Around 150 farmers at Sariakandi in Bogura are in big trouble as the onion seeds, provided by the government to help flood-affected farmers overcome losses, did not germinate.
The farmers alleged that they were given low quality seeds and have incurred a loss of more than Tk1 crore.
The agriculture officers of the upazila, however, maintain that the onion seeds were of good quality, and it is possible that the low temperatures in winter created the crisis.
Onion seeds were handed out in two phases as an incentive to the farmers of Bogura affected by last year's floods.
In the first phase, each of the farmers got 250 grammes of seeds on 30 November last year. In the next phase, 750 grammes of seeds were given to each onion farmer between the end of December and the first week of January 2021.
In the two phases, onion seeds were given to: 120 farmers in Bogura Sadar Upazila, 100 farmers in Shajahanpur, 160 in Sherpur, 170 in Dhunte, 110 in Gabtali, 230 in Sonatala, 200 in Shibganj, 90 in Kahalu, 90 in Dupchachia, 90 in Nandigram, 90 in Adamdighi, and 450 in Sariakandi.
Farmers of Sariakandi were worst affected by the seeds not germinating.
The season of onion cultivation is from November to March.
According to the Agriculture Office, normally, 750 grammes of onion seeds are sown on one bigha of land. As such, the farmers sowed onion seeds on 150 bighas of land in Sariakandi. Although these seeds were sown properly on the land, no seedlings sprouted on any farmer's land.
Usually, the farmers sell onions they harvest from one bigha of land for an average of Tk70,000. This time they could not harvest any onions, therefore, the 150 farmers in Sariakandi lost around Tk1.5 crore.
In the first phase, 300 farmers of Sariakandi were provided with seeds and no problems emerged.
But, none of the seeds given to the 150 farmers in the second phase germinated.
In Sonatala, seeds given to 150 farmers in the second phase germinated partially.
Except for in Sariakandi and Sonatala, agriculture officials in other upazilas said there was no problem with the seeds they provided.
But the farmers did not agree with them.
According to the District Agriculture Extension Office, there was a target to cultivate onions on 4,020 hectares of land in Bogura.
The farmers of Sariakandi said they received 750 grammes of seeds each from the Upazila Agriculture Office through Rashed Sarkar, chairman of Kajla Union Parishad of the upazila.
Matin Khan, a farmer from Katapur village in Kajla Union, said, "Many farmers bought onion seeds from the market and sowed them on the land next to ours. Their seeds germinated and the onion plants are growing fast. We thought we would get good yields from the government's seeds, but no seed has sprouted so far."
Farmer Ibrahim Sheikh sowed onion seeds on one bigha of land. He said, "Now our land is barren. We cannot cultivate other crops now as this is not the season for cultivating any other crop. We took lease of the land to cultivate onions as we do not have our own land. Now we do not know what to do in this situation. Last year I cultivated onions on the same amount of land and sold them for Tk75,000."
Dhanu Mandal, a farmer from Pakerdaha village in Kajla union, said, "There are no onion seedlings on my land now. The quality of the seeds was bad. I have faced a loss of Tk80,000 due to the seeds provided by the government. I thought the government seeds were good. Who will now compensate us?"
Kajla UP Chairman Rashed Sarkar, who distributed the seeds among the farmers, said, "They are poor and helpless farmers of Char land. Some of them took lease of my 10 bighas of land to cultivate onions. But the seeds did not germinate because of poor quality."
The upazila agriculture office procured the seeds from Swadhinur Islam (seed dealer), owner of Sariakandi Ekta Enterprise. He claimed, "I bought good seeds from the Bogura Samrat Bij Vandar [a seed store]. No problem was supposed to arise. I do not know how it happened to the farmers."
Kudrut-e-Khuda, deputy assistant agriculture officer in Sariakandi Upazila, said, "We have talked to agricultural scientists of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Gazipur. They said after sowing the onion seeds, the soil should be at a temperature of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. The onion seeds did not germinate well as the temperature fluctuated between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius this season."
Upazila Agriculture Officer Abdul Halim said the quality of onion seeds was good; moreover, this problem happened not only in Bogura but also in other areas of the country this season.
"The seeds did not germinate properly as the farmers were late in sowing the seeds," he added.
Meanwhile, Sonatala Upazila Agriculture Officer Masud Ahmed said, "The problem has arisen as the seeds were handed out in January, when the temperature was very low. If the seeds had been handed out in October, such a crisis would not have arisen."
Dulal Hossain, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bogura, said, "The problem occurred due to winter. There is nothing to deny it. The farmers have been affected. What can we say about it? But in the case of other incentives like providing rice seeds free of cost, which will be given in several months from now, the affected farmers will be prioritised."