Serious Seeds Crisis

The country once again faces serious seeds crisis this year, which, fear officials, serves an early indication of low foodgrain output after years of successive bumpers in cereal production. With the onset of main rice season aman and the nearing of the boro and wheat season, farmers are now in serious crisis of quality seeds usually supplied by the country's lone public sector cereal seed provider, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC).

Growth Trend in Grain Output Seed Supply Scenario
Autarky attained in 2000 (25 million MT) Farmers supplied Tk 23 crore seed in 2001
26 million MT in 2001 Farmers still owe govt. Tk 18 crore & declining to supply seed in 2002
28 million MT projected in 2002 Seed supply crisis to affect grain output in 200

Because of non-payment of huge arrears to the seed growers, BADC is now running short of seeds and it is feared that it would not be able to meet farmers' demands for aman and wheat seeds. The government for last 10 months have owed some 10,000 contract growers (seed growers who have contracts with BADC) Tk 18 crore, official sources said.

They added that most of these seed growers who belong to low-income bracket even within the farming community had already expressed their inability to grow aman and wheat seeds for BADC during the current year. These contract growers had supplied boro and wheat seeds worth Tk 23 crore to BADC in last fiscal (2001-2002). But despite repeated appeals and demonstrations staged by the farmers over the last 10 months, the government paid them only Tk 5 crore hardly a month back. The bulk of the arrears (Tk 18 crore) remained unpaid till yesterday .

Sources said the non-payment of the dues of the contract growers has already affected the government's seed supply ability during last boro season. Many growers of last year's aman seeds declined to grow boro seeds due to the arrears. Officials concerned feared that even if the outstanding bills of the contract growers are paid immediately, the public sector would not be able to replenish its aman seed stock for this year, thereby seriously affecting the aman output.

One source expressed anger at this horrendous situation where farmers were being deprived of their dues . He pointed out "the government seems to be having no problem in sanctioning Tk 90 crore for buying an additional one lakh MT wheat (mostly imported and thereby violating procurement rules) at the fag end of the procurement season but finds it difficult to pay Tk 18 crore only to the seed growers."

Recently, the government projected an ambitious foodgrain production target of 280 lakh MT for 2002-2003 -- almost 20 lakh MT more than the last fiscal's (2001-2002) projected output. But given seed crisis situation, sources were sceptic about meeting the foodgrain output target. As per the official projection, almost half of the 280 lakh MT of foodgrain output has to come from aman and wheat (together 132 lakh MT). But now with the seed scarcity of both aman and boro, achieving the government's projected foodgrain output would be next to impossible, sources believe.

Agriculture Minister Motiur Rahman Nizami could not be contacted for his comment and BADC officials concerned expressed their unwillingness to talk about the issue. They, however, acknowledged that of the 60,000 contract growers of BADC, who work in 15 zones under two seed circles in the country, several thousands had been waiting for their last year's dues. One source told The Daily Star that while the government remained indifferent over the layoff of about 3,000 surplus staff at the 9,200-strong BADC, this limping public sector enterprise has to bear the burden of paying fat pay checks to those surplus staff while keeping the farmers' payment outstanding for months on end.

The BADC, which requires Tk 10 crore every month for paying salaries against an annual income of Tk 9 crore only, is badly in need of a restructuring (Reaz Ahmad, September, 2002).