The holy month of Ramadan begins from May 05. If someone is unaware of this, all he needs to do is visit a nearby kitchen market or superstore. The prices of essentials are likely to give him a rude shock only to make him aware that Ramadan is knocking on the door.
Since the beginning of March, prices of most edible items have been experiencing spikes. Till March 30, 2019, beef and other meats were sold at around Tk 520 to 550 per kilogram, up from Tk 450 to 480 per kilogram, a month earlier. Egg prices and vegetable price are also shooting up. The price of broiler chicken has reached Tk 180 to Tk 200 per kilogram, up from Tk 120 to 140 per kilogram in January.
It is a no-brainer that the prices will continue to rise as more than two weeks remain till the beginning of Ramadan. Often the prices simmer down around the 16th or 17th day of Ramadan.
The government has assured that prices of essentials will remain stable this year. On March 27, while attending an evaluation meeting on the stock of goods and commodities ahead of Ramadan, the commerce minister asked the country's business people to support the government in checking any abnormal rise in prices of commodities during Ramadan.
But the spikes in the prices of items are very visible and there are no signs of these coming down within the next two months.
Why are prices increasing, even when the government has assured that there is ample stock of all commodities ahead of the holy month of fasting for Muslims?
Members from the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) have blamed syndicates that are taking advantage of poor surveillance by government agencies to monitor prices. Last year, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) had pointed to the extortion by political activists and corruption in various spheres including government offices as responsible for the price hike of essentials. Some retailers and wholesalers had also blamed traffic congestion, higher transport costs and other factors.
It seems the annual price spiral of essentials ahead of Ramadan has become quite normal. But this issue is creating more problems which are likely to aggravate the crisis. In recent years, fearing price hikes a few weeks before Ramadan, most middle and upper income households have been buying essential items in bulk at least a month or two months before Ramadan. This is increasing the demand for products which in turn is allowing many unscrupulous traders to increase prices two months ahead of Ramadan. This is increasing the scope for such traders to make more money through hoarding.
For example, last year, the prices of local onions and tomatoes reached Tk 50 to 60 per kilogram on May 15, while these were being sold at around Tk 25 to 30 per kilogram around March 20, 2018. Prices of almost all items including vegetables, spices, puffed rice, edible oils, flour, meat and fishes increased significantly between March and May last year. Prices of items like cucumber, aubergine, puffed rice, different fruits and other items consumed during iftars experienced 30 to 50 per cent increase. A similar trend is being experienced this year as well.
Without proper steps from the government, this trend in price spiral ahead of Ramadan will continue. Economists have pointed out that to tackle the problem, there is a need for streamlining the supply chain, strengthening market monitoring, stopping extortion in transportation sector, checking stocking, addressing traffic congestion in the city and especially near entry points and keeping transportation cost under check, ahead of Ramadan. These steps can prove to be effective only if the government agencies and business bodies plan and coordinate their focus and actions a few months ahead of Ramadan.
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