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Farmers' rights and fertiliser crisis


FERTILISER is a key input for the farmers during the sowing season of different kinds of crop. The government has a stake in ensuring adequate supply of fertiliser to the farmers during this season. Since the fertiliser business is no more a preserve of the public sector alone, guaranteeing the smooth supply of this key input in agriculture now depends largely on the private sector. But in this peak sowing season of boro, potato and other winter crops, the farmers are being deprived of non-urea fertilisers like Triple Super Phosphate (TSP), Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) and Muriate of Potash (MoP) at a discount price. This is because the importers of those fertilisers have been holding back the supply of the same to the local dealers. The reason is the importers of fertilisers under the banner of the Bangladesh Fertiliser Association (BFA) had gone on a strike since December 19 demanding of the government to release the arrear amount of subsidy due to them on the imported fertilisers in the last fiscal year. As a consequence, an artificial fertiliser crisis has hit the market in this peak cropping time.
The face-off between the government and the fertiliser importers over the subsidy has been ill-timed because, in actual fact, it is the farmers, and not the government, who have been the helpless hostage of the present crisis. The question is: who is primarily responsible for this situation? The government, the fertiliser importers or both? In its argument, the government has pointed out the anomaly in the prices of the fertilisers imported by the private sector. This certainly creates problems for the government while calculating the amount of subsidy due to the fertiliser importers. There is also the allegation of the over-invoicing of the import bills. That is why the government is thinking of providing the subsidy not on the value but on the volume of the imported fertilisers. On the other hand, the fertiliser importers cannot also be fully blamed for the situation since they cannot be asked to sell their stock of fertiliser to the dealers at a loss, either.
Hopefully, the government's decision to release Tk. 660 million out of the total outstanding amount of subsidy of Tk 970 million for the fiscal 2004-05, would resolve the ongoing crisis. It is heartening to learn that the BFA president has termed the government decision positive, in spite of the fact that the rest amount of subsidy in arrears amounting to Tk. 310 million will be released after the government is satisfied over the documents to be released by the ministry concerned.
The farmers of the country who are the victims of the circumstance have no power to influence either the government or the fertiliser businessmen. So, they must not suffer during the critical cropping seasons of the year for want of fertiliser. They have no choice of their own in this respect. On the contrary, it is the big players like the government or the business people, who can, as in the present case, cause to hang their fate as well as the country's agriculture at the most inopportune moments in balance. This is, undoubtedly, the most undesirable situation not only for the peasantry, but also for the economy of the country as a whole. And it is up to the government and the fertiliser importers to ensure that such an artificial crisis in the supply of fertilisers may not again affect the farmers in the future.
The government's decision as announced by the finance minister to allow the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC) and the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) to import non-urea fertilisers and distribute those through government appointed dealers at a subsidised price may also go a long way towards tiding over the occasional fertiliser crisis in the country. Whatever the stand of the government, it must not dither over its decision as it has done in the case of releasing the subsidy in arrears to the fertiliser importers leading to the ongoing fertiliser crisis in the prime time of the season.