With a view to precluding any unpleasant situation ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election, the government has planned to prioritise ensuring enough stock of rice, officials said.
To this view, the Boro procurement target, through two-time revision, has been set an unprecedented record target of 1.7 million tonnes while the target during the last season was 1.0 million tonnes.
Already, 1.4 million tonne rice, out of the total target, has already been procured while it was only 0.3 million tonnes during the same period last year. Sources said the government pays special attention to this issue so that the common people do not suffer on account of unavailability of the staple food, in case any untoward situation emerges during the election time.
If such a situation occurs during that time, it might not be convenient for the ruling Awami League-led alliance, sources added.
An official at the Ministry of Food said the Al-led grand alliance government has taken the issue quite seriously soon after the rice price hiked during the August-October period last year.
During the period in 2017, the prices of the staple hit all-time high at Tk 55 (coarse rice) and Tk 82 (finer rice) per kilogramme, the official added. He said the government, apart from import, started prioritising rice procurement directly from domestic sources. About the revision of the rice procurement target he said the ministry set the target, in April this year, to procure 1.05 million tonne rice which was later revised upward to 1.3 million tonnes in July, he said.
Last September, the ministry decided to purchase another 0.4 million tonnes from the millers, he said, adding that public rice stock is now two-decades high of 1.2 million tonnes.
Already, the government has procured 1.4 million tonne rice and is going to purchase another 0.3 million tonnes in the next few weeks.
Through the ‘open market sale’ (OMS) and the ‘work for food’ programmes about 1.5m tonne rice was given out among the people during the last one year, the ministry official said, adding that the distribution was the highest since the 1998 deluge.
The government programmes have covered over 5.0 million poor people who are now getting rice support on regular basis, he added.
He said the government intervention has calmed down the market and as a result the price of coarse rice came down to Tk 32 to Tk 33 per kg in rural areas and to Tk 40-Tk 44 in urban areas.
He confirmed that the OMS and other social safety-net programmes will be carried out as usual.
Md Abdul Aziz Molla, director of directorate general of food (procurement), said the government has a primary target to buy another 0.3 million tonne rice during the current Aman harvest season.
During the last Aman season 0.45 million tonnes of rice was bought, he said.
Regarding the government interest in procuring a huge amount of rice despite having a bumper production, he said it is mainly because the government wants to remain in a comfort-zone, considering the rice stock.
The target of buying 1.7 million tonnes of rice from the Boro season will be accomplished within a few weeks, he said, adding that the government imported 1.0 million tonnes of rice in the last one year.
However, he ruled out any possibility of rice market volatility, saying that the production of Boro hit an all-time high and Aman output is set to be a bumper one.
Experts and analysts appreciated the government’s move to keep enough stock of rice and said it is natural for a political government to keep the prices of essentials within the reach of commoners, especially before any general election, through making buffer stocks.