The country’s agricultural sector may be flourishing under the dynamic leadership of agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury, but it is also facing an existential threat. Marginal farmers and farm laborers, who are the driving force behind this sector, are losing interest in farming and turning their attention toward garment factory, rickshaw pulling, or seeking employment overseas. “Day laborers working in the paddy fields make so little that they are migrating to other places for getting higher wages. As a result, acute labor crisis is prevailing in this Boro crop season in the northern districts,” said Zahidul Islam, a farmer in Bogra.
According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Bogra, over 190,650 hectares of land have been brought under the farming of Boro in the district in this season with the production target of 753,122 metric tons. While visiting different areas of the district, this correspondent found that ripe paddy is still lying in the fields, as growers could not harvest the crops for labor shortage. Unexpected heavy downpour has already dealt a blow to Boro cultivation this season. The rains have caused extensive damages to paddy and other seasonal crops. Moreover, farmers are facing difficulty in reaping crops from waterlogged paddy fields due to leech infestation. Many of them are also worried whether they would be able to complete harvesting the crop before the rainy season starts. It is feared that more crops may get damaged if renewed rainfall hits the area. Today Bangladesh is busking in the glory of attaining self-sufficiency in food production. This would not have happened without farmers’ relentless efforts and the government’s necessary policy support. But farmers, the landless ones in particular, can hardly reap any benefit from higher crop production due to unfair price system. At present, farmers do not get full price for their produce. On many occasions they cannot even recoup the production cost, which is hurting the farming community badly.
Faridur Rahman, a government agriculture officer, said, “A farmer has to spend more than BDT17 to produce one kilogram of paddy and BDT32 for one kilogram of rice. But many farmers cannot even recover the production cost.” It is not that consumers are paying less, but profits from agricultural goods mainly go to the middlemen. The price syndication rackets are a double-edged sword and they are hurting both the farmers and the consumers alike. Moreover, capitalizing on the labor crisis, laborers are now asking for more wages. As a result Boro cultivation has become costlier. Poor farmers cannot afford such unexpected rise in the cost of farming. Many of them are using their family members to the fields to harvest the crops. “I have been looking for farm laborers for the last few days, but none is available. There are some laborers but they want BDT2,500 for harvesting per bigha land,” said Faruk Hossen, a farmer of Nandigram Upazila in Borga. This correspondent spoke to a number of farm laborers including Zahidul Islam and Jagadish at the Sadar upazila of the district. They said they come to harvest crop during Irri and Boro seasons and the rest of the time of the year they pull rickshaw or pushcarts in the district town to earn a living.
They said they can earn BDT200 to BDT300 per day by harvesting paddy, but if they migrate to other work then they can earn BDT500 to BDT600 per day, which is why they prefer working in other sector to earn more money. They said that many of their fellow farm laborers have gone to Dhaka or Sylhet to work in the garment factories and are earning more money than they used to. If the wage of the workers in the agriculture sector is not increased, many more farm laborers will migrate to other high paying occupations in the coming days, which will leave the sector in dire straits.