It is good news that Bangladesh has achieved food autarky and in some years rice production exceeds demand. However, it is not always good news for the farmers. Bumper harvests are yielding low prices which hit the farmers hard. And that is the situation prevailing in the country at present. The boro crop hasn’t even been fully harvested yet, but prices have fallen to 499 taka per maund, where it was 580 taka in December. And prices are likely to fall further once the harvesting is complete. The farmers are in dire straits.
In order to retrieve the farmers from this predicament, the government is giving the rice mill owners permission to export rice. Agriculture minister Mohammed Abdur Razzak has said they have taken this decision at the request of the rice mill owners. It is being assured that 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes of rice can be exported, given the present surplus of the food grain. The problem is, there is no specific assessment of how much of the rice in the country at the moment is actually of exportable quality.
Rice export can be a problem unless a survey is carried out at first to ascertain the real picture of food security in the country. The agriculture minister’s words reflect this too. Speaking to Prothom Alo on Friday, he said that after exporting rice if a shortage emerges within the country or if prices increase, then rice will be imported from India or elsewhere.
Past experience says that if there is less food grain in government storage, if the crop yield is low and if rice prices increase in the international market, the rice prices soar in the country’s local market. And it is difficult then to immediately import rice. Rice exporters hold on to their produce rather than export. Bangladesh faced such a crisis in 2017 during the haor floods.
That is why it is imperative to first carry out a thorough assessment about the food security condition of the country before decision to export rice. The decision to export rice is purportedly to ensure that the growers get a fair price for their produce. We do not think this is the way to address the problem. The government simply must procure paddy directly from the farmers, not from middlemen or rice mill owners.
Experts feel that this direct procurement is essential. West Bengal’s direct paddy procurement from the farmers has proven to be a successful system. We may look into whether this can be implemented here in our country.