08/24/2004, 00.00
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After flooding farmers run dry on seed

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – In spite of government agriculture rehabilitation programmes and international aid planting aman paddy might be near to impossible in many recently flooded areas, this, according to agriculture experts, because the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC) does not have sufficient seed stock to meet expected demand.

"The government earlier in the month announced free distribution of five kg aman seeds and 25 kg of fertiliser to each poor farmer in flood affected areas. But in most places, seeds have not yet reached farmers though it is high time for transplanting seedlings," Benedict Alo D'Rozario, management and development director of the national Caritas unit in Dhaka, told AsiaNews.

"I am not sure about my next aman crops as I have no seeds," said Akbar Mia, a farmer in Manikganj. "I went to the block supervisor (of the Department of Agricultural Extension or DAE) and asked for seeds but he told me to wait. But we are really running out of time."

According to Dr M. Asaduzzaman, an agriculture economist and director of research at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, "a solution to the problem would be to give farmers aman seedlings instead of seeds."  However, according to Mr D'Rozario, whilst "seedlings can be transplanted from seedbeds after 21 days of sowing, at the earliest, the transplantation after August reduces output significantly." This is why, to avoid the risk of being left empty handed, many farmers are buying seedlings on their own.   

 "It is true that small quantities of seedlings are available in markets in affected areas," D'Rozario conceded, "but they are sold at exorbitant prices. In the last two weeks in the greater Sylhet and Comilla regions the selling price of aman seedling reached 500 thakas (US$ 8.4) against 250 last year. This is enormous if you consider that the annual per capita income is US$ 400. In this situation only the big farmers can buy seedlings whilst smaller and marginal ones can not afford them," he added.

Government officials remain however optimistic and urge farmers not to be too alarmed. For BADC Chairperson Mohammad Ismail there was still time to plant a late variety of aman paddy.  "Loss of aman could be covered by a bumper crop of boro," he said "since submerged lands have gathered huge amounts of silt during the flood."

Unless it should flood again, the government expects to recoup around 80% of grain losses.

Despite government reassurances many experts remain doubtful about post-flood agricultural rehabilitation programmes calling them "an 'eyewash' to satisfy the rural vote in view of the next general election." In fact, many farmers told the local press that seed distribution is done so as to favour friends of local politicians.

According to United Nations figures the recent flooding cost the country US$ 7 billion. For its part, the Bangladesh Department of Agriculture set total losses in agriculture at US$ 4 billion. (MA)

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