Australia's 'Farmer Market' is a prototype of rural 'Hat-Bazar' in Bangladesh, which bears the hundreds of year's cultural heritage. The traditional congregation of life usually sits on Sunday, and in some places, it is named as 'Sunday Market' as well. People find an invaluable essence of the golden past and heritage in this market. The people of different ages come to buy some pleasure and happiness along with freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. Besides vegetables, fruits, and plants, the fancy Australian people bring antiques (old car, ornaments, armour, instruments, dresses etc.) in this famous market for exhibition and sale. The awareness-building campaign runs here too. The whole arrangement drives me not to miss the fair of lives. I always keep Sunday morning free for the Farmer market. Silently I stand in the queue for the traditional banana head (kolar musi), custard apple, local chicken, jackfruit, local lemon, and vegetables.
In Bangladesh, rural Hat-Bazar is known for its cheap vegetables, fruits, and other agro-products. However, things are quite the opposite here. Nothing is less expensive than the supermarket. The consumers (who visit the market) gladly pay an extra dollar to motivate and support farmers. They feel proud to help farmers, who feed the people, boost export, and nourish the economy. Social workers, students, civil society members raise funds for drought victim farmers. Political workers hold placards, posters, and leaflets to raise voice in favour of farmer's rights. School going children beg money for farmers singing patriotic and rural songs. Parliament of Australia gets lively with the debate on farmers' rights, climatic issues, and trade policy. Farmers' right gets due importance in the election manifesto. Actually, they feel the necessity to keep farmers in the less profitable but highly risky farming business. They realise well the value of the enormous contribution of 2.5 lakh farmers to the economy and food security. The citizens readily extend their gentle hand to make agriculture profitable and sustainable. They treat farmers with the utmost respect and dignity.The emotional and respectful feelings of the Australians for the farmers knock my conscience violently. The deprived faces of enduring farmers of Bangladesh come to my memory and torment my humanity, conscience, and values grievously. Farmers are still an ill-treated quarter of our society, deprived community of our country. Deprivation is their eternal destiny. In Bangladesh, rural 'Hat-Bazar' is known for its very cheap farm products. The consumer crowds in rural 'Hat-Bazar' to buy cheap vegetables, fruits, milk, and fishes with smart bargaining. We usually don't consider their cost-benefit issue, their rights, and dignity. We people feel elated to deprive farmers anyhow. As a primary producer, farmers of Bangladesh are the most deprived and disadvantaged.
Australian government applies different trade and tariff mechanisms to balance the farmer's rights and consumers' demand. The Department of Agriculture, Water Resource and Environment look after the production, market, price, bio-security, export, and other relevant issues. Civil society, think tanks and media advise the department to sustain agriculture and food security. Agriculture is the priority sector in Australia, and farmers are treated as honourable citizens.
A national culture of treating farmers with dignity and honour still lacks in Bangladesh. We are yet to make our agriculture market stable and profitable. The outstanding production success of hardworking farmers is overshadowed by perennial marketing failure. Price deprivation is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. An efficient value chain and the stable market is still a far cry. The opportunity for the export market is still unexploited. Our share in global vegetable and fruits export is less than 0.3%. Whereas, our potato production crossed the 10 million tonnes limit. Last three years, nearly one million tonnes of potato dumped to vacate cold storage. Potato is the best-fit short duration (60-80 days) tuber crop in between Aman and Boro rice. National production is expected to reach 15 million tonnes in 2030. Vegetable production jumped to 18.4 million tonnes in 2019-20, and it is estimated to reach 25 million tonnes milestone by 2030. National fruit production is steadily rising over the last ten years. We don't have any pragmatic plan yet for these surplus vegetables, fruits, and potatoes.
Despite being the most efficient and successful producers in the world, the ill-fated farmers of Bangladesh face regular deprivation due to faulty and inefficient value-chain and market policy. Marketing anarchy goes violent in Bangladesh over the years. We cannot devise any fruitful mechanism to ensure fair prices of farmers' products.
The market issue of farmer's product does not get due priority as the garments at the national level. Unorganised farmers cannot create any pressure at the policy level. The corporate world harvests a big profit though farmers incur repeated losses. Corporate greed poisons the ill-health of farmers slowly. He fails to solve the complex cost-benefit equation of his farming enterprise. A deep breath of deprivation grossly discourages his successor to continue this occupation. We shouldn't dream that the episode of deprivation will continue forever. Dear consumer, get ready to face the brutal revenge of nature shortly when the 'Land Heroes' will leave the crop field, and digitally smart new generation won't agree to continue this non-profitable and excellent occupation. Then you will realise 'what's what.'
Our farmers always play a heroic role in any crisis and pandemic. The enduring farmers have braved the concern for hunger in the COVID-19 era with super bumper Boro harvest. Bangladesh has appeared as the 3rd largest rice-producing country in the world. They have harvested Aus rice and struggling for Aman rice. We are in lockdown, isolation, and restriction in the COVID-19 era. However, our enduring farmers are in the crop field, risking their lives. They have been struggling with floods, cyclones, and other disasters. Farmers sometimes get congratulations and media coverage for their heroic role, but cannot escape the perennial saga of deprivation. Nobody stands beside him, genuinely. Immense deprivation gradually pushes the small farmers to quit their traditional occupations.Export, post-harvest processing, temporary storage facility, value addition, and strong value-chain can reduce the price deprivation of farmers. Despite a production boom, our export earnings from agricultural products are minimal (less than one billion dollars). Over-reliance on the garment industry for export earning is risky for our economy. Exploring alternate export sectors of USD 15-20 billion is inevitable for economic security. Our rising agriculture could be the best alternative. With policy support and innovative technologies, we can earn USD 10 billion from exporting vegetables, fruits, fishes, and flowers.
Australian citizens feel proud to stand beside farmers; the state keeps agriculture at top priority. But how do we treat our farmer? The time has come to change our attitude towards agriculture and farmers. We must do our utmost to save our farmers from the aggression of capitalism, market anarchy, and corporate greed for our better tomorrow. Let's stand beside them with emotion, respect, and dignity. Farmer's role has once again been proved to be convincing and leading in a crisis. We have wasted considerable time in discussion, dialogue, seminar, and planning. Now we need a breakthrough to keep the skilled and enduring farmers in the vast crop field with due rights, dignity, and economic justice.
The writer is PhD fellow in the University of New England, Australia. Email: [email protected]