Azmat Ali is a day laborer in the northern district of Lalmonirhat. Just a week ago he bought coarse rice for 44-45 tk per kg. But yesterday he found that the price of the staple had increased to 52 Tk.
“Now it has become more difficult to support my family with the money I earn as my daily wage has not increased. It’s still Tk 300,” he said.
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Shahed Ali from Sylhet’s Baluchar area is in an almost similar situation. A carpenter by trade, just a few months ago he was able to support his family with the income from wood processing.
“But now,” he says, “with prices of rice and other commodities rising, I can’t make ends meet.
Over the past week, prices for both coarse and fine rice varieties have increased by 5-10k per kg in retail markets, worsening the situation for the poor and fixed-income groups who are already struggling with rising living costs.
A kilogram of coarse rice like Swarna was sold at Tk 52 to Tk 54 at various markets in the capital and other parts of the country yesterday. Just a week ago the price was Tk 40 to Tk 42.
The situation is almost the same for fine rice varieties. A kg of miniket rice is sold for Tk 70, which was Tk 62 to Tk 65 a week ago. Nazirshail, another premium rice variety, now costs 90 to 95 Tk per kg. The price fluctuated between Tk 80 and Tk 85 last week.
“Things have become extremely difficult for people on limited incomes like me due to the rising prices of rice and other essentials. If prices keep rising, how will we survive?” asked Abu Saleh, a college professor in Rajshahi.
Our correspondents from several districts including Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Pabna, Dinajpur, Kushtia, Faridpur, Bogura, Thakurgaon, Pirjopur, Barisal and Gazipur visited the rice markets yesterday and found that the lowest price of all varieties was 52 Tk .
Retailers say wholesalers benefited from the rising rice price trend and reduced supply, while the latter cited increases in transportation and other costs for the price hike.
The wholesalers also blame the big millers for creating an artificial crisis by stockpiling paddy and rice.
The rice millers, on the other hand, said the farmers had sold rice at a higher price. An increase in their production costs amid the fuel price increase ultimately contributed to such a rise in the price of rice, they claimed.
Rice price has seen an upward trend over the past month after boro yield was low due to flooding and wheat price led to rising demand for rice in the international market.
A consortium of major dealers and wholesalers jumped at the opportunity to raise the price by creating an artificial crisis, the millers said.
Even the government’s move to lower the import tariff from 62 percent to 25 percent last month has not yet had any impact on the rice market due to low imports.
After the import tariff cut, only 26,850 tons of the grain entered Bangladesh between July 1 and August 14, although the government allowed private companies to import nearly 10 lakh tons and ahead of the Aman harvest in the November-December period market, Food Ministry sources said.
“Traders are not importing as the price of rice has increased in the Indian market after our government lowered the import duty,” said Nirod Baran Saha, president of the Paddy and Rice Stockists and Wholesalers’ Association in Naogaon, citing media reports.
According to an Aug. 1 report by the Economic Times of India, prices of all rice varieties have risen by as much as 30 percent since early June, driven by higher demand from Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia due to shortages of rice acreage in several Indian states.
Meanwhile, people on limited and low incomes are bearing the brunt of the situation as they struggle to keep their heads above water due to rising prices of basic necessities.
Mohammad Amanullah, a rice trader from the city of Pirojpur, said the price of each 50kg bag of rice has risen by as much as Tk500 in the wholesale market.
“When the price started to rise, the wholesalers created an artificial rice crisis and delivered fewer bags than we asked for for several days,” he claimed.
Amanullah said the wholesalers and millers are responsible for the rising price and that they keep the business going through a syndicate.
Faruque Ahmed, secretary-general of the Sylhet District Rice Merchants Association, said: “Due to the flooding, the quality of freshly produced boro in the greater Sylhet area has dropped dramatically, leading to an increase in fuel prices.”
“But,” he claimed, “the dealer consortium took advantage of the situation by raising the price.”
The wholesalers and small millers, on the other hand, said it was the big mill owners who had created an artificial crisis.
“Big millers now control the market and they have so much stock that many of them rent our warehouses to store rice,” said Md Kamal Uddin, owner of Rajshahi-based Kamal Auto Rice Mill.
Akhtaruzzaman Russel, general manager of AR Specialized Rice Mill, one of the largest rice producers, claimed that the rice price has skyrocketed at the farmer level and the increase in production costs has only made the situation worse.
Also, electricity bills and other costs such as transportation costs increased by 2 to 3 percent, leading the production cost of rice to increase by 4 to 5 tk per kg, he said.
Currently, the government has a stock of 18.76 lakh tons of grain, including 15.43 lakh tons of rice and 1.29 lakh tons of rice (as of August 14).
The country needs over 3.5 million tons of rice every year. Most of the stocks remain with the private traders who control the rice market.
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dr AM Asaduzzaman, former research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the rise in rice prices is not only affecting the poor sections of society, but those on limited incomes are also bearing the brunt of the situation.
He suggested that the government should monitor the big traders and rice mill owners and ask about the reasons for the price increase. “If the government knows the reason, they could control it,” he said.
Contacted Ismiel Hossain, Secretary of the Food Ministry, claimed traders had increased the price of rice at will.
“It’s not that the price has gone up because of the increase in production costs. she [traders and millers] already stored rice and paddy. If they cite the fuel price increase as the reason, they shouldn’t have increased the price by more than 1 Tk,” he said.
Regarding surveillance, the secretary said the government does not have enough staff to oversee every market in the country.
On the import, he said the deadline for importing rice has been extended to the end of September.
“The government will sell 2.5 lakh tons of rice every month from September 1 under the open market sales program. We will make sure the poor people get rice at a cheaper price,” he added.