Unrelenting price hike of essentials
That prices of essential foods in Bangladesh would become dearer on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan has become unavoidable. Reluctantly people have to bear with this yearly price ordeal. What is different this year of course is that prices have been soaring ever since the war began in Europe. The Russo-Ukrainian war has thrown the world's supply of grains and edibles into chaos and that has affected every country, including Bangladesh. As global supply chains for foodstuffs were disrupted, Bangladeshis have been subjected to serious inflationary pressure for a year or so.
While the war is just one part of the equation, market manipulation by different syndicates which control every aspect of the food supply chain is no less responsible. This includes importers, producers, wholesalers and retailers. Every segment of the supplier chain is, unfortunately, controlled by special interest groups and this too is common knowledge.
If one looks at the data that are available with the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), prices of some essentials have skyrocketed from FY2022 to FY2023 in the following manner. Price of sugar has risen 50 per cent to Tk120-130 per kg (kilogram); beef is up by 21 per cent to Tk750-780 per kg, broiler chicken: Tk250-270 per kg; flour selling at Tk60-80 (up by about 48 per cent); fish by more than a third (34 per cent). All these price hikes have been happening prior to the onset of the month of Ramadan. According to a report published in this newspaper on March 20, the commerce minister "on Sunday issued a stern warning against any artificial increase in prices of essential commodities during the holy month of Ramadan", but the damage has already been done. If one is to take any lesson from the past, it would appear traders are used to such warnings and ignore those with nonchalance. While in the rest of the world, particularly in the Middle East, traders make it a point to profit as little as possible to ease off economic hardship during the month of fasting, the philosophy appears to be exactly the opposite in this country. Here, traders, it seems, wait for Ramadan in order to fleece consumers as much as they can by raising prices of food items beyond all rational limits!
Evidently, the year has not been kind to Bangladesh. With a foreign currency crisis persisting, import of many items has been squeezed. While the government has tried its best to alleviate the suffering of the people by allowing imports of food items, these good intentions will go down the drain if market forces are left unchecked. The authorities will need to demonstrate that they intend to take wholesalers and retailers to task in order to keep the kitchen market prices stable and more importantly, within reach of the purchasing capacity of people. Unfortunately, already market insiders are warning that consumers will be subject to brutal price shocks in the coming month, and that is not good news.
At the end of the day, it is all about market monitoring and handing out exemplary punishment to wrongdoers, whoever they may be. People do not need promises, they need to see action. Action against bloodsucking and immoral business interests whose greed knows no bounds! The fact is there has been little or no market monitoring over the course of the last year when consumers were reeling from stupendous food inflation. This does not make the public optimistic that things will improve during Ramadan, but an improvement of the situation was most desirable for the sake of the holy month.