Speakers at a programme on Thursday said introducing crop insurance, creating database of farmers, simplifying the lending process and popularising mechanised agriculture are crucial for safeguarding marginal farmers.

They also suggested that the government establish a ‘price commission’ to ensure fair prices for crops aimed at encouraging the farmers to use modern technologies and equipment and eliminating wage disparity between male and female farmers.

The recommendations came at a parallel session of a daylong conference titled “Democratic Governance and Local Development: Experience from Grassroots Institutions.”

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and OXFAM in Bangladesh jointly organised the programme at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) in the city’s Agargaon area.

Presided over by senior journalist Shykh Seraj, the parallel session on ‘agriculture loan’ was addressed, among others, by Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) deputy director Abdul Mazid, Shushilan (NGO) Chief Executive Mostafa Nuruzzaman and Biplabi (revolutionary) Workers Party general secretary Saiful Haque.

Mr Mazid said the government had disbursed loans to the farmers at 4.0 per cent interest rate under the Tk 5,000 stimulus package to recoup the losses caused by the pandemic.

“But the loan disbursement system needs further simplification for faster flow of fund because timing is very crucial in agriculture as it depends on seasonality.”

Referring to the fact that information on farmers comes to the government through public representatives, he said, “We have little to do if there is a problem with the list of beneficiaries. So, accountability of public representatives can ensure the rights of grassroots farmers.”

Besides, he took the view that the repayment tenure of agriculture loans should be increased to reduce the default rate.

Terming continuous subsidy on fertiliser as one of the key reasons of the country’s agricultural advancement, Mr Seraj said introducing subsidised crop insurance could further revolutionise agriculture.

Urging the government to withdraw all certificate cases filed against farmers for defaulting on loans, he said, “Compared to overall lending scenario in the country, farmers don’t get that much funds.”

Problems arising over loan allocation, especially related to land ownership, should be resolved because more than 80 per cent of the farmers were tenant farmers having no land, he added.

The senior journalist also called for bridging the wage gap between male and female farm labourers.

Besides, he suggested providing farm loans at zero per cent interest rate and waiving tax on agro machinery for more returns in the long term.

Mr Haque said most of the grassroots farmers did not get enlisted for agriculture loans without lobbying or bribing local public representatives. “It has been limiting genuine farmers benefiting from government policies.”

Mentioning that over 100,000 farmers across the country were facing certificate cases for defaulting on repayment of agricultural loans, he said the majority of those farmers became defaulters simply for not getting fair prices of their produce or due to crop losses.

Besides, he said, the market for agricultural products was not under the control of farmers rather it was completely regulated by middlemen, brokers and stockists, the major barrier towards ensuring fair prices.

At another parallel session of the conference titled ‘Youth Employment’, speakers suggested that the government provide time-befitting education and training to the youths so that they can adapt to the changed world.

They also said trained youths should get access to collateral-free and easy-term loans to get rid of the curse of unemployment.

The skills development projects should be taken up in hard-to-reach areas of the country to ensure access of underprivileged communities.

Presided over by Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) secretary Dr Badiul Alam Majumder, the session was also addressed by Department of Youth Development director (training) Abul Foyez Md Alauddin Khan, Bangladesh Nari Pragati Shangstha executive director Rokeya Kabir and UNDP Bangladesh head of experimentation (Accelerator Lab) Dr Ramiz Uddin

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