The hike in rice prices is defying all norms in the kitchen markets across the country. It comes as a surprise because, on average, the price of all types of rice has risen by Tk 5 per kilogramme during the peak harvesting season of Aman. The increase in prices of the main staple has hit the poor and fixed-income families hard. They are increasingly finding it impossible to balance their daily diet amid a full-blown inflationary trend affecting most items in the food basket. Most people consume coarse rice, not because it is cheaper but by preference. Hence any sudden increase will financially hurt a large percentage of the population. Others who consume medium and fine rice are also paying an inflated amount. A survey of the various kitchen markets in the city has found evidence of price manipulation at the wholesale level.
Poor and low-income families have little other than squeezing in their daily food intake. And this is evident from the decline in the sale of proteins, namely poultry and red meat. An unabated rise in the prices of the main staple, that too, during the harvesting season, has only made them worried about future days. What is evident is that when there is short-supply of rice, created deliberately or otherwise, a price hike becomes inevitable. There is also allegation that rice mills have been overly active in cornering the supply of paddy by procuring as much of it as possible at inflated prices, which will inevitably hurt the government's annual procurement programme of paddy. There is concern that the government is unlikely to hit the target of procuring 800,000 tonnes of rice this season because of the gap between the market price and the official procurement price. The move needs to be countered by importing rice in sufficient volume to cool off price situation since the government has several pro-poor food programmes that run in tandem around the year to support the poor and disadvantaged segments of the populace.
This year is different from other years. With a war in Europe raging, alarm bells have been rung by international agencies of a looming food crisis globally. Ukraine and Russia constitute a large portion of the world supply of wheat, the second most important staple for people in our country. With supplies of that item on the squeeze, rice will inevitably be higher in demand. If racketeers can make hay with prices in the kitchen markets, everything will come undone. So, the government should take stern actions against these profiteers.
The government must bring down prices through a combination of higher imports and actions against wrongdoers who are unsettling the rice market during an economic downturn. The Prime Minister has asked the relevant agencies to ensure the uninterrupted procurement of food items from abroad. That directive needs to be complied with properly. Besides, the import duty on rice needs to be waived to make imports cheaper. The national exchequer will lose revenue because of duty-free imports, but there is no way out under the prevailing circumstances.