Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, food prices have dropped in most of the countries across the world in March compared to February as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
But the picture is quite opposite in Bangladesh. Although the government has more food stock than any other year, the price of rice, the staple food grain of the country, is going up every day.
However, the experts’ main concern is about the supply of food in the market. Besides, they are worried about whether the people of the country will have the purchasing capacity. They say it is not possible for the government alone to tackle the situation, therefore private organisations must be involved in the process.
The idea of lockdown from the World Health Organization to combat corona infection will not work in countries like Bangladesh and India. Because that idea is derived from the socioeconomic status of Europe or Western countries. Most people in the western countries enjoy a varieties of social securities.
The price of fine and medium quality rice was rising for a month. The price of coarse rice has started to rise now. The price has increased from Tk 40 to 42 in a week. And the price of fine rice has increased by 12 percent in a month at Tk 65 per kg at the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
The government has already locked down Dhaka and Chittagong partially to prevent coronavirus infection. No vehicles are allowed to enter those two major cities except for carrying emergency food supplies.
The supply of rice in the two cities from Kushtia and Naogaon, the main two rice suppliers in the country, has fallen by half. The owners of the rice mill have not yet started buying new Boro rice. Most of the mills are closed at the moment.
However, FAO recently released a list of the types of food we should consume and types we should avoid to battle coronavirus. Rice is not included on the list. It is said that to avoid this infection, we should eat more nutritious foods including fresh vegetables, fish, fruits rich in vitamin C and water. Economists and researchers, however, raised questions about food supply because of restrictions in transport across the world.
BRAC’s executive officer Asif Saleh said, “The idea of lockdown from the World Health Organization to combat corona infection will not work in countries like Bangladesh and India. Because that idea is derived from the socioeconomic status of Europe or Western countries. Most people in the western countries enjoy a varieties of social securities. It is easy for them to stay home.”
“In Bangladesh and India, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers returned home to the village after announcement of lockdown. It has been proven in Bangladesh when the general holiday was announced. Thousands of people rushed to their hometown and again returned to Dhaka after the RMG factories were opened. So, we have to lock down the hotspots of coronavirus transmission rather than locking down the entire city or district. And people in lockdown have to provide food or cash assistance at home so that they can stay home,” Saleh added.
On the other hand, on 6 April the UK-based economic policy research firm FM Global made a report titled ‘Global Resilience Index-2019’. The BBC reports, the index will indicate how well a country can cope with the crisis caused by the coronavirus. The top three countries on the list are Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. At the bottom of the list are Haiti, Venezuela and Ethiopia.
The position of Bangladesh is 106 out of 130 countries
What is Bangladesh doing?
The government of Bangladesh has not introduced any new steps other than the regular initiatives taken during natural disasters to tackle the food crisis that has started due to coronavirus. Each district has been given Tk 500,000 and 5000 tonnes of rice as relief. Nearly 200,000 packets of food have been kept ready. Rice will be provided at the rate of Tk 10 per kg for the 5 million people under food-security programme.
The food department has also launched open market sale (OMS). The government has redesigned the programme somewhat because of the pandemic outbreak. The price of rice per kg has been reduced from Tk 30 to Tk 10. The rice will be sold three times a week to half a million of slum dwellers in the capital. Underprivileged people have been seen standing in long queue in front of each OMS truck since the operation began. In the first two days, many people returned empty-handed.
Professor Mostafizur Rahman, fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the government would make a mistake if it tried to tackle the economic crisis resulting from the corona outbreak in the same manner as other crises. It is not enough to highlight bumper production and government efforts to provide food for the poor. It is necessary to take action.
Referring to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, he said, ample production will be of no use if it is not supplied to people. It is also to be considered if the people can afford the food.
“And that is not possible for the government alone. For this, government institutions have to give their best. Also, the government has to use the capacity and skills of private organisations,” he added.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat