Rice market manipulation calls for action

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

While rice prices in the international market are going down, in Bangladesh the price of rice is moving upwards. The same goes for wheat prices as well. The government claims both rice production and stock in the country is satisfactory.

As per the records of the agricultural extension department, after the Aman season there has been a bumper yield of Boro paddy as well. Boro production has exceeded the target by 500,000 tonnes.

The food ministry says, almost all of the rice procurement goals the government had set during the Aman season has been achieved. There is 1.9 million tonnes of rice and wheat stored in government warehouse. What could be the logic behind rice price going up even after that?

Food secretary Md Ismail Hossain told Prothom Alo that action will be taken against people involved in the manipulation after investigating why the price of rice is going up, despite good storage and procurement.

It’s not that the food secretary has warned of taking action for the first time. Even ministers have said this before. But, not taking any measures is unfortunate.

The depreciation of the taka against dollar is shown as the reason behind wheat price going up in Bangladesh while it has decreased by 25 dollars in the global market. Not only wheat, traders use the dollar crisis as an excuse for increasing prices of all the imported items.

However, the question as to why the prices of food items including rice went up even before the dollar crisis, remains unanswered. The issue of mill owners manipulating the market to increase the rice price is known to all.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) president Ghulam Rahman said that some traders have been buying rice from farmers at lower prices and selling them to consumers at higher prices for years. But the government agencies aren’t taking action.

His remarks are backed by Prothom Alo’s report also. The government bought rice for Tk 42 a kilogram in the last Aman season. In fact, rice mill owners themselves supplied that rice.

The reason is that the government seldom buys paddy directly from the farmers. Farmers sell paddy to mill owners and mill owners resell it to the government and consumers after turning the paddy into rice.

Even in this peak season, coarse rice is selling at Tk 48 to 52 a kilogram in the market. Yet the mill owners sold it to the government for Tk 42.

There’s another issue to be considered, whether the government helped mill owners to increase the price by importing rice from abroad for Tk 47 in the middle.

If there’s a rise in supply the price tumbles down, that’s the nature of market. In that case, the government should provide consumers with rice in more quantities through TCB. Poor and low income people will be benefitted from this.

Mill owners have been manipulating the rice market for years. In fact, ministers and secretaries of the government have done meetings with them in phases regarding this. But these meetings resulted in almost zero outcomes.

Who are manipulating the rice market and how isn’t unknown to government’s policy makers and concerned agencies. The question is who’ll bell the cat?

Government monitoring has to be increased to dispel the instability in rice market. Those who are stealing money from the consumers must be held accountable.