The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization warns nine countries including Bangladesh of food price hike.

According to FAO’s domestic price warning issued on Wednesday, rice price in Bangladesh has been increased by 35 per cent in the last one year due to shortfall in production, limited import and increased demand of rice during the pandemic.

The latest food price warning says that rice prices reached the highest level in Bangladesh since October 2017.

In the report, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan have received the high level of warning while Bangladesh, Brazil, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are cautioned moderately.

The report says that price hike of one or more food grains would badly impact people’s access to food in the concerned countries.

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The warning has been issued as Argentina and Zimbabwe see price hike in all kind of foods while price of staple foods become costlier in Sudan and South Sudan, maize in Nigeria, wheat in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, cereals in Brazil, and rice in Bangladesh.

The domestic price warning is issued if a country sees price hike in its main staple. FAP also provides recovery guidelines to the country.

The report cites that Bangladesh government, in a bid to curtail further price increases, lowered custom duty on rice from 65.5 per cent to 25 per cent to encourage private sector importers. Albeit the rice imports, price hike could not be controlled.

Former adviser to the caretaker government and food policy expert, AMM Shawkat Ali told Prothom Alo that despite a delay, the government must facilitate rice imports immediately to stock up rice and increase rice supply in the markets.

According to the food ministry, the government has initiated imports of two million tonnes of rice – one million by the government and the rest by the private sector. The private sector has already imported 106,000 tonnes while the public sector has imported 44,000 tonnes of rice.

A meeting was held at the food ministry’s food planning and monitoring unit on Wednesday to review food imports and pricing.

The meeting came up with some decisions including easing shipment of imported rice from India and stringent monitoring on retail market so that rice price would not increase unnecessarily.

Agriculture minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque reminded the meeting that last year saw a deficit in rice production because of flash floods and other natural calamities. To make up the shortage, we have decided to import of rice, he said. But the import size needs to be rational so that price of paddy would not decrease, causing loss to the local farmers.

Other than FAO, the food ministry also finds that rice imports has minimal impact on the retail rice price.

According to the commerce ministry’s Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), one kilogram of coarse rice is sold for Tk 48 maximum while the price of medium quality rice and fine rice was raised by Tk 2 per kg last week. The food ministry also has not found rice price decreasing.

Explaining the reasons behind increased rice price, Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Owners' Association general secretary AKM Layek Ali said that price of paddy is high in the market while the rice importers are not reducing the price. “Price of rice at our mills and the imported ones remain the same, because rice imports have become costlier,” he said.

Economists think that the government should expand social safety network for the poor in case rice remains costly in the market.

Former secretary to the agriculture ministry, Anwar Faruque, told Prothom Alo that moves to reduce rice price would not be wise now as the Boro harvesting is approaching soon. It would hurt the farmers. “The government should increase its rice stock and ensure cheap rice for the poor,” he opined.

This report appeared in Prothom Alo print and online edition, and has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman

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