Substantial hike in prices of rice and garlic in recent months has been hitting the commoners very hard. Prices of both these commodities have reached all-time high in the country.
Reports say local consumers buy the lowest quality of rice at the highest prices in the world. A kilogramme of a coarse variety of rice is being sold at Tk 48 in the local kitchen markets, setting a new record in the country's history.
According to market watchers, rice prices have consistently been rising for the last one year. Just in the past month, the prices have increased by 11 per cent. Also, it has doubled in the past one year.
The cause was attributed to wrong policies and not taking proper steps in this regard. While rice prices have jumped abnormally in Bangladesh, the situation in Vietnam is different. The rice is sold there at the cheapest rates in the world. The price of a kilogramme (kg) of rice there is Tk 33.62. In neighbouring India, the price of one kg rice is Tk 34 and Tk 37.81 in Thailand.
According to 'Agri Market', a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, rice prices have risen in all countries except Vietnam in the past week. Thailand has increased rice prices by 5.77 per cent, while India has raised rice prices by 1.4 per cent, and Pakistan by 2.0 per cent.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) April report, world rice production will decline by 6.0 million tonnes this year compared to last year. As much as 173.3 million tonnes of rice was produced in the 2015-16 fiscal. It is feared to go down to 2.0 million tonnes this year.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), rice price rose to Tk 38 per a kg in October, 2016 in Bangladesh. During the last caretaker government regime in 2008, a kilogramme of rice price shot up to Tk 36 per kg. Then, the price started falling after bumper production in 2009 that brought the rice price down to Tk 26 per kg in 2012.
The government has been saying that there is more rice than the capacity of the storehouses. Then why should the price be surging? The food minister has ordered a withdrawal of import taxes on rice in order to keep the prices stable. There is no room for consolation with such move for a country of surplus food grains that faces a sudden deficit.
Coming back to garlic, the country is witnessing spectacular price hike of imported ones. The state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) recorded a 64.29 per cent rise in imported garlic price in the domestic market, from Tk 220 a kg in June last year to Tk 360 last week.
Some traders were allegedly cheating buyers by charging exorbitantly for relatively large Indian and Egyptian garlic, claiming those to be Chinese. Such traders were taking advantage of the consumers' preference of large Chinese garlic over smaller home-grown ones. There is, in fact, no point in buying the pricey imported ones when local varieties are available for Tk 75-100 a kg.
Rice and spices are widely used by the commoners in the country. When their prices go up, it is the poor working class that suffers the most. Necessary measures must be taken to ensure that the prices do not increase. Rather than import, stress should be placed on increasing production and ensuring sufficient stock of the commodities in the government godowns. Selling adequate amounts of rice at low prices in the open market will improve the situation.
The government needs to be alert to ensure that its food grain collection target is met. A minister has blamed the traders for manipulating the market. The government should take legal action against those involved. And if the common consumers are benefited by the withdrawal of rice import duty, then monitoring of the importers must be stepped up.