Veg prices upset farmers
For nearly three months, Mohmmad Ekramul Haque toiled on his vegetable patch to get a good cauliflower and mange tout harvest.
He was expecting to sell each maund of cauliflower for at least Tk 500 and mange tout for Tk 800, which would rake in enough to fund an extension to his one-room clay hut.
But, circumstances are such that on Wednesday, he had to sell 4.5 maunds, or 200 pieces, of quite large-sized cauliflowers for just Tk 130 and one maund of mange tout for just Tk 200 at Bogra's Mahastan Bazar, a vegetable wholesale hub up north, the country's food basket.
“A lot of my labour and care has gone into growing those cauliflowers. It is very hard for me to accept. I mean, the total proceeds are even less than the van fare I had to foot to bring these vegetables here,” said a visibly distraught Haque.
His distress seems all the more upsetting when you learn that a reasonably-sized cauliflower sold for around Tk 35 and a kilogram of mange tout for Tk 25 in city markets yesterday.
Few yards away from Haque, some farmers were seen selling radish for less than Tk 1 a kilogram and brinjal for Tk 6. In Dhaka, a kg of radish sold for Tk 25-30 and brinjal for Tk 35, yesterday.
“I have never faced such a deep suffering in my life. It is as if I am giving away the fruits of my labour for free,” said Abu Bakar Sidddique, a neighbour of Haque in Shibganj.
The reason for the fire sale of winter vegetables, typically money-spinners for farmers, is the sinking demand from traders in the face of severe transportation problems owing to the intense picketing that has stalled the vital northern town since November 26.
“During the political unrest in 1996, we did not face any trouble as the vegetables vehicles were allowed to ply on at night,” said Haque, adding that the insensitive enforcement of blockades and shutdowns has shattered many a dreams and driven thousands on the brink of ruin.
Like Haque, Abdul Hamid, a small farmer who made a profit of Tk 40,000 last year, was banking on this winter season to finish the remaining work on his half-constructed tin-shed building. Let alone making a windfall gain, he is now staring at losses of Tk 50,000.
Mohammad Ali was hoping to repay the loans he took from a microfinance organisation with the proceeds from his winter produce. That seems highly unlikely now.
“Our vegetables are rotting in the fields as there is no demand from traders. There might be an end to this political deadlock at some point, but it will be of no good to us then,” said a crestfallen Ali.
The conversation with Ali was soon disrupted by a screeching loudspeaker. It was from a poultry farm nearby, which was broadcasting that a kilogram of chicken was on sale for just Tk 100. “Come and get while the stock lasts,” was the continuous message blaring from the speaker.
All around the village, a sense of despair seems to have taken over. After all, they have been struck with a twofold blow.
Other than the plummeting price of their produce, they are also being subjected to escalating prices of agricultural inputs such as diesel and fertilisers, on account of scanty supply from cities due to the blockade.
Ranja Begum, who looks after farming in absence of her spouse, was seen preparing urea for potato fields. She had to buy the input at Tk 24 a kg in contrast to Tk 16 she normally pays.
Diesel was found to be selling at Tk 72 each litre, up from the government fixed rate of Tk 68 a litre.
Apu Kumar Mohonto, a fertiliser dealer at Shibganj upazila, said the blockades and locally-called shutdowns have brought about a shortfall at a time when the farmers' demand is at its highest. “I could not give the farmers fertilisers in line with their demand -- I had to ration sales for short supply.”
In the afternoon, over five farmers were seen waiting for urea, but the dealer claimed of having only 23 kilogram of fertliser at that time.
Haque, however, said short supply for blockades is just an excuse by the traders and dealers.
“There is no shortfall. It is an excuse. If you agree to pay higher, you will get urea. The only dearth that we face now is money due to the very low prices of our produce.”