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How much have prices increased during coronavirus?

Prices continued to rise since panic buying started when the first confirmed case of coronavirus was reported in the country on 8 March last year.

After reviewing the TCB’s market price list on 1 March 2020 and 7 October 2021, it was found price of coarse rice, on average, increased by 31 per cent, loose flour (white) 22 per cent, loose flour (brown) 33 per cent, a litre of soybean oil 43 per cent, sugar 19 per cent, large grain lentils 30 per cent and price of powdered milk rose by 13 per cent.

A family of five, for example, needs a 5-litre bottle of soybean oil. Price of such a bottle was Tk 505 in October last year, which is now over Tk 700. The price varies from Tk 728 to Tk 748 depending on brand. As a result, a family needs to spend an additional Tk 200 for edible oil only.

Prices of onions, lentils, broiler chicken, eggs and vegetables have increased over the past two weeks. Prices of onions nearly doubled from Tk 40 to Tk 80. Price of broiler chicken increased to nearly Tk 180 from Tk 120-140 a kg.

The price of hilsa fish hardly fell this year. Since the ban on hilsa catching came into force in October, prices of other fish also skyrocketed. The price of small prawns is Tk 550 a kg and price of most of the vegetables is Tk 50-60 a kg.

Likewise, prices of essential commodities including soap, detergent, toothpaste, coconut oil and toilet paper also spiked. The price of a 100g soap of a popular brand was Tk 35 three month ago. Now it is Tk 40. The price of a tissue packet of another popular brand was Tk 17, which is now Tk 20. That means a family’s spending for tissue usage rises by 18 per cent.

Why the price hike?

International market is one of the main reasons for the rise in prices of most of the essentials and consumers products. The prices of edible oil, wheat, sugar, lentil, powdered milk and various industrial raw materials are on the rise and this uptrend started from the beginning of this year.

According to a food price index report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global food price reached 10-year high to 4.5 per cent in May this year since 2010. Food price index is still at peak since 2011.

Food prices were very high in the international market in 2007-2008 and 2010-2013. Political and economic instability rose in various countries around the world. Exporting countries had imposed bans on food trade to tackle their markets.

Market analysts blamed pandemic-time disruption in supply, fall in production, increased oil price and shipping cost, and stocking tendency of various countries for price hike.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity, an official of the country’s leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company said as the situation goes, more worse times lie ahead.

People concerned, however, said only the international market cannot be blamed for the price hike. Traders’ manipulation is also responsible. They said, for example, why would price of onion double in just two weeks after price increased slightly in India?

Limited activities of government

The government strengthens market monitoring after prices of essentials increase. Many times, the government tried to control price hike by increasing sales at low price and exempting taxes.

The TCB now sells edible oil, sugar, lentil and onion at 400 trucks across the country. The number of trucks was almost same several months ago. The agency increased the prices of sugar and soybean oil in last April. Previously, TCB sold five litres of soybean oil to a single customer. Now they do not give more than two litres.

The food department could not take up any extensive rice and wheat sale programme during the pandemic. They have boosted sales now. Sale of rice and wheat increased 30 per cent from 1 July to 30 September. People concerned, however, said it is insufficient comparing to the necessity. Had the government sold significant amounts of rice, the price of coarse rice would have dropped. This has to be increased, they added.

The commerce ministry said they sent a letter to the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to reduce tariff on oil and sugar. Commerce secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh told Prothom Alo, “We have not received any response since we sent the letter on tax cut.”

The commerce ministry has called a meeting on the state of prices of commodities on Monday. The commerce secretary said the matter of tax cut would be discussed at the meeting. Tariff on onion is being reviewed and the matter of all commodities would be discussed at the Monday meeting, he added.

Traders claimed currently they pay Tk 28 per kg of sugar and Tk 20 on per liitre of edible oil as tax. Since tax on the prices of product is paid in percentage, tax increases once price rises in international market. According to a source, a proposal has already been placed to the government for raising the price of soybean oil by Tk 11 to Tk 164 and the price of sugar by Tk 9 to Tk 84.

Salary drops, cost rises

Salma Khatun, who works at a beauty salon, lives with her husband and two children on Sher Shah Suri road in the capital’s Mohammadpur. She said many of her colleagues lost their jobs amidst coronavirus pandemic. Her salary has dropped from Tk 18,000 to Tk 7,000.

Salma Khatun went to Mohammadpur Town Hall market to buy chicken on 7 October. At that time, she told Prothom Alo, “Prices of fish and beef are very high. When my children want to eat red meat, I buy broiler chicken. And, price of chickens also rises Tk 40 a kg.”

Sohag Mia lives in Rupnagar slum of the capital’s Mirpur. He lost his driving job during the pandemic. Now he works at a restaurant at salary of Tk 6,000 a month. He said, “We eat bhorta and bhaji (mashed and cooked vegetables) most of the time. But now price of onions and green chillies used for bhorta is also very high.”

‘The government has to admit worsening poverty’

There is no survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on the state of poverty during coronavirus. According to the South Asian Network for Economic Modeling (SANEM), poverty has doubled to 42 per cent. But the government neither admitted it nor carried out any survey on its own. The BBS in a telephone survey in October last year said people income decreased by about 20 per cent.

Executive director of SANEM, Selim Raihan, told Prothom Alo the rise in price may exacerbate the state of poverty. The government should carry out a review on how much and what assistance people need. Before that, the government must admit that the state of poverty has worsened.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Hasanul Banna

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