The government has again become dependent on imported rice for maintaining food stock against the backdrop of loss of paddy to flash floods and lacklustre collection of boro in the ongoing procurement season.
Officials said the food ministry could procure only 1.9 lakh tonnes of rice as of August 7 against the target of 12.55 lakh tonnes in the current boro procurement season that expires this month.
As the target of the boro procurement is going to be missed by a big margin, desperate food ministry has already stepped up efforts to import rice to push up the falling stock, said the officials.
Food minister Qamrul Islam said the government has planned to procure around 10 lakh tonnes of rice from countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
Import of six lakh tonnes of rice has already started, he told New Age on Saturday.
Bangladesh, ranked as the fourth-largest importer of the grain by the US Department of Agriculture in 2011, did not import rice through the government channel in last five years.
Although private traders import rice from India every year, the amount is not significant.
However, damages in the output of the country’s single biggest crop, boro, in May due to flash floods have forced the government to rely on import of rice heavily for maintaining the security of the public food stock.
Qamrul said he would discuss the country’s overall food security situation with the ministers of finance, agriculture and commerce at a meeting on August 16.
‘Hopefully, we will be able to find new ways to tackle the present situation,’ he said.
The government is facing problem in checking price hike of rice that forces consumers, especially poor and low-income groups to spent additional money to buy the staple.
The shortfall in the government food stock has worsened the crisis triggering an abnormal price hike of rice by more than Tk 20 a kilogram.
Despite reducing duty on import of rice, the situation has not improved.
Directorate General of Food director general Badrul Hasan said a parliamentary standing committee member already recommended reducing rice import duty further.
He said the government should not procure rice from the local market to grow food stock as it would cause supply constraint in the local market.
Until the next procurement season that begins in December, the government should continue to import rice to meet the shortage of the boro output.
Quoting estimates of the agriculture ministry, he said early flash floods during May damaged 9.55 lakh tonnes of rice or five per cent of targeted 191 lakh tonnes of boro output in 2017.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed said rice import by the government to check price hike of the staple is always vital.
However, the huge import would put pressure on balance of payment, he said.
The country’s balance of payment is already under pressure due to negative inflow of remittance and slowdown in export income.
Last time, the country spent substantial amount of foreign currency for the import of rice was in 2008 because of two rounds of foods and super cyclone Sidr in November 2007 that had damaged estimated 30 lakh tonnes of rice.
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