Farmers must be given priority

Update:

There was a record rice crop this year, but import duty of the grain was not imposed. The businessmen benefitted, but the farmers who produce the rice are hit hard. There was much written about the issue at the beginning of the Boro season, but the government paid no heed.

On Monday, commerce minister Tofael Ahmed told the media that the duty which had been lifted from the import of rice, would be imposed again. This would be included in the 2018-19 fiscal’s budget to be announced by the finance minister on 7 June.

Reports in Prothom Alo on rice import had been alarming. According to official accounts, there had been a one million tonne shortfall last year in rice production, but 3.7 million tonnes were imported. Another 4.5 million tonnes are in the import pipeline. Las yea rice prices were low in India and Bangladesh had listed all import duty on the grain. Traders took advantage of the situation and imported much more than required.

Import duty on rice had been 28 per cent. The government’s decision at the time had been correct. After all, the government’s rice reserves had fallen to the lowest in 10 years. What is not understandable is why the import duty has not been imposed once again, now that 3.7 million tonnes have been imported and another 4.5 million tonnes is in the pipeline.

The commerce minister said that import duty was lowered and raised as and when required. That is certainly acceptable. However, the government cannot take the right decision at the right time always due to the interests of certain vested quarters. Perhaps that is what has happened in the case of rice. It must be kept in mind that the farmers are not only the drivers of the economy, they feed the 100 million of the country.

Everyone accepted the decision last year to drop import duty on rice as production has been less. But why are the importers still getting this benefit when there has been record rice production this year? Farmers cannot be put into this quandary in the interests of a dozen o so business enterprises.

The traders are importing duty-free rice, but this has not had an impact on the market. Yet the growers are not getting a fair price. The rice mill owners may have a hand in this too. According to news reports, this year there has been a record 6.3 per cent increase in rice production compared to last year.

Rice has been grown in 100 thousand hectares more land this year. Production costs are Tk 896 per maund, but it is being sold at only Tk 600 to Tk 850 per maund. Yet prices in the market are high. The consumers are suffering.

The commerce minister’s announcement that duty will be imposed again on rice should come into effect immediately. It is more important to uphold the interest of the farmers than those of the seasonal traders. If import duty is imposed, the propensity to import rice will wane and it is hoped that the cultivators will benefit.

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