Rice prices are increasing at a time when millions of people are at a loss losing their jobs, or source of income, amid the ongoing pandemic.
The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), however, claimed that a record amount of rice has been produced in the last Boro season.
Visiting the rice markets in the capital, The Business Standard found that the price of coarse rice has increased the most, being sold at Tk50-53 per kg.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh's (TCB) market analysis on Tuesday, the price of coarse rice has gone up by Tk2 per kg in the last one week. Its price has increased by about 5.5% in the last one month; and compared to the last year, the price has increased by 14.12%.
Besides, medium quality rice is being sold at Tk56-62, about 13% more than the last year. Consumers have to spend Tk65-70 to buy a fine variety of rice in the market, which is 14.29% more than the last year.
DAE officials say the country produces 35 million tonnes of rice in the Boro, Aman and Aus seasons. In the last Boro season, estimated rice production was over 20 million tonnes which, in last year's Boro season, was 19.6 million tonnes.
Experts in the sector said that rice priced at Tk50-53 per kg is beyond the capacity of low-income people. It can be understood from the long line of people at the outlets of open market sale. The line of people, to buy rice at Tk30 per kg, is getting longer every day and many of them are going back empty handed due to limited allocation. To overcome this situation, the government has to sell more rice in the open market outlets; so that a pressure is created on traders.
Jahangir Alam Khan, vice-chancellor of University of Global Village and also an agronomist, told The Business Standard, "Rice prices are now beyond the control of the common people. The traders are now controlling its prices. The government has to take immediate action to tackle the situation. Otherwise, the sufferings of ordinary people will continue for a long time."
He said, "The government has sufficient stock of rice now. Sale of rice in open market outlets has to be increased a lot. Thus, the supply of rice in the market has to be increased from the government level. If needed, the supply has to be increased by importing rice from abroad; so that the traders are forced to reduce the price of rice."
Didar Hossain, owner of Khalek Rice Agency at Malibagh in the capital, told TBS, "The mill owners are increasing the price of rice every few days. They argue that the price of paddy is higher so they are forced to increase the price of rice. Thy do not care that the number of buyers decreases if the rice market becomes volatile."
Mill owners claimed that the price of rice has gone up due to higher prices of paddy. Now one has to spend Tk1,050-1,100 to buy one maund of paddy, they argued.
But talking to farmers and DAE officials, TBS learned that the price was between Tk600-800 per maund at the beginning of the Boro season when mill owners bought paddy extensively. Now when the farmers do not have paddy, the price has gone up to Tk1,050-1,100.
Asked about this, Layek Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Owners Association, claimed that paddy is now in the hands of seasonal traders. "We have to buy from them at increased prices. So, there is no scope to reduce the price of rice as the mill owners do not have rice in stock," he said.
Government procurement and stock situation
The government had announced to buy 650,000 tonnes of Boro paddy at a cost of Tk1,080 per maund. So far, until 29 July, 3,16,524 tonnes of Boro paddy has been procured. On the other hand, the government has procured 8.09 lakh tonnes of rice, against a target of 11 lakh tonnes, at Tk40 per kg, increasing the price by Tk4 per kg as compared to last season. The government's procurement activities are scheduled to end on 31 August.
However, the stock, which went down to the bottom at the beginning of this year, is quite good at present. According to the food ministry, there is a stock of 15.66 lakh tonnes of food grains at present, with 11.97 lakh tonnes of rice, 2.47 lakh tonnes of wheat and 1.87 lakh tonnes of paddy.
Two days ago, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder, after visiting the Local Supply Depot (LSD) at Naogaon in Rajshahi, told reporters that the allocation of rice for OMS activities has already been doubled. Distribution of rice through food-friendly programme will start from September.