SIGNS are ominous at the initial stage of the Boro season this year. Scarcity of diesel coupled with severe power load-shedding has been seriously affecting the plantation of Boro rice seedlings in the northern districts of the country. Reports published in a number of national dailies Friday quoting their correspondents in these districts said farmers are not getting diesel even at higher prices. The situation has been further worsened by extremely poor supply of electricity in most northern districts. The power that is made available in northern districts cannot meet even 25 per cent of the local demand. The rise in the prices of various types of fertilisers has only added to the agonies of the rice growers. All concerned have expressed the fear that the target set for Boro production this year might not be achieved if the prevailing situation with supplies of diesel, power and fertilisers continues for few more days. Moreover, the cost of production of Boro might go up at the growers' level.
The people in northern districts have been experiencing scarcity of fuel oils for the past few weeks, mainly due to disruption in supply of the same. For more than a month, the depots of the oil marketing companies at Baghabari have not been receiving any oil supply. Oil tankers cannot cross the river Jamuna because of the latter's poor navigability. But the situation should have improved by now since the Energy Adviser Mahmudur Rahman had promised to ensure adequate supply of fuel oils within a 'very short' time following a directive from the Prime Minister last month. If oil tankers cannot ply through the silted-up Jamuna, the fuel oils can be taken to the northern districts using rail routes. The energy division owes an answer to the people as to why it has failed to make available fuel oils, particularly diesel in the northern districts.
Moreover, poor navigability in the Jamuna during the dry season is not a new phenomenon. During every dry season, the problem emerges to create serious disruption in the movement of ferries and other vessels. The agencies that have to use the Jamuna route round the year for ferrying goods and passengers should have devised alternative arrangement during the dry season to keep things going. The oil marketing companies which are familiar with the problem should also have built up enough fuel oil stock to meet the dry season demand for diesel, particularly from the farmers and transport operators.
The production of Boro rice is very important for the country. The farmers do bank on this crop heavily because of its risk-free nature of cultivation. This crop is rarely affected by natural calamities. The popularity of the Boro rice crop can be guessed well from its rapid expansion over the last two and a half decades. It was a minor rice crop in the late seventies or early eighties, with Aman and Aus being the number one and number two respectively in terms of production. Now the production of Boro has surpassed even that of Aman because of the widespread cultivation of high-yielding varieties (HYVs). Bangladesh would have been left with no option but to import huge quantities of food grains every year had there been no rapid increase in HYV rice cultivation. Despite the huge importance of the crop, the problem of diesel or fertiliser scarcity surfaces during every Boro season. It is difficult to understand as to why all concerned do not take adequate preparation to ensure uninterrupted supply of all necessary farm inputs during the dry season.