The food ministry recently allowed a record 1.7 million tons of rice import with a tax cut facility
In 2020-21, Bangladesh’s farmers grew rice in excess of 38 million tons, statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture show.
Yet the Ministry of Food has been importing rice and has also authorized, over the past two weeks, a record high 1.7 million tons of imports of the cereal through private traders.
Now the Planning Ministry appears at its wit’s end in trying to understand the puzzling mismatch in the country’s demand, production and shortfall of the staple food.
Noting that Bangladesh’s current per capita rice consumption is 367 grams now, the newly appointed State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam said on Wednesday: “We shouldn’t have required more than 30 million tons of rice to meet local demand. We should have by now become a rice exporting country. Why are we importing a huge volume of rice then? There must be a gap [in production estimates] somewhere.”
Prior to occupying his ministerial berth, Dr Alam was a senior secretary and had long been serving as a member of the Planning Commission’s General Economy Division.
“If there is good yield and supply of rice in the market, why is its price increasing?” wondered Dr Alam, an agriculture economist.
Speaking at the same event, organized at a city hotel to outline a future strategy toward augmenting rice production in the country, Agriculture Minister Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque said: “Ask any farmer of this country. Farmers will tell you how happy they are this year with good rice yields. We’ve reaped a good rice harvest.”
Expressing his scepticism over the population statistics in the last census, Dr Razzaque urged the authorities concerned: “Please take more time if needed and do the next round of census more efficiently and make sure there is no error.”
He wondered why such a demand-supply mismatch was there when the country had witnessed record rice production in the 2020-21 financial year. The agriculture minister said it was true that some 2.2 million additional mouths were added to be fed each year and some amount of rice was used for feed purposes, but still there should not have been any shortfall.
In reality, amidst soaring rice prices – particularly of the coarse varieties that the ultra-poor mostly consume - the food ministry allowed a record 1.7 million tons of rice import by private traders and gave them a tax cut facility too.