The Department of Agricultural Marketing plans to hire the road freight service of the state-owned Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation to supply produce to the cities.
But the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) is asking almost double the transportation charges than other service providers.
Officials of the Agricultural Marketing Department say BRTC trucks will not face any obstruction amid the countrywide shutdown while other trucks will face obstacles during agro-product transportation. Therefore, they plan to hire the road freight service of the state-owned corporation.
Meanwhile, BRTC defends the high charge by saying that their vehicles will have to return empty after unloading the cargo.
According to the last update until Sunday, the BRTC and the agricultural marketing department were bargaining over the fare.
The suspension of transportation across the country caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has hit the country's farmers and farm businesses hard. According to several media reports, farmers are dumping their produce because they cannot sell it at a minimum profitable price.
To counteract the crisis amid the pandemic, The Bangladesh Railway launched special parcel trains on May 1 to ensure smooth supply of agricultural goods, vegetables, food, and perishable goods. Poor agro-supply to those freight trains forced the service to shut down days after it was inaugurated.
Now the agricultural marketing department is trying to use BRTC's vehicles to transport produce from 19 districts including Narsingdi, Bogura, Rajshahi and Pabna to Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Rajshahi divisional headquarters.
On April 29, the director general of the agricultural marketing department sent a letter to BRTC chairman in this regard. In that letter, agricultural marketing department requested the corporation to allocate some trucks for emergency agro-product transportation.
When contacted, BRTC Chairman Ehsan-E-Elahi that they have nearly 500 trucks which are used to transport fertiliser and food items.
"We still have 150 trucks available, and we will be able to rent all of them to the agricultural marketing department," added the BRTC chairman.
BRTC fare nearly double
The charge for a regular truck to make a trip from Meherpur, a northeastern district, to Dhaka, a route of 330 kilometers, is Tk17,000. But a BRTC truck will cost Tk29,700 for the same route.
Similarly, BRTC charges Tk31,500 for a Dinajpur-Dhaka trip while a general truck with the same load capacity costs Tk20,000 for the 350-kilometer route.
The Department of Agricultural Marketing wants the BTRC to revise the fare and it will send a formal letter to the corporation in this regard soon.
"The BRTC road freight will be smoother as private trucks face many obstacles during the transport ban. We are continuing discussion to reduce the truck charges," said Mohammed Yousuf, director general of the agricultural marketing department.
Meanwhile, BRTC Chairman Ehsan-E-Elahi said other government organisations are renting out their road freight services according to the existing fare chart. "If the Department of Agricultural Marketing finds the fare comparatively high, it can be adjusted through discussion."
Shohoz is also an option
The Department of Agricultural Marketing is also discussing with shohoz.com — a Bangladeshi ride-hailer — for agro-product transportation. If the company secures the deal of the agricultural marketing department, they will arrange transportation, supply and marketing of produce at the divisional headquarters.
Besides, the department has asked the divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners to arrange farmers' markets similar to the weekly one in Dhaka's Shech Bhaban in every district headquarters.
Marginal farmers bring produce directly from their farms to the market and sell them every Friday and Saturday.
The deputy commissioners have been asked to cooperate with the respective agricultural marketing department officials to set up such markets.