‘If the rice price does not decrease, the crop will have to be imported because the number of poor people has increased due to Covid-19,’ Planning Commission member (Senior Secretary) Dr Shamsul Alam
As the Covid-19 situation, Cyclone Amphan's impact and floods have put the production of Aush-Aman in jeopardy, experts said the government needs to be prepared to import rice.
There is no risk of short-term food shortages because of a bumper yield in the Boro season. Instead, there will be a surplus of 5.55 million tonnes of rice till November, they also said.
Speakers at a webinar titled "National Seminar on Food Security in the Covid-19 Era: Is Bangladesh Really Going to Face a Rice Shortage in the Short-Run?" organised by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) on Sunday.
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman presided over the programme and Director General of BRRI Dr Mohammad Shahjahan Kabir presented a research paper.
It explored whether there is a need for rice imports after reviewing the production and stock of rice amid Covid-19, the impact of mechanisation on agriculture and the availability of agricultural labour.
Agriculture Minister Dr Abdur Razzak said, "The damage to Aush paddy because of flooding needs to be ascertained. If the yield of Aman is not good, the floods are prolonged, or the flood damage cannot be addressed properly, then rice will have to be imported and be prepared in advance."
"Paddy is produced on 74-75 percent of land, so we are self-sufficient for rice. Even if we get a good yield in the Boro season, we need to be prepared for rice imports in limited quantities," he added.
The minister said all should be careful that millers and traders do not take control of the rice market.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said, "A section of people hike rice prices, creating an artificial crisis, whenever they get the chance. However, we have to prioritise farmers' and consumers' interests. Keeping natural disasters in mind, the government has to keep sufficient reserves. If necessary, rice will be imported."
Mentioning that there are 12.5 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat storage which meet demand till December, Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum said, "We have to prepare for what's next, because nobody knows how long Covid-19 will stay. We have to run various programmes, so, 10 to 15 lakh tonnes of rice will have to be stored by December."
BRRI's study revealed that rice production increased by 3.54 percent over the previous year. From the surplus production of the last Boro and Aman seasons, the country had 20.31 million tonnes of rice till June. After meeting the demand till November, there will be a surplus of 5.55 million tonnes of rice – with which, the demand for 36-37 days can be met. Further, Aush and Aman will be added by November.
The government is not able to procure rice as per the target due to the high price of the crop on the market. However, in the case of Covid-19 and floods, the government needs to have adequate food stocks.
Planning Commission member (Senior Secretary) Dr Shamsul Alam said, "If the rice price does not decrease, the crop will have to be imported because the number of poor people has increased due to Covid-19. Supplies and stocks must be properly assessed."
He also said area-wise major crops must be identified to expand commercial agriculture. Food processing machines should be allowed to be imported duty free or low duty.