The BOC Ghat paddy market on the banks of the Meghna River in Ashuganj, Brahmanbaria, the largest of its kind in the eastern part of the country, is witnessing a shortage of paddies in peak season as farmers were forced to harvest the crop prematurely amid flash floods, nor'westers and hailstorm.
Traders say the quality of paddy that is available at the ghat right now is not very good as most of the crops are premature and yet to yield rice. Around 15-20 kilograms of defective (also known as chita in Bangla) paddy could be found in a sack of 80kg paddy, traders said.
Manik Mia, a wholesaler, said, "Quality paddy is not coming to the market due to natural calamities. Most of the paddy is defective. The price of these paddies is low in the market as the quality of rice will be bad."
Ziaul Karim Khan Saju, general secretary, Ashuganj Auto Rice Owners' Association, said, "We are facing a crisis this season. If the crisis continues, the price of rice will go up a bit."
As per the traders, even though new paddy is available in the market, the sales have almost halved. Now, only 10,000-15,000 maunds of paddy per day is being sold here. The BR-28 variety of paddy is being sold at the market at Tk810 to Tk850 per maund and the Diamond variety is being sold at Tk620 to Tk670 per maund.
Rice mill owners have also failed to secure quality paddy from the market. However, if the BR-29 variety of paddy is available in the market after Eid, the crisis may be alleviated, they said.
The VOC Ghat paddy market, which has been running for more than a hundred year, sells paddies worth Tk5 crore to Tk6 crore every day during the peak season.
At least 1 lakh maunds of paddy is generally sold in the market every day during the paddy season. In the rest of the year, 30,000-40,000 maunds of paddy is sold daily.
The traders bought paddy from farmers in Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts and brought it to the VOC Ghat market, which supplies paddy to more than 250 rice mills of the district.
There is a daily demand of 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh maunds of paddy in the rice mills which supply rice to different districts of Chattogram, Sylhet and Dhaka divisions.
According to the people concerned, more than 50 boats loaded with paddy come at the ghat every day during paddy season. However, this year only 15-20 boats are coming.
Mosharraf Hossain, a paddy trader from Balikhola village in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria, said, "I have been involved in the paddy business for 13-14 years. I buy paddy from farmers in the Haor area of Kishoreganj and sell it at the VOC Ghat market. The farmers are getting less paddy this season. The quality of paddy is also not up to the mark."
Farmers say they have been compelled to harvest premature paddies due to flash floods in the upstream, nor'westers and hailstorms.
Nayan Kumar Saha, agriculture officer of Ashuganj, said, "New paddy harvesting has not started in full swing yet. I hope that there will be no shortage of paddy in the market once the harvesting of paddy starts."