Abdul Jalil, a farmer in Jamalpur, started looking for Muriate of Potash (MoP) fertiliser last week, but he found none in the nearby shops. When he managed to find it, the seller charged him Tk1,500 for a 50kg sack, which is actually priced at Tk750.
Farmers across the country said they have already been confronting a crisis of urea fertiliser, and the scarcity of MoP has worsened the situation.
Farmers in various districts, including Rangpur, Bogura, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Jamalpur, Barishal, and Barguna, said the government recently fixed the price of a 50kg bag of urea at Tk1,100, but the sellers are charging them Tk1,300-1,400.
Sources at the agriculture ministry said there is no shortage of fertilisers in the country, but unscrupulous dealers have created an artificial scarcity to manipulate prices.
The dealers currently get Tk100 commission from a 50kg sack, and they have been demanding that it be increased to Tk200, citing the recent increase in cost of living caused by the fuel price hike.
The cost of transporting a kg of fertiliser has increased by Tk0.15-0.20 after the fuel price hike, meaning that the cost of transporting a 50kg sack has increased by Tk10. The ministry assured the dealers that a new increased rate of commission for them will be set later and asked them to continue supplying the fertiliser at the existing rate till then, but unscrupulous dealers have arbitrarily hiked prices without paying any heed to the ministry's appeal.
Mobile courts fined 383 dealers across the country Tk57 lakh on 30 August for irregularities in their operation. The highest number of dealers were fined in Jashore. The process of cancelling the licences of two dealers in Bogura and Rangpur is also going on.
Currently, there are over 5,500 fertiliser dealers across the country.
According to the agriculture ministry, the fertiliser shortage is most severe in Jamalpur, where Jamuna Fertiliser Company Ltd is located. The factory has not been in operation for over three months due to a shortage of gas. There are 257 dealers in the district, who buy fertilisers from Jamuna Fertiliser.
When those dealers – most of whom are influential political figures – were asked to take half of the fertiliser allotted from Ashuganj Fertiliser and Chemical Company in Brahmanbaria, they refused. This caused the crisis of fertiliser in the district, Balai Krishna Hazra, additional secretary of agriculture ministry's Fertiliser Management and Materials Wing told TBS.
The dealers in Barguna and Barishal were also told to collect fertiliser from Chattogram, but they did not do it, causing a crisis.
Earlier, three factories were closed down due to a lack of gas, but now all the factories, except Jamuna, are operational, according to Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) officials.
Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, joint secretary and director (commercial) of BCIC, told TBS, "There is no shortage of urea. Fertiliser is also being imported. We are providing fertiliser on demand everywhere."
According to the sources at the agriculture ministry, BCIC and Bangladesh Fertiliser Association, there are many dealers who are not collecting fertiliser even after depositing money. Wherever the authorities concerned are aware of a crisis, they are resolving it through the intervention of the deputy commissioners. But the crisis has spread across the country in such a way that it cannot be alleviated easily.
Balai Krishna Hazra, additional secretary of the Agriculture Ministry's Fertiliser Management and Materials Wing, told TBS, "We have no shortage of fertilisers. Dealers who are causing trouble are being brought under the law. The licences of some of the dealers is also being cancelled."
A senior official of the Ministry of Agriculture said on condition of anonymity that a vested quarter is trying to create instability by creating a fertiliser crisis ahead of the election.
Last Wednesday, the secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture held a meeting with deputy commissioners across the country to remedy the fertiliser crisis.
At the meeting, Agriculture Secretary Md Sayedul Islam gave instructions to field level officials to prevent fertiliser price manipulation, artificial scarcity, and sale of fertiliser without receipts.
He also instructed the officials to display a price list, ensure supply of fertilisers to retailers, and visit the dealers' warehouses to confirm the arrival of fertilisers.
The agriculture secretary further asked the officials concerned to operate mobile courts to prevent irregularities. Besides, instructions were given to the BCIC chairman to allow the delivery of fertilisers from the BCIC immediately after the agriculture ministry allocates it.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, currently there are 6.41 lakh tonnes of urea in stock against a demand of 3.5 lakh tonnes for the months of September and October.
There are also 4.15 lakh tonnes of TSP fertiliser against a demand of 96,000 tonnes, 9.04 lakh tonnes of DAP fertiliser against a demand of 2.19 lakh tonnes, and 2.46 lakh tonnes of MoP fertiliser against a demand of 1.21 lakh tonnes.
President of Bangladesh Fertiliser Association (BFA) Kamrul Ashraf Khan Poton told TBS, "It is true that there have been some problems all over the country. We are also trying to normalise the situation with the government. Alongside the government, we are also monitoring the situation across the country."