Year-on-year import of rice increased 41.22 times in the ten months of the current fiscal year 2020-2021 with a view to strengthening the stock at government warehouses and containing the soaring price of the staple food on the retail market.
Given the import of rice worth $182.7 million in April, the country’s import payments for the staple food reached $696.6 million in JulyApril against $16.9 million in the same period of FY20, the latest Bangladesh Bank data showed.
Rice import spiked following the government’s decision to allow private businesses to import rice from abroad in December 2020.
In a bid to facilitate the import of the commodity and to boost its stock, the government reduced the import duty on rice to 25 per cent from 62.5 per cent.
A food ministry update showed that 7,37,820 tonnes of rice were imported in July-March of FY21. Of the amount, the private sector imported 5,21,500 tonnes and the government imported 2,16,620 tonnes.
Import of another 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice from India is in the final stages, food ministry officials said.
Even after the increase in rice import, the price of the staple on the country’s retail market still remained high.
As per the data of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, the fine variety of Miniket rice sold for 64-66 a kg on Friday while the same variety sold for Tk 55-60 a kg on January 3, 2020.
Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem, however, told New Age, ‘The rice imported in recent months had not been enough to contain the prices given the demand situation on the market.’
The government’s initiative to enhance its stock of rice by importing the commodity through the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh was limited, he said, adding, ‘An enhanced stock would help the government to continue supplying rice to the market.’
As the government’s stock, that usually remains above 10 lakh tonnes, fell below 5 lakh tonnes amid a supply shortage on the retail market after the coronavirus outbreak, many businesses were capitalising on the situation even after the boro rice harvest, he said.
The government should source rice from the local and international markets to take its stock above 10 lakh tonnes alongside ensuring import of the staple through the private sector, Moazzem said.
The CPD research director also mentioned that their research on the recent rice import data suggested that incidents of over-invoicing were taking place as otherwise, the supply situation should have improved.
So, the banks as well as the National Board of Revenue should scrutinise the issues, said Moazzem. The stock of the staple food plunged to a record low of 4.62 lakh tonnes on April 20, the lowest after 2008 when the stock dropped to 2.8 lakh tonnes.
With the coronavirus outbreak leading to income erosion, the spike in rice prices has led to huge sufferings among people from mostly middle- and low-income groups.
The country’s overall spending against food grains, including wheat import, rose by 55.52 per cent to $2.28 billion in July-April of FY21 against its spending of $1.47 billion in the same period of FY20 mainly due to a sharp increase in rice imports.
Import of wheat, another major food grain, increased by 9.25 per cent to $1.58 billion during the period under consideration in FY21 against import of $1.45 billion in the same period of FY20.
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