Even cheap protein is out of reach

The fish which down the years have been known as cheap in the market, are costly now.

Take pangas, for example. The Department of Agriculture Marketing (DAM) says in 2013 the price of a small pangas all over the country had been Tk 114 per kg. In 2021 this was Tk 111. Now a small pangas in Dhaka markets costs Tk 200 to 220 per kg. If it is a bit larger, it costs Tk 250.

Like pangas, the prices of tilapia, farmed koi, rui, katla, etc have gone up considerably. These fish are the source of protein for low income people.

The low income people can hardly turn to eggs or broiler chickens any more as an alternative to fish, as the price of these items have shot up too. The prices of beef and mutton have been on an upward curve for months. Milk prices have gone up too.

For quite some time now the costs of rice, dal (lentils), oil, sugar and flour have been steep. Onions have joined the list too recently. On Saturday, after 40 per cent duty was slashed on onion imports from India, the market price of onions increased by Tk 15 to Tk 20 per kg, and a kg of onions now costs between Tk 85 to 95. Indian onions cost Tk 70 to 80 per kg.

Faruk Ahmed, who sells account-keeping notebooks, had come to the Malibagh kitchen market in Dhaka. When asked how the market costs and his household spending, he said that he had been unable to take the pressure of the steep cost of living and so sent his wife and children back to the village. He has moved into a mess. He said, “When I call back home now, I no longer ask what they had for lunch. Most of the days they just have vegetable.”

Fish prices: Then and now

Success in fish production had kept the prices of fish stable for many years. In the 2011-12 financial year, around 2.7 million tonnes of fresh water fish was produced. In 2020-21 this went up to 3.1 million tonnes. Most of these farmed fish were rui, katla, tilapia and pangas. In the UN’s Food and Agriculture (FAO) ‘The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture-2022’ report, it was said that Bangladesh now ranked at 3 in the world in fresh water fish production.

The Department of Agriculture Marketing keeps record of the price of four fish – pangas, mid-sized rui, katla and hilsa. Till 2021 the price of rui and katla had been more or less stable. The average price of a mid-sized rui in 2013 had been 312 per kg. In 2021 it was Tk 304.

A visit to the markets in Malibagh, Segunbagicha and Mirpur Section 6 on Wednesday revealed that now a mid-sized rui costs Tk 350 to Tk 450 per kg. Speaking to Prothom Alo, fish vendor at Maghbazar, Mainuddin, said that the prices have been on the rise for quite some time now. The price of everything has risen and so has the price of fish.

The Department of Agriculture Marketing does not record the price of tilapia and farmed koi. However, traders said that even in 2021 the price of telapia, depending on size, was between Tk 140 and Tk 180. Now this is Tk 200 to Tk 250. Even the price of mid-sized farmed koi which was Tk 160 to Tk 180 per kg, is now Tk 250 to Tk 280.

The climb in fish prices basically began after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. Price of imported fish feed rose and the costs of production and transportation within the country rose too. The government had put up the price of fuel oil.

Director General of the Department of Fisheries, Mahbubul Haque, speaking to Prothom Alo, said. “As the price of other protein in the market is steep, this has had an effect on fish prices too. The cost of food is on a rise. We are willing to cooperate if any government agency involved in market monitoring wants to work on the matter of fish prices.”

He said, “The price of fish in the market is dependent on supply and demand. We have nothing to do in this area. Our task is to look into the facilities and problems of the fish farmers, to ensure smooth production.”

The fisheries department has no explanation or analysis on how far production costs of fish have actually increased, how justified the increased price of fish in the market is, what is to be done to bring the prices down and so on. The commerce ministry monitors the price of oil, sugar, onions and other commodities, but there is no monitoring of the fish market.

Children’s mental and physical growth is hampered without animal protein. If an expectant mother does not receive adequate nutrition, she faces all sorts of complications during childbirth and later.
Shamsunnahar Nahid, chief nutritionist of BIRDEM General Hospital

Senior vice president of Bangladesh Field Industries Association and director of Mega Feed, Md Ahsanuzzaman, told Prothom Alo that due to the price of various inputs, the price of fish this year has gone up by 25 to 30 per cent. But actually the price of raw materials has gone up by 50 per cent.

The main ingredients of fish feed are corn and soya meal. The World Bank records show that the global market price of corn was USD 322 per ton in October-December last year. In July t fell to USD 242. In January-March soya meal was nearly USD 600, and that had dropped to USD 517. However, the value of dollar has risen in this span of time.

Meat, eggs and milk

Two cheaper sources of animal protein are farm eggs and broiler chicken. Like fish, the prices of these two items had long been stable. But the prices have been steep for around a year. The price of eggs would remain around Tk 100 per dozen, but now it is around Tk 150 per dozen.

The price of beef has been on a steady rise over the past few years. Beef now costs between Tk 750 to Tk 800 per kg, equal to three days wages of a newly appointed garment industry worker. It is very costly for even a mid-income person.

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Local resident Sharmin Sultana had gone to the Mirpur Section 6 market in Dhaka to shop. She told Prothom Alo, it has become difficult for the middle class to shop.

Sharmin Sultana was accompanied by her son Wahid Khan. He added, “Other than for Qurbani Eid, we haven’t bought beef for a long time.”

Importance of animal protein

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) last month calculated that the expenditure of a family in Dhaka for a fixed amount of fish and meat was around Tk 22,421. There had been a 27 to 38 per cent increase over the past 3 years 9 months.

According to a survey report of the World Food Programme (WFO) in 2022, around 68 per cent of the people were struggling with food costs in the country. Only 17 per cent of the families were able to consume adequate amount of nutritious food including fish, meat and seafood. The rest of the families could not. The report said that generally speaking, it is essential for children, expectant mothers and women suffering from malnutrition to have such nutritious food. It is alarming that they were not receiving such food on a regular basis.

Chief nutritionist of BIRDEM General Hospital, Shamsunnahar Nahid, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, children and expectant mothers are hit the hardest by this rise in food prices. Children’s mental and physical growth is hampered without animal protein. If an expectant mother does not receive adequate nutrition, she faces all sorts of complications during childbirth and later.

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