Prices of rice increased further in major wholesale markets across the country in the last few days after remaining almost static for three weeks.
The hike in the wholesale level is likely to impact the retails within one or two days which will compound the sufferings of the commoners, already hit hard by rising costs of other essentials amid the flood and coronavirus pandemic.
Prices of all varieties of coarse rice, medium quality Brridhan-28 and 29, and some finer quality witnessed a Tk125-150 hike per 50-kg sack at mill gates and godowns (Araat) in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Naogaon, Pabna and Kushtia in the last three days, according to the Bangladesh Auto Major Husking Mill Owners Association (BAMHMOA).
Brridhan-28 rice, the most available variety in Boro season, was sold at Tk 47-48 a kg, coarse varieties at Tk 42-43 per kg at mill gates and Araats in Naogaon, Kushtia and Dinajpur districts on Monday morning-- Tk 2.5-3.0 a kg hike, according to the association.
Rice price also rose at Dhaka wholesales on Wednesday morning as the coarse varieties were selling at Tk 2,200- 2,250 a sack (Tk 43-44 per kg)-- 100-125 hike per sack.
A decline in availability of paddy, stockpiling of paddy and rice in large quantities by big millers, warehouse owners and wealthy farmers amid flood and pandemic, and existing high duties on rice import are the reasons behind the hike, said traders and market experts.
However, prices of rice at retail markets in the capital were static until Wednesday noon.
Habibur Rahman, a grocer on Sher-e-Banglanagar Road at Mohammadpur, said retail prices might increase with end of their old stock.
He said coarse varieties were selling at Tk 45-48 a kg, medium qualities at Tk 52-54 and finer qualities at Tk 58-70 on the day.
Md Shahidul Patwary Mohon, vice-president of the BAMHMOA, told the FE that the prices of Brridhan-28 paddy increased by Tk 100-120 per maund as was selling at Tk 1,180-1,200 a maund (40 kg) on the day. But the millers have raised prices of rice nominally (by Tk 0.5 to Tk 1.0 a kg) despite a significant rise in paddy prices, he mentioned.
He, however, claimed that the owners of big storages have raised rice prices notably by stacking up a large quantity of the staple at their godowns.
On the other hand, many millers have stopped purchasing the paddy early in the wake of a paddy supply crunch at the markets, he said.
He also said that a good number of hoarders have got involved in rice imports.
"As the government hasn't reduced import duties on rice as per its previous declaration, prices of the staple have also been increased by the hoarders," he said, adding that rice import duties are 62 per cent at present.
Both the millers and storage owners and traders have traded blames for the recent price hike.
Chandan Kumar Kundu, a Nilphamari-based trader, said millers have raised prices for the third time in the past one month.
He said stock of coarse rice like hybrid, Swarna declined at the mills and prices were also increased by Tk 2.0-3.0 a kg further by the millers in a week.
Echoing Mr Patwary, he blamed the paddy shortage at the local markets for the price hike.
Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) secretary Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan said, import duty should be reduced or removed immediately to encourage importers to ship the staple to the country from global market to control the local market prices.
Open Market Sale (OMS) of rice by the government should be started immediately across the country to protect poor from starvation, he said adding, that rice prices at the city retail markets had already increased by 15-25 per cent and the recent hike will raise the sufferings of the commoners, he added.
Economist Prof Golam Hafeez Kennedy said, millers and their colluder who triggered the rice price hike should be put under close scrutiny in order to fight any artificial price hike.
He said the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) should deliver authentic data quickly on rice production in Boro season.
Despite a fall in Boro acreage, the agriculture ministry had said recently that this year's production was an all-time high (20.26 million tonnes), but the claim was difficult to be substantiated by facts, he further said.
He demanded of the BBS to publish a real Boro output data which can be used by the government to initiate crafting of a rice import policy soon.
In fact, government has failed to meet its boro procurement target this year amid a surge in rice prices at the country's main market, market observers said.
The government's stock of rice should be raised to 4.5-5.0 million tonnes following the deluge and the pandemic, Mr Golam Hafeez viewed.
The government targeted to buy 1.95 million tonnes of paddy and rice but it has been able to buy only 0.85 million tonnes until September 15, said the market observers.
The government set the rice purchase price at Tk 35-36 a kg this year when the millers were selling the staple at Tk 42 a kg at the mill-gates.
The government has a stock of 1.1 million tonnes of rice at present.