The news is very alarming. The stock of rice in the government warehouses has reached to the lowest amount in 13 years. The stock of rice is 1.31 million (13 lakh and 12 thousand) tonnes, said the food ministry. However, the minimum stock should be at least 1.5 million tonnes as the price of rice goes up as soon as the stock decreases than that amount. In 2008, the country's rice stock dwindled to 280,000 tonnes and the price skyrocketed. The stock did not decrease this much even after a problem with rice import in 2017.
Wrong policy adopted by the food ministry is the main reason behind this year’s decrease in rice stock. Last year, country’s rice production was low due to cyclone Amphan and floods. In that circumstance, the prime minister gave approval to import rice but the food ministry took five months to start the import procedure. Although the importation started in February, the second wave of coronavirus hit before it was completed. A large amount of the rice was expected to be imported from India. However, all the land ports connecting the two countries have been closed since Monday due to the recent surge of coronavirus in India.
Meanwhile, the food ministry has set the target of rice procurement. The price has been fixed at Tk 40 per kg rice and Tk 27 per kg paddy. The target has also been set to collect 600,000 tonnes of paddy and 1.15 million (11 lakh and 50 thousand) tonnes of rice. Such targets are set every year, but it has never been fulfilled. Last year, the target was to procure 1.67 million (16.7 lakh) tonnes of Boro crop but only 910,000 tonnes was procured. On the other hand, only 88,000 tonnes Aman crop was procured against the target of 850,000 tonnes.
What is the guarantee that this year’s target will be fulfilled? Actually, the food ministry officials end their duty by declaring the policy and targets only. There is no one to see if it is fulfilled at all. There is no accountability either.
Prices of everything, including food have been increasing due to the ongoing pandemic. People with limited income are suffering the most. To overcome this crisis, the first duty of the government is to increase the sale of rice through TCB in the open market. Secondly, monitoring the market strictly so that traders cannot create an artificial crisis by increasing stocks on the excuse of pandemic; and thirdly, fulfil the targets of procurement to ensure minimum stock in the government warehouses.
There is link between food stock and food production. The agriculture ministry oversees the production and the food ministry controls the process of food supply and stockpiling. Recently, the agriculture minister has raised questions about the state of food stock. The food minister said they have already answered these questions and the concerned persons were pleased with it. It has made one thing clear that there is no coordination in the activities of food and agriculture ministries. Why does the agriculture ministry not know the answer of the food ministry?
The point is it is very risky to have storage of 300,000 tonnes of rice or 500,000 tonnes of food grains including wheat. The stock should be increased immediately. Otherwise, the price of rice would skyrocket. People’s income has decreased due to the ongoing pandemic, but the price of rice has already increased. People will suffer even more if the price increases any further. It should be avoided at any cost.