Abdul Karim Mollah, a farmer in Sadarpur upazila of Faridpur, planted onions on 2.5 bighas of land and got a good yield, which gave him hope that he would get some comfort amid the hard times caused by the pandemic.
But his dream evaporated when he had to sell his onions at Tk20-21.6 per kilogram, which barely brought him back the money he had invested. He said the cost of cultivating onions had gone up as he bought the seeds at a price higher than usual during the pandemic.
Many farmers in several regions, such as Manikganj, Rangpur and Satkhira, said despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the harvest of vegetables had been very good. People were able to consume winter vegetables at low prices, but the farmers were getting very low profits or suffering losses.
The Department of Agricultural Marketing has gathered data from 19 districts to calculate the production cost of agricultural products like onions to save farmers from incurring losses by fixing the prices of their products.
They found that the production cost of onions was Tk19.24 per kg.
While many farmers are selling onions at Tk20.27-21.62 per kg, farmers in some areas are selling them at a higher price, said sources.
Meanwhile, in Dhaka retail markets onion is selling at Tk30-35 per kg. Onions were sold at more than Tk50 per kg only a month ago, but their price started dropping since 1 January this year when India started exporting the item.
According to the farmers, the cost of producing a cabbage in winter was a little more than Tk7, but in some areas they had to sell it at Tk6-7 per piece. Similarly, those who cultivated cauliflowers, beans, tomatoes and eggplants have also been struggling to get prices higher than their production cost.
Farmer Swadhin Mia of Baitara village in Sadar upazila, Manikganj said, "The cost of producing cauliflowers was around Tk8 per piece, but I have to sell it at Tk6-8. How can I even get back the money I invested?"
To ensure that the farmers got a fair price for their products and at the same time the customers did not suffer, the Department of Agricultural Marketing was working to fix the prices of 16 agricultural products, said its Director General Mohammad Yusuf.
These agricultural products are onions, garlic, mustard, lentils, cauliflowers, cabbages, cucumbers, tomatoes, green papaya, okra, beans, eggplants, green pepper, gourds, Aman paddy and Aman rice.
Work has also begun on a plan to subsidise farmers who will still count losses, said sources at the department.
While farmers were facing losses, consumers said the prices of vegetables were quite low as there was an ample supply of them in the retail markets.
Anisur Rahman, a resident of Dhaka's Merul Badda area, told TBS, "I can buy tomatoes and potatoes each at Tk20 per kg, cauliflowers and cabbages at 25-30 per piece and beans at Tk25-30 per kg. This is quite cheap."
The Covid-19 pandemic and floods disrupted vegetable production and its supply, and customers felt their effects in the market for more than six months. At the time no vegetables were priced below Tk50-60, while some of them were sold at more than Tk80-90.
Although now the farmers are producing vegetables in large quantities, they are not getting the right prices.
The Department of Agricultural Extension (DEA) has set a target of producing 1.97 crore tonnes of vegetables on 9.21 lakh hectares of land in the current fiscal year. In FY2019-20, 1.84 crore tonnes of vegetables were produced on 9 lakh hectares of land. This is a significant jump from the production in FY2013-14 when 1.30 crore tonnes of vegetables were produced in the country.
In this regard, agricultural economist Jahangir Alam Khan told TBS, "Farmers never get appropriate prices when they produce more. It happens all the time. We have been demanding a price commission to save the farmers from this difficulty."
"It is important to fix different prices for agricultural products which fluctuate in the market during the production and non-production seasons. We need to form a price commission for this. If prices are not fixed, farmers will become disinterested in production at some point," said Jahangir Alam Khan, who is also the vice-chancellor of the University of Global Village.
Farmers in India have been protesting and demanding the repeal of three recently passed agricultural bills that they believe have prioritised corporate interests over their own.
The Indian government sets a minimum support price (MSP) for a large number of agricultural products to ensure that farmers do not suffer heavy losses. Farmers there fear that the new laws will lead to the abolition of the MSP for agricultural products and corporations will control the market.
They also fear that the new laws will change the policy of selling, warehousing and pricing agricultural products, leaving market control in the hands of big traders.
In Bangladesh, a recent study by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council revealed that the recent turmoil in the country's onion, rice and potato markets was caused by traders' syndicates, over which the government was unable to exert any influence.