• Tuesday, Sep 28, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:18 am

Govt importing rice to replenish depleting food reserve

  • Published at 03:24 pm December 5th, 2020
web-rice godown
File photo Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Food directorate’s reluctance to buy paddy from farmers resulted in poor stock

The government is set to import 100,000 tons of rice amidst a depleting food stock in hand.

Despite having a relatively good domestic cereal year for a Covid-19 pandemic period, the government is required to go for the import largely because of the food directorate’s failure in buying paddy from farmers and not replenishing the food reserve in time.  

Food Ministry officials confirmed Dhaka Tribune that the country’s food reserve has hit a new low in recent years, forcing the government to go for import of the staple amidst the global food prices’ jump during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The food directorate’s failure to procure sufficient volume of paddy directly from the growers in the last Boro season and not replenishing the fast-dwindling rice reserve pushed it to float two international tenders on November 15 and 19, seeking to import 100,000 tons of parboiled rice.

Its current drive for procuring Aman paddy from farmers is also far from gaining momentum, food officials told Dhaka Tribute.

Riding on a high projection of domestic cereal production, the  government kept a budgetary provision to import only 100,000 tons of rice for the entire 2020-21 financial year. However, now officials fear if public granaries are not replenished with domestic procurement during this Aman season, Bangladesh may have to pay higher import bills for rice.

The government resorted to rice import during the peak of domestic rice harvest season as the staple’s reserve in public granaries dwindled to only 0.55 million tons on December 2. On the same date last year, the government had a comfortable rice stock of one million tons.

Bangladesh’s food department has gone to the international market for importing rice at a time when the world food prices rose for a sixth month running in November, hitting almost a six year high with the index posting its biggest monthly increase since July 2012, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations food agency, said on Thursday.

Against a target of procuring 800,000 tons of paddy from farmers in the last Boro season, the food directorate managed to buy only 220,000 tons.

Again, in the current Aman season, the food directorate’s success in buying paddy from farmers is anything but satisfactory. Against a 200,000 tons paddy procurement target (during November-February procurement period), the directorate bought a paltry 27 tons from farmers as of December 2, and against a target of buying 650,000 tons of rice from the millers, the directorate bought only 507 tons in the first month. 

The food directorate’s new initiative of e-buying paddy directly from farmers through a digital app has not worked well so far, prompting the department to ask its field officials to activate the app-driven procurement process properly. 

Experts note such inefficiencies and half-hearted procurement drives conducted by the directorate resulted in a situation where the government’s rice reserve dipped so low.

It remains a puzzle why the government has been pushed to a situation where it is being forced to import rice when its domestic cereal production projections are showing gradual rise in yields.

According to the government’s Food Planning and Monitoring Unit’s (FPMU) latest trimonthly Bangladesh Food Situation Report, the country’s cereal output rose by 3.4% from 2018-19FY to 2019-20FY and is projected to rise further in the current fiscal year, 2020-21.

Somehow these year-on-year growth projections are not being reflected in the government’s food stock management largely because of the food directorate’s inefficiency and reluctance in procuring paddy directly from the rice farmers.

In the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal, the government buys a fifth of paddy output grown by the farmers in a year; whereas, the food directorate in Bangladesh hardly manages to buy 5% of the total rice output.

Experts note that the government is leaving much room open in Bangladesh’s rice market for private traders and millers to rule, and often these two groups dictate price terms, much to the misery of poor rice farmers.

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