Consumers had to bear the brunt of price hike of essential commodities this calendar year due mainly to the outbreak of novel coronavirus and spells of flooding in the country.
Key essential items such as rice, edible oil, pulses, onion, powdered milk, vegetables and potato showed a significant hike in 2020, hitting people’s pockets during the Covid-19 pandemic when their incomes also declined notably, said insiders.
Besides, farmers had suffered a lot in the second and third quarters of the outgoing year due to virtual lockdown and flooding during the pandemic resulting in supply chain disruption and crop losses.
Rice prices increased by 17-48 per cent while edible oil by 15-25 per cent, potato by 88 per cent, lentil by 17-21 per cent, and powdered milk prices by 7.0 per cent this year as compared to that of last year, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
Vegetable prices remained 60-120 per cent higher between June and November this year than that of last year putting low income people in peril, according to the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM) data.
But the prices of onion and vegetables declined to some extent in December.
The prices of potato also remained 88-100 per cent higher this year as the item is now selling at Tk 45-55 per kilogram, said TCB.
Coarse and medium varieties of rice are now selling at Tk 50-58 a kg, edible oils like palm and soybean at 100-125 a litre, coarse and medium lentil at Tk 75-100 a kg.
Most of vegetables retailed at Tk 60-140 a kg during the period between June and November this year, said DAM.
“Though prices of meat, fish, wheat flour and sugar remained comparatively static, higher rates of rice, edible oil, onion, potato and vegetables mainly hurt the consumers who already lost their incomes due to the pandemic,” Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) secretary Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan said.
Minimum price of rice is now Tk 50 a kg in the city when income of limited income people declined by 40-60 per cent depending on professions, he added.
“The government should immediately remove import hurdles by reducing higher import duties especially on rice and edible oil to give consumers a relief.”
Mr Bhuiyan also said the country’s rice production has declined this Aman season and suggested the government should ease import duty on rice for the private sector.
He pointed out that onion prices hit Tk 120 a kg in August following an export ban by neighbouring India and it remained at Tk 60-100 a kg until November this year.
Potato, considered as a key kitchen item for the poor, saw 100 per cent price hike as sold at Tk 50-60 a kg this year from Tk 20-Tk 30 a kg last year.
Mr Bhuiyan said the government safety-net programmes should have been expanded this year to tackle the pandemic.
However, most of the farmers this year got comparatively good prices for their rice crops during Boro, Aus and Aman seasons.
But the farmers of dairy, poultry, fisheries and vegetable suffered losses during the April-May period due to supply chain disruptions, coupled with low demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Dairy farmers in Pabna, Natore, Sirajganj, Jashore, Khulna and Narail incurred heavy losses as companies, households and sweetshops squeezed purchase more than by 80 per cent for weeks.
Liquid raw milk prices dropped to just Tk 20-28 a litre in the districts against Tk 36-52, depending on fat percentage during normal times, according to the DAM.
Bangladesh Dairy Farmers’ Association secretary Md Shah Imran said dairy farmers incurred a loss of Tk 600 million per day during the lockdown as 1.4-1.5 million litres of milk remained unsold.
Poultry meat and egg producers also suffered a blow as broiler chicken prices dropped to just Tk 50-54 a kg and farm egg Tk 4.5-5.0 a piece from Tk 115 and Tk 7.5-8.0 respectively at farm level in the first month of lockdown, according to Bangladesh Poultry Industries Central Council (BPICC).
BPICC said the industry incurred Tk 25 billion losses during the March-May period.
Bangladesh Agrarian Research Foundation (ARF) chairman Prof Abdul Hamid said ensuring smooth supply of essential items including rice, edible oil, pulses, onion, sugar and vegetables at affordable prices is a major challenge for next year.
He suggested that farmers should be provided with lucrative incentives to boost crop production.
“Import duty on some products like rice, edible oil, and sugar should be reviewed immediately to give commoners some sort of relief.”
And the government should continue with a random market monitoring to check artificial price hike, he added.