Farm workers plant Boro saplings at a field in Paba upazila of Rajshahi Dhaka Tribune

Primary estimates show probable loss of 200,000 tons of Boro rice in over 50,000 hectares of land 

A week after a heatwave swept through parts of Bangladesh’s rice-growing belts, a much clearer picture of crop damages has emerged with agriculture officials asking the government to arrange for an immediate bailout for the affected farmers.

Officials told Dhaka Tribune on Monday that a primary estimate sums up a substantial crop loss in over 50,000 hectares of Boro land due to spikelet sterility in rice caused by a heatwave that swept through several districts including some parts of the Haor region on April 4.

Farmers may lose 100,000 to 200,000 tons of rice – in the most conservative estimate – depending on how many recoup mechanisms the government provides them. In the current market price, 200,000 tons of rice costs around Tk 700 crore.

Though an estimated loss of 200,000 tons of rice would be just 2% of the total expected output of 20 million tons in Boro this year, scientists and agriculture officials fear more paddy fields likely to experience spikelet sterility due to very high temperatures persisting in the country. 

A senior agriculture official told the newspaper that farmers in worst-hit Netrakona said they were unlikely to harvest Boro paddy from lands, where 40% to 50% or more rice spikelet has gone sterile unless the government provides them with assistance.

Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), however, are yet to figure out how best the government can provide the assistance.

Some officials said they received recommendations from the field officials that farmers want the government to deploy combined harvesters, free of cost, in affected areas to reap the remnants of the yield.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t be cost-effective for individual farmers to bear the costs of harvesting for reaping just a partial crop.

Besides, farmers and district agriculture offices also pleaded to MoA for providing cash assistance to farmers, particularly the landless sharecroppers, who are now at loss after investing a lot in Boro rice.

Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Director General Md Asadullah had earlier said that Boro acreage increased from last year’s 4.7 million hectares to 4.8 million hectares this year as farmers were eyeing a good profit amidst buoyant rice price in the market.

Bangladesh Rice Research Institute’s (BRRI) scientist Dr Nazmul Bari, who led a three-strong team’s visit to some of the most affected Upazilas in Netrakona on April 6, told Dhaka Tribune that increased acreage may well compensate the heatwave-induced loss and may not impact that much in national level overall Boro output but, the farmers who lost their crops are badly in need of help.

Dr Bari said, at primary estimate, the April 4 heatwave has damaged 35% of Boro crop in Madan, over 20% in Kendua and 15% in Khaliajuri upazilas in Netrakona.

Rice fields in Sherpur, Mymensingh, Sunamganj, Rajshahi, Gopalganj and many other pockets were also affected by the heatwave, which was followed by some rainfalls too, he said.

“But in Netrakona, it was a couple of hours of strong hot gusty wind that severely damaged the grain formation of the Boro rice plants. There was no rainfall afterwards in Netrakona that day further aggravating the condition,” he explained.

“If night temperature falls below 17 degrees Celsius or day temperate rises above 35 degrees Celsius during Boro season, the rice grains milk formation gets severely affected. Comparing to last year’s 31 degrees Celsius temperature, Netrakona experienced 38 degrees same time this year,” said Dr Bari.

He recalled some records of previous heatwaves-induced crop losses in 1996, 2012 but said this year’s one was in greater magnitude. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if in the final count the heat-induced Boro crop loss reaches 5% of total expected output.

Agriculturalists, meanwhile, also cautioned against infestation of brown planthopper and bacterial leaf blight in Boro fields in the aftermath of the strong heatwave and some of the subsequent mild heatwaves. They urged for keeping the farm input marketing and distribution channels uninterrupted during the hard lockdown from April 14.   

According to a Met Office bulletin during the filing of this report, there was a projection of mild heat wave sweeping over some parts of Khulna division and the regions of Rangamati, Feni, Rajshahi, Pabna, Naogaon, Dinajpur, Nilphamari and Panchagarh.

DAE’s Plant Protection Wing Director Dr Md Abu Sayeed Miah recently issued a crop management special directive asking Boro farmers to protect Boro from brown planthoppers by deploying light traps and also for applying required doses of pesticides, fungicides.

The current issue of the National Agrometeorological Advisory Service Bulletin advised farmers to stop applying urea in Boro land if the fields are attacked by bacterial leaf blight and irrigate and maintain a certain water level in the Boro fields.

“Irrigation management should be followed by periodic wetting and drying (AWD) method to control bacterial leaf blight,” recommended the bulletin jointly issued by Bangladesh Meteorological Department and DAE’s Bangladesh Agro-Meteorological Information Portal (BAMIS).

Harvested during the April-May period, Boro rice accounts for 55% of Bangladesh’s total yearly rice output of 36 million tons. The two other rice seasons are Aman and Aus.

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