Government policy makers claim that Bangladesh is self-reliant in food production. That is partially true. We have been successful in producing rice and the government has talked about exporting rice after meeting the domestic demands.
A total of 10,978,000 metric tonnes of rice and wheat were produced in 1970-71 and production increased to 36,058,000 tonnes in 2014-15. The production of rice and wheat increased further over the last three years. High-yield paddy has also been introduced. Farmers as well as agro scientists can claim credit of this success.
Bangladesh is still lagging behind in other agro products especially edible oil and essential agro products. Most of our edible oil is imported, only a small portion produced locally.
According to the Agriculture Extension Department (DAE), a total of 2.33 million tonnes of onions were produced in 2018-19. Some 1,092,000 tonnes have been imported. Around 40 per cent of the onions are imported from abroad and a lion’s share comes from India.
Garlic and ginger are imported from China. The import price goes up if the production of these items falls in those two countries or export duty is increased there.
According to Prothom Alo reports, India fixed the export price of onions at $850 per tonne in a bid to keep its local market stable.
If Bangladesh imports onions at this price, a kg onion will be about Tk 72. Some Tk 5 to 6 will be added to it for transportation. The price of onions in Bangladesh increased as soon as the news of onion price increase in India was circulated. The price of onions has increased by Tk 20 per kg. The commerce ministry has not taken any effective steps about this, though it has declared onion as an essential item.
Commerce secretary Mohammad Zafar Uddin held a meeting on onion prices, where the minister and onion traders were not present. The minister was sick, but why were the traders not invited to the meeting? The outcome of the meeting was limited to the expectations of the secretary. The secretary organised the meeting in the morning. The price of onions increased further in the afternoon. This is a matter of concern.
The commerce secretary talked about some steps including reduction of import duty. But before the implementation of those steps, the price of onions is increasing. This needs to be controlled.
No onion was imported after India had increased the price of onion. Onion imported earlier is in the market. The price of onions in no way can be more than Tk 50 or 52 per kg. A section of unscrupulous traders has increased the price. As a regulatory body, the commerce ministry has a responsibility. The ministry should sit with the traders and force them to reduce the price.
This is a temporary remedy. As a permanent remedy, the dependence on import has to be reduced. Local production has to be increased.
The claim the government makes about the food autarky should not be limited to rice. The production of other agro products has to be increased. We should not just depend on other countries.