Private firm employee Tabarul Islam is the lone breadwinner for his four-member family. At the end of a month six-seven months ago, he used to save some pennies. But with the turn of events, Tabarul says he now needs to borrow money to make ends meet almost every month.
Like him, people in Dhaka with a limited income say no food items – from baby food to staple rice to meat – are within their reach now.
"We cannot even talk about any salary hike amid the pandemic. But monthly expenditure has almost doubled thanks to the pricier essentials," said Sanat Saha, a private company employee, at Karwanbazar.
"I am seriously struggling with the paltry income even after trimming the food menu. Now I buy only the items that cannot be replaced or discarded from the table," he added.
Currently, per kilogram of coarse rice costs Tk50, which was at Tk42-45 in the corresponding period last year. According to the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the price of coarse rice spiked by Tk2 per kg last week alone.
Medium and premium quality rice categories are at Tk58-65 per kg, despite Bangladesh logging a record of more than 5 lakh tonnes of Boro production in the latest season. Besides, the government allowed 17 lakh tonnes of rice import in a bid to rein in the price of rice.
The bumper production plus the import initiative seems not to have any effect on the spiralling market yet. Rice prices are still on the rise even though Aman harvesting season is ongoing.
If someone thinks of switching to roti from rice to tighten the belt, the move would not yield much as flour has become 17%-20% pricier compared to the corresponding period last year.
Soybean oil, another cooking essential, hit a record high of Tk160 per litre while the item was at Tk100-Tk110 earlier this year. According to the TCB, the edible oil price surged by 48% last year.
In the international market, oil, flour and sugar prices have been spiking since early-2021. Unrefined soybean oil prices have soared more than 80% in one year in the global market, affecting the domestic rates too.
At subsidised rates, the trading corporation conducts open-market sales of essentials across the country meant for people belonging to the low-income bracket. In the face of rising oil rates, the TCB itself yesterday raised oil prices to Tk110 per litre from Tk100. Besides, the corporation also hiked the price of lentils to Tk60 from Tk55 per kg.
In Dhaka, no vegetable is below Tk60 except potatoes and green papaya. Four eggs cost Tk38 while per kg broiler is at Tk165-Tk175. After a slight drop, onions are now at Tk60-Tk65 per kg, which was Tk40 even a month ago.
A vendor at Moghbazar, Mosleh Uddin said since his struggle with the rising monthly spending turns serious, he mulls returning to his ancestral village for survival.
In the face of the spiralling prices, traders too are frustrated as they say people are now buying less. Less purchase, for them, means less business as well as less profit.
Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, believes a better supply system can stabilise the volatile market and the government should intervene in the supply flow immediately.
"If a commodity price rises in the international market, the government should go for import tax adjustment or can import it on its own. But the government's measures to fix the rate of a product at retail level did not yield any remarkable output so far," he noted.
On market supply, Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), echoed Ghulam Rahman.
"The government should ramp up imports of the essentials. Plus, the coverage of open-market sales should be widened," he said. He advocated for strengthening the government's monitoring of public imports.
Dr Golam Moazzem also proposed providing 50 lakh Covid distressed poor families with cash aid again.