A SHARP increase in rice prices, by Tk 10 a kilogram on an average, in a month, which is hurting people, especially the poor and low- and fixed-income groups, does not seem usual as it may, as what agricultural economists think, portend a food crisis unless it is adequately looked into in time. The rice of coarse varieties has now come to be retailed for Tk 58–Tk 62 a kilogram, which ranged between Tk 48 and Tk 52 a month ago while the rice of fine varieties are now retailed for Tk 68–Tk 72 against the prices of Tk 58–Tk 62 a month ago. Rice prices have been on a steady increase for the past five months which should have served as a warning for the government to take effective steps to stop the rice market from reaching such a height. But it, unfortunately, has not. Standing aman crops being destroyed by flooding since August, especially in the north and north-east, and standing boro crops being significantly destroyed in the flooding in April-May have only compounded the situation. While the government has, as the food department said, less than half a million tonnes of rice in its stock, a shortfall of 2.5 million tonnes is feared.
This makes the situation grave enough as the limited public-sector import of rice in the period has proved far too insufficient. The total government stock of food grain, as of this June, reduced, as it was reported that time, to 4,95,000 tonnes, including 1,91,000 tonnes of rice and 3,04,000 tonnes of wheat keeping to what the food department statistics then showed. The figures of food stock, as of now and June, show no significant improvement, both said not to be a sufficient amount. This further shows that the government has, in the meantime, taken no steps to tackle the food grain crisis that was looming then as it failed to foresee the consequence of damage and destruction of the boro and aman crops by the prolonged flooding. The government is reported to have had plans in May to import rice to replenish the stock and rein in prices by way of this market intervention mechanism. Yet banking on the rice import that the private sector would make, to bring down rice prices, the government has alerted deputy commissioners to the oversight of the rice market and to keep prices stable and within the reach of ordinary people.
It may not be possible to keep prices stable and within the reach of ordinary people when rice is in short supply. The government, under the circumstances, must immediately widen the food safety net, especially for the poor and low-income groups to head of any probable food crisis and act against any probable foul play on the market. The government, learning from the failure of a decision to import rice in time, must also hasten the process, being transparent and complying with due procedures, to import food grain adequately to tackle the looming crisis at hand and the challenge in future.
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