The nation’s food supply is likely to face a threat from the loss of Boro production in the current season from early flash-floods in the Haor wetlands, as well as pest attacks on paddy crops across the country.
To add to the crisis, rice reserves in both the public and private sectors are at their lowest in recent memory. Rice prices are already unusually high and market insiders fear that the worst is yet to come.
The government is now scrambling to make a quick response and has agreed the first rice imports for six years, ordering 600,000 tonnes.
According to Food Ministry data, the price of 1kg coarse rice is now Tk38, which is Tk14 higher than the same time last year.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, around 300,000 hectares of Boro fields were submerged in the latest flash-floods in the northeastern Haor wetlands, namely the seven districts of Sunamganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj and Netrakona.
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Rice traders say they have very little rice in reserve this year, unlike in previous years. The government’s rice reserve has come down as well. The photo was taken at a wholesale rice market in Ashuganj on November 17, 2012S yed Zakir Hossain
Agriculture Ministry estimates say the average per hectare Boro production in Bangladesh is about 4 tonnes.
By that account, the country has lost about 1.2 million tonnes of Boro rice in the flash-floods, though other unofficial estimates have put the figure almost twice as high.
This year Boro farmers have also suffered from blast attacks in the Boro field, which may also affect the yield in many areas.
“This year I was forced to harvest two acres of my Boro paddy at least two weeks early as a large portion of my field was attacked by blast. I got at least 30% less production than usual,” said Abdul Kuddus, a farmer from Lalmonirhat.
However, the DAE thinks that the extent of the parasite attack has been overstated by news reports.
Chaitanya Kumar Das, director of field services of DAE, told the Dhaka Tribune that blast will not create any negative impact on overall production.
“There were some blast attacks in specific areas but we managed to bring them under control quickly,” he said.
“We hope that this shortage will be recovered soon enough after the Aush harvest as we have a larger coverage of Aush variety than the previous years.”
This year the acreage of Aush paddy is 1.025 million hectares while the last year’s coverage was 962,000 hectares.
Agricultural economist Qazi Shahabuddin believes that this year the country will experience about two million tonnes of shortage in Boro production.
According to the Food Ministry, the government’s rice reserve came down to 262,000 tonnes on May 7. In May last year the reserve was about 678,000 tonnes.
Traders are also saying they have very little rice in reserve.
Naogaon Rice Wholesalers Association President Nirod Baran Saha, who has been in the rice business since 1978, told the Dhaka Tribune: “This year the situation is completely different from the previous years. Like the government, the private sector’s reserve is almost finished.
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Locals in Farmgate, Dhaka queue up in front of a Trading Corporation of Bangladesh truck to buy their daily commodities on Monday Syed Zakir Hossain
“Usually at the beginning of the Boro harvest, I always have a good amount of rice in my storage from the previous year. But this year my reserve is almost empty.”
In March and Aprill every year there is usually a small increase in rice prices in Bangladesh, when the Aman harvest from late autumn slowly nears depletion and the Boro paddy is still in the fields.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Boro provides the largest part of the country’s cereal production. Out of the circa 35 million tonnes of rice produced in the 2015-16 fiscal year, 19 million tonnes came from Boro.
But this year there was a sharp spike in rice prices, at least Tk14 higher than the previous year.
According to the Food Ministry, the average retail price of coarse rice is now Tk38 per kg, while the figure was Tk24 in this period last year.
Market insiders think that the rice price hike might continue or at least stay at this level throughout the year because of production shortfall and shortage of stock.
Qazi Shahabuddin, former director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), thinks that importing rice in both public and private sectors is the only option to tackle the situation.
It is a view shared by Nirod Baran Saha: “To facilitate import, the government has to withdraw the imposed supplementary duty which is 25%. Otherwise, the private sector would not be interested in doing it,” he said.
To make the reserve sufficient, the government has already decided to import 100,000 tonnes of rice initially, something it has not done in the past six years. This figure will rise to 600,000.
According to some estimations, the government needs at least 483,000 tonnes of rice by June 30 to meet the demand of its various social safety net programmes including Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) and Open Market Sale (OMS), especially in the Haor basins where the food shortage is threatening to become acute.