The South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem), a non-profit research organisation, has proposed interest-free loans be arranged – instead of the government-announced loans at five percent interest – for farmers to tackle the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Economists and members of the agriculture sector presented the proposal at an online seminar organised by Sanem on Monday.
Dr Selim Raihan, executive director of Sanem and professor of economics at Dhaka University, moderated the seminar. Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha of the same department took part in the discussion.
From outside Dhaka, teachers at different universities in Sylhet, Rangpur and Khulna, as well as the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh put forward their opinions in the seminar.
At the beginning of the seminar, Dr Raihan explained the economic loss and ongoing crisis in the agriculture sector due to the pandemic. He, however, said it was not possible to assess the losses right at this moment.
He said, "In the ongoing crisis, agriculture must be prioritised because food security is the most important issue now. Steps must be taken so that farmers get interest-free loans. Instead of six months, the loan must be long-term for farmers."
Selim Raihan said to overcome the crisis, the government must ensure the availability of all farm inputs because the supply system has been disrupted due to the countrywide shutdown.
He said all the ministries concerned have to work together to cover the shortage of farm workers and agricultural inputs in all areas across the country. To ensure the health of farmers, the authorities must prepare a health protocol and make sure it is complied with.
The Sanem executive director also emphasised the importance of ensuring farmers get fair prices for their products after harvests.
Professor Sayema Haque Bidisha said sharecroppers and landless people will not be able to avail the facility of the government declared loan package because its conditions are very tough. Marginalised farmers in some sectors – including salt – will be deprived of the loan facility. "That is why the government must reconsider it."
She said the fair prices of crops have not been ensured in the past due to the dominance of middlemen. "Now it has taken a turn for the worse. So the government has to take an initiative to purchase paddy directly from farmers at fair prices with the help of local administrations. This year the government must increase its crop purchase target considerably. The prices have to be set in such a way so farmers benefit."
Dr Tuhin Wadud, director of the Riverine People and associate professor at the Begum Rokeya University, said at the seminar, "Though two crore people live in Rangpur, crops are produced here for four crore people. That is why half of the crops have to be sold somewhere else. Now farmers have to leave the crops to rot due to the supply chain crisis."
He said cashing in on it, dealers are buying paddy from farmers at lower prices. So, he suggested that the government purchase the paddy immediately.
Dr Shariful Islam, assistant professor of the Department of Economics at Khulna University, said due to Covid-19, agricultural products face a crisis in three ways – input, output and credit.
"Farmers cannot cultivate their land afresh. They cannot reap paddy and other crops because of a shortage of labourers. On the other hand, they have been deprived of fair prices for their produce due to a crisis in the supply chain."
He said it may lead to a food crisis in the future.
Md Gias Uddin Khan, assistant professor of the Department of Economics at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said, "Due to a crisis in the supply chain, poultry farmers are burying around one lakh chicks, underground, daily. Farmers are not receiving fair prices for any products – including dairy, pulse and wheat. So, there will be a crisis all over the production system in the future."
"Farmers in Mymensingh have been facing trouble over production of fries [baby fish] and vegetables," said M Nahid Sattar, associate professor of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh.
He further said Mymensingh supplies fries to the whole country. The season begins in Baishakh, the first month of the Bangla calendar.
"All farmers are affected due to the novel coronavirus. The government has to protect them by strengthening the supply chain management."