The government has purchased only 2,750 tonnes of paddy from farmers more than one month into the current Boro season – despite around 80 percent of Bangladesh's paddy harvest being complete.
The sources said the government has spent the time selecting farmers by lottery and making space in warehouses.
The nationwide shutdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has also impacted the government's paddy-buying activities.
Meanwhile, the government has purchased 28,193 tonnes of boiled rice and 2,675 tonnes of non-boiled rice.
The government started the project on April 26.
This year the government is buying Boro paddy at Tk26 per kilogramme, boiled rice at Tk36 per kilogramme and non-boiled rice at Tk35 per kilogramme from the farmers.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, so far, around 80 percent of the country's paddy has been harvested.
The harvest in the seven districts of the Haor area was done before Eid-ul-Fitr. However, in Rangpur division, 50 percent of the paddy has been harvested.
Sarwar Mahmud, director-general of the Department of Agricultural Extension told The Business Standard, "Last Amon season there was no momentum to collect paddy in the first month. However, from the second month, we bought paddy at a good pace. The same occurred this year."
"It takes some time to prepare. Those who sell paddy also have some occasions after the harvest. There were also the Eid holidays. That is why it seems that the initiative lacked pace in the first month," he added.
Sarwar Mahmud said, "Farmers thresh and dry their paddy after harvesting. Then they prepare it for selling. We then organise a lottery to select farmers in every upazila. The lottery is done after verifying the list made by the officials of the agricultural extension department. This is a time-consuming process, but now the rice-buying activities will be done swiftly."
The Department of Agricultural Extension sent a letter to the regional and district food controller on May 14 to speed up the paddy-buying process. The letter said 60 percent of the target of collecting eight lakh tonnes of Boro paddy must be done by June. It said 90 percent of the process must be completed by July – by August 15 the whole process must be completed.
The letter also mentioned that no excuse, like not having enough space in the warehouses, will be tolerated.
Md Abdus Salam, regional food controller of Rangpur, said, "There is no crisis of space in the warehouses. But, the panic of the novel coronavirus plus slow progress in the lottery and paddy harvest have led to tardy paddy-buying. The situation will change in the next month."
Md Mizanur Rahman, district food controller of Lalmonirhat, said, "The lottery is held in four upazilas of the district. Here the harvesting is late as the cultivation of paddy starts later than in other parts of the country. The paddy collection activities will gain momentum within a week."
Meanwhile, food control officers of different districts have been panicking over the paddy collecting activities because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said once the activities start in full swing a large number of people – including farmers, labourers and government officials – will gather in one place – which could increase the risk of contracting the virus.
The government allocated Tk5,000 for each district and Tk2,000 for each upazila to buy soap, hand sanitiser and masks to prevent Covid-19 infections.
The farmers said they are getting Tk750-800 per maund from the government for the paddy that is dried three or more times.
They said it is much more profitable for them if they sell their paddy on the market at the same price.
"We are selling dried paddy at Tk750 per maund on the market. It is much more profitable. When we sell paddy to the government it must be dried more. This year the weather is not so good – we are not getting enough sunlight," said Alamgir Hossain, a farmer from Jamalpur.
According to sources, wet paddy – or the paddy which is not dried properly – is being sold at Tk600-650 on the market. The price is Tk100-150 higher if the paddy is well dried.
Economist Dr Jahangir Alom said, "The government should start buying paddy as soon as the harvest begins. For this, the capacity of the officials who will implement the activities should be increased. They must also be given proper security. If the paddy collecting process is late the price of paddy in the market could be lowered."
According to the agriculture ministry and the agricultural extension department, this season saw a bumper crop of Boro paddy.
In the current fiscal year, paddy has been cultivated on 47 lakh and 54,448 hectares of land. The production target is around 2 crore and 436,000 tonnes of paddy.
In 2018-19, the production of Boro was two crore, three lakh and 89 thousand tonnes.
This year the government plans on buying eight lakh tonnes of paddy and 11.5 lakh tonnes of rice.