Bangladesh is set to sign agreements with three different countries, including Russia, finalising the import of 8.3 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice.
Imports were on hold after the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February. The new agreements are set to bolster Bangladesh's food reserve and food security.
The import of the vital staples is also a matter of relief at a time when crop production is uncertain due to unpredictable weather conditions as a sign of global climate change.
According to sources in the Ministry of Food, it held two meetings with the governments of Russia and Vietnam on Wednesday where it was decided to import 5 lakh tonnes of wheat from Russia.
At the same time, the decision to import 2.3 lakh tonnes of rice from Vietnam was also finalised.
Earlier, the food ministry had decided to import 1 lakh tonnes of rice from an Indian company.
All imports will be on a government-to-government (G2G) basis.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumdar told TBS, "We will now sign the contract quickly. Through this, the import of wheat from Russia is going to start again."
He said this import will play a big role in our food security at the moment.
Since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, global food commodity prices have skyrocketed, especially wheat, affecting Bangladesh's domestic market.
When global prices began to fall, dollar volatility also set in, meaning domestic prices increased while global prices were on a downtrend.
Due to these reasons, now the consumer has to buy open flour at Tk50-55 per kg, up from Tk38-40.
The rise in wheat and flour prices also increased the costs of various processed foods, including bread. Economists say when the price of flour rises, many people naturally switch back to rice.
During the last Boro season, several rounds of floods, landslides and storms affected the market when rice production fell. At the same time, there is a fear of production shortage due to drought in the current Aman season, when one and a half million tonnes of rice is produced every year.
Currently, coarse rice is being sold at Tk55-56 in the market, fine rice at Tk70-75, and high quality rice at Tk80-85.
Minister of Agriculture Abdur Razzak said in a program on Tuesday that this year's Aman production was going to be hit hard. Rising oil and fertiliser prices, the worst drought in 40 years and inability to run irrigation due to loadshedding have put Aman production in crisis.
For this reason, the government is giving more importance to the import of rice and wants to import rice quickly from Vietnam.
In this situation, the government has allowed the private sector to import 10.10 lakh tonnes of rice. Only 46,000 tonnes of rice were imported earlier due to the high price of the dollar.
The government is also looking to completely withdraw the import duty on rice.
Agricultural economist Dr Md Jahangir Alam Khan said, "In this situation, maximum efforts should be made to increase production. After this, we have to increase the import of food grains for our food security. It is definitely important for us to start importing from Russia at this point."
He said the government's decision to withdraw duty on rice imports officially and privately is a very timely decision.
The food ministry will hold a meeting with another Indian company on Thursday, which aims to finalise the process of importing another one lakh tonnes of rice. Apart from this, there is also a meeting with Myanmar on 29 August.
The Ministry of Food says since import of food grain is outside the US sanctions, grain can be imported from Russia and the government wants to take immediate steps for it.
The government wants to bring at least two consignments of Russian wheat to the country next month.
Some 30% of the rice imported from India will be brought by rail and the rest by ships.
The price of wheat and rice from Russia and Vietnam was also discussed in Wednesday's meeting, but the food ministry has not disclosed it.
Before the Russia-Ukraine war, the country's main sources of wheat imports were India, Canada, Russia and Ukraine. In the fiscal 2020-21, total wheat import was worth $1,558 million. Of this, 24% came from India, 23% from Canada, 21% from Russia and 17% from Ukraine. But due to the war in Ukraine and the export embargo, wheat imports from India also stopped as the nation focused on its own food security.
According to the food ministry, unofficial wheat imports were 60 lakh tonnes in 2019-20, and 48.64 lakh tonnes in 2020-21. It is 40lakh, including government imports,in FY22.
Furthermore, for the imports the government will make the payment in dollars through the four state-owned banks Sonali, Janata, Rupali and Agrani.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said, "If the import from Russia starts officially, then a way will be made for the private sector."
Food grains are now being exported regularly from Ukraine due to the agreement between Russia and Ukraine brokered by the United Nations. Under this agreement, the first export of 26,000 tonnes of corn for Lebanon left the port of Odessa on 1 August.
The food ministry is also looking at the start of export of Ukraine as an opportunity to import food grains.
Md Ismiel Hossain, secretary, Ministry of Food, told TBS that the start of imports from Ukraine was good news for Bangladesh as it too could discuss buying from Ukraine as well.