A shortage of available workers amid the countrywide Covid-19 shutdown has raised serious concerns among the farmers of Sunamganj regarding the harvest of Boro paddy.
Workers from northern districts Rangpur, Dinajpur, Pabna, Mymensingh and Netrokona participate in harvesting paddy every year. But they are yet to arrive in the north-eastern district Sunamganj yet, and the ongoing movement restriction to curb the spread of coronavirus has made their travel uncertain.
Meanwhile, farmers said Boro crops will be ruined in the farmlands if they fail to harvest the paddy by the next ten days.
The government has taken up many initiatives to ease the uncertainty over Boro harvesting, including mobilising harvesting machines, encouraging local labourers and bringing workers from the northern regions to Sunamganj.
However, these initiatives have failed to convince the paddy growers, as flash floods, rain and hailstorm forecasted on the last week of April are threatening the harvest, while the virus keeps spreading around the country with no signs of slowing down.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Boro has been cultivated across nearly 2.19 lakh hectares of land this season and the yield is good owing to favorable weather.
The vast lowlands in the district are a major source of rice for the entire country, and concerned officials said the government wants to secure Boro harvesting at any cost to ensure food safety.
On April 9, the agriculture ministry issued a circular to allow agri-workers to travel for paddy harvesting. Besides, Sunamganj DAE sent letters to deputy commissioners of the northern districts asking for 14,000 labourers for paddy harvesting in Sunamganj.
Sunamganj deputy commissioner Abdul Ahad said they have allowed the harvest workers to stay at educational institutions and formed medical teams for them in a bid to encourage timely Boro harvesting.
"They are being brought under relief operations. Local administration and public representatives have been asked to prepare the list," added the deputy commissioner.
In the meantime, the government has mobilised 131 combine harvesters and 285 reapers to collect and process the paddy from the field. The district agriculture office said they have recently collected an additional 33 harvesters and 17 reapers.
However, sources said 133 machines of the total allocation are out of order. Besides, the machines cannot be used at low and partially submerged croplands.
"We hope a good number of workers will come for Boro harvesting. Besides, the harvesting machines will help the farmers," said Sunamganj DAE deputy director Mohammad Safar Uddin.
The DAE official further said shops for agri-equipment and the local administration workshop are open, where the out of order machines can be repaired.
In the meantime, the Water Development Board said it has constructed and repaired a 640-kilometre stretch of the embankment to protect the crop from flash floods. The board on April 4 also requested the DAE to harvest Boro rice early to save the crops from flash floods.
"Borrowing cash, I have cultivated Boro on five acres of land. The yields look good so far," said Wahab Ali, a farmer of Gobindapur village.
"We are in fear of flash floods and hailstorm like the previous seasons. But the fear of the coronavirus has overshadowed everything this year," he added.
Hanif Ali, another farmer of Lalpur village of the district, echoing Wahab said, "Uncertainty keeps growing over harvesting. We do not have alternative livelihoods if we fail to harvest the crops before the flood hits us."
Haor Bachao Andolon President Bazlul Mazid Chowdhury feared arrivals from other districts will fuel coronavirus spread. He recently urged the local administration to engage the local workers in the harvesting process.
Bazlul Mazid said the local workers can be provided with stimulus packages if requires.