination. As a result the jujube production increased. This increased his profit as well as his fame.

The governor of Bangladesh Bank at the time, Atiar Rahman, former US ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W Mozena, and local and foreign scientists visited his farm. He also received the national award for fruit production.

Moyez Uddin’s house is several kilometres from Ishwardi town. A visit to his house on 15 October revealed a semi pucca structure -- brick walls and a corrugated tin roof. Moyez Uddin has four sons and two daughters. Two sons work at the farm with their father and two sons study. He married off a daughter and the other one studies. Moyez’s wife Bely Begum, 40, received the Bangabandhu National Agriculture Award in 2017 (gold) for vegetables production.

Moyez Uddin told Prothom Alo he was a big farmer once. But he fell in crisis when he started cattle farming with a bank loan. He said he had experience of rearing cattle in small scale at home but he had no experience of managing a big cattle farm.

First, Mutual Trust Bank, a private bank, gave him loan of Tk 17.5 million. Later, Agrani Bank gave him loan of Tk 31.5 million in 2010. With that money he paid the loan of Mutual Trust Bank and set up a cattle farm with 275 cows. Alongside the cattle farm, he began farming of jujube, vegetables and coriander on 400 bighas of land.

In Bangladesh farmers are being approached with large amount of loans only, not training, insurance and market facilities. The East Asian countries (Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand etc.) approach the farmers with a total package including the loan and solutions to other problems
Selim Raihan, professor of Economics at Dhaka University

Moyez Uddin fell into default from the beginning of 2012. The bank filed a case against him in August 2013. Now the he owes the bank Tk 60 million and interest. His house, land and farms were auctioned but the bank could sell these as there were no buyers. Currently, the cattle farm, poultry farm and biogas plant are lying idle.

Moyez Uddin said he did not get adequate price of his produce due to hartal and blockades in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He applied for rescheduling the loan when he became a defaulter but the bank did not accept that.

Concerned officials of Agrani Bank’s principal branch told Prothom Alo Moyez Uddin did not properly use the money he took as loan. The possibility of getting the money back from him is lean even if the interest is waived.

The bankers, however, said it is the responsibility of the bank to oversee what a consumer is doing taking loan from them. The bankers also said a bank can reschedule a loan taking a certain amount of money if any customer becomes defaulter. Though a loan can be rescheduled for four times, the influential get the opportunity for more times. The Bangladesh Bank also made a special arrangement for rescheduling the loans of big borrowers. There is the scope of waving interest loan too. According to the Bangladesh Bank, different banks waved Tk 230 billion as interest between 2012 and 2021.

Farmers do not get the benefit of rescheduling loans like that of businesspersons. The reason is the farmers are not organised
Atiar Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank

When the former governor of Bangladesh Bank, Atiar Rahman, who visited the farm of Moyez Uddin, was informed about the miseries of award winning farmers of Ishwardi, he told Prothom Alo, “Farmers do not get the benefit of rescheduling loans like that of businesspersons. The reason is the farmers are not organised.”

He further said the farmers could do better again if they can get some running capital. Still there is scope to think for them.

Litchi grove now on auction

Abdul Jalil alias Kitab Mandal, 54, who got national award for litchi farming in 2009, is also in a crisis like Moyez Uddin. Kitab Mandal from Mirkamari village of the upazila is one of the first litchi farmers in Ishwardi. Now Ishwardi is famous for litchis but his litchi grove is being auctioned.

Kitab said the Agrani Bank encouraged him to take a loan for a cattle farming project with 200 cows in 2010. When he set up the farm, the bank provided him only Tk 7.5 million as loan, that even in installment. Amid this the grace period ended and the bank demanded loan installments.

“I constructed a shed of 12,000 square feet at the cattle farm for 200 cows. Later the bank approved Tk 15 million loan for 100 cows. It required a shed of only 5,000 square feet. But I got the loan of Tk 75 million only. The bank did not give me enough money for buying the cows and as running capital,” said Kitab Mandal.

He also said, “Earlier the amount of my cash credit would be Tk 2-3 million per annum and I could repay on time. But I had no experience of project loan.”

Claiming that he had to buy 50 cows borrowing money from people as the bank did not provide him sufficient money as loan, Kitab Mandal said, he had 30 milch cows at his farm. He dumped milk on roads as he could not sell the milk due to hartal and blockade in 2014. “It was tough to feed the cows. How would I pay the bank installments? The bank filed a case in 2015. The bank is now claiming Tk 25 million as the capital and interest.”

Kitab Mandal said he applied for rescheduling, depositing 2 per cent of the dues in 2016 but the bank did not agree.

On 10 October, it was announced Kitab Mandal’s 10-bigha litchi orchard will be auctioned. He said currently he has been living working at farms and with the help of his siblings.

8 cases against Zahidul

Zahidul Islam from Bharaimari village in Ishwardi upazila received the Bangabandhu National Agriculture Award in 2013. He bought 30 bighas land with the money he profited from carrot farming and set up a cattle farm on that land with 175 cows. He took Tk 50 million as bank loan in 2012 for this.

Zahidul said he could not repay the money as he could not make profit selling milk. A total of eight cases were filed as cheques were dishonoured and he became a defaulter. Now leaving everything aside he has been spending his time appearing at courts in Dhaka. He got bail in a case on 25 July.

The house and farm of Habibur Rahman, 56, from Muladuli village in the upazila have been auctioned. Currently he is an accused in 11 cases. He said he received national award for fisheries in 2010 and Bangabandhu National Agriculture Award in 2011. He had a cattle farm with 200 cows, ponds on 50 bighas of land and poultry farm with 5000 chicken. He became a defaulter in 2012.

Habib said he became a defaulter as 25 cows died of anthrax and he did not get good price for milk and fish. The bank filed a case in 2021.

Both Zahidul and Habib applied for rescheduling the loan.

The Department of Agriculture also knows the award winning farmers are defaulters now. Ishwardi upazila agriculture officer Mita Sarker said upon joining here she has learned that several national award winning farmers have become loan defaulters now. But she is unable to do anything for the farmers in her capacity, Mita Sarker added.

Opportunities ‘only’ for influentials

Prothom Alo asked economist and Agrani Bank chairman Zaid Bakht about the banks providing big loans to farmers. Is their training and business safety being ensured? He said the task of commercial banks is to disburse loans. They do not have much scope to do anything beyond this. But before disbursing the loan it is to be seen whether the sector has potential, and whether the entrepreneur has capacity. As there are stories of success in cattle farming, similarly there are stories of failure.

He further said loans can be rescheduled for the entrepreneurs whose business is running. Otherwise the loan cannot be rescheduled.

The economist, however, thinks when a farmer sets up a commercial farm taking millions of loan then he should have the necessary training, insurance safety and alternative ways to preserve the raw materials or production if the price of his produce dips in the market. If any commercial bank cannot ensure that, there should be some other method.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Selim Raihan, professor of economics at Dhaka University, said the farmers in Bangladesh are being approached with large amount of loans only, not training, insurance and market facilities. East Asian countries (Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand etc.) approach the farmers with a total package including the loan and solutions to other problems.

Selim Raihan further said this is clear that the banks in Bangladesh provide opportunities to influential people; sometimes the laws are changed for them as well. On the contrary the banks appears with iron hands to the farmers and small entrepreneurs.

*A staff correspondent in Dhaka helped prepare this report.

** The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza