Consumers, growers groan

Lax monitoring, other failures blamed   

Shakahwat Hossain with Moinul Haque  | Published: 00:10, Jan 02,2020


Record-high price of onion, torching paddy in frustration over extremely low price and record-low rates for hide were salient market features in the outgoing year as monitoring and interventions by government agencies went haywire, experts said.

Consumers had to pay nearly 600 per cent higher prices for onion in the later part of the year compared to the previous year due to lack of proper management and preparations from the government to keep a smooth supply of the item in the market, they said.

The government was forced to fly in onion from Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey to deal with the supply shortage, aggravated by the ban on export of the item by neighbouring India in early October, after the price of the essential commodity crossed Tk250 a kilogram.

Not only the sky-high price of onion prompted prime minister Sheikh Hasina to reportedly ask her cooks not to use the item and left the consumers dizzy but also the exorbitant prices of other essential items like vegetables, garlic, spices, lentil, edible oil, powder milk and sugar kept them juggling their needs and ability throughout the year.

According to government data, the price of local garlic increased 257.89 per cent in last one year and was selling for Tk 160–180 a kilogram while the imported item increased by 107 per cent and was selling for Tk 140–150 a kilogram on Friday.

The price of red lentil increased by 20 per cent in last twelve months and the item was selling for Tk 55–125 a kilogram on the city markets.

The price of unpacked soya bean oil increased by 7.41 per cent while that of palm oil by 19.05 per cent over the year.

Unpacked soya bean oil was selling for Tk 87–90 a litre while palm oil for Tk 75–78 a litre on Friday. 

The price of powdered milk increased by 5–14 per cent and was selling for Tk 520–600 a kilogram on the city markets on the day.

Data showed that the price of sugar went up by  21.36 per cent to Tk 60–65 a kilogram over the year.

The upward price adjustment of household gas connection at Tk 975 from Tk 800 since August has added to the woes of the consumers in 2019, the first year of the straight third term of the ruling Awami League.

Most of the vegetables sold at Tk 50–80 a kilogram on average on the city kitchen markets throughout the year while the growers did not get reasonable prices for the items.

Low price of boro paddy left the farmers so frustrated that one of them—Abdul Malek Shikder of Kalihati in Tangail—on May 12 set fire to his paddy field while a fellow farmer offered half the yield to those who would harvest him the crop on his land as he could not afford labourers.

Paddy growers were forced to sell their produce at almost half the production cost incurring huge financial losses as the government procurement at fair price hardly had any impact on the market throughout the year.

Against this backdrop, the rise in prices of rice by Tk 5 to Tk 8 per kilogram in October despite sufficient stock of the item took the consumers by surprise.

Consumer Association of Bangladesh president Ghulam Rahman blamed the profit-mongering commodity traders for this abnormal situation in which the growers did not get fair price for their goods but the consumers had to pay high price for the same.

He also blamed monitoring lapses by the government agencies for the situation that pained the general population of the country in footing the bills for the essentials.

On November 27, the CAB at a press briefing demanded regular market monitoring to keep the prices of essentials stable and making the Bangladesh Competitive Commission effective to ensure fair prices for the growers.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies director general Khan Ahmed Sayeed Murshid said that although the rise in prices of commodities was seasonal it impacted the life of a vast population.

He further said that the rise in prices of rice and atta was always sensitive in this country since the items account for a major portion of their daily consumption.

According to the World Bank, poor people spend up to 50 per cent of their daily income on food.

Executive director Ahsan H Mansur of the Policy Research Institute said that the price hike of food items affected low- and fixed-income people and also affected other economic activities.

Many people risk being poor again due to food price hike, he pointed out.

According to experts, market intelligence of the government agencies was so ineffective that the unholy nexus in the leather sector made mockery of the seasonal rawhide trade amid unprecedented low price of the item in August following Eid-ul-Azha.

The drastic fall in rawhide price prompted the government to lift the export ban on the item, but by the time a sizeable number of hides and skins had already been dumped across the country.

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