5 months ago

Following egg example, govt mulls potato import to calm escalating prices

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In a continued struggle to stabilise potato prices, the government is considering imports as retail rates defy the government-set maximum retail price of Tk 36 per kg, according to a top official.

"We are closely monitoring the situation. If potato prices do not stabilise within the next two to three days, we will proceed with import," said AHM Safiquzzaman, additional commerce secretary and head of the consumers' right directorate.

The government set the maximum retail price of potatoes at Tk36 per kg on September 14. Despite interventions, Dhaka city continues to see prices ranging from Tk 48 to Tk 55 per kg, surpassing the government rates by a large margin.

In the country's key potato production hubs, prices have slightly dipped to Tk 40-45 per kg, but they still remain Tk 5-10 above the government's designated rate, according to the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM).

The Directorate General of National Consumers Right Protection (DNCRP) initially took actions such as market raids to cool off the prices of potatoes, onions and eggs, and reviewing the prices of edible oil and sugar.

While anti-price manipulation raids, followed by imports, successfully brought down spiralling egg prices, potato prices still remain volatile.

Director General of the consumers' right directorate AHM Safiquzzaman said the commerce minister is actively exploring import options to restore market stability.

To comprehensively address the issue, the directorate held meetings with cold store owners, wholesalers and retailers and conducted visits to various potato cold stores in major production regions like Munshiganj, Bogra, Rangpur and Nilphamari.

During the visits, the possibility of potato imports was also discussed with traders, according to the directorate.

Mr Jakaria, a grocer in Dhaka's Mohammadpur, questioned how they could sell potatoes at Tk 36 when the wholesale prices at Karwan Bazar stand at Tk 43 per kg.

He said the authorities must first implement the price at the cold storage gates.

In the mid-September price setting, the commerce ministry instructed cold storage facilities to sell potatoes at Tk 26 to Tk 27 per kg.

However, prices remained high, leading some businesses to temporarily halt potato sales in protest in Rangpur, Bogura and Chattogram, said sources.

TM Rashed Khan, assistant director at the Agricultural Marketing Department, told the FE that potato prices in India are currently way too low than in Bangladesh.

He said the retail price in India is below Tk 20 per kg in West Bengal and other potato-producing hubs. Taking transportation costs into account, it could be sold in Bangladesh at Tk 25 per kg, which is half of the current retail price.

Value chain expert and farm economist Prof Dr Gazi M Jalil said it is a peak time for farmers to acquire seed potatoes. But the prices of seed potatoes have reached a record high this year due to the surge in table potato prices.

He believes the commerce ministry started monitoring the market a bit late this year. "The prices of potatoes started increasing from June and reached their peak in August and only after that did we see the presence of the consumers' right directorate in the market."

He suggested that a decision on imports should be made jointly by the agriculture and commerce ministries, considering the upcoming harvest of early varieties of potatoes by northern farmers next month.

Bangladesh ranks seventh in global potato production, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the commerce ministry.

This year, the country's potato production stands at 10.4 million tonnes, surpassing the local demand of 9.0 million tonnes. Besides, Bangladesh exports over 0.1 million tonnes.

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