In the wake of a fast depleting food reserve and fears that the situation may worsen further due to the prolonged political turmoil, the government is drafting a plan to build a strategic food reserve.
The strategic food reserve is aimed at guarding the country from sudden food shortage caused by external forces such as political unrest and natural disasters.
On December 17, the government’s food reserve stood at 957,000 tonnes, down by 44.57% from the same date a year ago, when it was 1.385 million tonnes, showed data from the food ministry.
An official of the food ministry said the plan to expand the buffer stock and build a strategic reserve had already been communicated to the ministries and departments concerned of the government.
Professionals say the government would run head-on into serious credibility problems if it fails to ensure fair prices for farmers, especially for subsidised commodities such as price. It would also eventually cast a negative spell on the food price and the overall inflation situation of the country’s economy.
A senior official of the Directorate General of Food said: “We have been trying to expand the buffer stock by procuring Aman rice, harvested a few months back. But that process has come to a standstill off late because the transportation system in the country has collapsed because of the opposition parties’ blockades.”
Instead of spending a busy time as was usual for this time of the year, the officials and staff of the government’s food procurement programmes around the country had been sitting idle because the farmers could not come to sell their produce to them because of the political programmes, the food directorate official said.
Official figures show that the directorate has set a target of procuring 200,000 tonnes of Aman paddy from farmers at Tk30/kg till February. But up until December 17, the government has managed to procure only 37,431 tonnes.
The breakdown shows that the government’s existing stock of rice is about 295,000 tonnes lower than the minimum quantity required under the buffer stock norms. The remaining 600,000 tonnes of food grain in stock is wheat.
In October, the United Nations warned that world grain reserves were so “dangerously low” that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year.
Importers lost interest in importing food grains because of lack of security amid the heated political situation and the opposition’s hartals and blockades.
Figures show that the import of wheat during the first six months of the ongoing fiscal (2013-14) was much lower than what it was at the same time a year ago.
“Prices of rice have been gradually increasing since the beginning of the Aman harvest because of the political unrest and the resultant crisis in the transportation sector,” said Nirod Baran Saha, president of Rice Dealers Association in the northern district of Naogaon.
“The government will be unable to fulfill the procurement target because of the prolonged violence and blockades as the farmers are not interested in selling Aman paddy to the government,” he pointed out.
The farmers’ lack of interest was a result of the shooting cost of transportation that had pushed the cost above the Tk30/kg rate that the government had set for procuring Aman paddy from farmers, Niron explained.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, told Dhaka Tribune that the government should raise the procurement price of Aman if needed so that the farmers get interested again to contribute to the buffer stock.
However, food directorate Director General Ahmed Hossain Khan said the government was keeping space in the warehouses for the Aman procurement programme.
“The government is still in a comfortable position despite a marginal decline in the reserves,” he claimed.
When the Awami League assumed office in 2009, the country had a food stock of about 1.26 million tonnes of food grains. According to the food directorate, Bangladesh’s average annual demand for food grains – mainly wheat and rice – is about 29 million tonnes. The government’s target for food production during the ongoing fiscal is 36.6 million tonnes.
Usually, the government sets aside 1.5 million tonnes of food grains for tackling any emergency situation that may arise.