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May 2024

The last of ‘rice banks’ in Bandarban ensures food security for jhum farmers

Once upon a time, Bandarban had as many as 584 rice banks in seven Upazilas, established under an initiative of the UNDP. Almost all of them have closed their doors gradually.

A rice bank, established 18 years ago, in Boromodok area of Bandarban’s Thanchi upazila, is still helping jhum farmers during the two to three months of food scarcity each year. Photo: TBS

The number of “rice banks” has decreased significantly in Bandarban with the declining trend in jhum cultivation over the years. Farmers are stepping away from cultivating jhum due to its low yields.

“Rice bank” is a community-based storage of rice stocks, run mainly by the jhum farmers, from where they can borrow rice during the annual three-month period of food crisis before harvesting crops.

Once upon a time, Bandarban had as many as 584 rice banks in seven Upazilas, established under an initiative of the UNDP. Almost all of them have closed their doors gradually.  

Photo: TBS

Photo: TBS

Two such rice banks in Boromodak area of Remakri Union in Thanchi Upazila have been operating for 18 years now, helping the jhum farmers to fight food insecurity.

Between June to August each year, when the monsoon remains active in the hills, jhum farmers have to sit idle due to lack of work. To survive the lean period, they borrow rice from the rice banks, and repay it once the jhum crop is harvested.

Anyone can borrow 10 to 50 pots of rice each time from the banks, which has to be repaid with an additional three pots against each 10 pots. The rice banks also sell rice and lend cash.

Photo: TBS

Photo: TBS

Singhdai Marma, a female jhum farmer of Boromodak Bhitor Para, told The Business Standard, “During May-June this year, there was a shortage of food. I have borrowed 30 pots of rice from the rice bank. I have repaid it after harvesting the crop.”

Another resident of the same area, Soilung Mong Marma said that he had borrowed Tk15,000 as a loan from the rice bank when his wife fell sick in July this year.

“Some years, there is a food crisis before bringing the jhum yields home. If there is a natural disaster in a year, all the crops are damaged. At this time, the rice bank is the only hope,” said another jhum farmer, Mongdak Marma.

Sachingpru Marma, president of a rice bank committee in Boromodak area, told TBS, “The lent rice is collected in October-November every year. At this time, everyone brings home the new yields of jhum. Many cannot pay on time if their yields are poor. In such cases, they pay it back next year.”

“The borrowed cash money has to be paid with an additional Tk100 per Tk1,000,” he said, adding that except for special cases, up to Tk5,000 is given as a loan per person.

Another rice bank’s president Singmong Marma told TBS, “Our rice bank can store up to 2,000 pots of rice. On an average, up to 1,000 pots of rice always remain stored.”

Muishoithui Marma, the chairman of Remakri Union Parishad, said, “Jhum farmers and the villagers are benefiting from the rice banks. Many people face food crises​​​​​ for two to three months before harvesting jhum paddy each year. Then they can borrow rice from the rice bank.” 

“The rice bank is playing a vital role in ensuring food security in remote areas, and that is why it has been operating for 18 years now,” he said.

Other than the Boromodak area, there may be more such storage in remote hilly areas, the chairman added.

Lauding the concept of ‘rice bank’, MM Shah Newaz, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bandarban, told TBS, “The jhum farmers in remote areas have developed rice banks for their food security. They open food rationing during crisis. It is a good initiative for the jhum farmers.”

He added that the agricultural office has no involvement with the rice banks. QR Code

Published Date: October 24, 2023

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